In the Vicinity of Skopje

 Today was a very memorabe, but full day as we visited four important churches in the vicinity of Skopje: Saint Nikita Monastery Monastery in Banjane, Archangels Michael and Gabriel Monastery in Kuceviste, Saint Panteleimon Monastery in Gorno Nerezi, and Markov Monastery. These four churches are all unique, featuring masterpieces from four periods. I have been studying the frescoes from these churches for years, and it has been a dream come true to see these incredible frescoes in person. 

The Lamentation from Saint Panteleimon, Nerezi

Saint Nikita in Banjane

The first two churches we visited this morning are on "Black Mountain" just a few kilometers north of Skopje, but almost an hour's drive in the rural mountainous areas. Their remoteness are probably why these monasteries survived the Ottoman yoke and many wars. The Turks converted large and important churches into mosques, especially in cities. Many Serbian monasteries were looted or desecrated in retribution for the many Serbian uprisings. The monasteries we visited today were built by Serbian kings while the region of Macedonia was within the Serbian Empire, but since the Macedonian people offered little resistance, the Turks did not retaliate as much.

Saint Nikita was one of at least 40 monasteries built by Serbian King Milutin during his 40 year reign. He continued the family tradition of establishign and funding monasteries. Saint Nikita was built around the year 1300.

King Milutin discovered master painters in Ohrid, (which we will visit later this week), and hired them to paint all his churches. Their names are Eutychios and Michael Astrapas, probably a father and son (respectively). 

We know their names because they signed their work. Here, their signatures are hidden in the decoration of this shield. 

Their work features bold use of complementary colors, especially in skin tones. Their figures display and understanding of the human form, and their drapery falls over the figure with gorgeous highlights and rich shadows.

Archangels Michael and Gabriel Monastery

The Monastery of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel was built in the 14th century but frescoed (or repainted) in the 16th century.

I found this delightful medallion of Saint Eugene (Evgeny). I loved his expression. Unfortunately, my photo didn't turn out, but my sketch catpured it.

Lunch in Skopje

We ate a traditional lunch at a brewery in the Old Bazaar of Skopje. Lunch was pretty familiar fare: cucumber and tomato salad and grilled meat. My beer flight was mediocre...the Amber, Porter, and IPA tasted almost the same despite the very different colors.

The Old Bazaar reminded me of the Old City in Jerusalem: a bustling, old, oriental market.

From a distance, Skopje looks like a 19th century European city. The neoclassical facades are actually plastic added in the last 15 years to the 1960s communist brutalist buildings. 

Saint Panteleimon in Gorno Nerezi

The next two monasteries are near Skopje, on the mountain just south of the city. Saint Panteleimon in Gorno Nerezi features some of the oldest frescoes I will see on this trip, dating from 1164. 

These figures are exquisite in every way: the colors, the graceful postures, the modeling of the flesh. 

Saint Panteleimon, the patron of the monastery. A great saint known for healing many people, both in his earthly and heavenly life.

This stunning fresco of the Pieta expresses so much emotion. It was so wonderful to soak in this icon for 10 minutes doing this sketch. 

I'm in my element!

The gracefulness of these faces, and the colors, highlights, and shadows in these garments are something I've aspired to in my own work for almost a decade. It was so inspiring to see these frescoes in person. I could spend a week in this little church and still not have enough time!

Markov Monastery

The Markov Monastery was built by the Serbian King Marko and frescoed around 1379. The use of luxurious lapis lazuli and cinnabar in the haloes compensates for the lack of gold during a period of decline in the Serbian kingdom. These bright blues and reds really glow--and it can't be captured by a camera!

The faces and figures maybe aren't quite as graceful as the Astrapas painters 80 years earlier, but the bold use of color and line makes up for it.

The Markov Moanstery after sunset. The nuns were so welcoming and gracious to let us stay late!

Today was an memorable day of seeing some of the greatest frescoes. I've really hit a stride with my sketching and I filled up one third of a sketchbook just today. I'm so excited to see more great frescoes and churches tomorrow, including another church built by King Milutin and frescoed by the Astrapas painters.
Today was such a full and long day. Please forgive any typos and unedited photos!


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