THE ICONS OF OHRID, MACEDONIA
(Icons available for sale on this site are copies of originals carefully stored in museums and churches in Macedonia)
The numerous icons are a significant part of the rich cultural heritage of medieval Ohrid,
the cradle of Slav literacy and culture, the centre of the autocephalous archbishopric of Ohrid.
They are an inseparable part of the churches and iconostases of Ohrid, and were painted by the
same artists who painted the frescoes. As established, only some icons were painted outside
Macedonia -in the court workshops of Constantinople.
The high artistic and aesthetic value of these icons attracted the interest of numerous
Byzantologists in the late 19th and early 2Oth centuries, although only part of the icon
treasure of Ohrid had been discovered by that time. Ever since interest in the icons of
Ohrid has never waned, and the Ohrid collection is considered to be one of the most significant
ones in the Orthodox world. Along with the icons of Sinai, Mount Athos and Russia, the icons
of Ohrid are a supreme expression of Byzantine and Slav artistic creativity.
The development of icon painting in Ohrid mainly parallels that of the frescoes. The harmony
of the two is very obvious as early as the 11th century. The counterpart of the oldest icon,
"The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste", can be found in the frescoes depicting the same subject in
the sanctuary of the church St. Sophia's. Two icons, "The Archangel Gabriel" and "The Holy
Virgin", painted in the period of Leo Mungo (1108- 1120), archbishop of Ohrid, evince the
influence of fresco painting (in the presentation of the Annunciation). The icon "Jesus Christ",
by an unknown painter, donated by the archbishop Konstantin Kavasila, was probably painted
(in 1262) for the iconostasis of the church St. Sophia's. Its free form and emphasised light-dark
contrasts suggest new trends in painting. Graphic treatment and the introspective expressiveness
of the saints' images are the most pronounced in the double icon showing the Madonna and Child
(Hodegitria) on one and the Crucifixion on the other side. The anxious faces of the Virgin
and Christ, the discreet sorrow expressed by the measured gestures in the Crucifixion, suggest
that the unknown painter from the second half of the 13th century must have been a great artist.
The frescoes in the church of the Holy Virgin (Perivleptos, today St. Clement), the first
major work of the painters Mihajlo and Eutichios, were painted in 1295. So were a number of
processional icons - "Doubting Thomas", "The Descent of Christ into Hell", "The Baptism of
Our Lord", the temple icon "The Virgin Perivleptos", "The Evangelist Matthew", etc. The best
icons in this group are attributed to Mihajlo and Eutichios, and belong to the period in
which the two artists accepted the classicist ideas and aestheticism of mature Palaeologian
style. The impressively modelled and expressive figure of Matthew is one of the first works
of Palaeologian art. Two icons, showing the Virgin Saviour of Souls and the Annunciation, and
Our Lord the Saviour and the Crucifixion, are the most valuable in artistic and aesthetic terms.
Their perfection makes the (unknown) artist the greatest Byzantine icon painter of his time.
As from the mid-14th century, the circle of patrons and donors -hitherto only high church
prelates and noblemen -spread with the contributions of rich citizens and priests. Many smaller
churches were built in Ohrid, and the local painter workshops were fully occupied with
decorating them. The same artists painted frescoes and icons, and the religious paintings of
Ohrid offered quite a few iconographic subjects, models and stylistic approaches. Clement
(Kliment) and Naum, the Slav saints, were the favourite subjects. The double icon showing the
two saints is the best work produced in Ohrid at the time. Refined modelling, sensitive color
harmony, exquisite drawing suggest Jovan Teorijan, the extremely talented mid-14th-century
painter. He painted the frescoes in the upper storey in the narthex of St. Sophia's, and part
of the frescoes in Sv. Vraci. His studio trained a group of good painters who executed the
commissions of the citizens in the second half of the 14th century. The images which they
painted in the church frescoes are found again in their icons - "The Presentation in the Temple",
"The Archangel Gabriel" (wing of the iconostasis doors), "St. Naum", the iconostasis doors in
the church of St. Constantine and Jelena, etc.
The activity of the local workshops was sustained until the Turkish conquest in the late 14th
and early 15th centuries. In new conditions, as Christianity lost its political pre-eminence,
icon painting continued in the traditional vein with periodically declining quality up until
the 19th century. It was then, for the last time, that icon painting flourished again in the
work of Konstantin and Dich.
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