Sunday 21 March 2010

Donald Dunham on 18th century Bucharest architecture

In the first half of the XVIIth century, there appeared a new combination of imported styles which has been characterized as the first Wallachian manifestation. The prototype of this style is the village church of Gherghiţa in Prahova county. A later example of this style is to be found in the Biserica Doamnei [Church of the Lady] in Bucharest. The floor plan is rectangular and there is an open portico surrounded with pillars supporting an arcade which later included a bracket-type and clover-type design above the columns. The ante-nave, which was previously separated from the nave by a wall, in this church runs into the nave with only pillars and arcades between. There is one tower over the nave and one over the ante-nave or over the portico, which later tower houses the church bell. For the first time the staircase to the bell becomes an integral part of the building on the north wall. There is no corresponding structure on the south wall so the building loses its symmetry.
In the second half of the same century this partial amalgamation was modified. The structure was elevated and the effect is of more graceful outline. For the first time, the pillars and arcades of the open portico and the door and window frames are heavily painted or sculptured. Lace-like sculpture is found on the altar screen as well as on the pulpit and chairs. This style of church became generalized as “Romanian” during this period and today examples are to be found throughout the country.
The same architectural basis was followed in the late XVIIth century at Fundenii Doamnei Church outside Bucharest, which was built by a member of a family of Greek origin, Mihail Cantacuzino. However, the subsidiary elements became increasingly incongruous. The exterior sculpture is delightful even if sections of it would seem more suitable in Persia. It is said that a Persian sculptor was imported to do the decoration; certain Persian motives are used and a delicacy of workmanship characteristic of that nationality is present. The pavilion on the exterior is Persian and is flanked by cypress trees. The stylized peacocks at a fountain with swimming fish, the vases with flowers, the lemon trees and the pears and pomegranates are typical. The sculpture over the door is less fortunate: Professor Oprescu refers to it as “Italian Baroque under pressure of Byzantine eastern influences.”
The first part of the XVIIIth century saw the construction of the Văcăreşti Monastery [demolished by Ceauşescu in the 1980s] by the Mavrocordato family in the same tradition as the earlier family of Greek origin, the Cantacuzinos, and as the Brâncoveanu family. This structure includes even more lavish embellishments but the style is practically unchanged. It is one of the last evidences of church architecture in this tradition; from the second half of the XVIIIth century interest in architecture and sculpture waned and the accent was placed on painting.

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