After our fairly swift time on this Earth, many of our lives will be forgotten as the decades and centuries pass. But through the dusts of time, art has immortalised our forefathers, with artists from different periods and regions able to convey their feelings through the evolving use of colour and technique. For those who are accustomed to art from and influenced by the Renaissance, they soon come to notice that the style here is especially unique. The techniques from the Byzantine era are powerful even today.
Inside the recently opened Musuem of Medieval Art, Korce. (c) Roman Mensing
During the Ottoman period, Korce was a major economic and also ecclesiastical centre. Its artists were famous and sought throughout the region, adorning churches and monasteries with icons and wall paintings in the prevalent Byzantine style. Fortunately for visitors, the works of greats such as Onufri, David Selenica and Athanas and Kostandin Zografi can all be seen in Korce’s Medieval Museum.
Musuem of Medieval Art, Korce. (c) Roman Mensing
Onufri (early 16th c) was a post-Byzantine painter known mostly for his icons. He introduced greater realism and individuality into facial expressions, breaking with the strict conventions of the time. He was the first to introduce the colour pink into icon painting, with the secret of the tint dying with him. His work is noted for the intense use of colours and the use of natural dyes.
Onufri - Resurrection of Lazarus (l); Mary and Child (r). Both 16th C. Public domain
David Selenica (late 17th, early 18th c)
In contrast to other painters of his era, he used bright colours in his paintings and icons. He combined elements of Byzantine art of the Paleologan era and Venetian school of art, with his work influencing many of his contemporaries: Kostandin Shpataraku, the brothers Kostandin and Athanas Zografi, and other works of the early 19th century. He is regarded as the founder of a distinct national school of painters based in Korçë.
Selenica murals St Nicholas church, Voskopje
Selenica murals - St Nicholas church, Voskopje
Kostandin Shpataraku (1736–67) - a painter in the Orthodox tradition of Byzantine church frescoes, but particularly well know for his icons, three of which are below. His works combine Byzantine tradition and Italian Renaissance influences.
Zografi Brothers - moving away from the Byzantine style, Kostadin and Athanas Zografi painted with baroque influences. Their ornamental style used a wide variety of brown and bright colours, especially white, bright blue and dark red. Their paintings can be seen in the important, regional religious centres of Voskopoje and Vitkuq, and all the way east on the Holy Mountain of Athos, Greece.
St Michael's church, Vithkuq - Eno Kotmilo - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The Medieval Museum opened its doors in 1980 and underwent restoration from 2016.
Originally a private collection, it includes historic, cultural and artistic object belonging to the medieval period, mostly Byzantine and post-Byzantine.
With more than 200 artefacts the museum offers you the chance to see how the art of painting has evolved from a rigid and traditional Byzantine style to the more expressive and free spirit post-Byzantine style. Many Byzantine artists are actually unknown and the collection has different pieces from nearly 150 iconographic artists.
One of the most famous icons of the Byzantine time is the Archangel Michael, also known as the “Balkan Mona Lisa”.
The museum is equipped with facilities for restoration and preservation room and today it doesn’t just display but contributes to the preservation, collection and discovery of the region’s Byzantine and post-Byzantine iconographic art. It also provides an valuable insight into how the art of painting was conceived during the Byzantine period and after the fall of the empire.
Restoration work at the musuem
Text: Ema Muslli
Ema was born and raised in Korce. After her studies in Tirana she returned to her home city and now works as a Public Relations officer at the Regional Development Agency.
p.s. An excellent article on the refurbishment of the MMA, from which we reproduce the photos of Roman Mensing, can be found on Arch Daily: