11 august 2022
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București

In the Footsteps of Gheorghe Tattarescu, the Church Painter

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Gheorghe Tattarescu remains in the public conscience due to the special current he brought into the mural painting, devoting a great part of his life to the art of painting churches. The Artist has created his own current, dominated by the Neoclassical style we encounter in every one of the churches he painted. Tattarescu is easily recognizable due to the unique blue we remark in the works decorating the walls of worship places, but also those due to a number of colors laid as a base, resulted from a blend that only he succeeded to realize. Also, they stand out by the drawing’s power.

Painter Gheorge Tattarescu’s style (1818-1894) was strongly influenced by the Italian Academicism, but was also tributary to the Byzantine traditional iconography. Many of the historical monument churches in the country take pride in the fact that their walls bear the signature of this artist. Some of them are even in Bucharest, the sources indicating that we can find Tattarescu at Şelari, Colţea, Oţetari, Biserica Albă / White Church or Zlătari.

The Picture, Portraying Queen Elisabeth as Founder of the “Şelari” Church, Bears the Signature of Painter Mihail Danu, a Very Close Collaborator of Tattarescu.

Still, there are fairly many situations in which the mural painting has not been performed by Gheorghe Tattarescu, but by one of his students. Those who can say with certainty where the brush of maestro went through are the experts. Only they can ascertain which are the churches possessed of the fingerprint of this painter.

Tattarescu Can Be Best Seen at Şelari

. “Şelari” Church Attracts Very Many Tourists Who Enter the Worship Place to Admire the Mural Painting, but also the Centuries-Long Icons.

We have also started out following in the footsteps of Painter Gheorghe Tattarescu, wishing to take a close look at the work of the painter who fought for the affirmation of the Romanian nation. It is impressive to discover the skill of a man who not only devoted his life to art, but also was noteworthy for his patriotism. The personality of the man Gheorghe Tattarescu can be questioned by no one, just as his uniqueness in mural painting cannot be disputed either.

We will not look into the secular work of the Artist, which also includes memorable works, but we will stop over the ecclesiastical one. We picked Tattarescu because of the influence he exerted in art, his role being a major one in redirecting the ecclesiastic painting. By the things he bequeathed to us, Tattarescu can represent a landmark on the tourist map of Bucharest, and his works are attractions to the beauty lovers.

Before embarking on this journey, we made contact with Dr. Ioan Darida, one of the best restorers of mural paintings in our country. “The Doctor of Paintings” agreed to accompany us. Even more, he told us from the outset where exactly we could “best see” Gheorghe Tattarescu. “At ‘Şelari’ Church. Over there, I personally identified him. Let’s go to Şelari!

So it was that in a warm fall afternoon we got to the Old Center.

The Icon of Saint Nicholas Dates Back to 1664.

“Sfântul Nicolae / Saint Nicholas” Parish — Şelari is hidden among other historical monument building in this area. Positioned somewhere “at a street corner,” the worship place captures the attention of the passersby. And as in the old Center there are many foreign tourists, some of them muster their courage and enter the church. Not to pray, but to admire this masterpiece whose foundation was laid in the second half of the 17th century.

Foreigners are fascinated by everything existing within the Church, contemplating minutes on end the paintings cladding its walls. The icons win their hearts too, and when told that one of them, the one of Saints Nicholas, dates back to 1664, they cannot conceal their astonishment.

While waiting for Dr. Ioan Darida, we even witnessed a hilarious episode having as its hero a young man from Africa. He had come to Bucharest as a tourist, and he was strolling through the Old Center, looking for historical vestiges. Arriving in front of “Şelari” Church, the man circled it around a number of times. The mentioning made on one of the walls concerning the fact that the church is listed in the category of the historical monuments and that it was erected many centuries ago shocked him in the beginning, only to cause him afterward to respond in an outrightly delightful manner. The man was thrilled to be able to see “for real” such an old monument, and admired every single detail of the building with a large smile on his face. Eventually, he mustered his courage to enter the church too.

The response of this foreigner causes us to realize how lucky we are to have the possibility of seeing in our country such places loaded with history. At the same time, it makes us responsible and obliges us to pay respect to them, so that the coming generations may enjoy them as well.

Painter Gheorghe Tattarescu’s Signature

Dr. Ioan Darida Shows Us Where We Can Find Tattarescu’s Signature.

As soon as Dr. Ioan Darida arrived, we entered the Church. He returned to this worship place after ten years since the restoration he’s performed with his team.

From the beginning he showed us the signature of the Painter on one of the works located near the Icon of Saint Nicholas, a signature that only an expert eye could notice.

In ‘Şelari’ Church, the whole painting is performed by Gheorghe Tattarescu, except for these two pictures of the crowned heads at the entry (editorial note: King Carol I and Queen Elisabeth are painted as founders of the worship place), performed by Mihail Danu, a very close collaborator of Painter Tattarescu,” tells us Dr. Ioan Darida.

Looking at the work before him, the expert explains us that we are admiring a typically Neoclassical iconography, since we don’t see any longer those “stretches” with unfolding scenes characteristic to the Byzantine program, but we have pictures. Usually, these pictures are framed in their stuccos, and exhibit the important saints in the Byzantine iconography.

Painter Tattarescu’s Iconography Is Typically Neoclassical.

And as the Church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the painter decided that, on the Southern part thereof, he would represent this very saint. At Şelari, Tattarescu painted him as crowned, and has placed his signature at the corner of the picture so as to flag the fact that the mural painting on the walls belongs to him. “You can always find Tattarescu signed here,” the specialist indicated to us.

When unsigned works need to be identified, Painter Tattarescu is remarked according to style, but especially according to the chromatic composition, according to the pigments. “As a painting technique, it is special and completely different from the fresco. In Tattarescu’s case, we have a “Fresco-secco” mural painting. What characterizes him is that, first and foremost, he lays out for himself a brownish layer. This medium tinge or imprimatura causes the painter to still add at a certain point only a couple of glassy substances, as if he would lay a number of dark-colored cellophanes, for shades. A couple of transparent layers of maroons, blue, and starting from this maroon, toward the light, he comes and lays tinges of white. These tinges of white, of pinkish, with ocher, oranges, are always pastier. At this point I, as an expert, need to do nothing else but spot that place where, starting from the light, it moves on to shade, since it is possible that the painter did not lay anything there, and there I find a layer, a brownish, reddish “pickle” telling me certainly that it’s Tattarescu. There’s also Tattarescu’s characteristic blue, a blue we don’t encounter with anyone else,” points out the restorer.

Tattarescu Revolutionizes the Mural Painting of the Age

Tattarescu’s Blue Is Unique and Evidences His Works.

Remarkable for Tattarescu is the fact that he succeeded to produce a real revolution in the mural painting of the age he lived in. Having come sometime about 1850 from Rome, the painter brings along a new style that the members of the social elite embrace immediately, since it seemed to them that whatever happened in the fresco in post-Brâncoveanu age was naïve. “But why was it naïve?! Because the great painters had died, and those working at that time had no one to instruct them. So, they were drawing just as they had seen in nature. But expressiveness comes precisely from here, from this naturalness. I have seen an icon from that period depicting The Nativity, and somewhere on a cliff, on the icon’s background, a wolf can be seen who comes and eats a sheep. That was happening in real life. This period is fascinating, during which the first Romanian imprimaturas emerge. Well, this type of painting, slightly naïve, let’s call it peasant-like, was not loved by the social elite. Then, Tattarescu comes up and brings over the oil-based paints. This way, of course, for a while, we will forget about the fresco,” nuances Dr. Ioan Darida.

Where Else Can We Find Tattarescu

Speaking about the work of Painter Tattarescu, the expert makes reference to the fact that we need to exhibit more care for whatever means history. In the case of the Painter we consider today, there were very many episodes in which, in an effort to “give a new face” to worship places, rude interventions have been done on the mural painting.

Tattarescu Participated in the 1860-1866 Restoration of the Oţetari Church.

Moreover, the representatives of the Church should bear in mind the fact that all these pictures must be periodically protected and refurbished, since they are exposed to an environment that is not exactly friendly to them. Religious buildings are places within which there are differences in temperature and in which condensation water shows up. Moreover, many of them, as the case is with “Şelari” Church, suffer because of water seepage, but also because of salts absorbed from the groundwater. Also, the smoke of the candlesticks settles over the colors of the mural paintings, and degrade them over time.

On the advice of the “Doctor of Paintings,” we went to other churches as well, in which there is mural painting performed by Tattarescu. Thus, we got to Oţetari Church, concealed somewhere in the Batişte—Vasile Lascăr perimeter.

Here we were going to learn that Tattarescu participated in the 1860-1866 restoration of the Oţetari Church, when he accomplished, in oil, the whole mural painting. Also, at that time he accomplished the iconostasis. The artist’s work was affected though because of a number of restorations made in 1906 and between the years 1965 and 1984. Barely during about 2004 an intervention was carried out with the main purpose of restoring the artwork signed by Tattarescu. Not even at the present time the painter’s mural painting is in the best shape, being compromised because of the conditions inside the Church. Still, the Parish hopes for a new restoration that would repair whatever was deteriorated until now.

Leaving Oţetari Church behind us, we headed to Colţea, another place in which Tattarescu’s spirit is preserved in the paintings he performed. Within this worship place there are six pictures crafted by the painter in the style that consecrated him, the Neoclassical one. For the tourist visiting this objective it is impossible not to notice the beauty of these works, that in turn, contribute to the uniqueness of the Colţea Church.

The Rood Screen of the Biserica Albă / White Church Bears Tattarescu’s Fingerprint.

Biserica Albă / The White Church, on Calea Victoriei / Victory’s Avenue, is also ranked by a whole lot of people among those in which the painting would belong to Tattarescu.

Within this worship place, the rood screen is best distinguished, about which the parish priest Mihail-Simion Săsăujan tells us it was accomplished during the second half of the 18th century. It reached Biserica Albă / The White Church only during the first part of the 19th century. “A series of sources show that the existing paintings on the rood screen belong to Gheorghe Tattarescu. Moreover, there are documents revealing that, in 1873, Tattarescu painted this Church as well,” recounts the reverend to us.

Bucharest Is Possessed of a Long String of Pearls That Tourists Must Discover. Churches Belong to this Circuit.

After following in the footsteps of Tattarescu, the Church Painter, I realized again how many possibilities to work up touristic itineraries are there in Bucharest. The worship places, that most people relate to only as sites for adoration, belong to the string of pearls we can find in the capital of Romania. These touristic attractions only need a better advertising. It is gladdening that the foreigners arriving in the city on the Dâmboviţa River banks, discover by themselves these historical monuments and decide, in turn, to introduce them to their acquaintances in their home countries.

Perhaps we should discover all these places ourselves as well, those who had the chance to be born in such a beautiful country. As I explore Bucharest during my research work, I become more and more convinced that tourism represents a great opportunity for this city. As one of the foreign artists playing on the National Opera stage was telling me, Bucharest has kept its genuineness and, in its case, unlike any other metropolises, globalization has not altered its unique charm.

Author: Ștefania Enache
Photo: Corina Gheorghe
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