Dr. Lilyana Stankova

Turkish Cultural Foundation Fellow (2012-2013)
Ph.D. in Art History, University of Sofia, Bulgaria (2011)

The Ottomans invaded the Balkans in the middle of the 14th century and their presence in the region lasted for over five hundred years. The Balkan Mines played a key role in the economic and political development of the region after the 12th century and used to be the main source of silver within the Ottoman Empire. Already existing in the 15th century, silversmith workshops continued to develop up to the 18th century, showing a clear increase in the quantity and quality of their production. The manufacture of liturgical vessels and objects for the needs of the Christian Church is a separate branch of metalwork art and those included metal covers of the Gospels, mounting of the crosses, caskets, chalice cups, offering plates, bowls, incense burners and candles. Their function, shape and iconography are given specific symbol meaning, determined by their purpose in the practice of the Divine Liturgy. During the period of Ottoman domination the Christian craftsmen continued to produce ecclesiastical silver in Byzantine manner, but at the same time some external elements appeared. One of the new trends in the decorative practices was the penetration of the Ottoman motifs in the ornament: scrolls of hatayi motifs and rūmi arabesques, flowers and abstract motifs. The form of the objects and the iconography of the images are in Byzantine manner, but the Ottoman character is prevalent in the ornament. They often have inscriptions in Greek and Slavonic - a testament to their origin and date of execution. In the collections of the Bulgarian museums are preserved examples of ecclesiastical silver, decorated in this way. Most of the objects were wrought in silversmith workshops in Chiprovtsi (Kiprovec, Chiprovac, Șiprovşa, today in northwest Bulgaria) and in the region of Bachkovo-Plovdiv (today in the south of Bulgaria).

One of the earliest signed works of Chiprovtsi workshop, bearing Byzantine-Ottoman decoration, is the Metal cover of the Cherepish's Gospel from 1612 (Fig. 1,2), today in Vratsa Regional Museum. According to the inscription, it was made by artists Nikola and Pala for The Cherepish Monastery. The cover consists of two silver and gilt wrought /hammered/ plates, hinged by openwork plates. The central compositions Crucifiction and Resurrection (on the upper cover) and Annunciation and Exaltation of the Venerable Cross (on the back cover) are bas-relief, while the empty space around images is engraved with rūmi and hatayi scrolls. Various religious scenes and saints are represented in the surrounding small fields on both sides.

Fig. 1 Metal cover of the Cherepish's Gospel, 1612, today in Vratsa Regional Museum,
silver, gilt; H 30 cm x W 19 cm/, upper cover.

Fig. 2 Metal cover of the Cherepish's Gospel, back cover.

The alter cross from the 20s of the 17th c. (Fig.3,4)  (inv. № NAIM 172) was also made by artists of this workshop.The cross’s body was made of two silver leaves : the iconographic composition “Crucifix” was wrought on the cross’s face and a bas-relief image of St Nicolas on the back side. The void space around the images is finely engraved with rūmi and hatayi scrolls. The ornament, in both of the discussed items, is a local variant of the stylistic trend “rūmi-hatai” popular in the Ottoman courtiers' workshops for the decoration of manuscripts and bindings in the late 15th c. Rūmi and hatayi scrolls were also widespread in the production of the other goldsmiths centers in the Central Balkans from the beginning of the 16th c. (Smederevo, Bechkerek (today Zrenjanin, Voivodina Province, Eastern Serbia) Kosovo and Metohia (today Republic of Kosovo).

Fig. 3 Alter cross, the 20s of the 17th c., inv. № NAIM 172,
silver, parcel gilt; H 35, 5 x W 30 cm, face side.

Fig. 4 Alter cross, back side.

The Chiprovian craftsmen (active at the end of the 16th c.- beginning of the 18th c) used very well the techniques of engraving and punching with a round pricker, casting, hammering, gilt, granulation, openwork, enamel and incrustation of colored stones. Their production was highly appreciated from monks of senior clergy of Bulgarian, Serbian and Wallach - Moldovan monasteries.

The other center for ecclesiastical silver in whose ornament we can follow the presence of Ottoman aesthetics is Bachkovo-Plovdiv (early 17th to the mid-18th centuries). The cartouches and bands of "saz leaves and rosettes", ornate parts of the surface of the objects and sometimes compositions of flowers and lotus palmettes cover the entire surface. The most characteristic feature of the production of this workshop is the use of the filigree enamel. Outstanding example made in this technique is the Artophorion from 1705 (Fig. 5) (inv. № NCHAM 6417). This is an ecclesiastical vessel in which the presanctified bread of the Eucharist is kept. It was dedicated to the Bachkovo Monastery by Bachkovo’s abbot monk Damascene. The vessel is shaped as a seven-side prism with a domed lid. Its whole surface is enameled and covered in ornaments: lotus palmettes, little leaves, flowers (hollyhocks and carnations) in full face. The ornament is made of a thin little band which in turn was made of a double-twisted and flattened silver wire welded to the base. The ornament background is covered with pale and dark blue enamel, and some of the leaves are green. In spite of the noticeable Ottoman aesthetics that the floral filigree enamel has, it is not widespread in decoration of Ottoman artifacts. The use of this technique in ecclesiastical silver is attested from about mid-17th – until mid-18th century. Besides the workshop in Bachkovo-Plovdiv such enamels have been assigned also to Christian workshops in Istanbul and in Trikala in Thessaly (today in Greece).
Fig. 5 Artophorion, 1705, inv. № NCHAM 6417,
silver gilt, filigree and enamel; H 28 x Diam. 16 cm.

The predilection for the use of design is closely related to the aesthetic perception of the craftsmen and the social status and taste of the donor. It should also be noted that the works in Byzantine-Ottoman decoration were produced in the cultural centers that were simultaneously wealthy mining settlements, trade and craft centers, and, in most of the cases, the population was of a mixed confessional affiliation. The local representatives of the Ottoman administration and also the artists from the Balkans working in the court ateliers were one of the possible mediators of design for the interaction. The ecclesiastical silver from the workshop in what is today Bulgaria reflected different decorative tendencies which were the result of the degree to which they were connected to workshops in the capital and in the periphery.

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