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Bulgarian crafts

Bulgarian iconography has a millennial history. From the time when knyaz Boris-Mihail adopts Christianity as an official state religion in 864, the development of iconography interweaves with the history of the Bulgarian state and the vicissitudes of its fate. The first masters and painters who have created and adorned the first Christian temples in Bulgaria had come from Byzantium.

With the adoption of Christianity as an official religion in 865 evolves the cult to images as manifestation of religiousness. The data of the relatively scarce samples is complemented by the written records of our and foreign authors explain the widespread cult towards sacred images primarily of Jesus, Our Lady, st. George and other saints.

The only preserved icons from this period are on ceramics – an unusual material for this kind of art, which is usually realized on wood, metal, stone, bone or mosaics. The ceramic icons of the Pliska-Preslav culture are unique. As a basis is used a panel of ceramic tiles, on which it’s painted with bright colors. The expressions are decorative spots and contour. The round, live faces distinguish themselves from contemporary byzantian patterns. Due to the brittleness of the material very few works of this style have remained to this day, even fragmented. Among the relatively well preserved works is the famous ceramic icon “St. Teodor Stratilat”.

During the period of the Second Bulgarian state two main trends exist: national and palace. The former relates to folk traditions, the latter derives from the painting of the Tarnovo art school and is influenced by the Paleologic renaissance – with balanced compositions, logically constructed figures, harmoniously developed coloring.

In the times when Bulgaria is a part of the Ottoman empire, iconography in conjunction with the Slavonic script and Christianity contributes to the preservation of the national self-awareness of Bulgarians. Despite the lack of normal circumstances for creative work, the number of entirely painted newly built and renovated churches is huge. The strive for preservation of traditions and models of the past was nurtured by the conservative spirit of Christian art. In the 17th century new tendencies in iconography evolve, which leads to distinct stylization of content, graphic outline of folds, enhancement of the shadows in the oval of the faces a.o. The decorativeness is enhanced by the plastic and embedded ornament as well, usually gilted and colored in blue and red.

The renaissance bears a renewal in iconography. The strict canonic painting in the new age faces reality. The changes occur in the type of faces, in the recreation of perspective architectural and natural landscape, in the vivid coloring. The strict dogmatism of images, unchanged for centuries, gradually gives way to a new conception of the world, which paves the way for secular art. Bright, cheerful colors, characters in contemporary costumes, common representation of Bulgarian kings and patriarchs – saints (somewhat forgotten in the age of Ottoman turks’ rule) are among the distinctive features of renaissance iconography.

During the 18th century in the Aton Holly wood a new art form comes into existence, uniting the traditions of the east, west baroque and the influence of the Italian-Cyprus school. With this art is associated the work of Zahari the Monk, who has painted icons in the Rila Monastery at the end of 18th century. In this period in some cities and prosperous areas are formed iconographic schools: Samokovska, Trevnenska, Banska, Strandjanska. They are unique owing to their own stylistic expressions and several generations of hereditary icon-painters, some of whom studied in Europe.

From the renaissance to this day some iconographic manuals have remained – hermeneutics of Bulgarian icon-painters with exact prescriptions for the technology of make of icons for the calendar cycle, for their iconographic schemes, the clothing of the personas and the inscriptions. But beside the strict didactic of the canon gradually some elements of pagan folk believes and practices permeate iconography, some of which are magical, characteristic of the Bulgarian spirit.

During the renaissance a lot of craftsmen guilds and separate professional groups name such saints as their protectors and patrons that had elements in their lifes closely resembling the same activities and professions. For instance St. Nikola is considered a patron of sailors and bankers, St. Ilia of fur-dressers, because he throws his fur out of the chariot a.o.

In the icons of the renaissance a special attention is paid to the images of later canonized Bulgarian and Slavic saints – Sava and Simeon Srybski, St. Knyaz Boris, St. Patriarch Evtimii, St. Ivan Rilski (considered a patron of the Bulgarian nation) a.o.

The art of iconography fortifies religious knowledge and bears the wonder of touching the divine.

Works of Bulgarian iconography can be seen in the church historical-archeological museum in Sofia as well as in the Preobrajenski and Rila monasteries, the churches in Tryavna, Arbanasi, in and around Veliko Tarnovo, Sozopol, Nessebar a.o. Iconography is also represented in the architectural-ethnographic complex “Etyr”.



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