Conference on 15th–19th Centuries Silversmithing on the Balkans with the participation of the Institute of Art Studies


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On 4th and 5th November 2022, at the Belgrade University, the conference ‘Southeast European Silversmithing: Liturgical Objects and the Construction of a Cultural, Technological and Iconographical Network in the Early Modern Period’ took place, dedicated to the silversmithing artworks in Southeast Europe in the period 15th–19th centuries, defined as Early Modern Period. The conference was the first one of its kind in the region and focused on a very specific section – the artworks in silver and gold intended for cult use by the Christian population. Standing on the borderline between art and craft, these artworks, even today, are left in the shadow of ‘high’ art of wall painting and icon-painting from that time. But namely their border position – between the high and the low, the sacral and the profane, the Christian cult and the Islamic decorative art, Orthodox and Catholicism, turns them into markers of their times. The conference uncovered that the studies in this field have undergone significant development during the past recent years in the whole range of the scientific problematic – from the research of particular types of objects with their specific iconography and formal decisions, through the identification of craft centres and their organization, the exchange of decorative motifs and techniques, to their cultural and historical being during the centuries.

The conference was also remarkable with its organizational principle, devised and realized by an international professional team of colleagues from three Balkan countries – Vuk Dautoviċ from the Belgrade University, Darina Boykina from the Institute of Art Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and Matheia Jerman from the University of Rijeka and the Ministry of Culture in the Republic of Croatia. The maturity of the concept and the selection of participants were also impressive. Statistically viewed, the conference surpassed the borders of the Balkans – there were 14 researchers from Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy and the USA. For the fruitful scientific work contributed also the suitable format and thematic distribution in sections with just two or three papers, which allowed time for free discussion afterwards to complement the presentations, something extremely rarely found lately at such forums.

I will briefly present the papers in support of the above said.

Patronage and Objects in Movement

Mateja Jerman (Ministry of Culture and Media, University of Rijeka, Croatia) presented liturgical objects from the Istria and Kvarner regions in Croatia, made mainly in the goldsmith workshops in Augsburg, Gratz, Venice and Vienna. By drawing the attention to a few works, the author studied the opportunities for research of the cultural context in which they appeared and the possible ways of them being ordered, distributed and given as gifts so that they could reach Istria and Kvarner.

Snježana Orlović (doctoral student at the Belgrade University) presented preserved liturgical objects in monasteries, parish churches and museums on the territory of Dalmatian and Gornjokarlovac (i.e. Upper Karlovac) Bishoprics, dating back to the 16th–18th centuries. The young researcher also pointed out the circumstances under which both Bishoprics fell and made an attempt at defining the artistic centres where they were made; apart from the local workshops, many of these were imported from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Venice, Genoa, Vienna, Mount Athos, Corfu Island. The analysis clearly outlined the active cultural and economic links not only between the two Bishoprics but also between other artistic centres.

Imagery and Iconography

Georgi R. Parpulov (independent scholar, Plovdiv) focused on a relatively under researched group of silversmith works from the period, namely part from numerous preserved silver glasses (tasses), kept at various collections in the Balkans and around the world. The author presented the inscriptions on some of them and the existing contradictive opinions about their origin and function – worldly and sacral, thus creating a good foundation for future research work.

Anita Paolicchi (University of Pisa) presented her study, which focused on Apocalypse scenes depicted on a precious gospel cover from Brașov from 1681. She researched the historical and political reasons for the adoption of the rare iconography in the orthodox medium.

Yannis D. Varalis & Constantine Dolmas, a PhD student (University of Thessaly in Larissa) presented their co-research of a group of metal smith works on gospels, created in a silversmith centre near the village of Retziani, Thessaly (nowadays Metaxochori), near Larissa. The authors studied over 15 metal covers for gospels, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, which shared identical features – all of them consisting of numerous metal pieces, part of which covered with enameled decoration, attached to wooden covers and coated in velvet. The authors emphasized that this type of gospel decoration is a reflection of Byzantine traditions, while in the iconography they identified Russian and Greek influences. They analyzed the data on the ktetors’ inscriptions, which informed our knowledge about the people who ordered them, the time and the artists who crafted those liturgical works.

Sanctity Materialization

Francesca Stopper (independent scholar) presented her study on the preserved, up to date, reliquaries, made in the 17th and 18th centuries. The author analyzed their formal and stylistic features by focusing on the main goldsmith workshops in the town and the peculiarities in the process of their crafting.

Iglika Mishkova (Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) focused on another underdeveloped and under researched part of the diverse works of goldsmiths from the Early Modern Period. She presented votives from various parts of Bulgaria, systemized according their shape. The large volume of the data has been collected during terrain research trips for many years where not only the described arte facts have been collected but also many stories and legends about the curing powers of the votives.

Function and Form

Lucian Lechintan (Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome) presented his study on a censor from the Tismana Monastery in Romania, which nowadays is preserved at the National Museum of Arts in Bucharest. The object dating from the end of 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century is made of silver with a gold coating and holds the shape of a crossed-dome temple. The author paid special attention to the gothic elements and tiny figures engraved in niches, which according to the scholar represent catholic monks. By referring to parallels from earlier period, he proved his thesis that the censor was an example of art work with high artistic features from the period of the late Byzantine art in which influences from the western Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox worlds meet.

Arijana Koprčina (Museum of Arts and Crafts, Zagreb) studied liturgical objects from the end of the Late Middle Ages and the beginning of the Early Modern Period, which are preserved in the vestry of the cathedral and other churches in Zagreb, in churches in the Zagreb diocese as well as at the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb. The most representative objects from these collections were showcased, which date back primarily to the second half of 15th century and the first half of the 16th century and which hold stylistic similarities with the predominant gothic and renaissance elements. Despite the lack of information about the object attributions to particular goldsmith workshop, the author found out that the used motifs referred to the work of Martin Schongauer and his teacher – Master E.S.

Nona Petkova (Institute of Art Studies, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) presented her study of ornamental enamel decoration of art works of church objects from 16th–17th centuries, which belonged to Bachkovo Monastery and they are stored today at the National Church Museum of History and Archaeology in Sofia. The author draw the attention to a familiar at a first glance technique of enameling with filigree, which during the researched period turned specific for a number of goldsmith artworks in the Balkans and in Bulgaria.

Visual communication and sensitivity

Tera Lee Hedrick (Wichita Art Museum, USA) compared the dishes and utensils used during the late Byzantine culture in order to study the role of the objects in the process of identity and image creation of housewives and guests. The scholar followed a quite long period of time and compared the dishes used at Divine liturgy and the feasts of the Byzantine elite thus drawing the conclusion that during the late Byzantine and post Byzantine period liturgical objects were very close to the worly ones and served to underline the specififc image of the clergy.

Milena Ulčar (University of Belgrade) studed a few of the many reliquaries from the period of the Early Modern Period, found in the ecclesiastical vestries of the churces in the Venetian Bay of Kotor. She analysed the reliquary shape and the ways the parts of the bodies of the saints were depicted to the beleievers. The author emphasized the received by the veiwer elements provoking the corporeal, emotional and cognitive reception.

Goldsmith centres and emergence of visual culture

Darina Boykina (Institute of Art Studies, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) presented a study on the goldsmith centres in Central South Bulgaria. She systemized the data about goldsmith artists, mentioned in the Ottoman-Turkish customs documents, books of goldsmith guilds and preserved on liturgical objects. According the scholar these evidences serve for the resolution of the issue about the localization of the so called goldsmith centre in the region of the Bachkovo Monastery and Plovdiv, mentioned but still under researched in the scholarly literature.

Vuk Dautović (University of Belgrade) presented the detailed development of the goldsmith guild in Belgrade, which during the 19th century united the most famous goldsmith makers in the Serbian Kingdom. On the basis of archive documents and preserved liturgical objects, the author showcased the diverse content of the guild, whose members included artists both from Central Europe and various regions in the Balkans. By analyzing the dynamic migration processes of artists, ideas and artistic influences during the period, the author convincingly proved that liturgical objects are an important element of the visual culture of the 19th century, providing evidence about the cultural exchange and artistic relationships in Southeastern Europe.

In conclusion, I would like to express my hope that the papers will be published soon and in 2024 we will witness the second edition of the conference at the Institute of Art Studies.

Conference on 15th–19th Centuries Silversmithing on the Balkans with the participation of the Institute of Art Studies

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