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Project RastkoHistory of Serb culture
TIA Janus

Vojislav J. Djuric

Art in the middle ages

Chapter from the book
"The history of Serbian Culture"
The history of Serbian culture  


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The existence of painted artwork among the Serbs in the Middle Ages was defined by a series of factors of varying calibre and strength. The most important of them are, of course: the size, power and fate of Serbian states; the confessional choice of the people and the position of their ecclesiastical establishments in relation to Constantinople and Rome; the developmental level of society and the financial potentials of patrons; the goal of religious artwork, and also its political role.

The time frame of artwork among the Serbs in the Middle Ages can be precisely defined. Its themes were exclusively religious without a single trace of the secular. Artwork appeared in the Serbian milieu when the Serbian state turned to Christianity in the second half of the ninth century. The first works were, in fact, destroyed - the oldest preserved works date from the end of the tenth century. Artwork vanished together with the disappearance of the last Serbian state near the end of the fifteenth century, when it lost some of its important creative characteristics.

The Angel at Christ's Sepulchre, a fresco at the monastery of Mileseva

The historical scene of that artwork was the central area of the Balkan peninsula between the rivers Sava and Danube to the North, the Adriatic and Aegean seas to the South, from the rivers Timok and Struma to the East and Vrbas and Cetina in the West. At the beginning, its centres clustered around the Raska River, and after that they were along the Adriatic coast between the Cetina and Bojana. Those centres were thus in the areas where the first Serbian states were first constituted. Thereafter, the rise and expansion of Serbia and Bosnia followed, and they reached their greatest expanse in the fourteenth century. Gradually they were regionalized as individual territories of the Serbs which became more-or-less independent states: in Serrai, Epirus and Thessaly, in the regions of Vardar, Kosovo, Morava, Herzegovina, Bosnia, Montenegro, and in the coastal communities. As the individual territories fell to the Turks, first those in the South and East, the shape and character of the artwork were lost. This process went on for a whole century: the territories in Macedonia were lost at the end of the fourteenth century, and in Herzegovina and Montenegro at the end of the next century.

Of ultimate importance for the spirit of Serbian art was the fact that the towns of the Serbian state on the Adriatic coast and in their immediate hinterlands were under the influence of the great Apennine spiritual and artistic centres, such as Rome, Venice and Apulia, whereas the territories inhabited by the Serbs in the interior of the Balkans were turned toward the Byzantine political and cultural centres: Constantinople, Salonica, and Athos. The position of the Serb nation, between the East and West, became especially delicate after the Great Schism in the mid-eleventh century, when most of the Serbs fell under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the smaller portion along the coast and the Romance population living in the coastal towns fell under the authority of the papal curate. Up to the beginning of the thirteenth century, Orthodox Serbs were under the authority of the autocephalous church of Ohrid, until they obtained autocephalous status themselves in 1219. The Catholic population had their own church leader till the end of the eleventh century, in the person of the archbishop in the town of Bar. Later he began to be called the Serbian Primas (primas Serviae). However, the archbishopric in Dubrovnik coveted jurisdiction over Serbia as well, just as the town of Bari on the opposite side of the Adriatic was the ecclesiastical-governing centre for several Catholic bishoprics in Serbia.

In contact for centuries, Orthodox and Catholic artwork did not react in the same way as architecture or sculpture. While Orthodox church buildings and their sculpted decorations could appear to be completely western, done in Romanesque and Gothic styles, while preserving the function of Orthodox design, artwork was quite obstinate in its Byzantine iconographic compositions and stylistic conceptions. Painting, so often the subject of theological debate in the Eastern church, stubbornly preserved its Orthodox character. Catholic artwork along the coast, like that in many Italian towns up to the time when the Gothic style prevailed, was inclined to Byzantine-Romanesque and Byzantine-Gothic permeations in frescoes and icons, enriching the humanistic features of painting with a new iconography. Both churches went their own ways in art without greater conflict along the boundaries between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, always on their guard, up to the very end of the Middle Ages.

The fact that a special church organisation appeared in the state of Bosnia, the so-called "Bosnian church", had some influence on Serbian art, especially from the end of the thirteenth century to the beginning of the fifteenth century. The Orthodox and Catholic hierarchy both considered the Bosnian church heretical.

The supporters of artistic creativity were, above all, members of the ruling houses and the church leaders; from the fourteenth century onward, eminent aristocrats and regional rulers were included. In the coastal towns, among the Catholics, along with the aristocrats, there were also members of the Benedictine order in the earlier period, and from the thirteenth century onward there were also Franciscans and Dominicans who became patrons as well.

Patrons and donators influenced the artistic programme and its ideological contents profoundly. Everyone wanted to record their own role or the role of their ancestors in the activities of state or church. The paradigms for this existed in the Byzantine and western centres. Iconographic models were thus borrowed and then reworked for domestic use. Thus, Serbia managed to construct a special iconography, mostly through various portraits of patrons, which was an iconography of the rulers and the aristocracy, of the church and of the monkhood.

Artists came to Serbia from abroad, most by invitation, but the studios of native artists existed throughout the medieval period. Foreigners played a decisive role at crucial moments, when they introduced the most recent artistic ideas and the high standards of more well developed milieus. This was especially evident in Serbia at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and at the beginning and end of the fourteenth century, when the greatest artists of Constantinople and Salonica worked in Serbia by invitation or out of necessity. In the coastal towns, Greek artists (pictores graeci) were written into the history of art at the end of the thirteenth century and in the first half of the fourteenth century, and Venetian and Italian painters at the beginning of the Renaissance.

The Serbs cultivated three artistic genres: wall painting or painting with fresco techniques; painting on wooden panels, that is iconography, usually using tempera techniques on a base of gold leaf; painting on parchment or paper, such as illuminations or miniatures in hand-written books, done in various coloured inks, temperas, and at times with gold leaf. Among the Catholics all three genres went hand in hand in a stylistic sense. Among the Orthodox Serbs the decoration of books had special rules. Hand-written books among all Slavs who used Cyrillic (the Bulgarians, Russians, and Serbs) did not follow the decorative model of the Greek manuscript, which was usually identical to iconography and painting. Among the Serbs, all three artistic types did not become identical in the language of art until the fourteenth century.

The Patron's Portrait of Mihailo, the King of Zeta, on a fresco at the church of St. Michael in Ston

The historical periods of Serbian artwork and art as a whole practically overlap with the basic periods of Serbian political and national history. Undoubtedly, within the temporal boundaries of Serbian history, three caesurae were decisive. The first occurred in the middle of the twelfth century, when the state of Raska was being built, and when Stefan Nemanja stepped into a leading role in it. He became the founder of the dynasty that ruled for two centuries. The state consolidated and expanded, Orthodoxy put down its roots and soon after became the national church, and Byzantium became the cultural and political paragon. From Byzantium, the monumental and plastic language of painting was accepted and then reworked, and it left its mark on the epoch. The second great change occurred at the end of the thirteenth century with the expansion of Serbia into the Vardar Basin and Macedonia. The new Byzantinization of the society, institutions and art clearly marked the new epoch. The style which got its name from the Byzantine emperor's family name - Paleologos - covered, through the workshops of the Serbian royal court, all the Serbian territories, including some of the Catholic areas as well. The Serbian ruler began preparations to replace the Byzantine basileus. In the mid-fourteenth century, the Serbian state spread from the Danube and Sava to the Adriatic Sea, the Aegean Sea and Ionic Sea, as far as the Bay of Corinth. The breakdown of that empire was prepared gradually, and the Battle on the Maritsa in 1371 marred it with its first significant defeat on the battlefield. The Turks occupied or annexed large territories in the South. The new era was not different just because of the political disunity in the Serbian state and lands, but also because of the variety of local phenomena and schools (of architecture, art). However, the main models were still Salonica and Athos and their new artwork, saturated with emotions. At that time, the coastal Catholic areas accepted the Gothic style from the West. They influenced Orthodox believers with it, including followers of the Bosnian church as well, who were more closely tied to the towns on the Adriatic.

Between the crucial events in Serbian art history, which influenced artistic expression as well, there were some minor successes, developments and failures, which, however, left fairly evident traces. In the periodization, they indicate the specific character of the shorter periods or artistic elements, especially in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.


The trends in artwork among the Serbs till the middle of the twelfth century cannot be established because there are only a few preserved fragments of what were once complete works. Another difficulty is that those from the interior of the country, from the centre of the Raska state, are older by a century than the newer works done along the Adriatic coast. Even so, however insufficient they are for the presentation of a more complete picture of the events in artistry, they do disclose the two sources of inspiration for the painters who worked in those times long ago among the Serbs. Influences from the Byzantine provinces poured into Raska in the tenth century. In Zeta they came from the Apennine peninsula and from the old Romance towns; Dubrovnik, for example, was such a town at that time.

The frescoes of the oldest layer in the rotunda of the church of St. Peter and Paul in Ras - preserved in the tambour of the cupola and on the walls in the cupola bay, with several scenes from the life of Christ, from the Annunciation to the Baptism - have certain rare specific qualities which have no clear analogy anywhere else. The frescoes in the cupola are painted in splendid frameworks. In the cupola bay they are encompassed by a system of ornaments and crosses at the tops of the arches and in the niches, carved into the fresh mortar. With the aid of the sgraffito technique, these frescoes imitated a luxuriant system of ornamental frameworks by means of tracery in the plaster, which was applied in Carolingian and Ottonian art in Western Europe. Figures with restrained movements, almost without plasticity, done in the colour of ochre and in pinkish tones, with two-coloured white and yellow backgrounds, bear a distant resemblance to rare Byzantine provincial pieces from the end of the tenth century and very beginning of the eleventh century (Koropi in Attica, St. Stephen in Castoria). Because of the extent of their fading, these frescoes do not offer much data about the mixture of Byzantine and western stylistic expression.

There is more evidence of this in the works coming from the territory of the state of Zeta, from Dubrovnik and its environs. The fragments of paintings from the Dubrovnik cathedral, from the church of St. Nicholas on Prijeko, and St. Elijah on Lopud, were mostly found during archaeological investigations. They indicate that, in the decades around the turn of the twelfth century, there was, in Dubrovnik, a favourite kind of painting in which the Byzantine type of saint and Byzantine stylisation of form were simplified in a Romanesque way: the lines are significantly thicker, the shadows stronger, the rendering left without half-tones, and the expressiveness of faces and movements are highlighted.

The balanced relationship between Byzantine and Romanesque stylistic traits was often disturbed by an overemphasis on one of them in the works done in Dubrovnik; most often, the Romanesque western influence prevailed. This is true in the layout and style of the paintings in the little church of St. John the Baptist on the island of Sipan. The Byzantine characteristics are represented there only in the plan of the apse with the Deesis and Church Fathers, where some of the other portrayals of the saints also invoke the Byzantine prototype, while individual figures in the nave and the angels in the vault are all Romanesque.

The painters of Dubrovnik most certainly worked for the dignitaries of the Serbian state in Zeta as well. Several fragments with faces from the paintings in the ruins of St. Thomas at Kuti in Boka Kotorska are the work of the same hand as several of the holy figures uncovered at the early Romanesque cathedral in Dubrovnik. The church of St. Thomas had larger dimensions than its contemporaries in Zeta. The painting was framed by low-relief ornamentation and profiles in the plaster- work which, along with the lavish plastics of the iconostasis, reveals that its patron was an eminent dignitary in the government, if not the king himself.

The Holy Virgin Odigitrija, an icon from Hilandar

Two other churches from the same period, from the end of the eleventh or beginning of the twelfth centuries, are examples of two opposing choices made by patrons. In the church of St. Michael at Ston, the endowment of the King of Zeta most probably King Mihailo, a significant part of the frescoes of the completely Romanesque layout in the decorations remains: The Original Sin in the apse, the Maiestas Domini in the vault of the chancel, the evangelists and standing saints in the niches to the sides, and the King and patron with a model of the church in his hands. All of this was also done in a provincial variant of the Romanesque style, with highlighted distortions whose remarkable models were found in the Roman art of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In contrast to this conception was the work of the painter who did the frescoes in the small single nave church on Panik near Trebinje. This church is now in ruins. The refined drawings of the heads of the saints, the gentle plasticity, are quite Byzantine in their style. They were accompanied by Greek inscriptions, which can be seen in the remains which have been dug up. The Greek inscriptions over the frescoes from Panik are unique, because all the other inscriptions from the area around Dubrovnik are in Latin. These are the only outward signs of the confessions of these churches - some were of the Catholic cult, others in the Orthodox. The King of Zeta himself, judging from his clothing and the insignias found on the portrait in St. Michael's above Ston, was a follower of the court fashion and customs of western Europe. At that time, Romance Dubrovnik was for neighbouring Zeta, and especially for its immediate Serb environs, the artistic centre and main mediator in its relations with the European West.



In the 1160s, the Great Zupan Stefan Nemanja consolidated his power on the throne in Raska. Soon after, the country expanded to the coast between Peljesac and Scutari which remained part of the country more or less throughout the Middle Ages. His successors expanded the country to the North by the end of the thirteenth century, at one time as far as the Sava and Danube, and to the South almost to Skopje. Although Nemanja's sons got the title of king and established the church as independent by making it autocephalous, developed the economic system and coined money, became richer and more sophisticated, the times, the work and person of Stefan Nemanja remained a great model and an example to be emulated by the younger generations. Immediately upon his death he was conferred the title of chrismatory saint, his heirs were considered to be of a holy lineage, and his churches and paintings were considered to be prototypes.

Stefan Nemanja initiated the artistic endeavours of the time - in his day, a new type of church architecture was created by crossing the Byzantine style and space with the Romanesque exterior, while the models for painting became endowments of Byzantine rulers or aristocrats with their typical programmatic, iconographic and stylistic traits. When Stefan Nemanja decorated the frescoes of his monument to victory, the church of St. George, also called Djurdjevi Stupovi, on a hill outside the capital in Ras, he transferred the contemporary trend in Byzantine decoration to the Serbian ruler's endowment. The contemporary churches in the Byzantine dynasty of the Comnen family had similarly framed scenes and figures supplemented by drawn arches and pillars. The figures were uniformly done with many lines, and the clothes were fluttering, with wafting hems, so that the impression is left of a greater sweep by the figure, and thus the scene itself becomes highlighted to a greater extent.

Nemanja acquired the mosaic icon, the Holy Virgin Odigitrija, toward the end of his life as that of his Serbian Orthodox slava for his monastery Hilandar; Mary shows the signs of her spiritual life in her large eyes, as did so many saints of Comnenian times. The same ideals were then sweeping throughout the lands of Orthodoxy, from Ladoga to Venice, including the vicinity of the Serbian state (the monastery of Nerezi near Skopje and Veljusa, Backovo in Bulgaria, Osios David in Salonica, etc.). The calming of the heightened emotions and the forms appropriate to them began at the end of the twelfth century (for example: the remains of the fresco of the second layer in St. Peter's near Novi Pazar). This trend in the Byzantine Empire was suddenly halted in 1204 when two of its key spiritual centres, Constantinople and Salonica, were invaded and captured by Catholic knights.

Nemanja's main endowment, the monastery at Studenica, was painted only after his death. His sons - Stefan, the heir to the throne, Vukan the great Prince, and Sava who was then the hegumen of the monastery - invited a famous Byzantine painter who did the church in the new spirit in 1208-1209. Large, dignified figures of the saints, with peaceful faces and calm drapery, the plastic clarity of size of the figures and the monumental character of the scenes - these are new expressions of beauty. Highlighted luxury in the form of golden leaflets in the backgrounds of some of the frescoes and on the inscriptions, and expensive azure in the background of others and decorative frames around especially respected saints - all of this is an essential part of the prestigious ambitions of the Serbian Great Zupans in relation to the other Orthodox rulers in the environs. The beauty and luxury of the frescoes at Studenica, and especially the authority of Studenica as the mausoleum of the first Serbian saint, as well as the general situation in the former Byzantine territories, caused Serbian kings in the thirteenth century to use Studenica as a model.

The new style in Serbia gained a powerful stimulus with the arrival of painters from Constantinople at Zica in 1220, at the time when it was being finished as the cathedral church of the autocephalous Serbian archbishop. Sava, who had fought for the new status of the Serbian church, and first sat at its head, and who had been a monk at Athos for many years, knew the situation in art quite well, so he always chose the best of the Greek painters for Serbian endowments.

The Crucifixion of Christ, a fresco from the church of the Holy Virgin at Studenica

Due to him, King Vladislav also brought Greeks in when he was painting the monastery of Mileseva around 1225, as the mausoleum church for Sava and himself. Greek painters, most probably from Salonica, brought a style of painting to Mileseva, introduced in a fresco technique, which was cultivated in the mosaic workshops in the city of St. Dimitrios. In several ways it evokes the artwork of Salonica's older and more respectable churches such as the churches of St. Dimitrios and St. George. Small rectangles, like an imitation of mosaic tiles, were painted in the backgrounds of the frescoes which were gilded in the nave. Because of the luxuriant effect, this was a technique which would be repeated many times over in the endowments of Serbian rulers. The figures in Mileseva are much more plastic-looking than those at Studenica and Zica, and they lead directly to the ultimate realization of the artistic ideal of the thirteenth century.

Apart from the great Greek painters, other artists worked in Serbia for whom it cannot be said, as for the painters of the church of the Holy Virgin in Studenica or those of Mileseva, that they did not know the Serbian language. This suggests that they were native painters, or foreigners who had grown completely accustomed to the Serbian milieu. They painted for archbishop Sava in the bell tower at Zica, for King Radoslav in the outer narthex and accompanying chapels beside it at the monastery of Studenica. One of their groups, probably one studio, left its traces in the oldest frescoes of the church of the Holy Virgin of Ljevisa (around 1230), in the little church of St. Nicholas in Studenica (Nikoljaca, probably around 1240) and in Moraca (1251- 52). In the older parts, the remains of the style of the twelfth century are still seen, sometimes even in the rough graphics, while in the newer churches the effort to achieve the trends in plastic expression is obvious. The gradual filling the form with volume is especially seen in the works of the workshops in Ljevisa-Nikoljaca- Moraca. In Moraca, the artist achieved his peak in quality and in stylistic maturity. The Moraca cycle, dedicated to St. Elijah, is the direct predecessor of the greatest achievements of the epoch.

The frescoes in the church of the Holy Apostles at the Patriarchate of Pec (around 1260) and in Sopocani (around 1265) are the culmination of the monumental and plastic style of the thirteenth century. The former are based on Studenica and Zica with their dark resonance and mystical poetics, and the latter are - with their bright colours, the gold leafing on all frescoes, the beauty of figures and their athletic builds - a continuation of Mileseva and Moraca and their fascination with classical antiquity. The former were more suitable for the ecclesiastical circles around the archbishopric, and the latter for royal court circles. The Ascension in the cupola of Pec, like the Crucifixion scenes in Studenica and Zica, symbolises (like every masterpiece) the highest artistic ideals of its time, in this case the ideals of Serbian spiritualism in the thirteenth century. The Assumption in Sopocani, like its predecessors in Serbia - the angel from the resurrection in Mileseva or St. Elijah in the cave in Moraca - comprises the aesthetics of the high lay classes of society, and not only in Serbia. Sopocani, as the monument in the Serbian capital, built and painted at the time when Constantinople was liberated from the Catholics, is at the same time a monument to the victory of Orthodoxy over Catholicism (hence it was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the nature of which had been the subject of so many disagreements with the Catholics). The icons of Christ and the Holy Virgin Odigitrija from the monastery of Hilandar, which are very close to the artwork of Sopocani, are probably even closer to the figures in the Deesis in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. They indicate even more directly that the conceptions in Sopocani had their roots in Constantinople.

In Sopocani a decorative plan was carried out which was formed throughout the thirteenth century - in the chancel there are liturgical scenes, in the nave Christ's salvation work is shown through a cycle of the Great Feasts, in the narthex the Old Testament, dogmatic and eschatological themes are presented. Through the iconographic portraits of the Nemanjic family and through historical scenes, the aspects of Serbian dynastic ideology are disclosed: celebrated ancestor saints, Simeon Nemanja and Saint Sava as Old Testament forefathers and Christian spiritual fathers, and Serbian rulers as the guardians of Orthodoxy. Contemporary Serbian dignitaries are presented as faithful followers and eminent heirs of their saintly predecessors and of their activities. In Mileseva, the position and relationship of the Serbian dynasty to the Byzantine basileus is shown through artwork, and with it certain spiritual subjection of Serbia to Byzantium. In the side chapel of Studenica, the coordination between church and state in the young Serbian state is declared, based on Nemanja's forsaking of power for the sake of his faith. Although the icons are done in the Byzantine style or borrowed from the Byzantine Empire, Serbian clergymen, with their knowledge of theology and law, had a great influence in formulating the Serbian dynastic, ruling and ecclesiastical ideas in a special way.

After Gradac (about 1275), the endowment of Queen Jelena, the wife of the founder of Sopocani - King Uros I - whose painters were high on the scale of creativity, there was a hiatus in creative artwork in Serbia. The last quarter of the thirteenth century saw the repetition of previous concepts, without the great painters of earlier times (the frescoes in the chapel at Djurdjevi Stupovi from 1282-83 with significant historical artwork; Arilje 1296; St. Peter near Novi Pazar - with its third layer dating from the end of the century; the icons of saints Peter and Paul in Rome, with portraits of Queen Jelena and her sons, kings Dragutin and Milutin). While painters in Serbia were holding on to their old teachings, the Byzantine painters in the great cities of Constantinople and Salonica were preparing a new style, through paintings of miniatures and frescoes, which would be named after the new Byzantine dynasty of Paleologos.

The Raven Feeding St. Elijah, a fresco at the church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin in the monastery of Moraca

The painting of Serbian royal endowments and cathedrals in the thirteenth century, filled (in the whole history of Byzantine artwork) the gap which was created by the Catholic capture of Constantinople and the destruction of the Byzantine Empire. It is the product of the best painters working in the Orthodox world at that time.


In Boka Kotorska, Serbia's most important access point to the sea, two bishoprics - one Catholic with its see in Kotor, and the other Orthodox on the Prevlaka peninsula, which belonged to the Serbian autocephalous church at the beginning of the thirteenth century - both cultivated their own kinds of artwork. Catholic frescoes and icons most often carried Latin inscriptions, although there were some in Serbian Church Slavonic; those of the Orthodox church had Slavic inscriptions, although there were also some in Greek.

Five or six monuments, all built in the period from the end of the twelfth century to the end of the thirteenth century, reveal the tastes of the two confessions of the artwork's patrons. At that time, the patrons came from the station of the Serb and Catholic church dignitaries and the urban aristocracy of Romance origin. If a comparison is made of the three saintly figures in St. Luke's in Kotor from the very end of the twelfth century (the endowment of aristocratic family Casafranca), with the frescoes in the apse of the church of the Veil of the Holy Virgin in Bijela from the first two decades of the thirteenth century (painted on the initiative of the Orthodox bishop Danilo), it can be seen that they differ in their inscriptions, iconography and stylistic traits. The inscriptions in St. Luke's were in Latin and in Bijela they were in Greek. The three saintly figures in St. Luke's are wearing clothing of both Catholic and Orthodox cults. In Bijela the frescoes of the Holy Virgin (accompanied by two bowing angels) and the Procession of the Hierarchs are done in the iconographic style which appeared at that time in Byzantine art, and in the neighbouring archbishopric of Ohrid as well; the Orthodox archbishopric of Boka Kotorska was under the authority of Ohrid. The stylistic traits of the frescoes in St. Luke's, with a combination of Comnenian Byzantine and Romanesque characteristics, have parallels in the paintings of the caves in Apulia in that period. The frescoes in Bijela carry characteristics unique to Byzantine painting from the beginning of the thirteenth century, the time when stylistic expression began to liberate itself from Comnenian linear designs.

In the 1270s, the frescoes in the Catholic church of St. Paul in Kotor, over the grave of its founder Pavle Bari, and in the choir of the Orthodox church of St. Peter in the village of Bogdasici were done by order of the Serbian archbishop on Prevlaka. The figure of the apostle Paul from St. Paul's has certain naturalistic features of Gothic origin, although they are expressed through Byzantine stylization. The saints and scenes in Bogdasici are the brilliant work of a painter who brought the teachings of Sopocani to the Adriatic from the interior of Serbia.

The frescoes from the end of the thirteenth century in St. Mary at the River (Koledata) in Kotor are the culmination of the artwork in Kotor at the time. They are also an illustrative example of the position of the Catholic church in terms of religious artwork on the boundaries of the Orthodox world. The layout is completely Catholic: scenes from the sufferings of Christ are set around the crucifixion scene in the apse, with an unusual collection of saints on the western wall. However, the iconography is basically Orthodox, while in the style itself there are intrusions of the Gothic into the Byzantine conception. The artist probably took the Roman artwork around the studios of the masters Toriti and Rusutti as his model.

From the example in Boka Kotorska, it can be seen that the artists who worked for Orthodoxy closely followed what was happening in the central areas of Serbia, remaining faithful to the Orthodox conceptions of painting, while the Catholic artists turned their eyes to the artistic centres in Italy, choosing for themselves those styles which did not differ, at first sight, from those of Orthodoxy. Even the Renaissance and Baroque Catholic prelates, when inspecting the bishoprics, noted that there were still churches preserved in which tota depicta picturis graecis.


The separate existence of illumination in Serbian handwritten books, without significant influences from the contemporary style of frescoes or icons, was primarily evident from the end of the twelfth to the end of the thirteenth centuries. Illumination appeared, above all, in the painting of initials, and only later in bannerets and vignettes, while illustrations or pictures covering an entire page appeared only in exceptional cases. The illustration of contemporary Russian and Bulgarian books was practically the same.

The first examples were two richly illuminated books from the end of the twelfth century, Miroslav's Gospel and Vukan's Gospel. The former is dominated by large initials of geometric, vegetative, zoomorphic and figure design, and in the latter there were most often small initials with geometric tracery, sometimes with a wolf's head at the top. Yet, Vukan's Gospel also has two figures, done as drawings on entire pages - John the Evangelist and Christ Emmanuel. While Miroslav's Gospel, done somewhere in the hinterlands of the Adriatic, has elements of the Romanesque style, the figures in Vukan's Gospel show the traits of the Byzantine style of the Comnenian period.

The common Serbian manuscript from the thirteenth century has more humble initials than those in these two manuscripts; mostly they were of geometric and teratological character. The "Animalist Style" of initial makes them related to the general Slavic illumination of Cyrillic books. It was a special favourite of the copyists at the monastery of Hilandar. On that basis, from time to time a rare luxuriant or unusual manuscript would be produced. The Hilandar Gospel (no. 22) from the beginning of the century, is characterised by large initials whose forms were inspired by Miroslav's Gospel; the lavishness of their gold leafing, unique in the thirteenth century, reveals that the patron was wealthy. The Belgrade Paroemaic, from the same period, has several exceptional drawn figurative and animalistic initials, which are appropriate to that manuscript, which is perhaps the most beautifully calligraphed manuscript of the thirteenth century. Another paroemaic, from Hilandar, is the work of daring but artistically unskilled drawers of initials, over-imaginative ones at that. From the end of the thirteenth century, the so-called Prizren Gospel with rich figurative decorations in the margins of the pages, drawn and vividly coloured, was probably done at a colony of Serbian monks in the Holy Land. In those initials, there are many oriental and western stylistic traits, and the clothing of the figures shows something of Islamic fashion.

The Holy Virgin with the Angels, in the church of the Holy Apostles, the Patriarchate of Pec

Even though they were quite faithful to the Slavic tradition in the decoration of books, done apparently on the basis of the experience of Byzantine provincial scribes, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Serbian illuminations were also under the influence of the West, by way of the Adriatic coast lands. They accepted inspiration from Byzantine book and wall artistry and were open to oriental influences as well. In spite of that, they retained their independence and that which differentiated them from other artistic genres.



The liberation of Constantinople from Catholic hands made it possible to place the capital of the Empire, and its second great city Salonica, again at the forefront of artistic creativity in all the Orthodox world. In the last decade of the thirteenth century, the last efforts to maintain the monumental painting of the thirteenth century, of energetic plastic expression, were extinguished. Painters in that generation were inspired by a new intellectual climate, by the ideas of Greek classical education and theological views which relied on the teaching of the church fathers once again. The liturgy changed as well under the influence of religious poetry, and the number of interpreters and homilists grew. The effect this had on artwork was manifold, especially since the patrons and their counsellors were members of the most highly educated classes of society. The layout of the paintings in churches was expanded by learned themes and cycles; the iconography took in unusual interpretations, metaphors and symbols; the style was adapted to a multitude of stories and interpretations and became narrative, with pictures overflowing into the figures and episodes. The placement of the pictures tended ever more toward classicist views, the appearance and the proportions of the figures became classical.

The conquests of King Milutin in Macedonia, at the end of the thirteenth century, and his marriage with a Byzantine princess, created the conditions for the Serbian milieu to get involved in the new trends in art (the so-called Paleologos renaissance), thanks to the royal court, around the year 1300. From that time forward every change in artistry, even the smallest, which occurred in Constantinople or Salonica had reverberations in Serbia. Apart from that, King Milutin managed to bring the famous painter named Michael Astrapas to Serbia from Salonica, from the reputable family of painters, the Astrapas, along with Eutyches and his assistants, by creating the conditions for them to work in continuity. It was through them that he ensured high artistic quality in his frescoes. Immediately before that, these painters had worked together in Ohrid, in the church of the Holy Virgin Periblepta, with a famous Byzantine aristocrat who was also a son-in-law to the Emperor's dynasty. There they broke with old conceptions. They retained figures with strong physical traits, but they broke down their solid forms; they transformed their dignified tranquillity into strong movement, and their philosophical facial expressions into anger and wrath. They achieved this through a "cubist" stylisation not known before that time, with broken lines and their choice of a warm colour scheme.

It is possible that they came to Serbia around 1300 when the western part of the church of the Holy Apostles was being painted in the Patriarchate of Pec. There are striking similarities between those frescoes and the ones they did in Ohrid, although the figures are more elongated and quieter, and the rendering is more restrained. However, that was the general trend in Byzantine artistry at the time. It is certain that they were in Serbia around 1310, when the Holy Virgin of Ljevisa in Prizren was painted, because Astrapa signed his work there. In Ljevisa, as in Zica, where artists similar to them were at work, one still sees the hesitation between the monumental and the narrative, between the large figures and the scenes which were re- established in a new way, between the emotional and the rational.

In the 1310s in Constantinople, Salonica and Serbia, the classicist ideals were realised, toward which artwork had been aspiring since the end of the previous century. The endowments of King Milutin in which the painters Michael and Eutyches had worked till 1321 - the King's church at Studenica, Staro Nagoricino, St. Nicetas near Skopje, Gracanica - along with the frescoes and icons of some of the painters from Salonica in the monastery of Hilandar, at Athos, the monastery which was renovated by King Milutin, these are masterpieces not only in Serbia but all over the Orthodox world at the time. A balance was established between thematic richness and formal design, between the emotional character of the scenes and the structure of the composition, immoderate demonstration of moods in gestures or facial expressions was restrained. A balance was also established between mass and symmetry; the relationship between light and dark, the relations between warm and cold colours became uniform. The backgrounds became architectonic structures or landscapes; the backdrops were assembled so that it was possible to place a myriad of figures in the foreground. This inverse perspective brought the event closer to the believer in the church, making him a witness and not an apathetic observer. Classical clothing, the appearances of the faces and the movements of the figures, extracted from earlier Byzantine artistic "renaissances", made it possible for this period of the so- called "Paleologos Renaissance" to be called classicist.

Serbian artwork from the endowments of King Milutin was a unique entity compared to its contemporaries in the capital of the Empire and in Salonica. It was not left behind either in its conceptions nor in its value in relation to the most beautiful works such as the mosaics in Constantinople in Christ Chora or the Holy Virgin Pamakaristos or Salonica's in the Holy Apostles or the frescoes such as those at Protaton on Athos, St. Nicholas Orphanos in Salonica or the Holy Salvation in Veroia.

After the last monument of King Milutin, up to the mid-fourteenth century, there were no significant changes in the iconography or style of painting in Serbia, although patrons came from the aristocracy or from among the lesser church dignitaries, and though the boundaries were changing and the government was being perfected. The royal court still tried to find good painters, and the aristocracy followed the examples that came from them. Even though the amount of artistic work was increased, artists from domestic workshops were still the mainstay.

As in the Byzantine world, in the 1320s there were certain vacillations in terms of stylistic expression, while the number of themes was further enriched and expanded. Trained artists attempted not to betray the classicist conceptions of the 1310s; the best of them wanted to step away from the familiar, stressing the emotional side of the painting, enlarging the figures or highlighting their expressiveness. The frescoes in St. Nicholas in Dabar, and the large icon in the church of St. Nicholas in Bari in Apulia, endowed by King Stefan Decanski, are all examples of the fresher approach and the special designs done on classicist models. Master painters in the Serbian archbishopric in Pec in the fourth decade of the century (the church of the Holy Virgin and the exonarthex) worked essentially along the same lines, attempting to attain something new through deformation, but they were not nearly as talented as the artists in St. Nicholas in Dabar.

The Assumption of the Virgin, a fresco at Sopocani

The frescoes in aristocratic endowments - Holy Salvation in Kuceviste, Rila, Treskavac, Polosko - from the fourth and fifth decades of the century were done in the spirit of the preceding concepts, along with a certain reduction in form and simplicity in colour, as it was among artists of the academic trend. Central monuments of that trend are the frescoes in the nave and icons from the iconostasis at Decani, done in 1345, under the care and at the expense of King Stefan Dusan. Large numbers of artists tried for years to create hundreds of scenes from the numerous cycles and thousands of figures, in order to capture contemporary theological teachings as well as possible at the bequest of the King's advisors. Because of the prestigious ambitions of the King at that time, he intended his endowments to look as luxuriant as possible. Thus the frescoes were painted in the most expensive colours; they were gilded in many places and framed wherever possible with wide decorative tracery, full of floral and leafy vine designs. While they were painting Decani, the Serbian archbishops also finished the work begun by their predecessors in their see in Pec. They borrowed the king's painters for that occasion (the frescoes in the church of St. Dimitrios, and some of those in the church of the Holy Apostles). It is not known whether it was inadvertent, but the academic conceptions loyal to classicism from the second decade of the century were defended by the authority of the sovereign and the archbishop. Perhaps the royal court and church thought that such artwork was actually appropriate to their dignity.

Local painters, who stayed to work for the aristocracy in Raska (Karan, Dobrun) or for the urban lords in Prizren (at Holy Salvation, St. Nicholas), did not distance themselves from modern stylistic patterns. They only simplified the designs.

In the coastal regions, on the actual border of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, in the first half of the fourteenth century the most interesting are the pictores graeci. They came from Greek towns and settled, temporarily or permanently, in Kotor and Dubrovnik. Adapting their style to that of the West, they were granted large jobs by the Catholic authorities and believers. About 1330 they painted the large cathedral of St. Triphonos, of which only a few figures and scenes remain. Their mainstay was Byzantine art, but under the influence of the Gothic style they greatly deformed the figures when they represented their internal life in dramatic situations. They achieved designs similar to those of the mosaics in the baptistery of St. Mark's in Venice. It is possible that the same painters worked for a while in the Venetian Republic before coming to Kotor.

Basically, at the same time the little church at the monastery of Duljevo, above Budva, was also painted; it is possible that it was already the extension of the monastery of Decani. Apart from the saints, King Stefan Decanski was also portrayed in the frescoes, holding a model of the church and accompanied by his son Dusan. The pictures are Romanesque-Gothic, with few remains of Byzantine stylisation, even less than those in the cathedral of Kotor. Powerful figures of unusual appearance remain as a testimony of the living and unpredictable trends in the artwork of Serbia in the second quarter of the fourteenth century.


The artwork of the period of the Serbian Empire (1346-1371) contains certain unique stylistic and iconographic features which set it off from the preceding and following periods in the history of Serbian art, more definitely from the former than from the latter. The academism of the Paleologos renaissance from the second quarter of the fourteenth century was satisfied with seeming repetitions of the preceding forms done only with artisan skill and with designs lacking in creative ambitions. Expertise had come completely to the forefront. The new conceptions in the period of the empire, as opposed to the preceding ones, emphasized the emotional in paintings. Some painters did this primarily by highlighting the expressive character of the painting with suggestive looks and by means of stylization, or even through the deformation of physiognomic lines; to this, they most often added expressive postures, sometimes with unnatural or surprising movements. In that way they amplified the dramatic character of the frescoes. Other artists opted for a delicate and light colour scheme, gentle expressions and calm postures for the figures, thus conjuring up clarity and lyric tendencies. Both trends flooded into painting after 1371. At that time, the creators attained even stronger personal traits, and their studios became characterized by unique traits.

John the Evangelist, a miniature from Vukan's Gospel

If the stylistic changes occurred suddenly with the founding of the empire, changes in iconography were not significant; in fact, they were hardly noticeable. However, in the iconography of Serbian rulers, they were quite distinct, and the groundwork for them was being laid over a long period. The goal for them was to show how the Serbian ruler was suited to replace the basileus on the throne of the Orthodox Empire. This idea had been cultivated from the time of King Milutin. The obsession with the creation of the royal lineage of the dynasty was quite powerful, emphasizing the holiness of the lineage and its loyalty to the faith. Earlier series of chosen members of the Nemanjic house, painted one after the other or one on top of the other, with St. Simeon Nemanja and St. Sava at the head, were converted into a vertical genealogy of the dynasty or a family tree, under the influence of learned theologians or writers. Similar to the tree of Jesse which is a picture of the Old Testament predecessors of Christ, on the tree of the Nemanjic family Nemanja is at the root like Jesse, while the contemporary Serbian sovereign is at the top, like the Holy Virgin with Christ in the tree of Jesse. King Milutin made the first such genealogy at Gracanica, and Dusan accepted it and repeated it three times over: in Pec, Matejic and in Decani. Serbian sovereigns are glorified as defenders of the faith, as the new Constantines, to whom Christ sends the sovereign's crown and vestments from heaven, as He did for Constantine. Just before proclaiming the empire, Dusan did the Lineage of Serbian Rulers at Matejic, into which are woven several Byzantine emperors as well as his own predecessors. With this he wished to justify his political pretences for the throne in Constantinople.

In ecclesiastical literature the Serbian kings were compared to the Old Testament fathers and Kings, and in artwork they were given iconographic features which revealed them to be as such. Dusan and his father, above the entrance to the nave of Decani, are receiving divine messages like David and Solomon of old, whose pictures stand next to them. In Polosko, Dusan is the new Joshua, because he is receiving the victory sword from the hand of the archangel, sent by Christ. The title of the Serbian sovereign is of divine origin, like the one in the Byzantine Empire, because members of the Nemanjic family are shown receiving the crown from angels who bring it from heaven, a depiction which occurs several times from Milutin's era forward.

With the proclamation of the Empire, the Serbian archbishopric was raised to the status of a patriarchate. Harmony between church and state is shown with the painting of dignitaries of the church together with the Emperor's family (the church of St. Dimitrios in Pec, the narthex of Decani, and in Ohrid at St. Sophia, St. Nicholas the Protector of Hospitals, and the Holy Virgin Periblepta). The decision of the Serbian Council of State, concerning questions of government or ecclesiastical questions, were considered to be equally inspired by God, just as much as the decisions of the individual ecumenical councils (the church of St. Dimitrios in Pec, etc.).

These were mostly questions of borrowings from Byzantine iconography. They were made possible only when the ideas of the new mission of the Serbian state and church became mature in the Serbian milieu, in Serbian literature and in theological thought.

Important changes in wall paintings and iconography, those which characterized the whole period of the Serbian Empire, happened suddenly in the endowments of the rulers during the preparations for the proclamation of the empire, or just after it. The painting of Decani was in process when the crowning of the emperor took place in Ohrid, on Easter Day in 1346. The painters had moved their scaffolding from the nave into the narthex and begun to work on it. At that time the old artists (adherents of the academic trends) were replaced with new artists, who followed other tendencies. They lightened the colours, disturbed the figures, and deformed the faces by emphasising their spiritual exertion. They increased the dramatic character of the scenes, and impressed powerful character traits upon the saints. It seems that Dusan found these artists in his own capital in Skopje, because there are other monuments painted by masters from the same studio in the vicinity of Skopje. Immediately after the narthex in Decani, some of them went to paint the nave of Lesnovo, in its cupola and in the cupola bay; the others went to the monastery of Lesak. Some time later they were in the small church of the village of Celopek near Tetovo. Finally, they did their masterpiece in the lower zones of Marko's monastery. The reverberations of their conception are seen in the frescoes of St. Nicholas in Sisevo near Skopje and in the church of the village Lipljane in Kosovo, which are probably from the 1370s, as well as in the monastery church of Zrze near Prilep (1368-69). The Serbian aristocracy gladly followed the example of their emperor.

The other three endowments of the sovereign - Matejic near Kumanovo (before 1346), the Holy Archangels near Prizren, and St. Sophia at Ohrid (both around 1350) - all got frescoes with lighter and more gentle colours, also rich thematically, but without dramatic highlights in their contents or forms. The painters at Matejic were also doing the frescoes in the nearby aristocratic endowment of Ljuboten near Skopje. In St. Sophia at Ohrid two painters left their signatures. One of them Ioannes Theorianos, a Greek, created an entire school at Ohrid. He worked with his assistants in the little churches around Ohrid at that time: the little church of the Holy Healers, the Holy Virgin of the Hospitals, St. Panteleimon (the monastery of St. Clement), while the work of his followers was continued in the Holy Virgin Periblepta (especially in the south chapel), at Celnica and Pestani near Ohrid. The exceptional two-sided icon with the figures of St. Clement and St. Naum, the protectors of Ohrid, is also the work of Theoreianos. The largest and most successful work of his pupils is found in the nave of St. Sophia at Ohrid, in the little church in the village Recica not far away, and in the endowment of King Vukasin and King Marko, in Marko's monastery (in the upper zones and among the standing figures). His followers in Recica and Marko's monastery brought his style to a point of exceptional expressiveness. They abandoned the light colour scheme to achieve mystical splashes of light on the dark gamut of the painting, they elongated the bodies and robbed them of their depth; they made the saints look suggestive. The domestic artwork of Ohrid experienced its zenith in their work.

Somewhere between those two trends, which more or less overlapped, a whole series of aristocratic endowments was done in the Vardar basin in the time of Emperor Uros: Zaum, the second layer of frescoes in Treskavac, Konce, Recani, Psaca, and St. John Prodromos near Serrai. The gentle distortion of the figures, the ornamental stylisation of the hair, the moderately light colour scheme without sharp contrasts - these are the special traits of their work. In that collection there is also a series of contemporary icons in Ohrid.

The Nativity of the Mother of God, fresco, King's church at Studenica

The period of the Empire left a significant trace on Athos, which became part of the Serbian state just before Dusan was crowned; it was no longer part after the defeat on the Maritsa in 1371. The monastery of Hilandar was under the charge of the Serbian emperor, as it had been under the previous sovereigns. In the time of Emperor Uros, one great painter did ten icons for the main church, one with a large Deesis on the iconostasis, and the other as processional icons for the church's Serbian Orthodox slava. On the request of Hegumen Dorotej in 1360, he decorated one of the older gospels with miniatures of the evangelists. At the same time, he did the miniatures and icons in the neighbouring monastery of Vatoped. In that classicist work, there is a slight deformation of the figures and a calculated use of the light- dark effects aimed at achieving the impression of a mystical meditative atmosphere. At that time, the mystical was ever more the centre of attention of monks and clerics.

The authority of the sovereign stood behind stylistic "academism" up to the proclamation of the empire, and it is obvious that it was actually that same authority which contributed to the changes that caught hold of the entire Serbian milieu and almost all levels of society from which the patrons came. In the Byzantine Empire itself there was some indecision in choice of style after 1320. The decisive academism or even the sudden about-face in the stylistic concepts around the middle of the century were not as obvious. There are few pieces preserved from the main artists of the Byzantine Empire for one to trace this development. From that period, there was a great Greek painter who combined a classicist underpinning with the new emotionalism and presented it in light colours for the Bulgarian Emperor Ivan Alexander at Ivanovo. From the groups of frescoes which were done by the most significant painters in the Byzantine Empire in the second half of the fourteenth century, in Mistra, Salonica, Mingrelia or Novgorod, it was clear that a turn about in the aesthetics of the painting had occurred somewhere around the middle of the century. The language of the painting was close to that in Serbia from the same period. An eminent connoisseur had helped the Serbian emperor to keep up with the times and to put those in the lead who would help the new trend take root.

In the period of the empire, a reorientation occurred in Serbian book decoration. It seems that Hilandar, due to its copying workshop, became its propagator. A monk named Simeon (or Simon) is connected to a large number of Serbian and Bulgarian books in which there are miniatures of the so-called "enamelled" style. They are exactly equal in quality to miniatures in the most luxuriant Byzantine manuscripts from the Emperor's workshops. Among other things at Hilandar, the gospel of Patriarch Sava and the gospels of the great Duke Nikola Stanjevic are kept; most likely they were donated and made at the monastery. Now in London, the manuscript of the Metropolitan of Serrai Jakov also belongs to that collection, as do the figures of the evangelist in the so-called Kumanovo Gospel, and the decoration of the apostles from Vuk's collection in Berlin (no. 47). In that fundamental change of artistic decoration of liturgical books, when it was decided that the luxury of Byzantine books was to be copied, it is certain that the prestigious ambitions of Serbian aristocracy and the Serbian emperor played an important role. It was only then that Serbian miniature art fell in step with painting and iconography.

Emperor Andronicus and King Milutin, fresco at Hilandar

The figures of the evangelists in the manuscripts of the monasteries in the Vardar basin belong to the third quarter of the fourteenth century; judging from the signatures, they were done by Greek masters from small Macedonian towns (the Hlud Collection in the Historical Museum in Moscow, no. 10; the Saltikov-Scedrin Collection in the Public Library in St. Petersburg F I 114). One of them is known by name. His name was Michael and, on account of the monks at Hilandar, he inserted paintings of the evangelists in an older Greek manu-script of the monastery Polosko (manuscript now in Chicago). All of those paintings are similar to the frescoes and icons of the Serbian aristocracy in the Vardar basin at the time. Stylistic changes took place everywhere in the leading artwork of the time, and in the works of lesser-known masters who worked in Slavic copying shops at the time as well.



The year 1371 was disastrous not only for the Serbian Empire, but also for the artwork which had been cultivated in Serbian society until that time. With the defeat in the battle against the Turks on the Maritsa, large territories were taken from the Serbs, and those territories were thus no longer under the influence of their artwork. With the death of Emperor Uros the same year, the unified authority also disappeared and local lords with varying titles and pretences began shaping their own states. For an entire century and longer, even later, art was an essential part of the cultural history of those regional states. Some of them were quite ephemeral. Others held out for quite a while and attained high levels of economy, culture and art. The first decades after the disintegration of the empire rendered richer and more important results than those to come later; as the Turkish sable began to swing, one by one the Serbian states began to fall under Turkish rule.

The history of the southernmost part of the Serbian Empire was short, where the Serb aristocracy governed Thessaly and Epirus, led by members of the Nemanjic dynasty, the head of which was Dusan's half- brother Simeon (Sinisa). That part was extinguished in the last decade of the century, but its works were safeguarded in the monasteries in the Meteora in Thessaly. The frescoes and iconostasis in the monastery of the Transfiguration (Great Meteora), the endowment of the last Serbian Emperor Jovan Uros Paleologos, and the icons of his sister and her husband Despot Toma Preljubovic, from the ninth decade of the century, are among the most significant of the epoch. All of them are very luxuriant - icons with silver frames, sometimes decorated with jewels and pearls. The emperor's works are extremely expressive, with a lot of pathos and sharp dark-light effects; those of the Despot are smooth, harmonious, as finely done as if they had been done by an artist of Constantinople.

The realm of the Mrnjavcevic family did not last much longer either in the Vardar region, with its capital in Prilep, relying on the archbishopric in Ohrid. At that time, the see of the Metropolitan was in Prilep, and it was held by Metropolitan Jovan who was important as an artist. He and his brother, Hieromonk Makarije (also a painter), were the descendants of one of the settled Serbian aristocratic families which erected the monastery of Zrze in the vicinity of Prilep, back in the time of Emperor Dusan. The heads of the family became monks in their advancing years, and lived out their lives in the monastery of Zrze. The brothers were subordinated to the church from their childhood, but they were educated as artists in one of the Byzantine centres of art. They were the main painters of the Prilep royal court during the time of King Marko and his brother, Andrejas the prince.

Andrejas was entrusted the painting of Jovan's endowment in the church of St. Andrew in the ravine of the river Treska, not far from Skopje in 1388-89. The Metropolitan carried out the job with the help of his assistant, the monk Grigorije; they both signed their work. The artwork of Andrejas reveals that Jovan relied on the monumental style of the thirteenth century, but that he kept in touch with the contemporary ideas in the Byzantine Empire. Loud colours, sharp light-dark effects, "baroque" in its feeling for depth and movement, classical in the faces of the saints, decoratively and carefully painted, Jovan took people of strong character and appearance to be the heroes of his artwork.

The artwork in the newer layers in the cathedral of Prilep, St. Dimitrios, was not signed, but it bears the marks of Jovan; it is something less skilfully done than the works he signed, as if he had done it at the beginning of his career. It is obvious that he was working with a single assistant. However, the large icon of Christ the Saviour and Giver of Life, from 1393-94, from the iconostasis in the monastery of Zrze, has the same characteristics as in the painting of the endowment of Andrejas.

Jovan's brother, Hieromonk Makarije, painted the large icon of the Holy Virgin of Pelagonia for the same iconostasis in 1421-22. He also did the Deesis with an assistant. The fresco of the Holy Virgin with Christ in the niche above the entrance to the church in the village of Zrze is most certainly the unsigned work of Makarije, as is perhaps the one above the entrance to the church of the Holy Virgin Immaculate in Prilep. In a formal sense, Makarije's artwork relies heavily on that of Jovan.

Makarije lived and worked in Prilep even after the Turkish conquest, after his brother had already died. With the change in the political situation, the brothers were not able to take care of their familial endowment, the monastery of Zrze, and they willed it to their village mayor (kmet) as part of his family inheritance. Their studio produced other apprentices besides the monk Grigorije and the unknown assistant from the Deesis in Zrze. There was one artist named Aleksije, who painted the frescoes in the cave of St. Mary in their style, near the village of Globoko on Lake Prespa; he vaunted himself in his signature as the "student of Jovan the zograf". The influence of their work was felt in the domain of the Serbian despots in the Morava region.


The most significant heir to Serbian statehood was the Serbian Principality, which had had its capital in Krusevac; it was ruled by despots from 1402 onward, whose capitals were in Belgrade and Smederevo. Before it fell to the Turks in 1459, the Morava region was the meeting place of educated refugees from Salonica, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Athos, who made it a significant cultural centre of literacy, literature, and art. The foundation of cultural development was, above all, the wealth of Serbian metal mines, especially those producing gold and silver.

The new Lazarevic dynasty held on to the heritage of the Nemanjic family, which was to be felt in the ideology of the sovereigns. In laymen's iconography, the older forms were accepted and applied - for the patrons, the sovereign himself interceded before Christ, his sovereignty was of divine origin, the archangels themselves prepared him for victory, bringing him a sword and spear from the heavens. Through artwork, the hierarchy of society was felt. In Studenica, where the holy relics of the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty were placed, a large painting of the lineage of the Serbian sovereigns was painted on the facade of the tower at the entrance; in it the Lazarevic family are represented as the heirs of the Nemanjic family, attaining its holy lineage through the maternal side of the old dynasty. The genealogies of the time justified the relationship of the Lazarevic family and the Nemanjic family.

A Portrait of the Evangelist, a miniature in Radoslav's Gospel

The Lazarevic dynasty continued giving endowments where the Nemanjic family had ceased. They took over responsibility for their endowments, especially those at Athos, but they also built new ones of their own, large and luxuriant, practically as great as the former. Obviously on the advice of informed prelates and educated monks who had immigrated, they depended on artists from the workshops in Salonica and Prilep, and on their students living in the land. They rarely had the chance to work on the layout of the artwork in churches which could include more than three cycles from the life of Christ - the Great Feasts, the Passion, the Sermons with the Miracles; most often, the layouts were smaller. Sometimes a cycle dedicated to the patron of the church would be done. The lower zones of the walls were painted with individual representations of the saints.

The painters from Salonica came to Serbia when Prince Lazar painted Ravanica after 1380. They brought azure-pink-grey compositions with them, often decorated with gold, specific to the artwork of Salonica from the time of the frescoes of the Holy Apostles, along with saints who were "realistic" in appearance. Examples of the latter are the saints in the Old Metropolis in Voden or in the church of the Pantocrator at Athos. However, in Serbia they constructed a special decorative system, with edges covered with ornamentation and vegetative decoration, and the medallions with busts are connected by frames of the colours of the rainbow.

The second wave of artists from Salonica arrived around 1400, bringing with them the spirit of the aristocratic artwork of Salonica and its blue-gold effects, and also the iconographic models which were beloved there. Working first for the prominent monk Sisoje in Sisojevac, and then for Despot Stefan in Resava (till 1418), they applied their knowledge and taste. They painted holy warriors like those in the church of the Holy Anargyroi in the monastery of Vatoped, which was the endowment of Despot Jovan Ugljesa. It was made possible for them to create the impression of luxury by applying gold and azure, but they were required to create that decorative system in the same manner as the one in the endowment of Prince Lazar; in the Despot's endowment it was to be more effective and richer. In Resava the heavenly court in the cycle of Christ's parables is painted like the earthly; the participants were in the clothing of the despot's dignitaries of the time. Christ's teaching, made contemporary in this way, obtained something of the spirit of the times. The painters of Resava far surpassed the significance of the all that had been previously done in similar stylistic expressions in the churches of Salonica.

The melancholic and elegiac artwork of the monastery of Kalenic stands in opposition to the lordly artwork of Resava, of cold harmonies, of royal nobility and knighthood. Kalenic's patron was the Despot's courtier Bogdan and his family. The system of decoration established in Ravanica also came to expression in this church, but the luxuriance was not repeated. The painter wished to show the scenes and figures illuminated in a restrained light, which appears as if it were coming from a natural source, leaving transparent shadows, saturating almost all the forms with nuances of ochre. The saints have small eyes, gentle expressions, calm movements and steps, corresponding to a prayerful quietness which is special, peaceful and illuminated with reverence.

This poetics left a trace on the miniatures of the so-called Radoslav's Gospel (now in St. Petersburg), where the evangelists, the same as the saints in Kalenic, were done in 1429 by the painter Radoslav. The amount of similarity between his miniatures with the artwork of Kalenic is evidence that he painted (with his assistants) the endowment of the Treasurer (Protovestijar) Bogdan. His conception of painting was close to that of the miniaturist Teodor, who painted the decorations in the manuscript of The Sermons of John Chrysostom (from the monastery of Hilandar). It is as if he was not only his successor, but was even one of his students.

It is quite certain that the painters of the studio in Prilep came to Serbia at the beginning of the fifteenth century. In the monastery of Koporin, with its mediocre frescoes, the same models were used for the scenes from Christ's suffering that Metropolitan Jovan had at his disposal at the endowment of Prince Andrejas. At the endowment of the Princess Milica, Ljubostinja, in a painting of around 1405, the painter Makarije signed his name. From the types of saints and the rendering, it is certain that the hieromonk and zograf Makarije, the brother of Metropolitan Jovan, was the artist. In Ljubostinja his works are in a cold harmony of blue and grey, while those in Zrze are warm, ochre tainted, and there are more decorations and ornaments on the clothing in Ljubostinja, as it should be at the endowment of a princess.

The endowments of the aristocracy - such as those at Nova Pavlica, Rudenica, Ramaca, and Josanica from the end of the fourteenth to the beginning of the fifteenth century - have artwork which is, in many of its traits and qualities, equal to that from the workshops in the small towns in Macedonia, such as Ohrid, Castoria, Veroia, Veles and so on. They vary in their decoration of forms in the contemporary understanding. At times, like in Veluca, or in the miniatures of A Serbian Novel about Alexander, the works of artists who are not so skilled at drawing appeared, impoverished, raw and clashing in colour, and their forms tend more toward the surface than toward depth.

The Flight into Egypt, a fresco at the church of the monastery of Kalenic

In the miniature painting in the domains of the princes and despots, where education was the ideal and books were carefully cultivated, artistic values were at a peak. This artwork is dominated by the same concepts which existed in wall and icon painting. Siloan's Gospels from the end of the fourteenth century has figures of the evangelists similar to the prophets in the calotte of the cupola in Ljubostinja, with the first layer of frescoes done before 1389. The most luxuriant Serbian book from the Middle Ages, the so-called Serbian Munich Psalter, done perhaps for Despot Stefan at the beginning of the fifteenth century, has about 150 illustrations of the highest artistic quality. Their colours are light, the rendering gentle, there is harmony in the blue-pink and gold, and they belong to that branch of Serbian royal art that kept up with the most modern of trends. This is similar to the miniatures on the charter of Despot Djuradj for the monastery of Esphigmenou at Athos from 1429, where seven members of the Despot's family are represented. They stand in parade vestments, all with striking portrait lines. Some time before the issuing of the charter, the portrait of the despot's son Todor (who had died young) was also done for the monastery of Gracanica.

The frescoes and miniatures of the court painters in the Morava region, with their system of decoration, the special expression and high quality, together with the works of the Byzantine painters Theophanes the Greek in Novgorod, kir Emmanuel Eugenikos in Georgia or the anonymous painter at Mistra, all enter into the anthology of the best artwork of the last century of great Byzantine art.

Because of the political difficulties which came about and the military failures, the artwork in the domains of the despots began to falter. Almost three decades before the capital in Smederevo would fall to the Turks hardly anything was being painted. After the second fall of Salonica to the Turks, and Constantinople after it, there were no longer any centres of creative work that could inspire the entire Orthodox world, which included the lands of Serbia.


The right to the heritage of the Nemanjic family was claimed also by the Bosnian ban, Tvrtko. He based his claim on the fact that he had control over territories which had once belonged to the Nemanjic family, and by his claim that he was related to them through the maternal line. He ordered a lineage to be done, from which it could be seen that he had a holy lineage, he had himself crowned in Mileseva and took the title of King of the Serbs and of Bosnia - which his descendants kept until the state fell to the Turks; he adopted the customs and offices of the Serbian court.

Bosnia is included in the entirety of Serbian art because of its Cyrillic handwritten books and their decorations from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In their contents, these books did not differ from the Orthodox liturgical manuscripts, although most of them were ordered by the Bosnian church. Only one of these manuscripts was intended for use in the Catholic cult. The type of initials and bannerets mostly continued the tradition of the teratological, geometric and figurative illumination of Serbian books from Miroslav's Gospel to the manuscripts of the thirteenth century. Even so, at the end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth centuries, certain coastal, Gothic influences appeared. The books illuminated for the Bosnian court or for Duke (Herzeg) Stefan Vukcic Kosaca at the beginning of the fifteenth century - like the Venetian Codex, Hval's Manuscript, and Hrvoje's Missal of Split (the only glagolitic and Catholic book in this group) - have scenes and figures in the Gothic style. They were done by artists from Dalmatian towns, mostly from Split, which was a part of the Kingdom of Bosnia at the time.

The south-eastern part of the state, up to the fourteenth century under the rule of the Nemanjic family, began to separate from Bosnia and the name Herzegovina began to be used for it. The aristocratic family Hranic-Kosaca, which ruled there, belonged to the Orthodox church and was under the jurisdiction of the Metropolis which had its see at Mileseva. As patrons, the members of this aristocratic family relied on the tradition of the coastal architects, and they ordered rich clothing from the tailors, as well as jewellery and expensive vessels from the coastal goldsmiths. Painters from Dubrovnik and Kotor came to paint their churches, or the icons for those churches were ordered from them. Therefore, it is no surprise that the frescoes in the Orthodox monastery of Savina, the endowment of Duke Stefan in Boka Kotorska which was nearby his winter capital of Novi, were painted by the greatest Gothic Renaissance painter on the coast, Lovro Dobricevic from Kotor, in the middle of the fifteenth century. The style is western, the iconography came from both confessions, the inscriptions are in Serbian, while the monastery was built as an Orthodox one.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Lovro Dobricevic and the majority of the native painters in Kotor and Dubrovnik followed the teachings of the Venetian painters who had gone down the path from the Gothic-Byzantine conceptions to those of the early Renaissance. They worked mostly for Catholic congregations, but they were also often invited to paint for the Orthodox. The Union of Florence-Ferrara in 1440, made the spread of the western language of painting into the formerly closed Orthodox milieu possible. At a point in time, it began to accept Byzantine-Gothic combinations (the frescoes in the church of the Holy Virgin in Mrzep from 1451; the miniatures in the gospel from the monastery of Beocin, now in the Museum of the Orthodox Church, Belgrade, no. 357, etc.) with a confidence in them which it had not had before.

When the first Cyrillic Serbian liturgical books were printed between 1494 and 1496 in Cetinje, on account of the regional lord of Montenegro Djuradj Crnojevic, the graphic illustrations were done mostly with the same stylistic combination. The typography was brought in from Venice, the craftsmen were native, but the graphic artists must have been from an art studio in Kotor or Dubrovnik. In the scenes from the Oktoih petoglasnik (known as the Octoechoes) the iconographic designs are certainly Byzantine, Orthodox, but the drawings themselves are quite Gothic, with naturalistic characteristics. However, the bannerets, initials and vignettes are renaissance as a whole, often with winged figures, flowers and vines. They are done in the spirit of Venetian printing from that same period.

One after the other, the last remains of the once powerful state of the Serbs in the Middle Ages were crushed under the Turkish conquest: Bosnia 1463, Herzegovina 1481, and Montenegro in the waning years of the fifteenth century. Serbian artistry under the Turks was long inspired by the life-giving resources taken from the great works of the period of independence.

// Projekat Rastko / The history of Serbian culture //
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