Architecture and art prior to the XX century – History of Ohrid

Ohrid | 0 comments

The construction of churches continued throughout the rule of the Turks. In 1426 the church of “St. Ascendance” was built in the village Leskoec. The fresco painter remains unknown, but it is certain that he belonged to the School of Ohrid. The paintings are characterized by the presence of individual elements in previously known motifs such as the motif “The Last Supper”. The composition is rather loose, and certain details were added. Thus, the plate that stands in front of Jesus has the Ohrid trout painted on it, recognizable by its reddish spots. The features of this art style can also be recognized in the portrait of St. Clement who holds a model of the town in his hands. It is believed that the reason for portraying St. Clement in this manner is his role of a protector. His personality was raised to the rank of a cult figure that was expected to protect the local population throughout the historical turmoil that took place in Ohrid.

In 1444 in the village Velestvoto the church of “Ascendance of the Holy Mother” was built. In the beginning the church had only a few frescoes. A few years later, the fresco paintings were completed. The builders were unable to pay for the whole church to be covered by frescoes; thus there is a notable difference between the first and the second phase of fresco painting. The first phase reflects the continuity of the artistic style of Ohrid, whereas the second phase suggests that the quality and the artistic skills of the artist were unimportant, the task of completing the painting of the fresco was the only thing that mattered.

All Saints Church, Leshani.

All Saints Church, Leshani.

In 1452, the church “All Saints” was built in the village Lesani. It is particularly interesting from the aspect of the colors used in the compositions. The unknown artist most probably was a follower of the Ohrid School. That can be seen from the compositions and elements used in fresco painting of a number of churches in the town that date from XIV century. It should be mentioned that during that period the church “St. Bogorodica Bolnicka” was built onto.

St. Bogorodica Bolnicka church.

St. Bogorodica Bolnicka church.

The construction of churches also continued in the centuries that followed. It is assumed that the old church in the village Gorno Lakorecej was built in XVII century. Also, the monastery “St. Naum” was restored in the shape of trefoil with two side compartments, and a nartex that was annexed a bit later. The construction style suggests the reproduction of the medieval decorative opus.

More intensive building of churches in Ohrid and its surroundings occurred towards the end of XVIII century, and particularly during XIX century. That was the period in which the following churches were built: “Sveti Vraci Golemi”, “Sveta Bogorodica Kamensko” and “Sveti Gorgi” in Gorna Vlaska Maala. It is also mentioned that from 1810 to 1819 the dormitories of the monastery St. Naum were built.

As for the city architecture, in that period the house of the Robev brothers was built, now the premises of the National Museum, the house of the Kanevce family and the house of Urania, now the Ethnology Department of the National Museum.

Robevi house, Ohrid.

Robevi house, Ohrid.

In relation to the other towns in Macedonia, the town of Ohrid and its surroundings were in a better position during the Turkish rule. It should be stressed that the arts of frescos and icons painting were not discontinued, which is evident from the high quality artwork created.

That period (XV century) is distinguished by the liturgical icon that was painted on both sides: St. Clement was portrayed on the front and St. Naum on the reverse side. Both figures were painted down to their waist. Probably, the unknown, but highly skilled icon painter, studied the already existing portraits in the various Ohrid churches. Hence he was probably the follower of the XIV century art style, more precisely the style of the Ohrid Art School.

Kanevce Family House, Ohrid.

Kanevce Family House, Ohrid.

It is assumed that the church St. Helen and Constantine was the first church in Ohrid to be restored during the Turkish rule. The request was to build an open porch in order to protect the entrances of the church and the southern chapel paraklis. Also, conditions were created for securing the external part of the southern wall of the church. In regards to this church, there are two different opinions in the scientific world concerning the origin of the iconostasis, the royal gate and an icon dedicated to the “Presentation of Holy Mother”. According to one viewpoint, they were created in the second half of XIV century, while others believe that it happened during the reconstruction of the church.

The revival of art can be felt in the second half of XV century. This is evident from the number of painted icons and from the wholly restored iconostasis in certain churches. A Dejsizna ploca belonging to that period was discovered in the church “St. Nicolas Bolnicki”. At the same time, the Ohrid School of Art gave birth to another important work of art – the royal port of the church dedicated to the Holy Mother in the village of Botun. According to present data, also the churches in the villages Elshani, Kosel and Godivje were built and painted in that period. Special emphasis should be given to the fresco paintings of the church “St. Gorgi” in the village Godivje.

Even during that period Ohrid maintained its links with other important centers in the Balkans. The fresco “The Great Deed” in the church of St. Bogorodica Perivlepta that dates back from the end of XV century indicates the above mentioned. The painting style suggests that it was brought from a workshop from Mount Athos.

Also from this period important and notable is the royal port of the church “St. Gorgi” in Gorna Vlaska Maala. It is certain that it was made by the painting and woodcarving workshop that was active in Ohrid at the end of XV century and the beginning of XVI century.

The largest cross that was made during the Turkish rule was the “Serpent Cross”, while in the church “St. John the Theologian – Kaneo”, (in the beginning of XVI century) the icon portraying Jesus Christ the Saviour was created. Among the rare icons from the first half of XVI century the most prominent are “Jesus Christ” and “Madonna with Christ” from the church “The Holy Ascendance” in the village Leskoec.

A major creation from that period was the fresco painting of the western facade of the church “St. Bogorodica Perivlepta”. The frescoes were painted prior to 1597. The whole facade is covered by the composition “The Last Judgement” with numerous accompanying figures. An important painter obviously painted it because the remains of St. Clement were transferred here after his church “St. Pantheleimon” was destroyed and converted into mosque.

From the end of XVI century interesting are the icon of Jesus Christ from the church “St. Nicolas Bolnicki” and the icon depicting the suffering of an unknown saint, while in the church “St. Bogorodica Bolnicka” the icon showing the Ascendance Of the Holy Mother.

Towards the end of XVII century the artwork in Ohrid was declining. However, in the beginning of XVIII century new artistic aims became evident. They were expressed through a more realistic treatment in portraying the figures and the faces of the saints, their garments, ornamental elements, and from the selected colours. One should mention that the main activity of the fresco painters in that period was chiefly directed at icons painting.

Iconostatis St. Naum Church.

Iconostatis St. Naum Church.

The opulently ornamented iconostasis in the monastery “St. Naum” dates from the beginning of that century or, more precisely, from 1711. A monk named Constantine was the author. It is assumed that he was trained in some of the schools that were active in Mount Athos. Constantine the monk was the author of 26 icons for the iconostasis of “St. Naum”. Six of them were throne icons, twelve were Holiday icons, then the “Serpent Cross” in the accompanying icons of Holy Mother and St. John, and a large frieze with the composition of Dejsizna and the twelve Apostles.

It is believed that a dozen of other icons in the churches of Ohrid also originate from that period.

After that period, due to the favourable economic and political situation in Macedonia, the quality of the painting experienced a major change. The favourable conditions incited the construction of a number of churches in most of the rural settlements in the Ohrid region (Gorenci, Meseista, Klimestani, Botun, Zlesti, Velmej, Sirula, Kuratica, Openica, Zavoj, Novo Selo, Izdeglavje, Slatino, Arbinovo, Laktinje, Brezani, Skrebatno, Velgosti, and Elsani).

In the first years of XIX century Ohrid became an interesting destination for fresco painters. The increased number of churches attracted fresco painters from the villages of Mala Reka (Debar) who left an important mark in fresco painting. One of the distinguished painters was Dico Krstev from the Debar region (the village Tresonce). Apart from Debar and Skopje, he spent most of his time painting in Ohrid. His first prominent work in the churches of Ohrid was the icon called Panthochora from the church “St. John the Theologian – Kaneo” that portrays the Holy Mother with Christ. The icon was painted in 1884. Dico the Icon Painter also painted the icons of Saint Sedmocislenici, among who were the icons of St. Erasmus of Ohrid, St. John Vladimir, and later on also the portraits of the Slav educators Ss. Cyril and Methodius. The family Prlicev commissioned him to paint the kissing icon dedicated to the Holy Mother with Christ, but he also participated in the preparation of the iconostasis in the church “St. Bogorodica Perivlepta” (St. Clement). In addition, he decorated the house of the eminent family from Ohrid, the Robevs.

At the same time a number of icons were painted by a group of artists lead by the Mihail Georgiev. The painter Mihailo Zograf worked on the church “St. Gorgi” in Gorno Vlasko Maalo. In the first decade of XX century the fresco painter Kole Momirov worked in the church “St. Bogorodica Celnica”, located in the town of Ohrid.

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