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Onufri, the greatest Albanian iconographer of the 16th century

  • 10/19/2020 2:50 PM
Onufri, the greatest Albanian iconographer of the 16th century
Onufri, Albanian distinguished painter

Onufri is the most distinguished Albanian painter. He was an Orthodox icon painter and Archpriest of Elbasan, active in the 16th century in southern Albania and south-western Macedonia. His works are characterized by post-Byzantine and Venetian influences. He also painted portraits, landscapes, and churches. He became one of the most eminent representatives of this art. One of the most striking features in his works is the realistic elements that come to mollify in their own way the rigid Byzantine canons and give a greater place to the Albanian everyday life and its characteristic environments. In the climate of the time, the painting of Christian icons can be seen as an act to restore pre-Ottoman culture.

He was active in Berat and possibly Venice until 1547. Then he worked in both Berat and Kastoria and in 1555, in Shelcan near Elbasan. He may have also been the painter of various murals in the church of St. Nicholas near Prilep .After 1554; he lived and painted in the village of Valsh. In a number of churches his works were signed with the title “Protopapas” demonstrating a senior position in the church hierarchy.

Onufri introduced greater realism and individuality into facial expressions, breaking with the strict conventions of the time. He was the first to introduce the color pink into icon painting. The secret of this color was not passed on and died with him. His work is noted for the intense use of colors and the use of natural dyes. According to Georgios Golobias the works of Onufri were significantly influenced by western art, as a result of his possible stay in Venice, being a member of the local Greek fraternity. On the other hand, Manolis Chatzidakis claims that western traces are few and they can be explained due to the contact with the paintings of the Cretan School.

He depicted frescoes in a number of churches in Albania as well as in Macedonia and Greece. His frescoes in Albanian churches have been restored, and his icons are housed in the principal museums of the country. In 1986, the Onufri museum was inaugurated in the castle of Berati, where some of his best icons are housed. Another part is exhibited at the Medieval Arts Museum in Korca and the National Historical Museum in Tirana.

Onufri’s icons have also been exhibited abroad and have attracted attention with their scarlet red color, which was characterized as an original and inimitable . Onufria’s work has played an important role in the Albanian painting not only during his lifetime, but also in later centuries. His direct followers were his son Nikolla , Onufer Qiprioti and some other anonymous painters.

His paintings are distinguished for their rich colors and decorative shades, realization of interesting types in tragic states, and introduction of certain ethnographic national elements that would be more conspicuous with his successors; his son Nikolla (16 century) and other distinguished painters such as David Selenica (18 century), Konstandin Shpataraku(18 century), Konstandin and Athans Zografi(18 century), Katro family(18 century) etc., who decorated a number of churches in both Albania and the neighboring countries.

/Klara Ruci/