Church of the Mother of God in Studenica: Analysis of the Architectural Decoration

By Burns, Aleksandra Desanovski | Serbian Studies, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Church of the Mother of God in Studenica: Analysis of the Architectural Decoration


Burns, Aleksandra Desanovski, Serbian Studies


Introduction

The church of the Mother of God, a katholikon of Studenica monastery located in south-central Serbia, was built both as a church and a mausoleum for the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty. The grand zupan Stefan Nemanja (r. 1167-96) began the construction of Studenica after uniting the coastal and continental territories, creating the first great Serbian state. (1) Like many influential medieval rulers, Stefan Nemanja recognized the political importance of funding religious edifices. (2) The endowments speak of the ruler's dedication to the Christian religion and reflect his power and prestige. A setting was created in Studenica in which the sculptural decoration and the fresco paintings worked together to commemorate the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty that ruled medieval Serbia for around two hundred years.

Studenica has been the subject of numerous scholarly studies since the turn of the twentieth century. (3) The valuable contributions of the scholars such as G. Millet, D. Boskovic, Deroko, Mirjana Corovic-Ljubinkovic, and others must be recognized. Their main concern was to discover the sources of influence for Studenica's architectural forms and the origin of the craftsman. The prevailing opinion among these scholars is that the supreme execution of Studenica's architecture and architectural decoration suggests that it was the work of craftsmen imported from more artistically developed areas. For example, some scholars established parallels between Studenica and churches in Apulia, while others noticed similarities to the monuments in Modena and Ancona. D. Boskovic proposed that western artists came to Raska (the continental part of Stefan Nemanja's medieval Serbia) in 1189 with the Crusaders, led by Frederick Barbarossa. (4) Mirjana Corovic--Ljubinkovie, alternatively, suggested that Studenica's sculptors came from Hungary. As Canak-Medic and Boskovic note, scholarship concerning the study of Studenica took a different turn with Jovanka Maksimovic. (5) Instead of turning to the West for the source of the influence, Maksimovic observed Byzantine stylistic features in Studenica's sculptural decoration. She speculated that Studenica is the work of a local workshop, where Byzantine and Western artistic influences were fused. (6) Further scholarship has been directed towards establishing parallels between Studenica and churches of south Dalmatia and Zeta.

Description and classification of Studenica's architectural forms are essential and will be included in this paper. Formal analysis, however, is only a first step in reconstructing the meaning of this sacred monument. It is necessary to go beyond simply defining Studenica in terms of its style. Once the origin of Studenica's design has been established it is crucial to identify the reason for the selection of those specific models. It has long been established that the donors, Stefan Nemanja and his immediate family, played a central role in the overall appearance of Studenica but this topic needs further exploration. In order to determine fully the role of the Nemanjic dynasty in the creation of Studenica and understand the propagandistic message they sought to convey, it is necessary to examine the sculptural decoration and the fresco program as an ensemble.

This paper will demonstrate how the Nemanjic dynasty used architecture and architectural decoration as a vehicle to promote the interests of their dynasty. Despite the fact that various elements of Studenica's architectural decoration date to different periods, they all work together in commemorating Stefan Nemanja, on whose reputation rested the legitimacy of the Nemanjic dynasty. The donors carefully selected iconography that validated the rule of the Nemanjic dynasty, and elevated their power and prestige in the larger medieval world. This paper will provide the historical, political and religious context essential for understanding the motivations of the donor for sponsoring Studenica. …

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