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Museikon_1_2017

Preliminaries to a

Preliminaries to a history of Bucharest iconostases of 18 th -19 th centuries | 135 Fig. 26, 27: Virgin Mary Enthroned with Child / Jesus Christ Enthroned with Angels, Patriarchal Cathedral, painter: Dimitrie Belizarie, 1935. Credits: Daniel Mihail Constantinescu. Fig. 28-29: Virgin Mary with Child / Jesus Christ the Teacher, enamel icons, Otilia Oteteleșanu, 1965. Credits: Daniel Mihail Constantinescu.

136 | sister Atanasia Văetiși siastical art, as well as of the Church’s relation to artistic creation. This attitude was due to the circumstances that marked the history of Orthodoxy at the time. The transfer and assimilation of Western artistic elements occurred naturally in Greece, the Balkans, Russia and, no less, in Mount Athos, the centre of Orthodoxy and Byzantine art. It was the result of an essential change in the way that Church art was perceived. As soon as aesthetic factors played a decisive role in appreciating icons, the very fact of commissioning an icon (painted in the spirit of European art in the Moscow workshops of Oruzheynaya Palata) became the most evolved expression of a cultivated society, a gesture of progress for Church people. 33 This happened because the educated people of that time, the elite, the high clergy, saw and perceived the sacred image in this way. 34 The donors of the icons destined for some of the Bucharest Brancovan iconostases responded to this context, marking, through their choice, the first moment of Westernisation. Although not completely departing from tradition, the 19 th century icons by the local painters of the Buzău, Cernica, and Căldărușani schools relied on a certain artistry of execution inspired by Academic painting. They desired to make the sacred image more and more accessible to a public already receptive to modernity. The cultivated upper class was already travelling abroad, visiting European museums and Western Baroque churches. For them, valuable Church art was no longer the hieratic and abstract post-Byzantine art. The representatives of this elite were church donors or guardians: they were the ones erecting new churches, endowing them with iconostases and different religious objects; they had the power to influence the taste of the faithful in this way. A transformation had already taken place within the artists’ mentality. Even by the end of the 18 th century, the redefinition of the painter’s craft and status and the establishing of a guild of fine painters played an essential role in outlining the new artistic concept, in the sense of the stress placed on individual creativity. Painters were no longer exclusively icon-makers; their horizons were opening up, and, little by little, they no longer felt the obligation to respect the strict canons of Church art. This innovation was taken further by Tattarescu, a supporter of a new way to regard Church art. Studying in Rome, he viewed drawing as a science of historical, allegorical and religious composition; he learned that anatomical shapes should recall Classical sculpture. Once back in his homeland, he wished to put his work to the test, trying to create a modern Romania. He founded the Academy of Fine Arts, a National Art Gallery, and an annual exhibition – all of them connected to modern art. His personality no longer had anything to do with the traditional church painter. Tattarescu and all his followers aspired to perfect the manner of representation of the saints and of the sacred scenes, to refine the technical style, but this aspiration eventually reached a dead end. Beginning in 1889, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church restricted the interference of Western painting in Romanian churches. 35 The year 1898 saw the official publication of a Rule for the Painting of Churches which “stops admission to churches of those icons depicting saints in non-natural size (...), in costumes or in modern dress”. From that moment onwards, it was required that the “painting and all the ornaments, whether from old or new churches” should be “according to the Byzantine style already existing in our Church”. The generation of painters formed in the first decades of the 20 th century responded to this orientation imposed by the Church hierarchy. In the wider context of attempting to define a distinguishing national art, painters such as Dimitrie Belizarie, Costin Petrescu, Arthur Verona, and Olga Greceanu chose to embrace the medieval roots of Romanian art at the beginning of the 20 th century, and considered the art of past painters to be the sole source of originality. The rejection of the Byzantine aesthetics had occurred only a century before, but these other church painters sought – and, most importantly, were theorising – a return towards the hieratic and abstract, a rejection of the mimetic reproduction of nature, of perspective, and of the sensorial. They were promoting the notion that art in the Orthodox churches should only be Byzantine all the more. 36 Costin Petrescu viewed the “lack of fantasy and perspective, in which invention is reduced to the maximum” as a quality of mural art which, in itself, made possible its perfect preservation over the centuries. Olga Greceanu thought that the hieratic conferred a certain personality to Church art and that the “eternity and belief” should be depicted only through “schematic figures, static and immobile movements”. The Cathedral iconostasis perfectly sums up this ambition of returning to the medieval models in a modern era, after a period of “wandering” through various Western styles. That gesture of Dimitrie Belizarie tells it all: the Cernica school icons, influenced by modernity, had to be reformulated in a Byzantine way. The route taken by the four iconostases analysed in this study – from Brancovan to Neo-baroque in sculpture, and from Brancovan to Academicism and back to Neo-byzantine in painting – represents in itself the path that Romanian ecclesiastical art took from the medieval to the modern. The conclusion should be drawn from the one already formulated by Costin Petrescu. For church painters, achieving a beautiful creation is not due to their talent or intelligence, but to their belief and to the purity of their souls” 37 , a mentality that was, in fact, that of the medieval painter. 1 Dumitrescu 1972; Dumitrescu 1974. 2 Costea 2002. 3 The article benefits from the result of research undertaken over one year, within the editorial project Iconostase din București. Secolele xvii-xix, [Bucharest Iconostases, 17 th -19 th centuries] - authors: sister Atanasia Văetiși, Elisabeta Negrău, Cristina Cojocaru, Sultana-Ruxandra Polizu - to be published by the Cuvântul Vieții publishing house of the Muntenia and Dobrudja Metropolitan See. I would like to thank those who supported the research: the Bucharest Archdiocese, parish priests, and monastic abbots for the op- Notes : portunity to study in the field and take pictures of the objects; to the community of Stavropoleos Monastery for their material and spiritual support; and to my colleagues for dialogues and debates. 4 The inscription was published in Elian 1965, p. 301, as follows: “And it was painted in ... Ioan; in the year 1722, month August”. After restoring the icon, we subjected it to a new reading. I wish to thank Adrian Muraru (University A. I. Cuza, Iași) and Cristina Cojocaru (“George Oprescu” Art History Institute of Bucharest) for the help given in deciphering it. 5 Selezneva 1997-1998.

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