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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Zahari Zograf

Mary with the Young Jesus,
Church Archangel, Bachkovo Monastery, Zahari Zograf
If you've never heard of Bulgarian painter, Zahari Zograf, you shouldn't feel art ignorant...I never had either. If you've never heard of Bulgaria...go ahead, feel ignorant. As a purely informational note, Bulgaria is located south of Romania, west of the Black Sea, east of Serbia and Macedonia, and north of Greece. Its capital is Sofia. The country claims to have been founded in 681 AD, and presently has a population of just over seven million. Zari Zograf was the most famous icon painter from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period during the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition to his icons (above), he is noted for his church mural paintings and often regarded as the founder of secular art in Bulgaria due to the introduction of everyday life elements into his work.
Frescoes at the Rila Monastery, south of Sofia
Zahari Zograf, Self-portrait
Zahari Zograf was born in 1810. He was born Zahariy Hristovich Dimitrov in Sam-okov (west-central) Bulgaria. He seems to have changed his name for no good reason other than Zograf means "icon painter" in Bulgarian. Both his father and older bro-ther, Dimitar Zograf were also icon paint-ers. Their father died when Zahari was nine so he was taught by his older brother. His spiritual master was Neophyte of Rila after 1827. Zograf became an equal partner with his brother in 1831 at the age of twenty-one. He was thought to have painted three self-portraits until recently when a fourth was found hidden away in a niche, a fresco in the St. George Church in the town of Ledenik near Veliko Tarnovo in north-central Bulgaria. Zograf left the town over thirty icons.

St. Theodore Stratilates, 4th-Century AD. The icon dates from about 900 AD. A comparison shows the difference between how the icon looks after and before its latest restoration with the addition of the newly found fragments.

The painting of icons has a long history in this region. The icon of St. Theodore Stratilates (above), is the oldest known Bulgarian-made icon. It dates from around 900 AD. It is seen here after its recent restoration, with the addition of newly discovered fragments from the saint’s shoulder, beard, and face, as well as the side inscriptions. Seen above, the icon was known for about 100 years (since its discovery in the early 20th century), before the adding of the newly found fragments. St. Theodore Stratilates was a 3rd-Century saint from Anatolia (today located in Turkey). He died a martyr’s death in the ancient city of Heraclea Pontica in 319 AD as a defender of the Christian faith during the reign of Roman Emperor Licinius I in the early years of the 4th-Century AD.

Frescoes at the Rila Monastery, Zahari Zograf
What has been described as “Pre-Renaissance" Art emerged in medieval Bulgaria, during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). As early as the 13th-century, even before it did in Northern Italy or at roughly the same time, the most famous example being the murals of the Boyana Church in Sofia’s Boyana suburb. However, this development came to an abrupt end after the invading Ottoman Turks conquered Bulgaria and all the Balkans at the end of the 14th-Century. This essentially sent Bulgarian culture, art, and literature back to the Early Middle Ages for most of the duration of what came to be known in Bulgarian history as the period of Ottoman Yoke dating from 1396 to 1912.

Frescoes at the Rila Monastery (detail)
This situation changed only in the late 18th-Century with the onset of the Bulgarian National Revival that eventually led to Bulgaria’s Liberation from the Ottoman Empire. Zahari Zograf was one of the many notable figures of the Bulgarian Revival. His most famous work in modern-day popular Bulgarian culture is the mural entitled The Wheel of Life (also translated as The Cycle of Life or The Circle of Life) from the Transfiguration Monastery near the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria. In the 1990s, Zograf's self-portrait image was printed on the then BGN 100 banknote (bottom).

 Instructional panel frescoes at the Rila Monastery--
saints and Bible stories.
Zahari Zograf's best known icons are those of the SS Constantine and Helen Church in Plovdiv, the Church of the Theotokos in Koprivshtitsa, as well as a number of monasteries. Zahari Zograf's best known frescoes are those in the main church of the Rila Monastery chapel, and the St Nicholas church of the Bachkovo Monastery, the Troyan Monastery, and the Monastery of the Transfiguration. The four mural portraits of himself were regarded as controversial during their time. Zahari Zograf lived and worked on Mount Athos between 1851 and 1852, where he decorated the outer narthex of the Great Lavra. He also did several church donor portraits in his later years, while leaving a large number of unrealized sketches after his death from typhus in 1853. He was forty-three.

Fresco Tondos at the Rila Monastery
Zahari Zograf on 100 Bulgarian
lev (BGN) worth $59.34


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