Page 56 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
P. 56

 Gojko Subotić
choice of artists and iconography, but also in the process of finding the most appropriate articulation for ecclessiastical and political ideas. The multitude of historical composi- tions and effigies of members of the ruling house, the no- bility, high clergy and monks, most frequently in the role of founders, reflects the life and understanding of medieval Serbian society. The inscriptions accompanying them ac- curately record the historical moment and disclose the ambitions of the sovereign, sometimes of a short duration in a changing political reality. in that, painters, even those who came from other countries, displayed a developed sense of careful attention to the spirit of the artistic envi- ronment and the requests of those who commissioned the work. in that aspect, the shrines in Kosovo have preserved the wealth of their uniqueness. in contrast to representa- tions of saints whose images were entrenched in tradition- al Orthodox iconography, historical portraits, especially those of men, portrayed the person’s original facial features in the majority of cases, meticulously registering the char- acter of their clothes and attributes of their social status. St. Simeon and St. Sava, the founders of the autonomous state and church, were regular features on frescos, as were ex- pressions of complex state and legal ideas, the emphasis always being placed on the divine origin of rule.
The representations of founders took a special place in churches which they raised for their eternal rest. in Koso- vo, however, such images have survived only in Dečani, in a number not registered elsewhere: the first founder, Ste- fan Dečanski, got four, and the second, Dušan, even five portraits, each in a different iconographic version, invested with a special message. The lost depictions of King Milutin in Banjska, and of Dušan in the Holy archangels, were un- doubtedly particular paraphrases of the same ideas. The lat- ter, as it has been shown, had two—in Serbian art unique— ruling portraits carved in stone, above the entrance to the church and over the tomb itself.
Serbian kings of the first half of the 14th century entrust- ed the design and construction of their large shrines, the carving of stonework and the painting of frescos in spa- cious interiors, to masters from provincial workshops, as well as to those from the coastal regions and Byzantine towns, depending on the character of the work and avail- able artistic support. in the free selection of artistic forms, open to western concepts for the outer appearance of churches, they satisfied the requirements of the Orthodox rite in the disposition and function of spatial elements, preserving with consistency the appropriate character of wall-paintings and icons. The faithful in the Middle ages admired such churches, but did not marvel at them: they were the expression of a specific and exciting—only for the present-day observer unexpected—synthesis that was the natural outcome of cultural circumstances and vital artis- tic practice. This vitality was felt in the works of the masters from other branches of art. Take, for instance, the handi- work of goldsmiths who fashioned “holy vessels” for the
needs of the east-Christian cult, while decorating them with ornaments from the repertoire of western art, just as masters in that same period carve Byzantine and Romanesque (or Gothic) embellishments on the por- tals and windows of the churches be- fore them.
a considerable number of feudal
and town churches were erected in a
more modest spirit within simpler
forms. Only the rudimentary facts
about them have been outlined in the
appendix. Neither does this list offer a
balanced testimony to their number
and disposition. Those churches in
towns whose remains have been in-
sufficiently investigated, to a large ex-
tent have yet to be analyized. One need
only to compare their number in towns
like Ohrid, Kastoria or Verroia, which
preserve their early nuclei throughout
Ottoman rule, or, at least, have sur-
viving data about Christian structures
in the defters (censuses), to project
how many of them may have existed
in the prosperous centers in Kosovo,
with wealthy mine owners or lessees,
master craftsmen, merchants and ar-
tisans. it has already been stated that,
apart from the local population, these
places were also inhabited by “for-
eigners,” whose social and legal status was established by law, and implied, among other things, ownership rights, exemption from certain taxes, etc. There were many citi- zens from Dubrovnik, Venice and Genoa among them. in addition, the mines attracted albanians whose arrival was prompted by the expansion of the medieval Serbian state into territory to the south of Scutari.
The growing exploitation of mineral riches in Serbia and Bosnia gathered momentum from the mid-14th cen- tury since mines in europe were being exhausted. Thus, around Novo Brdo and janjevo where silver mixed with gold was being excavated, as well as Trepča and elsewhere, tales spread about the rich deposits. The wealth was enor- mous. archival data disclose that one fifth of the total eu- ropean production of silver was exported from Serbia and Bosnia only via Dubrovnik.
No churches have survived in medieval fortified towns with suburbs, or in marketplaces where, sometimes sev- eral times a year, fairs were held on particular feast-days when merchants from afar assembled offering commod- ities to the local population. in the last century of indepen- dence, however, no further monumental churches fol- lowed the completion of the Holy archangels. With the

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