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St. Panteleimon Monastery – Renaissance started in Macedonia

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The Church of St. Panteleimon in Gorno Nerezi near Skopje, Macedonia is a small 12th-century Byzantine church in a monastery complex. The church and monastery are dedicated to Saint Panteleimon, the patron saint of doctors. Some experts claim this is place were the origins of the Renaissance started…

The church was built in 1164 as a foundation by Alexius Angelus Comnenus, a son of Constantine Angelos and Theodora Komnene, a daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos.

The church has a vaulted cruciform nucleus, three apses and a rectangular narthex. It consists of irregular stone blocks and bricks embedded in thick layers of mortar. The surrounding monastery complex is surrounded by walls.

The frescoes in the church are famous examples of Byzantine art of the Komnenian age and depict scenes from the Passion of Christ and various hagiographic illustrations. Similar compositions appear in the Latomou Monastery in Salonica

The church was damaged by an earthquake in the 16th century. During the subsequent restoration, some frescoes in the upper central area were repainted. The original marble iconostasis survived the earthquake but lost its decorative plastic art.

In another attempt at restoration in 1885, most of the frescoes in the naos were clumsily overpainted. During the 1923 cleaning, some of the original 12th-century frescoes were restored.

The colouration, dramatic composition and purity of expression in the frescoes are outstanding examples of late 12th-century Macedonian medieval monumental painting.

The stucco decoration of the church is depicted on the obverse of the Macedonian 50-denar banknote issued in 1996.

Did the origins of the Renaissance begun in Skopje?

According to Andrew Graham-Dixon, British art historian and writer, these frescoes with their “…physical, electric presence…” are proof that there was more to Byzantine art than the formality and otherworldliness of its mosaic and icon tradition. 

In his book, Graham-Dixon questions 16th century Vasari’s beliefs that Giotto di Bondone finally turned fresco painting away from the primitive influence of Byzantium. The frescoes contained within St. Panteleimon at Nerezi are not seen as static, they had the capacity to change into something more obviously human and realistic, anticipating the West’s emphasis on depicting Christ as a man of flesh and blood by some 150 years.

The lamentation of Christ fresco is described as being a fusion of life and death in a single image as Mary movingly mourns Jesus, cradling him between her legs. Graham-Dixon reminds that these frescoes from the 1160s precede Giotto’s similar emotional frescoes from the Arena Chapel near Venice circa 1305.

So, this place nearby Skopje is the spot were the origins of the Renaissance started…

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