Byzantine Fresco Chapel
The Byzantine Fresco Chapel closed on Sunday March 4, 2012, marking the conclusion of an historic extended loan agreement between the Church of Cyprus and the Menil Foundation. For more information visit the Byzantine Fresco Chapel website link directly below. See also Houston Chronicle article here.
The last major project to be completed by Dominique de Menil in her lifetime, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel opened in 1997. Like the Rothko Chapel, it is an expression of the spirituality that lies at the heart of all de Menil passions and projects. It is also a manifestation of the redemptive power of art: the chapel was expressly built to house thirteenth-century Byzantine frescoes that had been looted from their original home in a small chapel in Lysi, Cyprus.
A modern-day reliquary-like structure housing restored thirteenth-century frescoes
in a consecrated spaceIntimate in scale, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel is the repository of the only intact Byzantine frescoes of this size and importance in the Western Hemisphere. In the 1980s thieves broke into a chapel in the Turkish-occupied section of Cyprus, ripped the frescoes from the dome and apse, and smuggled the fragments from the island, intending to sell them off piece by piece. Working with the Church of Cyprus, Dominique de Menil rescued the fresco fragments; through the Menil Foundation, she then funded a two-year restoration.
Dominique felt that a museum setting for the restored frescoes would not be appropriate, compromising their “intangible element, which is the frescoes’ spiritual importance and their original significance.” She outlined her concept for a “chapel museum”—a consecrated space, used for liturgical functions—in a letter to her son, the architect Francois de Menil, asking him “to restore the sacred fragments to their original spiritual function.”
His design places the relics in a contemporary consecrated setting, with the “mediation” of an external building—a reliquary box of sorts. The fortress-like gray structure now anchors the southeastern corner of the Menil campus. Inside the softly lit space, an arched structure of black steel, wood, and opaque glass echoes the original chapel in Lysi, with the dome and apse in their original relationship to one another. The dome, with its representation of Christ Pantokrator (“Christ, the Almighty”), and the apse, with the Virgin flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Michael, are presented in a context that is both a lament and a celebration.