Gallery of Frescoes

Although it bears a rather self-explanatory name, the Gallery of Frescoes is not easy to classify. Its name comes from the fact that on the walls, illuminated by gallery light, there are framed copies of frescoes, with selected castings.

By Museums of Serbia

Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Gallery of Frescoes (2021) by Gallery of FrescoesMuseums of Serbia

The concept of the Gallery implies the presentation of an anthology of our medieval paintings, primarily with the help of replicas whose quality is acknowledged and approved by experts and which are registered as cultural goods. In order to preserve, and in this way document and protect the medieval fine art, almost the same technique was used. Namely, the Middle Ages frescoes were painted on fresh plaster (real fresco, fresco al fresco, fresco buono). 

In the Gallery of Frescoes, the original frescoes are copied using the secco procedure. The surface of the replica is treated in such a way that it is actually a wall in terms of texture and quality. In that sense, the copy becomes a real fresco, except  from the basic difference that the painting is made on a dry surface (dry fresco, fresco a secco) and not a fresco, on a fresh surface. Therefore, casein is used as a pigments binder.

Gallery of Frescoes (2021) by Gallery of FrescoesMuseums of Serbia

Along with the review of our old paintings, selected works from temples scattered far from Belgrade and at times even outside today's borders, there is a parallel tendency to protect medieval frescoes, in addition to preserving the originals, making replicas that showed the process of creation and the final appearance of the original frescoes. Therefore, in addition to copies, photographs, drawings and all other accompanying documentation were created.

Gallery of Frescoes (2021) by Gallery of FrescoesMuseums of Serbia

The Gallery of Frescoes is similar to documentation and visitor centers, and in addition to the works itself, it also provides didactic material and instructive legends to guide the visitor to the answers provided by the framework theme – our medieval frescoes. Although it was proposed before the First World War to establish an institution where replicas of artworks would be kept and exhibited, the right opportunity to express such a need again, in a more decisive spirit, was the Second Byzantinological Congress held  in 1927 in Belgrade. 

Gallery of Frescoes, Gallery of Frescoes, 2021, From the collection of: Museums of Serbia
Gallery of Frescoes, Gallery of Frescoes, 2021, From the collection of: Museums of Serbia
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The state attached the greatest importance to that event, the royal house actively participated in the events that followed the congress, providing an exhibition of copies of frescoes that were painted as a model for the mausoleum in Oplenac mosaicists. During the congress, another exhibition was held of Russian painters, frescoes’ copyists. In the text that accompanied the exhibition, Milan Kašanin points out that the Museum of Frescoes should be created after the Trocadero, the Museum of French Monuments, whose exhibition consisted of castings of architecture, sculpture and copies of frescoes, mostly from the medieval period. As early as 1947, a decision was made to establish the Museum of Frescoes, and it was decided to hire copyists from a related, Parisian museum to educate local painters. In that way, the original fund of replicas was created, which represented the basis for the setup.

Gallery of Frescoes (2016) by Gallery of Frescoes and foto V.VukadinovicMuseums of Serbia

The Gallery of Frescoes was opened in 1953 on the land plot where one half was donated by the Jewish community. The most beautiful Belgrade synagogue, Beth Israel, which used to be located on that place – was destroyed in the bombing in 1941, while in 1944, during the withdrawal of the Nazis, it was mined and damaged to such an extent that the reconstruction of the building was not possible. The Gallery of Frescoes was designed as a gallery space by Bogdan Ignjatović.

Gallery of Frescoes (2021) by Gallery of FrescoesMuseums of Serbia

The stepped roofs of the building enabled each hall to receive natural lighting at the top of the hall - a diffuse, gallery lighting. The collection of copies was used, along with the original works, to display Yugoslav medieval art in the Paris Museum of French Monuments in 1950, while an anthological exhibition of frescoes’ copies was presented throughout Europe during the sixth decade.

The seventh decade was significant for large scientific exhibitions, which also marked cross-sectional analyses of epochs. In 1965, an exhibition dedicated to Sopoćani Monastery and monuments of the 13th century was set up, while in 1968, an exhibition was  set up showing the art of Moravian Serbia. From 1961 to 1966, an exhibition of copies of the frescoes toured more than thirty cities in North and South America. From 1968 to 1970, the same exhibition was presented mainly in the Eastern Bloc countries.

Gallery of Frescoes, Gallery of Frescoes, 2021, From the collection of: Museums of Serbia
Gallery of Frescoes, Gallery of Frescoes, 2021, From the collection of: Museums of Serbia
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In 1974, the Gallery of Frescoes was integrated with the National Museum. In the eighth decade, the Gallery of Frescoes visited Finland, several cities in India and Burma. In the ninth decade, particularly important exhibitions were held in the Gallery itself: Copies from Serbian medieval churches in ruins in 1980, Cyrillic epigraphic monuments in 1984 as well as Dečani Monastery and monuments from the middle of the 14th century in 1985. These important exhibitions  pointed to several functions of the Gallery. In the same decade, the Gallery has been present in exhibitions in Germany, Austria, Italy, Japan, France and Australia. During the new millennium, the rich exhibition activity of the Gallery continued. The anthological exhibition of replicas of frescoes "Serbia, the Land of Frescoes" was shown in Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria and Slovenia.

Our old paintings have been shown in almost all cities in the country, and many of them have hosted thematic exhibitions, "Portraits of Serbian Rulers in the Middle Ages", "The image of St. Sava on Serbian medieval frescoes and icons", "Art of the nobility", “ Portraits of rulers and frescoes of their endowments", "Frescoes of the Resava Monastery", "Holy Warriors", "Holy King Stefan of Dečani", "Copies of frescoes from the temples of Kosovo and Metohija", "Details on the frescoes of the Cathedral of Prizren, Our  Lady of Ljeviška. Exhibition of copies of frescoes by Zdenka and Branislav Živković“.

Gallery of Frescoes (2021) by Gallery of FrescoesMuseums of Serbia

The collection today numbers about 1,500 works. The first replicas were made by French painters and their domestic assistants, while copies were made by our painters. They completely mastered the method of medieval painters, using the same technology. Therefore, their replicas were more successful and lasting.

Gallery of Frescoes (2021) by Gallery of FrescoesMuseums of Serbia

At the very moment of its creation, it was not thought that the Gallery would become one of the valuable music events’ hosting places of the capital. Over the decades, concerts have become, like exhibitions, a trademark of the Gallery. Special attention, following the concept, was paid to early music. Until recently, the Gallery hosted the festival named "Choirs Among the Frescoes".

Gallery of Frescoes (2021) by Gallery of FrescoesMuseums of Serbia

The purpose of the Gallery of Frescoes is to show the art of distant temples in one place. The authenticity of the display is ensured by the same essence of the original and the replica, which exceeds the role of the best reproduction, the best documentation of the image in a certain period, while the copies present, confirm and preserve the original itself. 

The Virgin of the Annunciation (Year of copying: 1984) by Gallery of Frescoes and Copyist: Časlav ColićMuseums of Serbia

The Virgin of the Annunciation

The young Virgin is sitting on a throne, slightly turned towards the ray of heavenly light falling from the upper left corner. A medallion with a dove is presented in the light ray, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Virgin Mary is dressed in an intense blue omophorion, shown as spinning threads on spindle, at the moment of the Archangel Gabriel's address. In addition to the presentation of daily work, the red thread stands out as it is intended for the future fabric of the Jerusalem temple curtain, which will get torn at the moment of Christ's death.

Myrrhbearers on the Christ's tomb (Year of copying: 1985) by Gallery of Frescoes and Copyist: Dragomir JašovićMuseums of Serbia

Myrrhbearers on the Christ's tomb

The tomb is presented on the left side of the composition, with the entrance closed by a grid, and a curved shroud that can be seen in the background. In the middle is a large stone that closed the tomb, with an angel sitting on it. He holds a scepter in his right hand and points to the grave with his left. On the right side of the composition, two women are presented, looking at the grave in dismay.

In the lower part, below the angels’ feet, Roman soldiers fell asleep. The seated figure of an angel is disturbed by the calm movement of his hand. The movement of the left angel is balanced by the raising of his left-wing. The presentation of the Myrrhbearers on the tomb of Christ - Resurrection, in the program of the Temple, marks a whole with the founder's composition and the place of final disposition.

Sv. Sava and Nemanja (Year of copying: 1965) by Gallery of Frescoes and Copyist: Naum AndrićMuseums of Serbia

Sv. Sava

The first preserved representation of Saint Sava is located in the Mileševa Monastery, where he is presented with his father, near his brother and his brother's sons. Saint Sava is wearing a bishop's robe, his hair is shaped in a way typical of the Serbian autocephalous church, with a bare crown - tonsure. At the same time, this is the most prominent and best portrait of St. Sava. Made during the saint's lifetime by an excellent painter who was able to emphasize an ascetic figure through a narrow face, deep, spirited eyes, as well as specific features of the Nemanjić family line such as a long nose and an elongated face.

Archangel Michael (Year of copying: 1958) by Gallery of Frescoes and Copyist: Rajko NikolićMuseums of Serbia

Archangel Michael

Archangel Michael is shown in full armor that follows the anatomy of the torso. A lion masqueron is presented on the belt that goes below the chest. The dress, which is light green in color, has short sleeves, up to half a thigh long. Red boots are depicted on the feet that reach to the calves, the tops of the patterns end with three circular decorative protrusions, similar to the shoes of King Solomon from the same monument. There is a sword in the right hand, while in the left hand the Archangel holds a scabbard.

Portraits of the Nemanjić family in front of St. Peter and Paul (The last decade of the 13th century) by Gallery of Frescoes and Copyist: Zdenka ŽivkovićMuseums of Serbia

Portraits of the Nemanjić family in front of St. Peter and Paul

The central motif on the icon given to the Vatican is the first apostles. Below them are represented, on the right Milutin, on the left Dragutin, and in the center, in a special arched field resembling a kivorion, their mother Jelena receiving a blessing from the pope. At the top of the icon, the Lord blesses with both hands the Serbian rulers who raise their hands and receive the blessing. Jelena wears a red cloak, her head is covered with a dark green maphorion. Rulers wear clothes of the same insignia significance. Red shoes are adorned with pearls.

Angel as a monk, scene of Pachomius and angel, detail (Year of copying: 1986) by Gallery of Frescoes and Copyist: Časlav ColićMuseums of Serbia

Angel as a monk, scene of Pachomius and angel, detail

The angel is represented dressed in a large monk’s robe. He shows it to Pachomius with his right hand and thus fulfills his prayer. Namely, Pachomius wondered what ascetic clothes, worthy of a monk should look like, because it did not exist until then. An angel appears to him in a large monk’s robe as a sign that he should wear such clothes.

Emperor Dušan - detail (bust) (Year of copying: 1993) by Gallery of Frescoes and Copyist: Časlav ColićMuseums of Serbia

Emperor Dušan - detail (bust)

Dušan is big-eyed, with visible scleras on the lower part. It was a picture of a righteous ruler on earth, a vicegerent of Christ, powerful enough to bear the image of God in his image. This was one of about thirty preserved portraits of King and Emperor Dušan. Dušan's figure is taller than natural – 2.95 cm. The copied detail of Emperor Dušan shows his bust in the imperial clothes, with hands holding acacia and a scepter.

Saint Mercurius and Saint Eustace Placidus (Beginning of the third decade of the 15th century) by Gallery of Frescoes and Copyist: Zdenka ŽivkovićMuseums of Serbia

Saint Mercurius and Saint Eustace Placidus

The spiritual appearance of Christ's soldiers in the Kalenić Monastery is underlined by a bright gradient color scale, characteristic of the temple’s frescoes. Saint Mercurius with his right-hand pulls the sword from the scabbard he holds with his left. A quiver can be seen on the right and a bow on the left.

Saint Eustace Placidus holds two arrows with his right hand, and a bow with his left, while his quiver is on his right side, which contributes to the oriental appearance. A particularly specific feature is the finish of Saint Mercurius clothes which indicates a soft, silky fabric, finished with a row of small buttons, resembling the clothes. A similar shirt, reflected in the saying "it would pass through a ring", is also worn by St. Theodore Stratilates. 

Credits: Story

Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Gallery of Frescoes
National Museum in Belgrade 

The narration was provided by: Bojan Popović - curator, adviser.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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