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Art Nouveau Influences in Ecclesiastical Decorative Art

 

Art Nouveau Influences in Ecclesiastical Decorative Art

The present work, Art Nouveau Influences in Ecclesiastical Decorative Art: Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs in Iași, attempts to present, especially through images, a less visible and yet unexplored part of the heritage of the Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs in Iași. The album sheds light on the artistic value of the ritual objects hoarded here, original pieces of pew furniture and sacred objects, which have not had the same visibility and media impact that, for good reason, the stone embroidery covering the entire surface outside the church has enjoyed.

The situation is understandable, considering the fact that after the restoration from the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, under pressure of the communist regime, the monastery has been closed for a...

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Art Nouveau Influences in Ecclesiastical Decorative Art

The present work, Art Nouveau Influences in Ecclesiastical Decorative Art: Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs in Iași, attempts to present, especially through images, a less visible and yet unexplored part of the heritage of the Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs in Iași. The album sheds light on the artistic value of the ritual objects hoarded here, original pieces of pew furniture and sacred objects, which have not had the same visibility and media impact that, for good reason, the stone embroidery covering the entire surface outside the church has enjoyed.

The situation is understandable, considering the fact that after the restoration from the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, under pressure of the communist regime, the monastery has been closed for a long time. The Church built by voivode Vasile Lupu between 1637 – 1639, has undergone several restorations over time, the most important, which gave it the current appearance being carried out between 1882 – 1904. The renewal of the liturgical objects dowry of the church of the Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs was accomplished by the donations of the Royal Family of Romania, which encouraged and supported financially the restoration of several historic monuments.

Along with the restoration of the church, most of the furniture and damaged liturgical objects had to be replaced, and the missing ones had to be complemented by newly designed ones, fact exploited by architects and designers who, supported by the new founders, have indulged themselves in greater creative freedom in their design and decoration. What should be stressed is that the new collections of liturgical pieces and cultic objects distinguish themselves by genuine artistic quality and flawless technical execution, revealing the preference of the ones who have ordered them for the unique manufacture of the Art Nouveau[1] design, the new artistic movement of the time.

Art Nouveau creators have tried to achieve a synthesis among technique, form and ornament, their works being characterized by the ability to highlight the form structure and ‘to blend both the object and its ornament in an organic unit’. They pursued the intertwinning of the practical aspect with the decorative one, highlighting the role that the ornament acquires in the economy of the assembly. It does not remain only an ornament applied to an external surface, but it is also involved, governing the entire formal structure of the subject, the fusion of the ornament with the form, being the fundamental stylistic principle of Art Nouveau.

In a synthesis that reconciles elements and symbols characteristic of the Byzantine art with forms and motifs specific of the Art Nouveau style, the collection of ecclesiastical objects, pew furniture, chandeliers, doors and the other fittings of the Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs church, distinguishes itself by the work quality and the stylistic unity that the new secessionist current imprinted. The uniqueness of the bronze items made in Vienna, conferred by the moderate influence of the Art Nouveau style, marks a milestone in the history of Romanian ecclesiastical decorative arts.

The value of some items, such as the bronze doors of the church, made them in 1888, before being assembled in the church, be exposed in the Austrian Museum of Arts and Industries in Vienna, where it attracted the attention and admiration of all visitors.

For the restoration and reconstruction of monuments, alongside local architects, foreign architects were employed, thus the leadership of Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs restoration site was awarded to the French architect Émile-André Lecomte du Noüy. Besides restoring the Monastery of Curtea de Argeș, with which he started his activity in Romania, Lecomte du Noüy shall lead the restoration sites of important Romanian historical monuments and shall supervise the restoration or execution of royal and princely residences.

After the experience of decorating the items from Curtea de Argeș, Lecomte du Noüy designs a new set of furniture and religious objects for the Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs, a collection that distinguishes itself by a more cohesive and consistent artistic vision, elegance and sophistication, and especially by the sumptuousness without ostentation of the ornaments. The uniqueness of the bronze items assembly at the Three Holy Hierarchs is the result of successful blending motifs inspired from the arabesques of the outer walls of the church, with neo-baroque floral elements and Art Nouveau decorative motifs, all molded into the traditional patterns of Byzantine art.

The similarities that exist between the shapes of some pieces of the Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs and the ones of Curtea de Argeș, using the same patterns, using the same technical solutions and assembly concepts suggest that there is a single author and that the furniture and the thesaurus of both monasteries have been executed at one and the same Viennese firm, ‘Valerian Gillar’.

The originality of the artistic conception cannot be attributed solely to the architect who, although bears the signature of all the works of furniture and interior decoration, certainly collaborated with other painters and architects in the implementation of projects. The most important collaborator of André Lecomte du Noüy was his brother, the painter Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Noüy, who executed the mural painting of the church together with a team among whose members there were also Romanian painters. It is likely that Jean-Jules-Antoine be only one of the creators of the ecclesiastical furniture from the Three Holy Hierarchs, the final result being the fruition of the collaboration of several authors who have shared duties in the team coordinated by André Lecomte du Noüy.

Another name of architect that the documents of the time mention alongside André Lecomte du Noüy during the restoration of the churches of the Three Holy Hierarchs and Saint Nicholas in Iași, is Karel Líman. Many of furniture and wood sculpture projects designed by Líman for the Peleș and Cotroceni Palaces, were completed in partnership with the decoration companies of Bernhard Ludwig, Anton Pösenbacher, Bembé din Mainz or Martin Stöhr. After the establishment of the School of Arts and Crafts on the area of the castle of Sinaia, some works were executed by the craftsmen of local workshops. It is not out of the question for Líman to have his share of contribution to the decoration plans of the wooden furniture from the Three Holy Hierarchs and Royal Saint Nicholas, and the items had been carved and assembled in the workshops of Sinaia or București.

In the absence of reliable data regarding the authors and workshops which could have executed the pew furniture for the Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs of Iași, the fact that the name of André Lecomte du Noüy is mentioned in the inscription of the church as author of the restoration and renewal works shows that the projects, even if not entirely designed by him, were certainly supervised and approved by him, thereby assuming responsibility for the final result and for the image that the monument has at present.

Although sometimes controversial in the artistic milieu of the time for some solutions to which he appealed as architect, Lecomte Du Nouÿ imposed not only a high level of quality of the work execution, but also some aesthetics guidance, imprinting to both monuments that he restored or rebuilt, and to buildings raised by his collaborators, a recognizable stylistic mark. This is due in part to the fact that the works were executed by the same firms and workshops, the similarity of the decorative motifs (especially of the treasures and furniture) being found in the projects of several churches. The churches and the historical monuments built or restored by the team of the French architect were used as models by those who wanted the restoration or building of new churches, thus, furniture design, the way of  painting and his architectural vision being found in the projects of several worship places.

Like every new thing, the Art Nouveau style was not received by everyone with the same openness, the more so in the Church, where the visual impact, in contrast with the traditional view, was particularly noticeable. A justified prudence, but reasoned with judgements according to which, equally, the old craftsmen who introduced gothic elements in the architecture that we today admiringly call “Stephanian style” should be accused.

The Art Nouveau stylistic novelties, identified in the furniture set and ecclesiastical objects made between 1900-1904, did not bring major changes to the overall image and functionality of the liturgical furniture items, changes summing up to the introduction of several decorative motifs specific to Jugendstil and their way of styling. The dynamism of the composition, line tension and audacious asymmetries characteristic to Art Nouveau, are much diminished here, all decorative elements enveloping the furnishings inside the church being tailored to the requirements of the ecclesiastical Byzantine environment.

Result of historical circumstances, the objects of the heritage of the Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs church are unique goods that distinguish themselves by the beauty and quality of execution, giving additional brightness to the assembly. This confirms that the absence of some founders with great financial strength and the disappearance of manufactures specialized in the execution of such items are some of the reasons why today we can hardly encounter achievements of this scale and quality.

 

 

 

Hieromonk Mihail Gheațău graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Decorative Arts and Design of the University „George Enescu” of Iași, section painting. He graduated from the Faculty of Orthodox Theology of Iași, section Pastoral Theology, with the thesis on the subject of the New Testament. He is active in the „Saint Luke the Evangelist” painting workshop of the Monastery of the Three Holy Hierarchs of Iași, participating in icon exhibitions in the country and abroad (England 2001, France 2003). In 2011, he participates with a photo exhibition at the Romanian Cultural Institute of Prague. He completes several book covers and illustrations. He published the works: Theophany – short biblical and artistic incursion into the history of the „Baptism of Christ” icon (2010), and „The eye of god” – a visual history of symbols (2014), at the publishing house Doxologia. He is active by means of studies and articles in magazines and journals of the Church.

 

 

[1] The name of the Art Nouveau artistic movement can be found, depending on the country and language, in different versions, such as: Jugendstil, Sezession, Stilul 1900, Modern Style etc.

 

[1] Denumirea mișcării artistice Art Nouveau poate fi întâlnită, în funcție de țara și limba vorbită, în diverse variante precum: Jugendstil, Sezession, Stilul 1900, Modern Style etc.

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100 LEI
 
Publishing date: 
2016
Pages: 
230
ISBN: 
978-606-666-448-6
Cover type: 
cartonată
Format: 
21 x 29,5 cm
Color: 
policromie

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