Page 559 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
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That costume power—fully recalls the later Tudor por- traits, the gorgeous robes that held together the grossness of Henry Viii and the brain-raddled emaciation of eliza- beth and presented them as massive monarchs. Such vest- ments speak of a world founded on the idea of status, which regarded a king as the beloved deputy of God, not because he was any particular sort of man, but because it was con- sidered obvious that if he were crowned a king he would try to act like a beloved deputy of God, since society had agreed that was how a king should act...
...Across one of the walls of Gračanica is shown the Fall- ing Asleep of the Virgin Mary, the state which preceded her Assumption, a subject often treated by the Byzantines There is no man living today who, exploring his mind in the light of that idea, could draw out so much
In the foreground of the fresco is the Virgin lying on her bier By the lax yet immutable line is rendered the marvel of death, the death which is more than the mere perishing of consciousness, which can strike where there is no conscious- ness and annul a tree, a flower, an ear of corn Above her bier there shines a star of light; within it stands Christ, tak- ing into his arms his mother’s soul in the likeness of a swad- dled child Their haloes make a peaceful pattern, the stamp of a super-imperial power, within the angles of the star About them throngs a crowd of apostles and disciples, come hast- ily from the next world or from distant lands to attend the Virgin’s death, wearing their haloes as bubbling yet serene spheres On the edge of the crowd stand some bishops in their cross-covered mantles, rock-like with the endurance of the Church, which cannot be perturbed by the most lacerat- ing grief, and still others, also in flowing garments but with bodies liquid with grief, and others, also in flowing garments but with bodies tautened by effort, low under the weight of the bier The background is full of angels as the Eastern Church loved to conceive them, ethereal messengers who are perpetually irradiated by the divine beauty and com- municate its laws to flesh-bound man, a dream of perfect vision and unfrustrated will
The huge imaginative space occupied by this small fres- co is washed by two swinging tides There is a wave of such sincere and childish grief as children feel when their moth- ers die, that breaks and falls and ebbs; there is a rising sea of exaltation in the Son who can work all magic and cancel this death or any other, making glory and movement where stillness and the end seem to be ineluctable The sides of the fresco are filled in with buildings, distorted with the most superb audacity in order to comply with the general pat- tern, yet solid and realistic in effect; we are amazed, as we all so often are during our lives, that our most prodigious experiences take place in the setting of the everyday world, that the same scenery should be used for the pantomime and the tragedy Behind these buildings there is a firma- ment which evokes another recurrent amazement It is the most astonishing of all the things which happen to us that anything should happen at all It is incredible that there
On Gračanica Monastery and the Fresco of the Dormition
should be men and women, mothers and sons, biers and buildings, grief and joy; it would seem so much more prob- able that the universe should have as its sole packing empty nothingness Existence in itself, taken at its least miracu- lous, is a miracle
But this fresco, though it is inspired by these ideas and communicates them, is pure painting; it essays no task proper to another art. These ideas manifest themselves be- cause they were part of the intellectual and spiritual wealth which the painter had inherited from Byzantium, and he could engage in only the most superficial activities without being reminded of them. But he was wholly loyal to his art. He restricted himself to dealing with certain problems of form and colour, but such was his command over his tech- nique that these restrictions gave him as much liberty as most men’s talents and allotment of time are likely to need. He knew how to put circle by straight line and straight line by circle, and pattern by pattern within an enfolding pat- tern, in a design which by a certain angularity never con- sented to renounce its nature, always refused to pretend to be a plain copy of material objects; he knew how to exploit the Near eastern palette of strong colours which have had their strength eroded by stronger sunlight to pale virile es- sences, or obscured in the labyrinths of Byzantine palaces and only half revived by the glow from torches and cande- labra. it is a convention of form and colour which we of the West know through its use by el Greco, and which we are tempted to mistake for his self-made fortune, if we do not know the treasure house of tradition where he found it. in Gračanica, where the painting of these frescos and the ar- chitecture of the church illustrate two arts proceeding from the same late Byzantine culture, we can see how inexhaust- ible were the treasures of this tradition. Here artists knew the supremest wealth their kind can know; they were rich in creation and they worked for an audience rich in per- ception. These people were born into a kingdom which was as kingdoms of earth should be, yielding good grain and good meat and good wine; and they had had enough of everything for long enough to forget starvation and out- grow excess. Before their eyes was a kingdom of the mind, founded by another people, which, like all kingdoms of the mind, had never been completed, but was unique in beau- ty. Well nourished and full of power, the Serbs went forth to know the new pleasures of art and thought, and to com- plete this culture with a richness that should match the richness of its first intention.
Rebecca West, The Black Lamb and the Grey Falcon, 1941
This book made the Random House Modern Library list of the best 100 non-fiction books of the 20th century. American writer Larry McMurtry says in an essay that “there are only a few great travel books. Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one.” The most brilliantly objective travel book.

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