Page 140 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
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Slobodan Ćurčić
 North façade, Gračanica
tural ties with the Hinterland, the coastal region on the adriatic and her window on the West. Daring as he was in his political undertakings, Milutin also knew modera- tion. Thus the cultural flow in contacts with the Hinter- land continued in both directions. its apparent reduced rate was created largely by the overwhelming effect of the Byzantine input. in the process of byzantinizing Serbia,
Milutin also did not lose sight of certain traditional val- ues, though largely for the sake of political expedience. The same general cultural trends were to continue after Milutin and were to play a major role in the shaping of a more distinctive culture under Stefan Dušan. The politi- cal, social, and cultural ingredients of Dušan’s empire, however, were conceived under King Milutin.
Our analysis of the architecture of Gračanica, its rela- tionship to contemporary architecture within the Byzan- tine sphere of influence in general, and its place within the context of the culture of King Milutin’s Serbia yields a new understanding of this extraordinary monument. Gračanica can be comprehended and its importance prop- erly established only within the general scope of Late Byz- antine architecture. The romantic attribution of Gračanica to the “Serbian national genius,” which was first circulated by Millet and Brehier, has subsequently accomplished the opposite from what these French scholars had in mind. it has confined Gračanica to the scope of Serbian architec- ture under Byzantine influence, and has resulted in its treatment as a highlight of but one of the many local pro- vincial workshops.
Such a notion is utterly misleading. Gračanica repre- sents one of the high points of Late Byzantine architec- ture in the broadest sense. This contention is corrobo- rated by the political and cultural developments in Ser- bia at the time. King Milutin’s expansionist policies, his emulation of the Byzantine emperor and the imperial court, his universal patronage of art and architecture, his political propaganda generated through the arts, and the general style of his art and architecture all unmistakably point to the fact that Serbian artistic and architectural accomplishments of the early fourteenth century must be considered in a broader framework transcending the na- tional boundaries of Serbia. Therefore, the key to proper understanding of Serbian art and architecture at the out- set of the fourteenth century lies in the correct assess- ment of the patronage of King Milutin. as direct con- flicts indicated, it was King Milutin, and not the Byzan- tine emperor, who was the most powerful ruler in the Balkans around 1300. His strength was based on Serbia’s sound economy nurtured by successful mining of silver and gold, and by active trading, especially with Dubrov- nik. King Milutin used his great wealth to maintain his military superiority and to promote the cultural growth of Serbia. While Serbia was experiencing a process of political and cultural ascendancy, the Byzantine empire was undergoing a process of steady decline. Political and cultural decentralization of Byzantium had become very much a fact under andronicus ii despite this emperor’s attempts to reverse the trend. The importance of Thes- saloniki rose considerably with the establishment of the court of his consort, empress irene, who left Constanti- nople apparently as a result of a dispute with her husband over the question of partitioning the empire. The pres-

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