10 months ago


Reconstructing the Image

Reconstructing the Image of the Old Altar Screen of the Orthodox Church in ‘Maierii Sibiului’ | 101 may assume that the mural on the iconostasis of Maieri was made, but which remained preserved in a better condition during the course of time, unlike the case we are discussing. Examining these painting ensembles in which we noticed a similar style, we note that the one closest to the Sibiu decoration (in terms of vicinity) is found in the Orthodox “Palm Sunday” Church in the town of Avrig (Sibiu county). It consists of the series of icons occupying the upper registry of the iconostasis, plus the deacon doors. An inscription at the bottom of the “Last Supper” icon recalls the names of the authors: “This holy altarpiece was painted and carved in wood, with the help of God, by us, Teodor the painter and sin ego Sava in 1807 February Ten”. The artistic itinerary covered by this family of Transylvanian painters was mostly reconstructed by priest and professor Valeriu Literat from Făgăraș, who identified, in 1929 and 1930, the churches painted by them in Olt county, thus establishing their area of origin as well. 20 In the altar of the Orthodox “Assumption of the Virgin Mary” Church from the village of Veneţia de Jos (com. Părău, Braşov county), the following note can be deciphered next to the table of oblation, making known the name of the second son and disciple of painter Teodor: “They were grounded, they were vaulted and painted with the help of God ... this holy and divine altar. ... the year 1801 (pray for) Gospodu Teo(do)r painter and sin ego Io(an) and sin Ego (Sa)vu”. 21 The father associated with his sons for the execution of the mural decoration inside the church and on the outer facades of the eastern apse. Moreover, in the Orthodox church of Şercăiţa (Şinca village, Braşov county), the original wall decoration was compromised by its gross repainting performed almost ten years ago. The inscription from the narthex, whose text was first published by Nicolae Iorga, recalls, among other things, that “... the painting ... was done by me Theodoru the painter, in 1811”. 22 Valeriu Literat also attributed to the same artist – rightfully, in our opinion - the mural decoration (similar to the one in Şercăiţa) from the old church of Ohaba (com. Şinca, Braşov county), a village near Şercăiţa. 23 The images of the nave and altar were extremely erased at the time of Valeriu Literat’s research, as they are now. They have not yet been restored, as the place of worship was abandoned after the construction of a new church in the first decade of the 20 th century. Valeriu Literat also identified the towns from Făgăraș region that have churches painted by Sava from Făgăraş, noticeably displaying the painting style that Sava had acquired from his father. Sava had the merit of completing the paintings of the churches in Beclean (1808-1811), Calbor (1813), Sâmbăta de Jos (1814), Mândra (1821), Făgăraş (“The Church of the Greeks”, 1832), Caţa (1845), and Breaza (1846) 24 . Similarities to the manner of painting on the altarpiece of the “Long Street” Church may be identified especially in Calbor (com. Beclean, Braşov county). In the imposing building of this other Orthodox church, one can still find large areas from the original wall painting, despite its structural deterioration. On the built-in altarpiece, scenes composed in a similar manner to those in Sibiu unfold in the feasts register or on the one reserved for the apostles’ frieze. As with his father and master’s painting, the technique of Sava from Făgăraș is remarkable in its Baroque aspect. It determines the characteristic manner of representing the figures – draped in attitudes that are as natural as possible. Both Teodor and Sava intended to avoid the austere style that the iconographic canon imposed for the representation of the twelve apostles. He sought to confer the expressiveness of authentic portraits to these highly individualized figures. The most spectacular effect, however, stems from the stylish, even sophisticated outfit of the twelve men, dressed in tunics and richly draped cloaks, where many different chromatic nuances alternate. This hypothetical attribution of the mural paintings on the wall of the Maieri church in Sibiu to painter Teodor from Făgăraș (who was probably helped by at least one of his sons), as well as the dating of the iconographic ensemble around 1791, clarifies only one aspect in a matter where other questions still persist. It remains to be seen, for example, what was the fate of the four royal icons, as well as the fate of the other icons still visible in the frame, even if faded. The difficulty of the investigation lies mainly in the fact that the photographer who took the image of the altarpiece placed the apparatus in an angle from which three of the royal icons are impossible to be observed: two of them are masked by the candlesticks placed in front of them, and the third, that of the titular saint, is placed in a blind spot caused by the light flowing from the window onto the adjoining wall. The only royal icon mounted on the left side of the altarpiece allows the eye to perceive the contour of some shapes, though also quite vague. Looking at the pages of an old inventory of objects owned by the church in Maieri, we also found four royal icons registered there: “Jesus Christ the Great Hierarch”, “The Mother of God with the Child”, “Saint Hierarch Nicholas”, and “Saint Luke the Evangelist”, all having the same dimensions as the wood panels on which they were painted (86 × 61cm). This final mention, and especially the extreme rarity of the situations in which a titular saint icon represents Saint Luke, encouraged us to explore the Church Art Collection of the Metropolitan Centre in Sibiu. Starting with its founding in 1897, 25 this Art Collection came to be the depositary of several hundred icons originating from the old places of worship in the diocese. Although the full inventory of this heritage has not been achieved so far, and the indications of origin of many pieces have been lost, we had the chance to discover four icons corresponding to both the dimensions and to the subject matter of those we had been looking for. A full confirmation of the fact that these four icons once belonged to the church of Maieri resulted from the visual confrontation of Saint Nicholas’ image in the Archdiocese collection with the depiction of the same hierarch, corresponding to the royal icon on the left side of the iconostasis – the only clearly distinguishable one within the photo frame. Though affected by the passage of time, the exceptional artistic quality of these four icons still makes an impression. A delicate contour describes the elongated faces, enveloped in a white, marmoreal light. The eyes open clear and large under a serene forehead, lifted over the eyebrow arch. The expression is natural and the painter knew how to convey the mood and the special character in the case of each person represented. But these subtly differentiated attitudes and feelings were, however, subordinated to the Fig. 15-22: Painter Teodor from Făgăraş (attributed to), royal door icons decorating the original altar screen in the “Long Street” “St. Luke” Church. Fig. 15, 16: “Jesus Christ the Great Hierarch”, and detail. Fig. 17, 18: “The Mother of God with the Child”, and detail Fig. 19, 20: “Saint Hierarch Nicholas”, and detail. Fig. 21, 22: “Saint Evangelist Luke”, and detail.

102 | Ioan Ovidiu Abrudan

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