Albania Encyclopedia of Medieval Art Part II

By | December 15, 2021

An even more important role that in the past was attributed to plastic decoration, whose formal language mainly derived from the zoomorphic figurations of the ancient local tradition. Great importance was also attributed to the floor mosaics, present in almost all the buildings, which in terms of size, theme, ornamental richness and artistic quality belong to the greatest creations of Late Antiquity in the Balkan area, such as for example. those of Butrinto, Durazzo, Santi Quaranta (Sarandë), Antigonea (Tepeleni), Mesaplik, Scampe, Byllis. The very complicated figurative program of the floor mosaics is dominated by a symbolic and multi-part representation of the cosmos, which extends into all rooms of the church and appears here as the last phase of a long development, whose origins – as in the architecture – must be sought both in Rome and in the Christian East (especially in Syria). However, works with other images and scenes are not infrequently encountered, which have nothing in common with the official figurative program and appear as echoes of an ancient tradition that is still vital (basilica of Arapait near Durres, Antigonea, Mesaplik).

Although the most important ecclesiastical metropolises of the Illyrian prefecture – Nicopolis, Thessalonica and Iustiniana Prima – also played a prominent role in sacred art, the construction of the churches and the realization of their sculpted decoration were mainly entrusted to the numerous workers of architects and stonemasons., local or itinerant throughout the area of ​​the prefecture, which attest to the existence of an indigenous tradition throughout the territory, which continued uninterruptedly until the Middle Ages. Even the mosaics were made by itinerant workshops, so that it is often possible to find works by the same artists in different locations, such as for example. in the baptistery of Butrint and in the basilica A of Nicopolis, in the triconch of Lin, in Ohrid or Iustiniana Prima (Caričin Grad, Yugoslavia). For Albania 2018, please check

The local characteristics in religious architecture (building typologies, spatial articulation) and in monumental art (figurative programs of floor mosaics and architectural sculpture) thanks to a unitary ecclesiastical rite managed – like the pre-iconoclastic figurative tradition – to survive the age of iconoclasm and Slavic occupation, passing to the culture of the following era.

The constructive and artistic activity during the transition phase – from the century 7th to the middle of the 9th – was limited mainly to restorations or modest reconstructions of the fortifications and episcopal churches still in operation in some cities, including Durres, Butrint, Balsh, but the construction of new churches and their decoration (mosaics in the chapel of the Durres amphitheater, floor mosaics in the original church of Mesopotamus). The continuity of the artisan tradition during this period is attested by numerous finds from the necropolises throughout the AlbaniaD., where ancient shapes and decorations were imitated without variations in the ceramics and ornamental objects (fibulae, pendants) until the mature Middle Ages.

From the middle of the century. 9 ° until the middle of the 11th there was a renewed flowering of artistic and building activity, in relation to the new wave of Christianization of the Slav population in the central and southern regions of the Albania which – with the exception of Durazzo – were annexed in the century. 9th to the kingdom of Bulgaria. From the important ecclesiastical metropolises of Ohrid, Devol and Glavinica an intense missionary and church building activity spread throughout the territory. New bishoprics and monasteries were built, while the older ones were consolidated and annexed to the autonomous Bulgarian archbishopric, patriarchate since 919. Among the most important buildings of the early days of this activity, the reconstruction of the episcopal churches of Butrint and Balsh must be mentioned. which were transformed from Hellenistic columns with flat roofs into pillared basilicas covered with vaults, similarly to the Bulgarian episcopal churches of Serdica (Sofia), Mesembria (Nessebar) and Ohrid. The great heptaconco to Santi Quaranta could also belong to the same period, which took up the architectural typology of the early Christian chapels erected on the sepulchers of the martyrs, enlarging it in a monumental sense.

Among the new building typologies they gradually imposed themselves in the century. 10 ° also the church with a cruciform plan with dome and pillars or columns (Apollonia, Episkopi at Gjirokastra, church of the Theotokos in Kosine near Përmet, church of St. Nicholas in Mesopotamus) and the small basilica with a short longitudinal body and flat roof, similar to the examples of Pliska (Bulgaria), Mesembria (church of S. Stefano) and Kastoria (churches of S. Stefano, of the Anargiri and of the Archangel), in the church of the Blacherne of Berat and of S. Nicola in Perhondi at the same center.

Sculpture continued as before to have an important role and drew its formal language from the figurative tradition, in which animal representations, but also human ones, played an important part in the ornamentation (Balsh, Kurjan, Mesopotamus, Apollonia).

Albania Encyclopedia of Medieval Art Part II