Main Body

Period Under the Turkish Rule: 1459-1690

The Turkish conquest of the Balkans occurred in slow stages. The Bulgarian states fell in 1393 and 1396; Byzantium ceased to exist with the fall of Constantinople in 1453; and independent Serbia ended its long history when Smederevo was conquered in 1459. Bosnia and Herzegovina followed suit in 1463 and 1482, respectively, while the last stronghold of Serbian independence, Zeta, was taken in 1499.

Migrations of the Serbs under Ottoman pressure had already started in the late 14th century and continued through the following centuries northward and westward into the territories of Hungary (Backa, Banat, Srem), and even further than the political borders of today’s Yugoslavia, into Hungary and modern Romania. Serbian refugees also sought shelter in the Croatian territories of Slavonia and other places where they became known under the name of “uskoci.”

The Serbian autocephalous church survived the fall of the state by a few years. The Turks did not abolish the Patriarchate immediately owing to their preoccupation with Hungary. However, following the death of the Serbian Patriarch, Arsenije II in 1463, the post was left vacant, and the independent Serbian church was subordinated to an ecclesiastical center in Ochrid, which replaced leading Serbian churchmen with Greek clergy. But some Serbian metropolitan areas – those of Belgrade, Zeta, and Hercegovina – did not recognize the authority of the archbishop of Ochrid, and there is where the matter lay until the reestablishment of the Patriarchate in 1557.

During the last decades of Serbian independence, the creative energies, which in the Western world characterized the Renaissance, were, in Serbia, committed to the construction of fortified citadels, away from any great ecclesiastical building program of the previous generation. Yet, artistic activities under Turkish rule were not completely extinguished. Already in the 15th century there are traces of attempted restorations of the monuments, which indicate that artists were still available. St. Niceta was restored in 1489, and Poganovo Monastery, a decade later. Frescoes of this era are almost monochromatic in color, but they are still effective in their use of dramatic lighting, indicating a further evolution of the Byzantine inheritance.


During the second half of the 15th century, Serbia had experienced a decline of leadership. The ruler and his family, and the mighty feudal lords were either dead or emigrated. Thus, from the 16th century, the smaller land owner, the villager, priest and monk became the new patrons and benefactors. But the churches now erected were modest in comparison to their antecedents. Done by local craftsmen, rather than highly trained artists, the exteriors of new buildings were devoid of carved decoration, which when attempted seem conspicuously naive. Building materials were of predominantly undressed stone, frequently covered with plaster and whitewash. Exterior elevations are unimpressive, and the correlation between the exterior and interior spaces js not clearly indicated. Interiors themselves were embellished with frescoes and, although one can no’t speak of specific styles in connection with the architecture of the 16th and 17th century churches, certain among them exhibited features which depended very much upon local traditions. Many are simple onenave churches, without domes (The Presentation of the Virgin; The Presentation of Christ; The Transfiguration – all in the Ovcar-Kablar Canyon). Examples of domed structures, such as those found near the River Drina (Tronosa, Raca, Papraca, Tamna) are definitely inspired v by the ancient Raska-type church. Thus, they have low, side choir chapels, which appear as transepts on the ground plan, a type exemplified by Majstorovina near Bijelo Polje, and Dobrilovina on Tara mountain. But structures raised in the territory of Crna Gora (a term applied to the ancient Zeta at the end of the 15th century in Venetian sources) show signs of a great traditionalism. The ancient form of the three-naved basilica also rises here with some variation in the types of domes employed (St. Trojica, Plevlje; Nikoljac, near Bijelo Polje; the Piva Monastery on the River Piva). A frequently used plan was that of a triconchos, which was popular in the Morava style. To this type belong: Jovanje in Ovcar-Kablar Canyon; Lapusnja, Lozica, Krepicevac, and others. All those churches date from the middle of the 16th to the end of the 17th centuries and were erected in regions around the River Drina (Tronosa, Raca on the Serbian side, and on the Bosnian side: Papraca, Vozuca, Lomnica and Tamna), or in the remote river canyons.

In the meantime, those Serbs who escaped from the Turks north to the Danube and Sava Rivers, continued to build their own foundations in the domains of Hungary. Some of these are attributed to the members of the Brankovic and other families. The monasteries of Grgeteg, Bodjani, and Hordos near Arad, which date from the last quarter of the 15th century seem to be of Serbian origin. Another group of monasteries evolved in Srem, around Fruska Gora, and some of those benefited from the munificence of the last members of Serbian families with the title of Despot. There were sixteen structures in this group, and they all followed the Morava style or, triconchos plan – thus showing a very conscious adherence to the national tradition. Novo Hopovo and Krusedol had ties to the last of the Serbian Despots in the early years of the 16th century. v v v They were followed by Jazak, Belika Remeta, Sisatovac, Besenovo, Kuvezdin, Vrdnik (also called Ravanica), and the lesser known Petkovica, Mala Remeta, Beotin, Privina Glava and Djipsa. Those churches were decorated with frescoes, and almost without exception were very heavily damaged during World War II.

After the disastrous events of the last years of the 17th century and the abolition of the Serbian Patriarchate in 1693, architectural activity that employed bricks and stone ceased. In the 18th and 19th centuries small wooden churches were erected in villages by the peasants. These structures, prone to fires and demolitions in the course of the 19th century, had little chance of surviving, so very few have come down to us. With their tall shingled roofs, they are little different, except for the rounded apse, in style and technique from average village dwellings. Really, they belong to the domain of folk art. Some of them are still preserved and serve as documentary evidence for the existence of many more which are now irretrievably lost (e.g., the church in Nakucani, burned in the early 19th century). In existence are churches in Takovo; in a village, Radojevici, on the Zlatar mountain; near Crniljevo; and near Osecina.

Osecina near Valjevo. Village Church with Wooden Roof. View from the N-E., 19th Century. (Photo: L.D. Popovich, 1971).
Fig. 29. Osecina near Valjevo. Village Church with Wooden Roof. View from the N-E., 19th Century. (Photo: L.D. Popovich, 1971).

Fresco Paintings

While the Turkish authorities imposed controls on the architectural activities of their vassals, what happened to the interior of the ecclesiastical buildings was not their concern. Thus, within the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the renewed Patriarchate (which extended from Custendil in Bulgaria to Kupa in Croatia and from v Stip in Macedonia to Budim in Hungary), there was a great deal of fresco painting. The focus of all the activity was the ancient monasteries, since in many respects, the ecclesiastical powers had assumed civil roles in the absence of secular leadership. Ecclesiastical as well as secular books were copied (the Code of Tzar Dusan; the Biographies of Serbian Rulers), and while there were many wandering scribes, there were also permanently installed scriptoria within such monasteries as Pee, Decani, Nikoljac in Bijelo Polje, and St. Trojica in Plevlje. Besides icons which were made and survived, the travelers who passed through these monasteries reported tremendous wealth in silver, gold, and other precious objects.

After 1557, permission was granted by Turkish authorities to renovate or rebuild the damaged structures, and the Patriarchate immediately applied its energies to that task. Renovations were carried out in Pee and Gracanica, among others, while Piva Monastery, and Hopovo Monastery, among others, were built.

Inscriptions provide evidence of the identities and occupations of new donors. Many were wealthy merchants, villagers, priests and monks. The Patriarch himself led all in the sponsorship of the arts. The fresco decoration could be carried out in as little as three weeks’ time, or it could last up to two years. Between the Patriarchate of Makarije (1557-1571) and that of Pajsije (1614-1647), about sixty monuments with fresco paintings have been recorded by scholars. As was the case during the earlier period, the iconography was theologically well-planned. Small village churches displayed obligatory themes of standing saints in the lower zone. In the upper zones, there were the Great Feasts, while the Passion cycle was an exception rather than the rule (often it was merged with the Feast Cycle). The same can be said for the cycle from the life of the patron saint of the church, which found its place, not on the wall of the church, but on the large icons. The popular representations of the Last Judgment provide amusing episodes of punishment for petty crimes. Special stress was placed upon the representations of the Serbian saints (rulers and the ecclesiastical figures: Pee, Gracanica, Hilandari, Moraca and others; the local martyrs were represented as well). It is surprising to find that imported iconographic themes were very limited, implying both artistic isolationism and a strong tendency toward the preservation of that which was national in religion and culture.

The list of the great fresco programs is headed by the narthex at Pee, which dates from 1561. A rather unified group of masters must have worked there, but only one painter signed his name: Andrija. The colors of these frescoes are not refined, and the drawing, though correct, is rather dry and schematical, permitting little movement. This master attempts to lend the monumentality to the standing figures of the Apostles by the usage of bulky garments. However, the heads and the hands are disproportionately small for the bodies. Faithfulness to the 14th century compositions can be observed in the scene from the Transfiguration, in which even the floating end of Moses’ himation is reproduced. But the hills of the landscape are dryer and more barren; the movements of the Apostles much less vigorous, and a great deal of attention is paid to decorative elements (medallions and borders), even to the pearls and jewels of the garments. All the formal components of composition are employed. Thus, there are landscapes, architecture, and human figures, and an over-abundance of detail. Nevertheless, the general impact is of a rather competent workshop.

The restoration carried out in Milesevo in the 1560’s has come down in rather damaged condition. Still, it is possible to observe in connection with the habits of the 15th century artists that they respected the 13th century prototypes, While attempting to adjust their style of painting to much larger and more monumental forms.

The masters from Pee also worked in the mausoleum of Nemanja – the Church of the Virgin at Studenica – in 1568. They repainted 186 the altar, part of the nave and the inner narthex. Here also they respected the remains of the past, by adapting their 16th century works to 14th century style and composition, and to the specific demands of early 13th century architectural spaces. Among single figures, one observes St. Sava the Serbian, and St. George the New (Kratovac). Interesting is the portrait of the kneeling nun, Anastasia, who is addressing her prayer to the enthroned Virgin holding the Christ Child. These figures appear monumental, although there is a great deal of dry linearism in the technique and a great deal of attention to details. The compositions are much closer to the 14th century schemes, but the deterioration is felt in the proportions of the figures (The Resurrection of Lazarus, The Last Supper).

The fresco decoration of the Monastery of Savina preceded that of Studeni ca by two years, while that of Gracanirca postdates it by the same number of years. It is felt by scholars that the workshop which started at Pee, reached maturity in the narthex of Gracanica. The standing saints (e.g., St. Sava of Jerusalem, and St. Ephrem the Syrian) are elegantly tall, and the strict linearism of the body and drapery are somehow compatible with the ascetic nature of the subjects. The Prophets, represented in bust, are placed within . extremely decorative volutes, and are decoratively treated (garments, symbols, and in the inscribed scrolls). An interesting historical composition is seen in the representation of the burial of the Metropolitan Dionisije, which is compositionally dependent on the Dormition of the Virgin. Another element can be observed in Gracanica frescoes: facial features (e.g., the Apostles) are now much more removed from classical prototypes, though not yet commonplace. The coloristic effects in this narthex are much richer than at Pee.

But the Pee ensemble of artists is not the only one active in the Patriarchal domain. Another group, more naive in every respect, is responsible for the frescoes which cover the walls of churches such as Budisavci (c. 1568), where one finds an interesting portrait of Patriarch Makarios with a model of his church, or in Trebinjac; dating from the 1560’s-1570’s (e.g., the Last Judgment, where one sees the figures with large heads and short, stocky bodies). Painters from the coastal areas were also employed to supplement the work of locals. As an example, the fresco from St. Nicholas Dabarski can be cited. It dates from 1571, and the style shows a slavish and routine repetition of the ancient prototypes.

However, among the artists of this period, an outstanding place belongs to Longinus, a disciple of the Pee painters, who is renowned both in fresco and icon painting. His icons will be dealt with later. About 1580 he executed a part of the fresco decoration of the church in Lomnica, in Eastern Bosnia. In comparison to the works of his contemporaries, the painting style of Longinus appears courtly in its solid drawing and good composition, based on the first half of the 14th century prototypes (The Nativity of Christ, The Ascension).

The rustication of the Patriarchal style can be observed in the small village churches of Kosovo and Metohija region, which were painted during the last quarter of the 16th and the first decades of the 17th century (Velika Hoca, Drsnik, and others).

It is during this period that the Nemanjic foundation, Moraca, 188 received the greatest part of its fresco decoration. Of the original paintings, only fragments with the scenes from the Life of the Prophet Elijah remained in the diaconicon. The nave and the narthex of this church were painted during 1574 and 1577-1578. Although the total effect might be impressive within the framework of the 13th century architecture, closer inspection shows simplified forms, overburdened compositions, and a general lack of elegance. The painters are locally schooled, and their work is closer to craftsmanship than to art.

Another artist, an exponent of the local tradition, is well known, not for the high quality of his frescoes or icons, but for his industriousness. Hieromonah Strahinja from Budimlja, whose career can be followed from 1591 to 1621, completed the fresco decoration for at least eight churches. Among the better known structures decorated by him are the narthex and the nave of the Troica in Plevlje, in 1592 and 1594-1595, respectively, and the upper zones of the narthex in P’iva Monastery in 1604. Among the frescoes from Plevlje, the most interesting are the donor with the model of the church who approaches the enthroned Christ in the naos, and the donors from the narthex. The figures are disproportionate, but there are attempts at the portraitures on the images of the donors. The background of the compositions is very schematized, especially when the hills are depicted (e.g., Christ Naming Peter, narthex, Plevlje).

Toward the end of the 16th century, the presence of the imported masters was felt. These painters came from Northern Greece and Mount Athos, but their art can not be called great by any standards. They worked in the Piva Monastery in 1604-1606, but their manner is harsh, linear and without inner unities of figures and composition (the Church Fathers; the Archangel Michael). The figures are flat, the use of contrast, heavy-handed. But meticulously painted decorative details of the garments, ornaments, book covers and similar objects provide delightful diversions.

The Greek painters who were not completely acceptable within the Patriarchate in the 16th century due to the ecclesiastical tension between Pee and Ochrid, were better received in the course of the 17th century when the relationship between these religious centers was more cordial. In that fact one finds the explanation for the presence of Greek painters in Piva, and also in the distant areas across the Sava and Danube Rivers. The frescoes from the Hopovo Monastery date from 1608, and they are connected in style to the works at Piva, although the Hopovo masters seemed better able to follow the Palaeologan prototypes (the Massacre of the Innocents, the Dormition of the Virgin).

A synthesis of the ecclectic Athos style with the Serbian tradition was achieved by Georgije Metrofanovic, whose career in icons and frescoes spans five short years (1616-1621). In the refectory of Hilandari, in two monastic churches in Hercegovina (Zavala and Dobricevo), and finally on the exterior facade of Moraca, he developed a style which in form is not especially noble, nor disciplined in drawing and modeling.

The slightly younger painter is Kir Kozma, whose icons and frescoes are stylistically inspired by the works of Longinus. The frescoes of the narthex (lower zone) in the Monastery of Piva (1626) are attributed to him, as are the frescoes in the small church of St. Nicholas (1639) in the Moraca Monastery, and those in the chapel of St. Stephen in the main church of the same monastery (1643).

In the 17th century, still other wars and ensuing political difficulties would bring to a close the era of the Serbian Patriarchate under the Turks. At the same time, a very ancient art, completely isolated and cut off from any autochthonous or foreign stimulus was condemned to a slow and not too glorious death. But new migrations of the Serbs to the north would bring them into new sets of political and economic circumstances, and provide a new and dynamic impetus to the arts.


In the period between the fall of the Serbian state (1459) and the renewal of the Patriarchate (1557), the production of icons 190 seems to have been rare. Native artists remaining in the country must have been few in number, for art patrons turned to other sources. Greek artists became predominant in the Macedonian regions, while Hercegovina found the artists – descendants of the pictores graeci – who worked along the Adriatic coast in the Italo-Byzantine manner more compatible. An example of that style was the beautiful tondo from Topla near Hercegovina representing Peter and Paul embracing each other. Although it dates from the second half of the 16th century, the tondo provides us with indirect evidence about the continuous coastal artistic tradition from at least the middle of the 14th century onward. The princes of the Apostles were rendered in bust and in three-quarter view; they are identified by names inscribed in Greek, while the Byzantine facial iconography and the classical type of garments are followed closely. New is the theme of the two Apostles embracing (it is also seen in the fresco of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Musnikovo, dated 1563-1564). The drawing is meticulous, the forms are firm, and made to appear voluminous. The folds of the garments are stressed by geometricized white highlights.

Now the Serbs who migrated to the lands of Southern Hungary depended on artists from still another region – Wallachia – itself a conduit through which passed, and was absorbed, the art of Mount Athos and the Italo-Cretan tradition.

The great Deisis icons which include the archangels and Apostles from the Monastery of Krusedol in Srem are considered to be the handiwork of Wallachian artists in the service of Serbian patrons (in this case the Archbishop Maxim and his mother, Angelina, from the illustrious Brankovic family). The work is moving in overall effect, while at the same time it demonstrates the weaknesses of an extreme mannerism. Narrow ground lines and gold backgrounds fail to create the sense of space. The elongated figures tiptoe or float. Tall bodies are covered with conventionalized draperies, which indicate the contrapposto position of the legs. Tiny feet, and very small heads and hands offer curious contrast to large bodies. The artists employ decorative elaboration on the wings and robes of angels, and on the scrolls held by the Apostles.

Artistic activities greatly increased after 1557, although the works which immediately follow that date still show the usual mixture of traditions, dependent on geographic position: for example, the icon of Hodegitria, now in Sarajevo, by Todor Vukovic from 1568 shows modified Italo-Cretan tradition; the icon of Christ from the village of Leskovec near Ochrid dated in 1565-1566 is stylistically closer to the Greek tradition.

However, by 1570, the new generation of artist monks who were taught in such centers as Pec and Decani, started turning out new works, inspired by older Serbian art, particularly that of the 14th century.

To the first generation of these artists several icons can be attributed, and they too were made for and preserved in the ancient Serbian foundations. The shape of the heads of the angels from the Trinity icon from Detani owe a great deal to the Palaeologan period. The changes are felt in the brittle folds of the drapery, in stylized foliage, and in the shape of the architectural structure which rises above the central figure. The coloring is very bright with blues and ochers predominating. To the same unknown master is attributed the Decani icon of the Annunciation from the royal door. Details are elegantly drawn (heads, hands), but the treatment of the folds and the striations over the entire surface of the drapery tend to add a graphic element to those figures, making them much less substantial.

The icons from the Gracanica iconostasis belong to the same milieu, although they are somewhat newer, and might be dated from the end of the 16th century. The same elegant, solid drawing is employed together with the geometrically shaped highlights on the folds. This particular artist enjoys depicting cascading folds of garments, on the figures of the standing Christ and on the Apostles as well. Deep shadows and broad surfaces of highlights give these faces volume, and these figures a sense of monumentality.

Among the nameless artists, the work of the painter Longinus stands out, and can be followed from about 1566 to 1598. He was schooled in the center of the Patriarchate at Pec where he learned his art from the fresco painters of the exonarthex there. His works included, besides heroes, literary attempts at ecclesiastical poetry, copying of the texts, and painting icons, both small and large. His works circulated over a large territory, and very likely influenced the next generation of painters (in Pee, Decani, Lomnica, Piva, Velika Hoca, village of Cikote in Bosnia, and in Nikoljac, Bijelo Polje). His early icons show a clear, bright coloristic scheme, which was their main strength. In drawing he tends to exaggerate details and in proportion he inconsistently fashions elongated heads with eyes that are too closely set. Among the most representative examples are: the throne icon of the . seated Virgin with Christ Child, surrounded by the smaller figures of the prophets. on a raised border (in the Piva Monastery). The work is signed and dated c. 1573-1574. Only several years later, in 1577-1578, he painted another, similar, icon of the Virgin for the Monastery of Lomnica in Bosnia, which he also signed. The representation is even more ceremonious in iconography and decorative in detail. Instead of being strictly frontal, the Virgin is turned slightly to the right, while the Child is placed on her left arm, and formally juxtaposed to the Mother. Embroidered cushions are placed on her throne. The throne is covered with delicate etching, and behind the throne two archangels with gently inclined heads are to be seen. Both wear imperial dalmatics heavily embroidered in pearls and semi-precious stones. The raised rim of the icon is wider, and the prophets depicted there assume more vivid poses.

In his later works, Longinus’ drawing grew more assured. His draperies are modeled with greater skill, but he darkens his coloring, leaving a much harsher artistic impression. Also, he seems tb have introduced some Islamic decorative motifs in the painted architecture, and to have borrowed some of the Russian coloristic scheme for his painting. But, generally speaking, although there was a great deal of exchange, between Russia and the Patriarchate, there is very little visual evidence of a Russian artistic imprint upon this period of Serbian art (as an exception, e.g., there is the icon of St. Fevrontija with the scenes of her life in Gracanica, 1607-1608).

However, Italo-Cretan traditions penetrated into Serbia via the monasteries on Mount Athos, especially the Serbian Monastery of Hilandari. One of the exponents of this style in Serbia was a Hilandari monk, Georgije Mitrofanovic, who produced for a few short years between 1616-1621, but who proved to be a very prolific painter of frescoes and icons. Among his icons one can mention the Christ in bust, and the Annunciation for a royal door, both in Hilandari; and the icon of, the enthroned Virgin with Child, surrounded by the Prophets in half figure, dated c. 1616-1617 for the iconostasis of Moraca Monastery. His drawing lacks the elegance of the early masters, his modeling is hard and heavy, and occasionally affected.

The icons of the second quarter of the 17th century regained new qualities in the works of a little known master, Jovan. Once again, the drawing is cultivated, and there is a new sense for proportion and the relationship between the body and the drapery which is given a linear elegance, with delicate harmonious white highlights. There is a feeling of firm modeling which may have roots in the second half of the 14th century. Seriousness, rather than surface sentimentality, dominates physiognomies. The earlier known works by Master Jovan, dating about 1627-1628 are preserved in the Nikoljac Monastery, in Bijelo Polje. First of all the half figure Hodegetria with the Child is surrounded by the Prophets in bust, who hold open scrolls inscribed with their prophecies relative to the Virgin and the Child. Above , the Virgin, in a segment with rays, the representation of the “Elder of the Days” – God the Father – appears. Secondly, the pendant icon is that of Christ, also in half figure, surrounded by the Twelve Apostles in bust. On the bottom rim, below Christ, are the representations of St. Sava the Serbian in the garb of an archbishop, and St. Simeon (Nemanja), dressed as a monk of the Greater Order. Above the central field, seen against the segment with rays, Christ appears again, but this time in the iconographic guise of the Archangel of the Great Council. The third icon in the same monastery by Master Jovan represents the painter’s namesake, St. John, who is surrounded with scenes from his life. This type of icon actually was very popular during the Turkish period (Deisis ‘with the Feasts and the Scenes in Sarajevo, c. mid-16th century; St. Fevrontija with the scenes of her life, c. 17th century, in Gracanica; St. Nicholas with the scenes of his life in Decani, c. 17th century; St. George with the scenes from his life, Pee, mid-17th century). Several other icons, now preserved in Hilandari Monastery, are attributed to this painter and date from 1632 (St. Petka; St. Demetrios, and others).

A somewhat younger artist who worked between 1626 and 1646 was a fresco master and icon painter. His name is known through the signature which he left in secret lettering on the icon of Sts. Sava and Simeon in Moraca, Kir Kozma. The characteristics of Kozma’s style are solid drawing of elegant figures, minute attention to details of garments and a sincere interest in rendering the psychological expression of the saints. He might have been inspired by 16th century works, especially those of Longinus. Among the icons in Piva Monastery, St. George and the Dormition of the Virgin are considered his, and are dated about 1638-1639. In the Moraca Monastery, the double-faced icon of St. Sava with St. Simeon (Nemanja), and Stefan Vukovic (grandson of Nemanja and the founder of this monastery) stand together with Cyril the Philosopher. The other side shows the Dormition of the Virgin. This icon dates from c. 1640. For the same monastery he painted in 1646 a very large icon with Sts. Sava and Simeon, who are surrounded by scenes from their lives.

The artistic activity of the second quarter of the 17th century in the mountain regions of Moraca and Piva was connected with Athos, through Hilandari, and with southern Hungary. The icon of St. John Prodromos in half figure, and holding his own head on a plate, which belonged to the Krusedol Monastery in 1644 has clear stylistic affinities to the Piva works.

The middle of the 17th century is represented by such artists as the monk, Mitrofan who adorned the Monastery of the Annunciation in Kablar, and Hilandari with frescoes and icons, and hieromonah Andrija Raicevic. The latter worked in miniatures, frescoes and icons. His style shows signs of ecclecticism, since he borrows both from Russian art and from printed books.

How the middle of the century style fared in the workshops at , Pec can be seen in the icon of St. George. Still clad in military fashion, George is now enthroned, and his sword is his scepter. The central field of the icon is surrounded by events taken from his life. The style of this workshop is slow and pedantic, in which the bejewelled throne corresponds well to the richly carved and gilded frame, thus giving a general feeling of decorative unity.

Two other artistic personalities were known about the middle of the seventh decade of the 17th century. Both showed tendencies toward linear schematization, although a good color scheme was retained. Avesalom Vujicic painted the icon from Moraca. Executed in c. 1672-1673, the central field shows St. Luke painting the Virgin, which gives us an interesting glimpse into a studio of the late Middle Ages. The panel upon which the Virgin Hodegitria in half figure with Child was being painted by St. Luke is placed on an easel before which the painter sits. Two low desks contain the implements of the trade. Fourteen scenes from the life of St. Luke surround the main panel.

Another artist, Radul, is represented at Pee by the richly framed icon of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, who stand in the center field, surrounded, once again, by events from their lives. The icon is dated c. 1673-1674. This late icon style migrated to the coastal regions, where it was perpetuated by master craftsmen well into the 19th century.

The wars between the Austrians and the Turks, and the Serbian migration which followed that conflict virtually caused a standstill in artistic activity at the end of the 17th century. The modest needs of the villagers were met by the simple artisans, little tutored in the artistic traditions of the past. As the Serbs migrated once again north of the rivers Sava and Danube, different political and sociological circumstances presupposed new artistic idioms.

Wood Carving

Closely associated with icon production during the Turkish period was another technique, which was both very ancient and very perishable. There is no doubt that the Slavs knew and used wood carving technique even before their migrations, since the linguistic evidence points that way. All the Slavs use the same words for wood carving (e.g., “rezba,” “balvan”). This tradition must have been continued after their settlement in the Balkans, and the remains of charred ornamental wood pieces have been excavated in ancient Slavic sites.

With the Christianization and the formation of the Serbian State, this technique must have found at least modest application in ecclesiastical architecture, in a part of the interior embellishment. While carved stone fragments from royal foundations remain, carving in wood which might have been the province of more modest structures, has not survived until well into the 14th century.

First of all, it seems that the church doors were made primarily of wood (there is no mention of bronze doors, as were used in Byzantium). Unfortunately none of the original doors of the royal, monastic foundations have been preserved. The surviving door of the Church of Sts. Constantine and Helena at Ochrid, which is attributed to the early 14th century, is mainly decorated with crosses. The same theme is repeated on the church door from Mali Grad on Prespa, dated in 1369. The cross theme is to be seen on ‘the great bronze door of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (6th century), and several other Byzantine bronze doors exported to Italy. Furthermore, the Church of St. Nicholas the Hospitaler in Ochrid has also a door which dates from the period of Serbian domination. The door is divided into panels of wood on which are carved, in low relief, representations of the Holy Warriors on horseback and numbers of fantastic animals. It is obvious that the artist tried to imitate the style of the Byzantine bronze doors.

However, there are more monuments done in this material preserved from the period of the Turkish domination.

On the double doors of the Monastery of Slepte, which dates from the 16th century, figures of saints in relief are seen under pointed arches, while in the lower zones, in rectangular fields, the images of various beasts are displayed. Frames are composed of interlaced ribbons and some very stylized floral motifs. A single door from the same church, suppresses the figure a great deal (the prophets in busts within scrolls), for the overall effect of decorativeness, achieved by the intertwined ribbon to form a variety of designs: interlocked circles and lozenges, crosses and others. The effect is reminiscent of designs on the headpieces of manuscripts of the 15th century and later periods, which were inspired by the works of the Morava School (Collection of Vladimir Gramatic, Zagreb; Hopovo Gospels from 1662; and others). The figureless door of the Polosko Monastery (16th-17th century), shares affinity with Islamic works in its use of linear interlacing along borders, and star decoration in main panels.

Further application of wood carving extended to church stalls, pulpits and other objects, but very little remains (pulpit from Slepce Monastery, near Bitola, 16th century).

The greatest documented application of wood carving is to be found on the iconostasis. The evolution of the iconostasis, the partition which separates the sanctuary from the nave, is well known. Beginning with simple low parapet slabs, which are not preserved in wood, but in marble, upright columnar elements were added. These provided the intercolumnated space within which icons were inserted (e.g., Staro Nagoricino, c. 14th century, in marble). The columns were usually connected with a cross beam called the architrave, to which a second row of icons was added by the end of the 14th century. That row usually consisted of the Deisis representation · into which the Twelve Apostles were incorporated (Hilandari iconostasis; the lost example from the destroyed Cathedral of Belgrade, first quarter of the 15th century). Finally, in the Serbian churches of the 16th and later centuries, an iconostasis would be surmounted by a large wooden cross, accompanied by two smaller panels, upon which, in tempera, Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and St. John is painted (Crosses from Decani, dated in 1594, and Gracanica, dated 1626).

The problem of origin of the cross above the iconostasis is a complicated one, since a very similar theme is to be found in Italian art (Croce dipinta) of the 13th-14th centuries. However, this seems to have come to Italy from Byzantium, and since such crosses are documented on the Adriatic shores only from the 15th century, it is possible that the cross theme came to Serbia directly from the Byzantine territories, rather than from coastal areas. Whatever the case, the ultimate origin seems to be Byzantine.

The wood carving on the entire iconostasis was inspired by many sources: first, from marble carvings, second, from the carved and gilded frames of the portable icons. Basically, the carved areas were covered with stucco and gilded, while the designs were executed with additional colors, predominantly red and blue. The designs, varied in origin, were conveyed through intermediary forms such as manuscripts. A strong influence of Morava style designs is felt, and also Islamic arabesque, folkloric designs, and a reappearance of Romanesque type scrolls.

One iconostasis door – the so-called royal door – escapes classification at least for the time being, due to the absence of other comparable specimens, and is the so-called “Andreas door.” It is now in the Belgrade National Museum. It came originally from the Church of St. Nicholas Sisevski, and it is attributed to the end of the 14th century. The door has a rounded top and, in relief, the theme of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin – i.e., the Annunciation. The relief is low, and the figures are extremely elongated to fill in the specific panel spaces. Traces of decorative border are preserved, with a twisted  rope design.

Scholars feel that several basic areas of production in wood carving can be distinguished during the period of Turkish domination. One regional center existed in Macedonia, in the vicinity of Prilep and Slepca. The characteristic elements of this school were borrowed from the Morava style and from Islamic art. Abstract linear arabesque dominates, while floral and zoomorphic elements are decidedly secondary. Among the royal doors produced within the workshops of this school, several can be mentioned: the carved door from the Church of St. Nicholas near Prilep, dating from 15th-16th centuries. Before the panels of the Annunciation, there are a series of medallions, probably inspired by textile designs which contain double eagles, animals and birds. The royal door of Treskavac Monastery, also near Prilep, is probably from the same period; and, although very similar, is different in one basic respect: the Annunciation is not carved in relief, but painted in icon technique. Thus, the artist arrived at a marriage of two techniques, a bond that will endure, as far as the iconostasis is concerned, until modern times. A number of other doors have been ascribed to this school which, because they are truly imitative need not be enumerated here. A somewhat different effect is achieved on the royal door of the Virgin’s Church in the village of Rankovce, in which the background is cut away, producing a positive-negative contrast, very much like in crocheted laces.

A more important school of wood carving was formed around the renewed Patriarchate, and its products can be followed from the second half of the 16th century to the end of the 17th century. Backed by ecclesiastical prestige and resources, this school showed a great deal of abilities, extending to the directions of Skopje and Mount Athos, to Bosnia, to Montenegro (Moraca, Piva, Bijelo Polje), and into the remote areas of Serbia, such as Ovcar-Kablar region. Many of the masters whose works belonged to the school can be identified, viz., Kozma, Radul, and others. The stylistic characteristics of this group include the presence of floral and zoomorphic elements, with intertwined ribbons, which are treated with much less geometric stylization. Outstanding examples would be the royal doors from Gracanica, from 1564, from Pee, c. 1557-1570, and Decani, also from the second half of the 16th century. All of those have painted icons of the Annunciation, interlaced ribbons, rosettes and panels with the acanthus leaves.

Among iconostases examples one can cite that of Moraca, c. 1596-1617, from the Church of the Annunciation in Kablar (now in Belgrade, National Museum), and from the Old Orthodox Church in Sarajevo, from the second half of the 17th century.

This school also specialized in large carved icon frames, and among the remaining outstanding examples are: the Moraca icon of St. Simeon and St. Sava with scenes from their lives, the work of the painter, Kozma from 1646, with a richly carved frame. It is composed of two columns, within which an arch frames the icon proper. The columns have composite-type capitals, and an architrave which, together with the basis is covered with large rinceau volutes emerging from vases, themselves hung with grapes and leaves. Western influence can be seen from prints originating on Mount Athos. An interesting combination of diverse elements is to be seen on the frame of the icon of Sts. Cosmas and Damian from Pec, signed in 1674 by Radul. There, the interlacing is combined with colonettes and volutes hung with grapes. The presence of Western decorative elements can be further observed on the frame of the icon of St. John Prodromos from Moraca, dating from 1714, and on a number of iconostases carved during the 17th and 18th centuries (Piva iconostasis, 1639).

Somewhat more traditional in nature is the work attributed to the Prizren-Skopje school of wood carving. It is obvious that it is an offshoot of the Pec school, and that it combines the linear ribbon ornament with the floral and animal motifs. The general impression is that of less linear design than that of the Prilep school, and a sense of being less rich than the Pee works. Characteristic examples are the royal doors from the Church of St. George in Pri zren, 16th century; and from churches of St. John and St. Luke from the village Velika Hoca near Prizren, also from the same era.

According to the evidence., the wood carving of the Turkish period underwent several changes. In the first phase, the art form was highly dependent on the Morava style; Islamic elements were later superimposed; and, finally, Western influences associated with the Renaissance and Baroque period were brought in. It seems that precisely at this moment of stylistic conjuncture, the true folk carving became separated from the main branch of ecclesiastical art. The first continued to flourish in small village churches, while the Western inputs multiplied and were to be observed on the iconostases of more important ecclesiastical buildings. While in the early phases of wood carving, illuminated manuscripts played an influential role, in the dissemination of ornamental types, in the second stage, printed books must have exerted considerable effect in that domain.

Decorated Manuscripts

In the decades after the fall of Smederevo, of all the branches of art in Serbia, miniature painting seemed to suffer the least. Illuminated headings and initials rather than illustrated scenes were the principal subjects of Serbian books; and ornamentation without (Morava style) and with Islamic arabesque served as a basis upon which older (12th-13th century) traditions were grafted. Certain areas were slow to adopt new materials. Thus, Bosnia, e.g., continued to use parchment though it had long since been supplanted by paper almost everywhere in Serbian regions.

Besides decoration, these manuscripts exhibited great caligraphic skill. Being portable, they easily reached the northern regions and eventually made their way into Wallachia and Russia. Eventually manuscript production extended from Southern Macedonia to the River Krka in Croatia, and to the northern Danube region. Inscriptions and other texts give valuable information about the artists involved in the production of books, their place of origin, and, occasionally, we know who possessed such volumes down through the centuries. Since these books were part of the cultural and religious needs, there appear to be specially trained craftsmen 206 for their production. They were called “vivlografi” or “knjigografi,” which in translation means “the writers of books.” Many of those trained in Serbia worked abroad.

In the Macedonian regions, which will be examined first, the work of Serbian scribes can be traced from the 1300’s.

In the course of the 15th and 16th centuries in the general area of Kumanovo and Skopje, Serbian and Bulgarian books were written and decorated. A very representative type of work for these regions is to be found in the opus of Vladislav Gramatic. He was originally from the wealthy mining community of Novo Brdo (near Pristina, Kosovo Polje region), but after it fell to the Turks (1455), he withdrew to the monastic communities of Mlado Nagoricino and Mateic. His work can be followed from 1456 to 1480; therefore, just about a full generation. Five of his manuscripts are known . today. All show the sure hand of a good calligrapher and decorator. His Zbornik (Collection of Writings) can serve as an example of his style (done on paper and dated in 1469; Zagreb, J.A., No. III r, 47). The ornamentation of the headpieces is obviously inspired by the Morava style, whenever intricately interwoven scrolls can be seen (f. 249 r) or even the traces of the Islamic arebesque (fol. 543 r). His colors are rich and saturated, and the drawing and the execution, very precise. The scriptoria which he attended around Kratovo flourished in the 16th century and also counted among their members a certain priest who signed his works “Jovan Srbin iz mesta Kratova” (Jovan the Serb from the city of Kratovo). His opus consists of seven known works, among which one can cite a Gospel book of 1580 now in the Monastery Velike Remeta. In spite of a respectable technical execution, long adherence to the Morava style has produced a certain dryness. Consequently, the portraits of the Evangelists inserted into the headpiece are rather naive.

Beginning in the 17th century, and continuing until the introduction of printing, Serbian books from Macedonia employed popular imagery from periods as far back as the 12th century. Serbian art of the Morava style enjoyed somewhat extended life in the lands north and northwest of the Danube River. There, conditions were somewhat easier, and the arts flourished in regionally concentrated areas such as Fruska Gora. Monasteries repeated the triconchos plans, while in ornamentation the Morava style predominated in the Gospels of Calligrapher Pankratije, of 1514, or in the Hopovo Tetraevangelium of 1662. The rich impact of saturated colors and gold was continued, but the ornament is somewhat harder.

Acknowledgement of a return to and continuation of the older tradition is conveyed through the exact copying of older manuscripts. Possibly owing to desires of Patriarch Pajsije, a copy of the Serbian Psalter now in Munich, c. 1627-1629, was made in Vrdnik Monastery (Fruska Gora).

Now the art of book production did not die out on the territories of Serbia. v In the remote region of Ovcar-Kablar Canyon, within the confines of those hidden monastic churches, copyists and decorators were busy during the 16th and 17th centuries. And, the old and established monasteries also continued their activities. Among the miniature paintings in the true sense, the works produced from the second half of the 16th century by the school of Pee are among the most important. The images of the Evangelists accompany the Gospels as can be seen on the examples now preserved in various collections (Gospel, Cetinje, No. 16,832; Gospel from the Monastery of Krusedol; Gospel from the Serbian Church in Sarajevo). Decanl and other centers were active in the territories of the Metohija and the Lim River valley, as was ancient Zeta, by now called Crna Gora. Besides local specialists, there were also traveling masters, and through connections with Mount Athos, some innovations found their way into the pages of those manuscripts. ,Once again, decorative effect is prevalent in the headpieces and on the initials. Designs of the Morava type are combined with fantastic animals (Psalter, University of Belgrade, No. 43). In the 17th century, other locations in which manuscripts were created can be added: Bijelo Polje, Moraca, and, above all, the Monastery of St. Trojica at Plevje (Tetraevangelium by Diak Dmitar), where well-disciplined drawing and calligraphic decoration produce elegant effects. In the course of the same century, more isolated monastic communities started producing hand-copied books provincially decorated with scrolls and stars – the same elements found in folk carvings.

Toward the end of the 17th century, hand-written and decorated books came under the influence of another technique, the relationship with which had started Some two centuries previously.

Printed Books

Just as the last of Serbian ruled territories were losing their independence in the path of the Turkish conquest, a new art fonn appeared among the Serbs. It Was in the ancient Zeta that the first printing press in the Balkans was introduced in the early 1490’s. Between 1493 and 1495 it functioned first in Obod and later in Cetinje, and it is known by both of these names (Obodsko-Cetinjska v Stamparija). The books printed there were primarily destined for the ecclesiastical use (the Tetraevangelium, the Psalter, the Trebnik, etc.). The appearance of the printing press marked in some ways the end of the Mediaeval period and the introduction of a new technique which will play an important role in succeeding centuries. While Serbian incunabula (early printed books) were inspired by illuminated manuscripts in the course of the 17th century, the reverse was true in that incunabula served to spread iconography to more distant and remote areas.

The first Serbian incunabula showed signs of ecclecticism: technical skill borrowed from the Venetians, ornamentation of the rich Renaissance tradition. Iconography, however, remained steadfastly Byzantine.

The first Serbian printer, hieromonah Makarije, was probably trained in Venice. He worked for the Crnojevic press in Cetinje, creating the Oktoichos in 1494, and a year later , the Psalter. After the fall of Zeta, Makarije appears in Wallachia, running a press in Trgoviste. It was there that he produced the first Wallachian printed books, among which is the Gospel from 1510, an outstanding example of exquisite decoration. The printer, Makarije, seems to have ended his life and career in Hilandari, since the last mention of him comes from there in 1528.

The collapse of the Serbian political power had repercussions in art. As the Serbs migrated, forming a new ethnic frontier, art forms were reborn, among them, printing. The most significant Serbian press of the 16th century was operated in Venice by Bozidar Vukovic (b. in Podgorica, Crna Gora, in 1465; d. in Venice, c. 1546). His press continued under his son and others until 1593. Its production was one of the largest in the early history of Serbian printing. He introduced many innovations, such as the smaller format of the books, and he used parchment as material for some of the books. The decorative and illustrative elements were rich, serving not only Serbs, but other nations as sources of inspiration (Wallachia, Russia, Greece). In his works, a transition is made from a very linear style, inspired by pen drawings, to a more pictorial manner. Bozidar Vukovi6 had indicated in several prefaces what his contribution was to the production of these books. He prepared the text and the drawings from which the illustrations were cut. In 1519 a Sluzabnik (Service Book) was printed, to be followed by a Psalter and a Prayer Book in 1520. The latter was reprinted in 1536, to be followed by Oktoichos and Minej in 1538. The names of the painters are also known: Pahomije, Mojsije, Teodosije and Genadije.

After 1546 the work of the press was continued under his son Vincenco, and it had a great deal of impact upon the Balkans. Some of the books were distinguished by vignettes, by interlaced and intertwined letters and even by colored initials. The Renaissance style ornament dominated the pages, for which a decorative scheme is repeated: the top and the side margins were decorated with ornaments composed of vases, garlands and putti (some of these elements are to be seen in the wood carving in the Balkans), while the bottom margin usually contained three medallions interlaced with garlands. Four plates were used in this process of decoration. Under Vincenco’s leadership, the press produced a Psalter in 1546, and a year later, a Zbornik, to be followed by two reprints of Bozidar Vukovic’s works – in 1554, the Trebnik (Service Book), and in 1560, the Zbornik. The reasons for the temporary suspension of this press are unknown. However, it was leased, first to a Stefan from Skadar and again in 1571 to a certain Jakov from Kamena Reka. Taken over by the Italians in 1597, its products served the needs of a large audience for more than seventy years, and, to this day, remain valuable cultural documents of considerable artistic accomplishment.


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

Share This Book