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 The art of Gračanica
Gojko Subotić
In the last year of his long reign, 1321, King Milutin issued a chrysobull (charter) granting estates to the monastery of Gračanica, the seat of the bishops of
Lipljan, after he had built a church there and was about to finish painting its walls. a copy of the document has survived, spelled out in fresco technique on the wall in the southern chapel, most probably functioning as a dia- konicon here—storing precious liturgical vessels and im- portant manuscripts, especially foundation and gift-grant- ing charters. in addition to a list of assets enhanced by the king with his own contributions, the charter discloses that here in the fertile plain of Kosovo he had completely re- built the earlier cathedral of the Bishopric of Lipljan. ex- cavations of the church interior suggest as much. They reveal not only the remains of an early Byzantine basilica with a narthex and lateral wings, but also foundations of a smaller, elongated religious building above its central nave. it is not certain whether the lower structure was the old episcopal seat of Ulpiana, a nearby ancient town whose tradition was continued by subsequent spiritual dignitar- ies. The ground plan of the upper edifice, however, cer- tainly was the seat of the Bishop of Lipljan, one of the first archpriests ordained by St. Sava in the autonomous Ser- bian church. it was a modest single-aisled building with pilasters, suggesting that it was domed (the excavated frag- ments of murals show that the frescos were painted in the decades around the mid-13th century). apparently it was demolished when King Milutin had the new, monumental edifice built. Nowadays, the king’s charter is all the evi- dence that remains of a formerly grand, still uninvestigat- ed monastic complex of which only a few buildings can be reconstructed on the basis of preserved foundations.
The church of the Mother of God in Gračanica—the last in a series built in the second decade of the 14th cen- tury by the greatest patron in medieval Serbian art—rep- resents the most significant achievement of the Byzantine architectural tradition he embraced. With its complex and gracious forms it deeply impressed writers of travel ac- counts and was sung by folk epics. experts, for their part, early saw in it a creation of outstanding artistic skill. The focus of their research has, naturally, shifted from the anal- ysis of forms and the outer appearance, whose beauty is captivating, to consideration of spatial structure, its ele- ments and origin.
The Nemanjić Dynasty Family Tree, detail:
King Milutin, narthex, east wall, Gračanica, 1318–1321
The church’s floor plan is rectangular, while further up it develops into forms which articulate into sloping mass- es, ascending toward the main dome. Basically simple and easy to comprehend, the composition of these masses re- veals to a great extent the intricate internal plan, although the character and disposition of all spatial and construc- tive elements do not have corresponding counterparts in the exterior. in the core of the building is a cross-in-square form with four freestanding piers crowned by the dome which springs from a square base. it is supported by lofty barrel vaults spanning the arms of the cross, dominating the entire entity. Spatial elements encompassing the cen- tral section play a special role in the external composition. Of diverse forms and height, they create with their har- monious relations and characteristic rhythm an entity of unique compositional value: in the extension of the arms of the cross, bays maintaining the same width are covered by barrel vaults placed at a lower height, while the cor- ners are topped by domes of appearance and structure identical to the main dome. it has been emphasized in scholarly literature that this simplified scheme is formed “by placing one cross-in-square onto another;” the whole is assembled in a fashion aiming to achieve a perfect out- er appearance.
“Double, two-level intersected vaults” with the dome in the center and four elevated cupolas at the ends as coun- terparts, certainly represent the skeleton of the structure. Symmetrically placed as the vaults rising above the outer

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