Macedonian Frescos 360 (Masco)

Masco Staro 1

The impressive frescos of the numerous Macedonian churches can be compared in their size and quality to those in Greece and form an excellent basis to investigate liturgical procedures, religious conceptions, artistic connections and political implications of the late Middle Ages. Due to an insufficient sense of responsibility on the part of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, those places of worship are not adequately taken care of and are considered too low in priority for the national lists of monuments worthy of preserving. Even if a church does get restored, materials are frequently used that don't match the medieval times, thus resulting in a little authentic outcome. All these factors lead to a serious and urgent threat to Macedonian cultural heritage.

The project "Macedonian Frescos 360 (Masco)", which is set at the intersection of Christian archaeology, Byzantine art history, tourism and computer science, aims to address these problems and plans to record the frescos of two Macedonian churches for posterity and to enable a new research approach.

The building in Staro Nagorichino is located in the north of Macedonia and exhibits one of the biggest cycles of frescos in the country. The 14th century cross-in-square church was erected over an older construction from the 11th century which can be seen in the alternating building design at the facade from a height of 5m. An inscription above the western entrance mentions king Stefan Uro? II Milutin (1282?1321) as its second erector. Another inscription on the western wall of the inner narthex names the year 1317/18 as the completion date of the frescos executed by the painters Michael Astrapas and Eutychios, who have led the most productive artist's studio of the palaiologan time for three decades. The frescos of Staro Nagorichino are considered their masterpiece. King Milutin ranks among the successful rulers of the Nemanjids (1167?1371), probably the most important Serbian dynasty, established by Stefan Nemanjas (1167?1196), who achieved the acknowledgment of the Serbian independence on the part of the Byzantine Empire. Also the foundation of the Serbian Orthodox Church is attributed to the Nemanjid dynasty which is why both the religious and the political perspectives are reflected in the paintings of ecclesiastical buildings. Therefore a highly exciting aspect of research is the interpretation of the iconographic program in its historical and political context and its interaction, but also how architecture influences the pictorial program and vice versa.

The second church of Saint George is located 2 km away from the village of Kurbinovo in the south-west of the country and stands on the one hand for an unparalleled testimony of the Byzantine era, on the other hand for one of the biggest aisleless churches of Macedonia. A painted inscription on the eastern side of the altar mentions the 25th of April 1191 as the beginning of the fresco paintings under the first reign of Isaac II Angelos (1185/95?1203/04), but neither gives any clue about the circumstances under which the church was erected nor the names of the donor and the painter. The edifice shows some unusual characteristics regarding its architecture, such as the renouncement of an extended altar area typical for church buildings as well as the usage of the cloisonné technique which imitates brickwork via paintings on the facade. Furthermore the displayed iconographic program is normally used in churches with a dome. Since the building in Kurbinovo is only covered by a gable roof, the representations had to be adjusted to the flat room. A depiction in the apse - Christ lying on an altar, ready for his ritual sacrifice - is portrayed here for the first time in Byzantine art and therefore contributing to the development of the variety of scenes. A conservation project is planned these days for the church at Kurbinovo, resulting in the temporary removal of the iconostasis as well as in the cleaning of the frescos in the long run. On these grounds we are going to use the unique possibility of taking pictures of the building's interior without the iconostasis and before the renovation of the paintings.

Doing research on a church with a complex architecture and a huge amount of frescos covering top to bottom of its interior like it is the case with the building at Staro Nagorichino, it can be challenging to get a spatial feeling and how the paintings are integrated into the room when the only sources available are books and pictures. It is therefore almost impossible for many churches to gain an overall impression of the iconographic program embedded in its architecture. To redress this problem, we want to create a virtual tour through the edifice at Staro Nagorichino by taking several 360-degree panoramas in different locations of its interior and combine those pictures in a web-enabled application. As a consequence, the digital visualization not only serves for the conservation and presentation of important cultural heritage, but also demonstrates the relation between the two-dimensional medium of mural painting and the three-dimensional space. Concerning the church at Kurbinovo, we will make a photographic documentation without panoramas as a virtual tour doesn't make sense for an aisleless church with a simple architecture. The relation between the iconographic program and the spatial dimension can be explored two-dimensional.

Unfortunately the financial means are lacking to preserve the endangered cultural assets of Macedonia, especially to maintain their frescos. That's why parts of the paintings in the church of the Holy Mother of God Peribleptos in Ohrid have already vanished - just to name one more of many examples. Therefore we want to at least leave behind a snapshot of the church of Saint George at Staro Nagorichino and the one at Kurbinovo by documenting their current state, so that a significant requirement for the conservation is established and can be beneficial for subsequent generations of scientists for their research. The end result of this project shall point out the cultural importance of Macedonia as it has among other things places of worship, that are in no way inferior to those in other parts of the Byzantine Empire. Due to our 360-degree panoramas and pictures, we hope we can put a stronger focus on the country and its monuments, which have yet been neglected far too much by reasons unknown. In case of a not soon-to-be happening conservation of the two churches, our photographic documentation could be a testimony of priceless value, which tells about the past days of Macedonia under the rule of Byzantine emperors and Serbian kings - a historical part of the country that must not be lost in any case.

Sponsors: "Creativity and Studies" of the Georg-August-University Göttingen and the Charitable Foundation of the Carl-Ernst Büchting Family
Project start: April 2016
Project duration: 3 semesters
A student project by: Sait Can Kutsal and Tiffany Ziegler

Church of Saint George at Staro Nagorichino

Masco Staro 2

Masco Staro 3

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Church of Saint George at Kurbinovo

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