Onufri and his “mysteries”

In the 16th century, Berat was one of the important cities of Albanians. Alongside the economic developments in this city, iconographic works were created as frescoes and icons of a high artistic level. This phenomenon is not unusual, but it comes from the past centuries, precisely from the antiquity and the early middle Ages. The first beginnings of this art are the prominent miniatures of the 6th century codices, continuing with those of the IX-XI century and then the wall paintings of the XIV century churches belonging to the period of Paleolog rulers.

When we speak of the XVI century, we mean Onufri, who appears in Albanian lands as a rare meteor, making the famous figures of Byzantine iconography, marking a culmination of artistic and religious values ​​throughout the history of this country. It is believed that Onufri may have been born in the last decade of the XVI century, since the first dating found is that in the frescoes of the church “Shpërfytyrimi” at the monastery of Zérzés in Prilep, today Macedonia. When he realized this painting Onufri could have been about forty, at a favorable age for professional artistic training. Unfortunately, this inscription has almost been indecipherable. But in Prilep, near the church of “Shpërfytyrimi”, he painted for the iconostasis of the church “Saint Nicola”, the canopy (large canopy with “Deisis” (prayer) and 12 saints). Behind the feet of Saint Mary is the inscription that holds the year 1535.

At the end of the first half of the XVI century (154 …) at the entrance of Berat castle, mainly on the eastern site of the church Saint Todhri, Onufri left his hand a part of the iconography program such as St. Mary Platter, the evangelistic scene, two church fathers and so on. In 1547 Onufri painted the walls of the church of “40 Saints” in Kostur, financed by the Muzakaj family. The inscription is located almost in the same place as in Shelcan of Elbasan, on the northern wall of the altar, where it says: “When you pray to God, remember painter Onufri, the first priest of Neokastra (Elbasan), while the second inscription is found on the north side, with a dimension of more than one meter.

In 1547, he made the frescoes of the church of “Saint Nicola”, in the village of Shelcan in the district of Elbasan. It is a simple, two storey church with a wooden ceiling from inside. Onufri’s paintings are found in the northern, southern and the eastern sides of a stone iconostasis. Onufri was a great master of mural technique painting. He was not only an artist who successfully painted large wall surfaces, but also a perfect miniaturist. In many iconographic works that have come to our day, most of the icons are found at the churche of Berat.

The city of Venice around 1450 turned into a real laboratory of new expressive ideas for him. In the XV-XVI century many Mediterranean painters studied in developed art cities such as Cyprus, Crete, Qefalonia, Greece and Albania. Onufer Cypriot in 1571 leaves Cyprus and settles in Venice and then comes and works in Albania. By analyzing the iconographic works of Onufri, we note that they are radiated by Venetian art and a style combined with the old tradition of Constantinople, Paleologists, intertwined with the art of Creta.

So it is Venice, where Onufri was formed as a painter. May be that in the first years of the XVI century, that is to say, around the 1500s he would have gone to Venice and then settled in Albania. The frescoes of the 40 Saints’ Church in Kostur turn out to be one of the monuments that better preserves Onufri’s frescoes. There are 54 scenes including, medals, and scenes saints. But, at the same time, it is of a high artistic level dating back to 1535.

/Klara Ruci/

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