To understand the origin of Bulgarian art we must not forget that the Bulgarians of Tsar Isperih who in 679 founded the Bulgarian state in the Balkan peninsula, came from the interior of Asia and therefore were bearers of oriental artistic traditions, or, more precisely, Iranian. But in their new homeland they found an older art, which, while on the one hand represented the continuation of late ancient art, on the other bore the imprint of the Christian art of the East. The most ancient Bulgarian art was born from the fusion of these elements. In fact, its monuments prior to the official conversion of the Bulgarians to Christianity, which took place in 865, have a strongly oriental and Sassanid character. The ancient Bulgarian palaces of the beginning of the century. IX discovered in the ruins of ancient Bulgarian capital of Pliska near the village of Aboba (NE Bulgaria), they recall in the plans and the way of construction not so much the Byzantine palaces but the Sassanid palaces of Hatra, Fīrūzābād and Sarvistān. The Hunting knight carved on the rock walls near Madara (NE Bulgaria), also from the 12th century. IX, has a strong resemblance to the rock reliefs of Naqsh-i Rustem and Tāq-i Bostān. Even the famous gold treasure of Nagy-Szent-Miklos (Hungary of the S.), currently in the museum of Vienna, is today attributed by the most famous scholars to the ancient Bulgarians; but it is made up of objects of very different origins.
After the official introduction of Christianity in Bulgaria, the Byzantine influence made itself felt more strongly in art in general, and in religious art in particular. The monuments from the time of Tsar Simeon (893-927), discovered until today in the second Bulgarian capital, Preslav, have a more distinctly Byzantine character; however, even in this era, the ornamentation and technique of Bulgarian works of art reveal the most ancient oriental traditions. In religious architecture this period is distinguished by the predominance of large basilic buildings (Aboba, Preslav, Mesemvrija, Prespa, Ochrida). The interior of the churches was decorated in part with mosaics, in part with glazed terracotta tiles (a large number of which were found in the ruins of certain churches of the century. IX and X in Preslav and Patleina) bearing colored drawings of geometric and plant motifs or human figures. Many tiles joined in the guise of a large mosaic formed the largest figures, as in ancient Assyrian art.
At the time of the second Bulgarian kingdom (1186-1393) the Byzantine influence was further strengthened. The oriental traditions of the first Bulgarian kingdom disappear, and the great basilical constructions of religious architecture are replaced by much smaller churches, mainly of two types: the church with a single nave in the vault, with or without a dome; and the cruciform domed church derived from Byzantium. A singular type of construction is the two-storey church, characteristic of medieval Bulgarian religious architecture (the ancient church of the Bačkovo monastery, the church of Ivan Asen near Stanimaka, the Boyana church near Sofia). The lower floor, which is accessed from the west side, serves only as a sepulcher,
In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries religious mural painting reaches a great development in Bulgaria. Numerous monuments remain, of which the most important are the frescoes in the church of Bojana from 1259, notable for their high artistic value. These frescoes, made on models of Constantinople, can give us an idea of the missing Byzantine originals of the century. XIII. The Bulgarian religious painting of this period already allows us to ascertain the influence of the early Italian Renaissance, an influence that is found especially in the 16th century frescoes of the monastery of Poganovo. However, the conquest of the Turks, which took place in 1393, and the isolation of Bulgaria from Western Europe prematurely stopped these influences, so that from the century XV onwards Bulgarian art could not develop parallel to that of
In the field of miniature, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries we can see two different trends: the first, which could be called popular, and which is distinguished by a naive realism, is mainly represented by the gospel of Pop Dobreiko belonging to the century. XIII (Sofia National Library); the second, followed in official circles, adheres with greater fidelity to Byzantine models; the main examples of this can be seen in the Bulgarian translation of the Chronicle of Manasseh of 1345 (Vatican Library), in the Gospel of Tsar Ivan Alexander of 1356 (British Museum) and in the Bulgarian Psalter of Moscow of the XIV century.
During the Turkish domination (1393-1877) the conditions were extremely unfavorable to the development of Bulgarian art, and this can be seen especially in the architectural field. The Bulgarians did not have the power to construct sizeable public buildings that could have helped to develop a more important monumental style. Great restrictions also affected religious architecture. All Bulgarian art of that period was content with ancient traditions, and was completely under the influence of the monastic art of Mount Athos, thus exhausting itself in conventional forms of sterile archaism. Turkish influence is found only in the industrial arts.
A certain renewal in the arts took place only after the peace of Adrianople in 1829, which officially recognized the confessional freedom of the Christian populations of the Ottoman Empire. Wherever the conditions and financial resources of the religious communities allowed it, the old churches were replaced by large monumental buildings imposing on the outside and sumptuously decorated on the inside. Furthermore, the new buildings abandoned the medieval tradition represented by the cruciform domed church, and returned to the ancient type of triple-nave basilica, with or without a dome. The most important monuments of this era are the buildings of the Rila monastery, built between 1834 and 1837 under the direction of maestro Pavel, a Bulgarian from the village of Krimine near Castoria (South Macedonia).
The Bulgarian national renaissance of the century. XIX produced a great development in religious painting. In many places local painting schools were formed, the most important of which were those of Samokov, Razlog and Kruševo. Samokov’s was the most fruitful, and his works spread throughout the Balkan peninsula. In addition to Samokov and the Rila monastery, the masters of this school also worked in some monasteries of Mount Athos, at the Bačkovo monastery, in Plevna, Philippopolis, Tatar-Pazardzhik, Skoplje, Veles, Kratovo, Kočane, around Thessaloniki and in many other places in present-day Bulgaria and Macedonia. He considers himself the founder of the Samokov Hristo Dimitrov school in the village of Dospej near Samokov. After having begun to study painting on Mount Athos, he went to Vienna in 1770, from where he soon returned to Samokov, where he taught his art to his two sons Zahari Hristov and Dimitri Hristov. Since then, religious painting became a family tradition, which practiced it for several tens of years. For Bulgaria 2014, please check thesciencetutor.org.
The main representative of the Samokov school is Stanislao Dospevski, son of Dimitri Hristov and grandson of the founder Hristo Dimitrov. Desiring to perfect himself in the art of painting, Stanislao Dospevski went to Russia where he lived for a long time, especially in Odessa and Kiev. In 1857 he graduated from the Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, where he earned a silver medal, and then returned to Bulgaria. Here he developed a very fruitful activity, and distinguished himself not only as an icon painter (images of saints painted on wood), but also as a portrait and landscape painter. Accused of revolutionary activity, he was arrested by the Turks in 1876 and poisoned the following year in the prisons of Constantinople.
Before the Bulgarian independence, which took place in 1878, very few painters did their studies abroad: they were mostly trained in local schools, where medieval Byzantine traditions still reigned. But soon after 1878 these conditions were radically changed by the fact that a phalanx of foreign painters, and especially Czechs and Poles, brought Western European art with them to Bulgaria, while Bulgarian artists (painters, architects and sculptors) went abroad, especially in Italy, Germany and France, to attend the academies of fine arts. Thus Bulgarian art became more modern, and Bulgarian artists began to appear in large international exhibitions (Munich, Rome, Venice, Prague, etc.).
The school of painting founded in Sofia in 1896 and which later, in 1921, was transformed into an academy of fine arts, contributed greatly to the development of Bulgarian art. Numerous talented painters have emerged from it, who then perfected themselves abroad, some remaining there (the painter Boris Georgiev and the sculptor Andrea Nikolov, for example, stopped in Rome; the portraitist Nicola Mihajlov in Berlin, etc.) and acquiring a great reputation.
The main monument of contemporary architecture in Bulgaria is the Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia, built to a design by the Russian architect A. Pomerancev, and richly decorated with paintings and mosaics by Russian and Bulgarian artists.
Today the most prominent Bulgarian painters are: Ivan Angelov and Anton Mitov, who preferably reproduce scenes from popular life; Nicola Petrov (the main representative of Neo-Impressionism in Bulgaria), Constantin Štărkelov, excellent watercolorist, Atanas Mihov, Boris Denev, Nicola Tanev, Ceno Todorov and Alessandro Mutafov, with their landscapes; Nicola Mihajlov, Stefan Ivanov and Boris Mitov (son of Antonio Mitov), with their portraits; Nicola Marinov, with his watercolors of a rare delicacy; Haralampi Tačev, Stefano Badžov and Nicola Ražnov, with their decorative compositions; Alessandro Božinov and Alessandro Dobrinov, with their witty caricatures; Peter Morozov and Vasil Zahariev, with their engravings.
Notable works are those of Dimitri Gjudženov (historical paintings) and Nicola Kožuharov (great compositions of subjects drawn mainly from popular legends). Expressionism in Bulgaria is represented by the works of Vladimir Dimitrov (the “Master”), Sirak-Skitnik (pseudonym of Petar Todorov) and Ivan Milev. A special place among Bulgarian painters deserves Boris Georgiev, whom we have already mentioned, whose works stand out for their extremely expressive line and monumental style: he expresses modern concepts, while following the Florentine masters of the century in various ways. XV. Among the youngest painters, the most capable are Stefano Stoilov, Dečo Uzunov, Atanas Tasev, Vasil Stojanov and Bojan Petrov. In the sculpture it is worth mentioning, close to Andrea Nikolov, mentioned above, Ivan Lazarov.