Greek Artists In The Romanian Principalities

"If Byzantium had been a close synthesis, Romanian art would be different from Byzantine art. But the Byzantine synthesis has remained always fresh and as such incorporates everything that, with added elements, has been accomplished by Romanians."Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940) Assuming the role of protectors of the entire Orthodox world, Romanian dynasts have kept up a lively artistic activity, particularly around churches and monasteries. In this category of laymen and friar builders, stonemasons and, above all, painters we can identify some craftsmen of Greek origin. Fired by the desire to renew Moldavian art, Alexandru Lapusneanu, who had brought over painters from Poland and had asked the Doge to send him Venetian painters, had employed the Greek artist Stamatelo Kotronas of the island of Zakynthos to paint the church of the Rasca monastery. In 1625 the great seneschal Ianache rebuilt the St. Sava church in Jassy with the help of Gheorghe, an architect from Constantinople. Later, the church of the Cetatuia monastery, founded by Duca from Jassy between 1671-1672, was painted by Gheorghe of Ioannina, who later settled in Bacau. He set up a workshop there, where his brothers Mihail and Dima his son Ionita worked. Mihail painted the church of the Floresti hermitage and the Cetatea Mica hermitage in Vaslui. They all married in the Bacau County and became landowners. In Walachia, Michael the Brave had employed two Greek painters who also worked in Transylvania: Nicholas of Crete and Mina. The latter painted the church of the Caluiul monastery in Olt County, where he decorated the three walls of the narthex with the votive painting depicting the Buzesti brothers and two large panels representing dynasts Petru Cercel and Michael the Brave. In 1673 the church of the Topolnita hermitage in Mehedinti was painted by Gheorghe "the Greek" and Dima "the Romanian". In an attempt to add glamour to religious establishments in the country, Brancoveanu also resorts to Greek artists. One of them, who was to play an important part in the development of Romanian painting, was Constantinos. He came to Walachia under the rule of Sherban Cantacuzino (1678-1688) and painted the Doamnei church in Bucharest (1683), the porch of the main church of the "Dintr-un Lemn" monastery (1684), the royal church in Targoviste (1698), the church in Mogosoaia (1705), the church of the Cozia Monastery (1707). Everywhere except from Cozia he had a helper, another Greek painter, Ioan. He came to identify himself with the Romanian spiritual universe of the Brancoveanu age, so much so that he began to sign his name as "Constantinos of Walachia". A renowned workshop was set up in Hurez under his guidance and craftsmen who learned their trade here spread and decorated churched all over the country. It was with this team of painters that Constantinos embellished one of the most exquisite monuments of medieval Romanian art, with the frescoes that Charles Diehl deems to be among the most remarkable ever produced by Romanian artists, at the same time proving the continuity of Romanian and Byzantine art. Oil painting was introduced to Moldova by a Greek painter schooled in Vienna, Eustatie Altini who, after 1812, gives painting classes at the Royal Academy in Jassy. His style, free of the old canons and open towards western painting, a neo-classical style applied to the traditions of the Orthodox East, was to bear great influence on Romanian church painting. He painted the Banu church in Jassy, the St. Spiridon church and the icons for the Forty Saints church. He made a name for himself as a gifted portrait painter, blazing the trail for later great portraitists, among which Theodor Aman, himself descended from a Greek merchant who had acquired a boyar's status. Of Eustatie's portraits several were preserved to this day: the portraits of the metropolitan bishops Iacob Stamati and Veniamin Costache and the well-known painting representing the latter's accession to monasticism. Also from late 18th century have been preserved some of the first "handbooks" of religious painting. One of the best known was Dionisie of Fourna's, first translated into Romanian in 1805 by archimandrite Macarie from Caldarushani. The Greeks in Romania, Omonia, Bucharest, 2003

by Paula Scalcău