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Museikon_1_2017

Preliminaries to a

Preliminaries to a history of Bucharest iconostases of 18 th -19 th centuries | 129 ing threaded flowers, birds, animals, human figures – isolated or in complete biblical scenes – and rendered increasingly life-like. Coloured backgrounds appear, next to large golden areas, the openings in the Royal icons area are arched in different manners, the pillars have rich capitals. 16 The iconostasis of the White Church (Biserica albă) – which we are going to analyse – belongs to this stylistic field, as do those from the Manea Brutaru and Saint John “Piață” churches in Bucharest. The current Saint Nicholas-White Church was erected in 1827 on the site of an older church dating back to the beginning of the 18 th century. The founder, chamberlain Nicolae Trăsnea, installed an iconostasis brought from an unknown church elsewhere. 17 The icons from the iconostasis are not contemporary with the sculpture. The iconostasis lacked these icons, which were commissioned as it was installed in the church to a member of the painting school in Cernica and Căldărușani, during the first decades of the 19 th century. Only four Royal icons still testify to this stage: Jesus Christ the Teacher, the Mother of God with the Infant Christ, Saint Nicholas, and the Dormition of the Mother of God. The first two have a common typology that can be identified in three other instances: in the White Church, in the Saint Nicholas In- One-Day church in Bucharest, and in the Cernica Monastery museum (icons that belonged to the Cernica Monastery church – Saint Nicholas). One may notice the same positioning of the characters’ heads, the same type of vestment drapery. Jesus Christ’s vestment is tied with a knotted string; the Virgin’s maphorion has the same type of embroidery. We know from the inscription that the icon of Jesus Christ in Cernica was painted by Nicolae Polcovnicul 18 and, through analogy, we may presume that the whole series should be attributed to this painter – an important representative of the school, who worked at the beginning of the 19 th century on several icons and mural ensembles in Bucharest, and led a workshop. 19 The era was one of innovation, and the biographers of Nicolae Polcovnicul considered him “a link between the old traditional painting and the new currents finding their way”. 20 The other two Royal icons from the White Church, Saint Charalambos and Saint Elijah, as well as the rest of the icons adorning the iconostasis (the registers of prophets, apostles, and feasts) are by the painter Gheorghe Tattarescu, who was chosen to accomplish the mural ensembles of the White Church in 1873. 21 Tattarescu repainted the iconostasis icons, he completely covered the painting of 1827-1830 done by Nicolae Polcovnicul or a representative of his school. Recent restoration 22 confirmed the existence of a painted layer underneath the visible one; the restorers removed the later one, producing a witness: the icon of the prophet Solomon. Gheorghe Tattarescu, Romania’s first Academic painter, reformulated the principles of Church art, further developing the innovations of the painters belonging to the previous generation. The interiors and the landscapes of the feast icons follow perspectival depths, the characters are represented with ample theatrical gestures; he relies on the expressivity of anatomical forms, on the variety of positions, on dynamism and on clever compositional framing. Pastel colours, foreign to the traditional colours of icons, are used. Halos and rays of light appear around the heads of the characters, as means of signifying holiness, a device borrowed from Baroque Western painting. The White Church iconostasis combines three Church art periods. The sculpture inherits the constructional and decorative principles of the late Brancovan art, with a certain Greek vernacular Baroque or Levant Baroque 23 Fig. 12: Saint John the Baptist, St. Spyridon the Old Church, Peter the Painter, 1736. Credits: Daniel Mihail Constantinescu. Fig. 13: Detail of the icon above, with Peter’s signature. (“Peter, Russian history-painter in Bucharest”). Credits: Daniel Mihail Constantinescu.

130 | sister Atanasia Văetiși which may be compared, in terms relevant to Romanian culture, with the post-Brancovan style. The painting already hints at modernity and is greatly influenced by Western styles. With the first painter (Nicolae Polcovnicul, or another painter of that school), the transition towards a new language in Wallachian Church painting is achieved. Painting schools were attached to bishopric or monastic centres in the first half of the 19 th century. Such is the case at the Cernica Monastery, whose school was established by the painter Ivan Rusu and a group of monk-painters from the Căldărușani Monastery, or the case of another school attached to the Buzău bishopric, supported by bishop Chesarie and established by Nicolae Teodorescu. Their task was to prepare painters to decorate local churches. 24 These painters aspired to represent naturalistic biblical scenes and characters as much as possible, thus escaping the canonical Byzantine frameworks. The saints were painted with a careful artistry, which seeks to suggest the consistency of the body, the soft fall of the drapery, and the shadows formed by complex lighting. It was an agreeable art, pleasant and undemanding. In his contract for the painting of the metropolitan cathedral, Nicolae Polcovnicul himself stated that “the vestments of the saints should be as much as possible made to look Fig. 13: Iconostasis of the White Church, second half of the 18th century. Credits: Daniel Mihail Constantinescu. imposing and artfully worked upon, and especially the faces of the history painting to be done with delicacy and good measurement with the best artistic craft in order to be, in brief, flawless and pleasant to look at”. 25 The second painter of the White Church, Gheorghe Tattarescu, went further along this path. The Neoclassical-Academic style that Tattarescu managed to impose filled Bucharest churches with a series of idealised portraits, with characters having conventional positions and attitudes, theatrical gestures, and ecstatic expressions seeking to indicate holiness. He learned the craft of painting as a pupil in the Buzău school, but once returned to its native country after years spent in Rome, Tattarescu proved himself to be a prolific modern painter, a true reformer of church painting. 26 The donors of the White Church, the founder Nicolae Trăsnea – a high ranking boyar – and the church curators always managed to chose the most novel and advanced tendencies existing at that moment. Moving on from the post-Byzantine framework of Bucharest church interiors, they chose modernity and Westernisation.

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