Continuing my photojournalism series highlighting Balkan churches, this post features interesting iconostases I photographed in Serbia and in the Kosovo and Metohija region.
These iconostases range from medieval to contemporary, and exhibit a remarkable range of styles. I find it fascinating to view them grouped together, and consider that there are such diverse solutions to a common liturgical function.
I will start with iconostases of the templon-screen typology – the early-medieval form of altar screen in which stone columns and a lintel form a structure from which to hang the curtain. Originally these templons contained no icons, but in the later middle ages, icons were added atop the lintel, and then between the columns. (It is important to remark that this process did not transition the screen from transparent to opaque, because the curtain was there all along. Rather, it replaced the iconography that was likely embroidered or woven into the curtain with iconography painted on panels.)
Next come photos of the late-medieval/Renaissance form of iconostasis, in which a wooden framework holds tiers of icons as a continuous wall. This form of iconostasis emerged in Russia and spread across the Orthodox world.
Entering the baroque period, as icon-painting declined in importance, the decorative woodwork of the iconostasis increasingly ornate. The riot of carving and gilding on a baroque iconostasis is meant to evoke the beatific vision – a sudden and ecstatic encounter with the glory of the Heaven, overwhelming to the senses.
In the 19th century, iconostases entered their neoclassical phase. These screens were the purview of professional architects, designed according to the rational system of the Greco-Roman orders. These are the iconostases of the early-modern age – intellectual, orderly, informed by the latest archaeological finds and the good taste of academy-trained artists.
Finally, we come to the romantic era, which (with regards to iconostases) starts at the end of the 19th century and arguably continues to this day. Screens of this movement revive medieval forms and styles, but interpret them freely, amalgamating ancient and modern ideas of art and architecture. While these revivalist screens often have excellent quality painting, I usually feel that the overall presentation lacks the impact of older screens of more confident and singular style.
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