Last Macedonian School

Mural painting activity slows down during the first decades of the 15th century, and, indeed, the style of the Palaeologian Dynasty era continues to be reproduced but in declining quality.

During 1480, though, a refreshing and coherent movement emerges, by workshops of anonymous wandering painters. It is the continuation of a realistic (anti-classic) branch of the tradition of the 14th century, with Italian influences and a penchant for the folk art. The drawing becomes more plastic, the drapery of the garments softens, the volumes are rendered with wide, free strokes on simple, pure colour tones. Faces are depicted summarily, but full of expression, and the emotions are reproduced by the posture and the gestures. The garments are pitturesque, everyday objects are introduced and folk elements are inserted in the holy themes.

The oldest dated, and the most noteworthy, specimen of the new School is found at the Old Nave of the Great Meteoron Monastery (Metamorfossis), of 1483*. Significant iconographic activity took place in the city of Kastoria, where in at least four churches frescoes of the period are preserved. Of excellent quality are those of the church of St. Nicolaus of the nun Efpraxia (1486). Older works in the same city with related style (St. Athanassios of Mouzaki, 1384/8) suggest an unknown to us long evolution and point out Kastoria as the probable centre for this School (the city had been conquered by the Ottomans in 1386)**.

Remarkable works are preserved in all Macedonia, which during this period seems to enjoy cultural and economic unity, in the Treskanovac Monastery (Prilep, Ohrid, 1483-1490), in the Monastery of St. John Theologou at Poganovo (near the Serbian-Bulgarian frontier, circa 1500), as well as in Bulgaria, in the narthex of the Kremikovski monastery*** near Sofia (circa 1498). In this last case, the local folk element appears particularly accentuated.

Apart from monasteries and clergymen, during this period financing of icon painting also flows from Orthodox Christian feudal lords. These seigneurs were tolerated and had cooperated with the new ottoman regime during the first years after the turkish conquest.

This interesting School, known as "Last Macedonian", was of brief duration, not exceeding 25 to 30 years (circa 1480 - 1510). It vanished soon, leaving behind no known influences, with one notable exception: Themes from the Old Nave of Meteora were transferred to Moldavia, probably by the same wandering painters, at St. Georges at Hirlau, at St. Nicolas at Dorochoi, at Ilesti (1493), and will have lasting effect on the great Moldavian painting tradition of the 16th century.

A systematic research will perhaps establish closer relations between the Last Macedonian School and other, preceding or following artistic currents in the Turkish-occupied Balkans. 

* The first painting above (Resurecction of Lazarus) is found at the Old Nave of the Monastery of Great Meteoron.

** The second painting, above is preserved at the Byzantine Museum of Kastoria, and was a part of a door on a dividing screen (vimothiro) depicting the Annunciation .

*** The painting below belongs to the Kremikovski Monastery (fresco representing Nativity)