9 months ago


Reconstructing the Image

Reconstructing the Image of the Old Altar Screen of the Orthodox Church in ‘Maierii Sibiului’ | 99 Fig. 11: “St. Luke” Church, photograph taken in mid 20th century (anonymous artist). Fig. 12: The altar screen of the “Long Street” Church, redecorated by painter Dimitrie Kabadaief (1877-1934). A fragment of Nicolae Stoica’s mural decoration in the sanctuary’s apse is still visible through the arcade in the altar screen wall. Photo taken in 1965 (anonymous). Fig. 13: The “Long Street” “St. Luke” Church in a photo taken by an anonymous photographer, during the first or the second decade of the previous century. Fig. 14: The altar screen of the “St. Luke” Church in a photo taken during the first or the second decade of the previous century (anonymous photographer).

100 | Ioan Ovidiu Abrudan “Deisis”, and the icon of the church’s patron: “Saint Luke the Evangelist”. Last but not least, the same photo shows a carved and gilded wooden artophorion placed on the Altar Table, seen through the opening of the royal doors in the iconostasis. The recently restored liturgical object is one of the few pieces representing the oldest endowments of the church. What is worth noting among the details provided by this photographic document, are the two elliptical windows that used to pierce the walls of the north and south of the nave, right past the iconostasis. Another intervention was made in 1938, immediately after the installation of priest Ioan Chioaru in the parish. The reparation of the interior walls then caused the discovery of the original fresco fragments applied to the balustrade of the trellisworks mast, from under the lime underneath which they had been hidden for a long time. The ensembles of images, as well as the inscription of the Orthodox Church in Maieri were not reconditioned until much later, in 1970, by painter Arutin Avachian. 17 We have so far been unable to identify anything from the documentation done by the restoration painter, documentation required for the authorization of such an intervention on a heritage monument, which would have spoken of the state of the images’ preservation after the removal of the plaster covering them. However, one may notice that the manner in which the artist acted upon the old paintings implied obvious and extensive interventions of reintegration and reprocessing, which makes it even more problematic to identify the author of this part of the 18 th century mural decoration, a completely unique one, if we relate to the Romanian churches of the city. Until the restoration of the fresco section of the trellisworks mast (1965-1970), the entire painting of the church interior was undertaken and entrusted to church painter Nicolae Stoica. Regarding this new stage in the process of adornment of the church, it is appropriate to point out some circumstances that might prove significant to the objective that we have set out for this study, namely to recover any detail that could serve to a faithful reconstruction of the former aspect of the church from Maieri. First of all, church painter Nicolae Stoica refused the request made by priest Ioan Chioaru and the parish council to execute a new painting on the iconostasis of the church, which, being built-in, was due to receive a mural decoration. Since they did not succeed in convincing Nicolae Stoica, the parishioners were content to entrust the painting of the iconostasis to Ioan Căzilă, a local painter, though much more modest in terms of artistic endowment than Nicolae Stoica. The second detail that attracted our attention, following the events of that time, as they later appear in the parochial chronicle, refers to the fact that Stoica painted the vault of the altar apse in tempera and not in the fresco technique that he applied to the rest of the church. These aspects that might suggest that Nicolae Stoica had still found traces of the original wall painting on the iconostasis and perhaps even on the vault of the altar, which he had considered worth preserving. The murals made in the 1960s radically altered the interior layout of the Maieri church. The only part maintained from the original decoration apparently concerns the images preserved on the choir-loft parapet, also affected by the above-mentioned restoration. During the last decade, through the insistence of the present-day parish priest, theology professor Irimie Marga, other traces testifying to the past state of the “Long Street” Church were also recovered. Among the objects forgotten in the attic of the church, there were several pieces of original liturgical furniture, such as the royal doors which were replaced in the mid-1960s, two candlesticks dating back to the turn of the 19 th century, and an icon of “Our Lady with Infant Jesus” 18 , one of the oldest endowments of the church. All of these patrimony objects resumed their place in the church after being properly restored and researched. An essential support in reconstituting the authentic image of the church from Maieri came as a result of the discovery of two novel photographic documents in the Archives of the Faculty of Theology from Sibiu. Both the inside and the outside look of the “Long Street” Church were recorded in these photos. The images were taken before 1923, when the first modifications that altered and dissolved the original appearance of the old monument were mentioned. The two snapshots had been placed in a file with various documents belonging to Metropolitan Nicolae Bălan, along with other reproductions of ecclesiastical monuments in Transylvania. One may thus assume that they were made by Professor I. D. Ştefănescu, a passionate photographer of monuments and religious paintings he documented during his doctoral research. Ştefănescu defended and published his doctoral thesis in several volumes, starting with 1928. 19 It is known that, during the decade following the 1918 Union Day in Alba Iulia, I. D. Ştefănescu researched the churches that were historical monuments throughout Transylvania. As a historian of old Romanian religious art, he also visited Sibiu. The close relationship of respect and friendship, as well as the long collaboration between I. D. Ştefănescu and Metropolitan Nicolae are also public knowledge. Testimonies of such a relationship are still found in the above-mentioned archive: epistolary documents and reproductions from the snapshots taken by Professor I. D. Ştefănescu. Returning to the two photos of the church from Maieri, the most important one in terms of documentary value is the one showing the interior of the nave. It immortalizes an overview of the iconostasis. The wall altarpiece, as it was captured at the time of the shooting, was covered entirely with a painted decoration. The iconographic compositions were arranged on several registers. Only in the spaces between the opening of the royal and diaconal doors, portative icons enclosed in sumptuous frames adorned with carved motifs were mounted in the intervals between the apses and the diaconal doors, in the same manner in which the crucifix with the prayers was decorated. The royal doors and the two candlesticks that can be seen in the picture were proved to be the recently recovered and restored pieces, as mentioned earlier. The iconographic program of mural paintings composes, on superimposed registers, the series of feast icons, the apostle frieze with the apostles in pairs, grouped under trilobite arches, the images of the prophets on the tympanum, framed in two-row oval medallions, and ending in flanks with representations of the symbols of the Evangelists. The ensemble culminates, in the highest area of the altarpiece, with the apotheotic representation of the “Coronation of the Holy Virgin”. The accuracy of the photographic reproduction allowed us to distinguish the features of a characteristic and particularly unmistakable pictorial style, due in particular to the representations of the twelve apostles, whose figures of large dimensions offer more accurate details. It is the same artistic manner we have noted in the paintings that decorate the walls of certain churches in the counties of Sibiu and Brașov, dating back to the same historical period in which one

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