By Nevena Bogojević | Independent Researcher
Rudenica Monastery was built close to the homonymous village, also within easy reach of župski Aleksandrovac. The monastic church, whose original dedication remains unknown, today is dedicated to St. Elijah. The church is an endowment of nobleman Vukašin and his wife Vukosava, whose portraits are included in the fresco program of the church. The church has a triconch plan, and belongs to the contracted type of cross–in–square church capped by a high dome, with lateral apses and nartex on the west side. The time period when the church was decorated with frescoes is uncertain, but based on recent considerations and studies, it is thought that the dating of the wall paintings could be placed in the period between 1403 and 1405.
The entirety of the ktetorial composition occupies the first register of the southern wall and the southern part of the western wall of the western bay. On the south wall, the founder Vukašin and his wife Vukosava are depicted. After the depiction of the founders, despot Stefan Lazarević (r. 1402–27) is represented on the southern part of the west wall with his brother Vuk (ca. 1380–1410). In the scene, it can be observed that the representation of the founder's church is presented by despot Stefan while he is being blessed by the divine appearing as a hand emerging from a segment of heaven.
The representation of the founder's model gives the observer a view of the north side of the building. The shape of the endowment is presented in the form of a single-nave building with a dome. The dome consists of a high drum laying on a square postament, capped by a high dome. The drum contains three painted single-lobed windows. On the eastern part of the painted building, there is an altar conch with partly enhanced dimensions with a large arched opening and with a smaller one, narrower to the right side. The northern conch is painted on the same vertical axis as the dome and is lower than the eastern one. In the conch's center, an arched double-light window is depicted. The northern conch is vaulted with a semi-dome. Above the conch is a tympanum, more precisely, the northern arm of the cross, and below it is a painted line that might have the function of representing a corniche. In addition, two narrow single-light windows flank the north apse. Although the western part of the painted representation of the architecture has been damaged, a painted semi-dome is noticeable, possibly a sail vault which is thought to have existed. The facades are painted in white and ocher tones, while the roof is painted gray.
Although the representation of the ktetorial architecture within the founder's composition has often been depicted in the hands of its founder, this scene is one of the examples where the representation of the ruler received a new role, especially in the art of Moravian Serbia's period. In other words, the ruler received the role of the mediator. In the case of Rudenica's composition, despot Stefan is depicted as the mediator between Vukašin and Christ. Therefore the representation of the church is painted in the despot's hands.
Through the example of the image of the completed church from Rudenica Monastery, one could also perceive the interesting feature of parallelism. The parallelism is a representative method which is used for the image of completed endowments. Accordingly, the representation in Rudenica is on the south side of the church, and its appearance in the founder's portrait is shown on the north side. The role of the image of the church is important in the formation of the ktetorial theme. Тhe opposite of the painted architecture, that appears also as a participant in the construction of space in the scenes of Eastern Christian fresco painting, is the image of the completed church which is independent entirely and in addition to a certain schematization, has the fundamental characteristics of the real appearance of the church. If it is observed as a body that interprets the forms of its ideal, it cannot be rejected that the representation of painted architecture in Rudenica shows the fundamental features of the real appearance of the building.
If we compare the depicted representation and the northern facade of the church of St. Elijah, we can notice the evocation of the shapes of the actual building. The painted architectural elements of the church in the murals cannot be interpreted as the highest degree of its real appearance, but they can be appreciated as a visual interpretation of its basic form and the arrangement of individual elements. The concave shapes of the apses, the roof construction, the tympanum, the square postament, are depicted and imitated in the painted representation in the way that they do not provide the most realistic appearance of the building, but evoke it in a certain way. It could be observed that the number of arched window openings matches the number of openings of the northern facade. This especially comes to attention if we consider the drum of the dome. Moreover, the leaning colonette of the northern conch and the northern rosettes as decorative elements of the northern facade in the image of the completed church are omitted. The painted facade alludes to the fact that the facade of the church is plastered, and the color of the roof coverings reflects the lead material.
The image of the founder with a completed church is an indispensable part of the fresco–programs in Serbian medieval art. Since the time of the Nemanjić dynasty, the painted churches within the founder's compositions were often depicted. Appeared as an important part of the ktetorial image, the representation of the churches is not just an element that plays an essential role in creating a founder’s theme. Considering their similarity to the realistic appearance of the buildings they represent, they should also be considered as potential documents during their reconstructions.
Marinković, Čedomila. “Slika podignute crkve: predstave arhitekture na ktitorskim portretima u srpskoj i vizantijskoj umetnosti” [Image of the completed church: representations of architecture on founder’s portraits in Serbian and Byzantine art]. Beograd-Kragujevac: Princip Bonart pres, Centar za naučna istraživanja SANU i Univerziteta u Kragujevcu, 2007.
The scientific monograph offers an overview of the origin and development of the representation of the completed church. Further, the monograph provides an insight into the method of painting the founder’s architecture, including the general appearance of buildings and representations of their morphological elements. Based on the conducted detailed research, the author expressed the opinion that this type of painted architecture was based on a constructed building, and not on an architectural model.
Starodubcev, Tatjana, “Srpsko zidno slikarstvo u zemljama Lazarevića i Brankovića” [Serbian wall painting in the lands of the Lazarević and the Branković dynasties]. Beograd: Dosije, 2016, 75–87.
This is a scientific monograph that chronologically analyzes the mural painting in churches built during the reign of Lazarević and Branković dynasties. In addition, it encompasses the historical, cultural, and political circumstances of the mentioned period.
Stojaković, Anka, “Arhitektonski prostor u slikarstvu srednjovekovne Srbije” [Architectural space in Painting of Medieval Serbia]. Novi Sad: Matica Srpska-Odeljenje za likovne umetnosti, 1970.
This book analyzes and discusses the function of painted architecture in the construction of the mural painting, the problems of projection systems used in the frescoes, then the problems of lighting and shading the depicted architecture. In addition, it considers the function of ktetorial models.