Serbian themes in 14th century frescoes in the church of St. Demetrios in Peć
History (General) and history of Europe
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History of the arts
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AbstractAfter new research excluded the likelihood of the frescoes in St. Demetrios in Peć having been painted in the period around 1345/1346, as they are usually dated, one should revert to the view held by the initial research workers, who believed that Archbishop Nikodim (1317-1324) not only built but also had the church decorated. Well-educated after having been a student in Hilandar, and one of the most meritorious Serbian archbishops, Nikodim created a program of frescoes in which one can clearly distinguish these personal traits. Nikodim's experience on Mount Athos, of which we learn from his writings, preserved in the preamble of the two charters granted to the Karyes Cell, is reflected in the Church of St. Demetrios in the arrangement of the scenes of The Birth of the Virgin and The Presentation of the Virgin m the Temple on the opposite walls of the altar (in the churches of Mount Athos, they are painted on the eastern walls of the choir which does not exist in the church in Peć), and in the painting of the warrior saints and holy monks in the area of the naos beneath the dome, which is also characteristic of the churches on Mount Athos and of those decorated under the influence of this monastery. Nikodim erected the Church of St. Demetrios as his burial place. Therefore, he prepared a tomb for himself in the form of a sarcophagus in the western bay. beside the northern wall, and had it decorated with relief of a highly eschatological nature. During the painting of the church, he surrounded the tomb with presentations of a similar content. On the western wall, one can see The Lamentation (with the distinct figure of St. Nikodemus), the women bearing ointments and spices at the tomb of Christ, and Zechariah the Prophet with a Sickle and the prophecy about Him, written on a scroll. Directly above the tomb, however, there are the images of the donor's patrons and mediators (the warriors, St. Theodore Teron and St. Theodore Stratelates, and the anargyroi, SS Cosmas and Damianos. Fig. 1). while the place of St. Panteleimon ( who was relocated to the area beneath the dome) is occupied by a desert anchorite (Fig. 2) which was in keeping with Nikodim's ideals as a monk. Nikodim's example was followed by his successor, Archbishop Danilo II, in his mausoleum church dedicated to the Mother of God (around 1330): he too placed his tomb next to the northern wall of the western bay, a sarcophagus decorated with motives similar to those of Nikodim, surrounding it with images of the saintly physicians and warrior saints, a d placing the warrior saints and the holy monks opposite each other in the central part of the church. More than other Serbian archbishops, Nikodim revered St. Sava. He wrote about him with great love and viewed his own work as the hegoumenos of Hilandar. as an anchorite in the Karyes Cell and as the Serbian archbishop, as the continuation of Sava's deed. If, in his day. it was already believed that St. Sava was the patron of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Peć, then the fact that Nikodim erected St. Demetrios next to it should be interpreted as his desire to propagate St. Sava's ideas. However, Nikodim fulfilled this intention with the frescoes around his tomb. With the paintings of The Descent of the Holy Spirit and the first two Ecumenical Councils (Fig. 3) he expressed the idea about the beginnings of Christ's church on Earth, its establishment and its nature of communion. The first Serbian archbishop, as a new apostle educated his people, strengthened their faith and laid the path for the successors to his throne, which is illustrated in the painting, The Council of St. Sava (Fig. 4). Nikodim was Sava's successor and the executor of his legacy, as he pointed out in his writings, especially in the preface to the translation of the Jerusalem Typikon. The ideas about the unity of spiritual and temporal authority in the country embodied from the very beginning in Simeon and Sava, right until Stefan Dečanski and Archbishop Nikodim, are harmoniously interwoven on the frescoes in the Church of St Demetrios. Namely, on the opposite side of the vault, beside the scene of The Council of St. Sava, we see the painting of The Council of St. Simeon Nemanja and King Mi lutin (Fig. 5). In accordance with the old ideological and iconographical templates and especially with the program painted in the narthex of the Sopoćani monastery, half a century earlier, the purpose of this painting was to demonstrate that Simeon Nemanja was the source of temporal authority in Serbia and that he passed it on to his successors by the will of God and by his own decision. It was no mere coincidence that his "grandson". King Milutin, the father of Stefan Decanski, was chosen to be his successor. Accorded by God, legitimate authority was transferred from St. Simeon, through Milutin, to the new king. Thus, Stefan Dečanski 1322-1331) with his son Dusan, the young king, was painted in the same area on the southern wall, surrounded by the portraits of St. Sava and Archbishop Nikodim (Fig. 6). thus indicating that he did not rule by right of inheritance alone, but also in the Orthodox Christian spirit, with the blessing of the Church. Since it is known that Stefan Dečanski came to the throne under extraordinary circumstances, it is understandable that he wished to emphasise the legitimacy of his rule, which he legally inherited from his father, in the See of the archbishop. He did the same in his charters, especially in the Dečani Chrysobull. Such ideologically intoned painting may have been produced soon after Stefan's coronation, so the frescoes in the Church of St. Demetrios in Pec should be dated between 1322 and 1324. At that time. King Stefan Dečanski and young King Dušan were certainly still under the influence of their seven-year sojourn in Constantinople. This is why their official portraits on the southern wall (Figs 8 and 9), painted against a red, almost purple background, surrounded by the images of Archbishop Nikodim (Fig. 7) and St. Sava (Fig. 10), are imbued with the spirit and tastes of the court in Constantinople consequently they bear little similarity with the earlier images of rulers in Serbia. However, certain insignia and robes, worn here for the first time by King Stefan Dečanski, young King Dusan and Archbishop Nikodim. would occasionally appear on their portraits and those of other people almost until the end of the 14th century.
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