Main Body

Arts Among the Emigrants: Toward the Western Horizon–The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

In the course of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish wars of the second half of the 17th century, the Serbian people and the Church sided with the former. Defeat for the allies had repercussions that further altered the course of Serbian history, life, culture and art.

When the Serbs crossed the Danube and Sava rivers, in 1690, into the territories of Southern Hungary, led by Patriarch Arsenije Carnojevic, a new era was begun. Life was not easy in spite of some political privileges on this military frontier, because in wars and conflicts the arts never flourish. But the conflicts went deeper than acts of war. While the 15th century refugees represented the higher classes of Serbian feudal society, the new emigrants of the late 17th century belonged to layers of different social and economic position. They were warriors instead of burgers, who would be prosperous in their own occupational activities, such as in commerce or in trade.

The tradition-bound art of the Serbs was deeply tied to their religious and ethnic identity, and for that reason it was fiercely guarded. At the same time, this old tradition of a tired art, modest at the very best in its expression and achievements, was faced with a fully mature western style. Since the Western art styles from the Renaissance onward are better known to today’s reader, there is no need to dwell on them.

Upon their arrival in the territories commonly called the Vojvodina, the Serbs were confronted by a fully developed Baroque style more than one hundred years old. Baroque was most directly identified as the Catholic style, which made its acceptance difficult among the Orthodox Serbs who were fearful of conversion and denationalization.

At first the art of the zoographers working for Serbs in Southern Hungary kept the old forms alive, adding some new and picturesque elements, and vivid colors. The first four decades of the 18th century can be considered as a transitional period, during which the old, traditional art was slowly abandoned, and the new, foreign style slowly accepted. The transition was made possible by Serbs already established as traders, merchants, and craftsmen, living in the city communities of Budim, Ostrogon. Sent-Andreja, Segedin, and others.


The new style is first and primarily felt in church architecture. Although the clergy had wished to preserve the old forms, master builders for the undertaking were missing, and so simple brick churches by local craftsmen and masons were raised. The decoration on the exterior was concentrated on western facades. Two churches in this new Baroque style among the Serbs living in Hungary predate by two years the great migration of 1690. They were in Ostrogon and in Budim, the latter being restored in 1733. They were followed by four churches in St. Andreja, one of the largest Serbian colonies in Hungary (Cathedral Church, the Transfiguration, the Ciprovatka Church and the Pozarevacka Church). At the same time, adaptive restoration of older churches, such as St. Luke’s Church in Kupinovo, was carried out. Additions to already existing monasteries, throughout the Pannonian plains were created. The 17th century monasteries which followed the Morava style triconchos ground plan were given additional bell towers on which timid tribute is paid to the Baroque style around window openings, in the curvilinear silhouette of the roof and in the lantern (Krusedol, Velika Remeta, Rakovac, Sisatovac, Hopovo, Beocin, Jazak, all dating from the 1730’s to the 1750’s). In Krusedol the windows and porch were given Baroque elements; in Bodjani the volutes appear on the apse, but the most prominent Baroque elements Were to be found on the western facades, where a curved pediment rises from the pilaster strips to frame a small oculus (Hodo;, Bezden and others). Recalling of the oldest Nemanjic foundations was achieved, however, in the construction of the arcades on the churches of Kovilj, Jazak, Kamenica and others. The Baroque style was more prominently displayed on the dormitories built for the monasteries of Krusedo1, Vrdnik, Hoppvo, and Kuvezdin. Such limited architectural activities occurred during the middle of the 18th century and after.

In the meantime the new center of Serbian religious and political life in Austria-Hungary was developed in the Sremski Karlovci, the seat of the Metropolitan bishop. The cathedral church of that city, built by Pavle Nenadovic between 1758-1762, architecturally makes no distinction between Orthodox and Catholic structures. Its facade is decorated in the Baroque style with engaged columns and pilasters, with windows surmounted by lunettes, and with triple pediments marking the divisions of the facade. The whole is dominated by twin bell towers, with curved and strongly profiled roof line.

From the middle of the 18th century, the elements of Baroque can be followed on palaces and homes of the titled or well-to-do Serbs primarily in the decoration of the western facades. They are to be seen in Temisvar (Temisoara, Romania), in Budim (Buda-Pest, Hungary), and. in the territories of today’s Yugoslavia, in Vrsac, Sombor (Grazalkovic family), Sremski Karlovci (Andrejevic and Dejanovic families), Zemun (Karamata family) and others. Urban planning had left traces upon whole cities (Novi Sad, Subotica, Zemun, Stremska Mitrovica, Ruma, and others), while examples of fortifications are still preserved in the large complex of Petrovaradin (1754-1780).


The painting activities of the first half of the 18th century were also centered around monasteries (Hopovo, Pribina Glava, Vrdnik, Besenovo) where the monk-artists worked in strictly Athonite tradition (Stefan Ravanicki, Arsenije, Kalinik, and others). Those were helped by the monks’ zoographers who came from Russia and worked as court painters for Patriarch Arsenije IV.

Among those, two painters showed interest not only in the new decorative tendencies of the Baroque style, but in truly new conceptions of pictorial space and painted volumes. They were Hristofor Zefarovic (d. 1753) and Ambrozije Jankovic (b. 1731; d. ?).

Zefarovic’s frescoes in the Bodjani Monastery in 1737 show in the Genesis cycle a well-developed landscape background, and, although far from the Baroque illusionism, at least it negated the existence of the physical limitations of the walls. This painter was also an engraver and embroiderer. His secular work is known only through copies. In one such copy, an equestrian portrait of Stratimirovic, the rider is too tall for the horse, both are disproportionately large in relationship to the landscape.

His somewhat younger contemporary, Ambrozije Jankovic, painted the frescoes in the refectory of the Monastery of Rakovac in 1768. In those scenes from the Life of Christ he tries to give the illusion of the spatial depth, large enough to accommodate the figures. The figures themselves are far from being powerfully drawn in the Baroque manner which is strongest in painted architecture, and in contrasts between the light and the dark. It is also interesting to note that this artist painted a typically Serbian historical composition of the Battle of Kosovo for the refectory of the Monastery of Vrdnik in 1777.

The needs of both the church and the secular clientele around and after the middle of the 18th century in the domains of the Metropolitan of Sremski Karlovci, were satisfied by itinerant masters who circulated in ecclesiastical and secular circles. They painted in fresco technique (the group around zoograph Andreja Andrejevic which decorated Vracevsnica and Lazarica), in tempera for icons, and dealt in portraiture as well. Some among them settled in important cultural centers, such as Sremski Karlovci (Nikola Jankovic and Georgije Stojanovic) , in Arad and Temicvar (Nedeljko Popovic-Serban). Adding to their repertoire, besides icons and portraits they produced still-life in which the contemporary Western spirit is felt. Joakim Markovic, who worked in Novi Sad, possibly as early as 1740, had already diversified his repertoire in this way. Several other names are also connected with that city (Andrija and Maksim Hristoforovic, Stefan and DimitrijeJankovic), but the most important artist seems to have been Vasilije Ostojic (iconostasis in Serbian church in Budim, Church of the Dormition in Novi Sad and others). He, and his associate, Janko Halkozovic, worked well into the 1790’s. Several other painters located in Sremski Karlovci, painted a number of iconostases of the churches in the South Hungarian regions. Among those, Dimitrije Bacevic is considered one of the most important artists of that period, with the works in Nikolajevska Church in Zemun (1762) and in the upper church in Sremski Karlovci (1671). Stefan Tenecki, also an icon painter is interesting too, in that he received his training in Russia, painting what is considered to be the first known self-portrait in Serbian art of the post-Mediaeval period. Other prosperous cities also had resident artists of varying accomplishment. Such cities were Vrsac (Nikola Neskovic, “Self Portrait” in National Museum, Belgrade); or Osijek (Jovan Grabovan), and others.

A further step in the evolution of Serbian Baroque was taken by the artists of the next generation, who started training in the domestic workshops, before heading for Vienna or Venice. These artists consequently abandoned traditional style and iconography, and became totally Westernized. Some of those have not been identified; the author of the paintings from the nave of the church at Krusedol Monastery, in 1756, or the highly accomplished unknown master who executed the iconostasis in Aleksandrovo ear Subotica, in 1766. Among the known ones, Dimitrije Popovic entered the Academy in Vienna in 1763. Although essentially Baroque in most aspects, he retained the gold background and drapery of his forebears. Among his works one can cite a number of iconostases from the 1770’s in Cakovo, Orlovat, Serbian Itebej, Serbian Pardanj and others.

Before entering the Vienna Academy in 1769, Teodor Kracun was a student of Dimitrije Bacevic just as had been Dimitrije Popovic. Kracun is considered the greatest Serbian Baroque painter, who left behind him not only the paintings on the iconostases (Hopovo, Sombor, Sremska Mitrovica in the 1770’s, and above all these from the cathedral in Karlovci, 1780), but several portraits of leading churchmen of their day (“Metropolitan Pavle Nenadovic”). His figures are substantial, draped in voluminous garments, exposed to the dramatic lighting, and well set into the pictorial space (liThe Transfiguration,” formerly in Senta; “The Fountain of Life;” “The Resurrection;” “The Trinity” from Sremski Karlovci). Toward the end of his career he lightens his palette under the influence of the Rococo style. Another notable artist of this style, Teodor Ilic Cesljar (1746-1793), started his studies in Temisvar, but probably continued them in Vienna and even Venice. His opus included a great deal of the religious works (in the churches of Budim, Mokrin, Kikinda and others); among the large paintings, the most remarkable is “The Martyrdom of St. Barbara,” from Pakrac, c. 1785. Robust forms and dramatic lighting are substituted for much more delicate color and form, and softer, even lighting. He too painted portraits like those of the “Avakumovic Family” and “Bishop Sakabenta.”

The last decades of the 18th century are a period of the artistic activities of Jakov Orfeltn (d. 1803). Although he studied in Vienna from 1766 as an engraver of copper plate, his works also included icons and portraits. Starting as a young man under the influence of the Rococo style, with his strongly cultivated drawing and solid modeling of figures and spaces, he started to approach, stylistically, classicism. He collaborated with Teodor Kracun on the iconostasis of the Cathedral of Sremski Karlovci (1781); furthermore, he worked in the Monastery of Grgeteg (1784), in Stapar (1792), from which one can mention the impressive representation of “Christ With Orb,” and the “Virgin With The Child.” His other works can be seen in Beliki Radinci (1792); two years later in Kraljevci; and toward the end of his life he finished the iconostasis for Bezdin Monastery (1802). There are several other painters of approximately the same generation, who shared his artistic views (Kozma Kolaric, Stefan Gavrilovic, and others).

In evaluating the Baroque movement among the Serbs, the circumstances of the encounter must be taken into consideration. There was no Serbian political organization since the Serbs were in foreign territory; the authority of the Church co-existed within a Catholic realm. Then, too, the Serbian standard of living was still modest. Therefore, it is less difficult to understand why a totally alien art form, which was handed down to the Serbs in its provincial variation, could be nothing more than that – a very modest and provincial output, sufficient to satisfy the needs of that specific society. Only occasionally do flashes of greatness emerge from the works of Kracun, Cesljar and Orfelin.

Wood Carving

If the totality of the Baroque spirit was not shown in architecture and in individual paintings, it was present in the iconostases. Where painting fell short, beautiful carvings in wood made up in total effect with its richly burnished gilded surfaces. It is also true, however, that it is in wood carving that ethnic genius emerged under a new guise. Instead of flat and intertwined ribbons (royal door of Jazak Monastery), one sees now deeply cut volutes and pediments, oval medallions encircled by wreaths of leaves and flowers, bound by winding ribbons. Among the most beautifully preserved ensembles are the iconostases from the Cathedral in Sremski Karlovci, the churches in Sremska Mitrovica, Novi Sad (the Church of the Dormition), in Zemun (St. Nicholas), and in Hopovo and Stari Becej. Rococo is found in the Upper Church of Sremski Karlovci, while the Church of the Virgin in Zemun shows a mixture of Baroque, Rococo and Classical styles. The most elaborate monument of that kind is seen in the iconostasis of Uspenska Church at Pancevo, dating from 1828.


Another branch of art, much more popular and less tradition-bound than architecture and monumental painting was engraving. Since the operation of printing presses was forbidden to the Serbian church, the restriction was offset by the use of wood-block prints. This technique did not have a long and strong tradition among the Serbs, and its output could not satisfy the need for both quantity and the quality. However, these works appear charming to the contemporary viewer, due to their simplicity, directness of illustration, and linear, quality. As an example there is the woodcut of “Prince Lazar,” who stands richly garbed between two tall structures. He is crowned, and holds a scepter in one hand, and in the other, his own head. Above the inscriptions which identify him, God’s Hand is extended in blessing (Vrdnik Monastery). Equally amusing is the overall “View of Mount Athos,” which is being approached from the sea by a ship with oars and sails (Beocin Monastery). Certain artists of such woodcuts are known by name, from the first half of the 18th century, such as Georgije Nikolic, but the majority of them still belong to the ecclesiastical world (monk Jonah from Sisatovac, hieromonah Hristofer from Besenovo, priest Nikola Petrovic, and others).

The technique of engraving on copper plate was also used by Serbs. In terms of its durability and economy, copper engravings were especially appealing to Serbian ecclesiastics, who then ordered plates from foreign masters in Vienna. Two engravers from that city played an important part in producing the national output in that technique. Thus, T. Mesmer (1717-1777) and Jakov Schmutzer (1733-1811), followed drawings produced by Serbian masters and engraved representations of the following monasteries: Studenica, Rakovac, Velika Remeta, Hopovo, and St. Ana in Slavonia.

As the Serbian middle class grew more prosperous around the middle of the 18th century, its needs and interests increased. Imported engravings became a very popular art form in :he households of the Serbian middle class. Many were reproductions of the masterpieces of Western art, and in exposing this newly found public market to a different style, they helped to influence Serbian tastes.

These popular prints were used for study purposes by the local painters, for the lack of any other instructional means. It is through such works that the new subjects and styles were introduced into the Serbian paintings.

The first known Serbian copper-plate engraver is Hristofor Zefarovic (d. 1753). In collaboration with Mesmer he created the “Stematografija” in 1741, the “Privilegije” in 1745, and three years later the “Descriptions of Jerusalem” (“Opisanije svjatago bozija grada Jerusalima”), while the last known work is “St. Stevan Siljanovic,” 1753. Zefarovic’s engravings are predominantly religious in content, made for churches, and for the clergy and laity alike. His hybrid style contains traditional elements juxtaposed with the Baroque elements (-space, drapery, and architectural elements such as steps and columns) – everything wrapped in the cloak of a romantic past (e.g., King Vladislav”, founder of Mileseva, wears a pseudo-dalmatic and an ermine cloak).

Although Zefarovic left no disciples, the gap at his passing was filled by the most prominent Serbian Baroque artist of his genre, Zaharije Orfelin (1726-1785). Besides the copper-plate engraving, he was involved in writing and translating, and in connection with his bookish activities, he did calligraphy as well. In the engraving field he created icons and portraits, geographical cards and illustrations for books and individual copper plates. Among his many works, a special place is given to his “Slaveno serbska Valahiska kaligrafija” (“Serbo-Slavic Wallachian calligraphy”) from 1778, for which he found inspiration among the Venetian masters especially Tiepollo. Like Baroque masters elsewhere, he enjoyed rendering drapery in a grand manner, imposing abundant ornamental decoration, while showing an (unusual for Serbian art of the time) interest in developed landscape. His last masterpiece, created for the “Veciti ” Kalandar” (Eternal Calendar) was the illustration of “The Creation of the World.” Among all the Serbian artists of the 18th century, he alone was honored by election to the Vienna Academy of Arts (1771 and 1772). Among contemporary Serbs, Zefarovic alone measured up to the achievements of the Western world.

The graphic technique continued to enjoy a place in art among the Serbs in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides the foreign artists, there were native masters who followed general stylistic trends of their own time and place; none, however, in his respective generation, occupied the place that was given to Zaharija Orfelin.


Serbian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland II Copyright © 2020 by Cleveland State University . All Rights Reserved.

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