The Burial Cover of Maria of Mangup
The Burial Cover of Maria of Mangup

By Alice Isabella Sullivan | University of Michigan


The burial cover of Maria of Mangup, preserved in the collection of Putna Monastery in Romania, features a funerary portrait of the second wife of Prince Stephen III of Moldavia (r. 1457–1504). The cloth shows Maria Asanina Palaiologina (d. 1477) full length and in a recumbent pose, like a gisant, with her arms folded across her chest and her hands gently clasped. Her oval face with its small mouth, long thin nose, and arched eyebrows offer a glimpse of her countenance. Her hair, parted down the middle, is mostly concealed by her elaborate headdress, the Byzantine propoloma. In this case, her Byzantine-inspired regalia is finely worked with precious stones and pearl hangings. Jewels also adorn Maria’s ears, neck, and fingers. A blue‑green granatza of a Perso‑Assyrian origin–a sumptuously brocaded dress and caftan-like mantle with red lining and long sleeves reaching to the ankles–completes Maria’s regal attire.

As the only embroidered tomb cover in the Putna collection, alongside others made of brocade, the burial cover of Maria of Mangup was executed in colored silks embroidered with polychrome silks and gold threads, with the now mainly damaged background consisting of couched gold threads arranged vertically. Stephen III likely commissioned the grave cover for his wife’s tomb located in the burial chamber (now naos) of the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin at Putna Monastery, opposite his burial site, and under a baldachin similarly elaborate to his.


The burial cover of Maria of Mangup engages with a long tradition of medieval aristocratic funerary portraits in western Europe. Incised in stone or carved in various degrees of relief, these grave markers show the deceased in a frontal and full-length pose, often richly dressed, and framed within an architectural structure reminiscent of a church or baldachin. A dedicatory inscription running around the perimeter of the slab and/or a coat of arms identifies in part the individual(s) represented. The tomb cover of Maria of Mangup, however, is also deeply indebted to Byzantine models and reflects the exceptional workmanship of Moldavian embroideries during the second half of the 15th century.

The burial cover of Maria of Mangup displays a varied and sophisticated technique with roots in Byzantine embroidery traditions. Gold thread once covered the entirety of the red silk background, but unfortunately now survives only in select areas. Gold and silver wire with colored silks in various configurations and stiches provide the variety of detail in Maria’s appearance and the structure of her surroundings. Although relatively smooth, certain features of the composition are slightly raised with padding threads underneath, as is evident in the outline of her headdress and various jewels, as well as in the framing arch and its decorations. The designers and those who executed this burial cover spared no expense and carefully crafted for posterity the image of this Byzantine princess on the Moldavian throne.

Maria is reposing underneath a cusped trefoil arch that delineates her figure and balances the composition. The presence of the arcature is also suggestive of her royal status. It is decorated with the monogram of the Palaiologan Dynasty, and a repertoire of decorative and vegetal motifs found on other contemporary embroideries executed in the Putna workshop. In place of a decorative border around the perimeter, Maria’s grave cover displays a dedicatory inscription in Church Slavonic that reads: “This is the tomb cover of the servant of God, the pious and devout to Christ, wife of John Stephen voivode, prince of the land of Moldavia, Maria, who passed to the eternal dwelling in the year 6985 [1477], the month of December 19, at five o’clock during the day.” Although formulaic, the inscription is unusual in that it is interrupted in the corners by four emblems: in the upper left and lower right are the double-headed eagles, the imperial symbols of Byzantium; the lower left corner shows the famous and wide-spread monogram of the Palaiologan Dynasty, which appears again in a correct and a reverse position in the decorations of the trefoil arch in the central register of the embroidery (in the correct orientation on the left roundel and in a reverse position in the right roundel); and the upper right corner shows the initials for Maria’s other family name, Asanina. Symbolically weighty, these important dynastic emblems represent the earliest known identifiers of this kind on any extant embroidered work in Moldavia.

A veil of mystery still shrouds the actual display and function of Maria’s burial cover. Textiles such as this were certainly designed for particular tombs because their measurements often correlate with the dimensions of their respective gravestones. This is true of the cover for the burial of Maria of Mangup. It is possible that they were placed on top of the tombs during particular celebrations or on special feast days. What is peculiar, however, is the direction of the text of the surrounding dedicatory inscription on Maria’s grave cover. The text begins in the upper right corner and continues around her image in a counterclockwise fashion, with the letters facing away from the center. This inscription would have been easily read if the embroidery had been placed over the gravestone and the edges with the text draped around the tomb. Although some of the functions of these grave markers are lost to us today, it is clear that these sumptuous objects and the tombs they were designed for functioned in the economy of salvation and also that of remembrance.

Further Reading

Cojocaru, Alexie. Treasury of Putna Monastery: Embroideries and Fabrics. Translated by Ștefana Totorcea. Putna: Editura Mitropolit Iacov Putneanul, 2016.

This publication offers a catalog of medieval textiles in the collection of Putna Monastery, prefaced by an essay that serves as an introduction to the collection and offer contextual details for the objects in the catalog.

Diez, Ernst. “Moldavian Portrait Textiles.” The Art Bulletin 10, no. 4 (1928): 377–385.

This essay is the earliest study in English focused on the extant medieval Romanian funerary textiles, including a discussion of the burial cover of Maria of Mangup.

Gorovei, Ştefan, and Maria Magdalena Székely. Maria Asanina Paleologhina: O prințesă bizantină pe tronul Moldovei. Putna: Editura Mușatinii, 2006.

This book is the only dedicated study to the figure of Maria of Mangup, and her role at the Moldavian court while married to Stephen III between 1472 and 1477.

Sullivan, Alice Isabella. “Byzantine Artistic Traditions in Moldavian Church Embroideries.” In L’évolution de la broderie de tradition byzantine dans la Méditerranée et le monde slave (12001800), edited by Elena Papastavrou and Marielle Martiniani-Reber. Paris: Presses d’Inalco. Forthcoming.

This essay centers on the impact of Byzantine traditions and techniques on the development of Moldavian embroideries and workshop practices during the 15th century.


Alice Isabella Sullivan, "The Burial Cover of Maria of Mangup," Mapping Eastern Europe, eds. M. A. Rossi and A. I. Sullivan, accessed June 3, 2023,