The Bulgaria Christian art exhibit was formally unveiled on April 27, 2016, by Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev, together with the Governor of the Lower Austria province, Erwin Pröll, Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov, Austria’s Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter, the Provost of the Klosterneuburg Monastery Bernhard Backovsky, the Bulgarian Orthodox Metropolitan for Western and Middle EuropeAntoniy, and the Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, Assoc Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski.
The exhibition “Gloss of the East" (in German:“Glanz des Ostens: Christliche Kunst aus Bulgarien") features 125 artifacts from the collection of the National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia showing the development of Christianity and Christian art in the territory of today’s Bulgaria from the 4th until the 17th century, the press service of the Klosterneuburg Monastery has announced.
(Find more information (in German) about the exhibition and Bulgaria’s Christian art on the Monastery website here and in the official PDF brochures here and here.)
“This is only the second time that these cultural items which are seen as a national treasure of Bulgaria have traveled abroad,"Governor Pröll emphasized at the opening.
(L-R) Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov, Western and Central European Metropolitan Antoniy, Klosterneuburg Monastery Provost Bernhard Backovsky, Lower Austria Province Governor Erwin Pröll, and Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev at the opening of the exhibition. Photo: Klosterneuburg Monastery
In his speech, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev has focused on the universal language of art that helps for the communication of people from different nationalities and origins, and contributes to the understanding between the nations of Europe.
In 2014, the 135th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Austria was marked at the Klosterneuburg Monastery, reminds the press center of the Bulgarian Presidency in arelease.
“This is one of the main reasons for providing the opportunity to enjoy a small, yet invaluable part of the Bulgarian cultural heritage namely here… Hopefully, the current exhibition will inspire many to visit Bulgaria and to come to know better its rich history and traditions,"Plevneliev stated.
In its release, the press service of the Klosterneuburg Monastery (founded on the Danube in 1114) notes that the “common faith in Jesus Christ, the Pantocrator, the ruler of the world" bridges it to the Christian art artifacts from Bulgaria.
“The exhibition aims at familiarizing the Central European audiences with the main aspects of the emergence and establishment of the Christian religion in Bulgaria…, and to promote the role of Bulgaria and its cultural and historical heritage as part of the pan-European Christian art and values," the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia has said in a statement.
It explains that the artifacts included in the exhibition are very diverse, including items made of gold, silver, bronze, marble, and stone as well as frescoes and icons. Some of them were used in liturgies, others are architectural fragments, and still others were for personal use of the believers.
They belong to three distinct time period – the Early Christian period (4th-6th century AD), the Middle Ages (9th-15th century) divided into two sub-periods, and the Ottoman period (15th-19th century, i.e. when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, also known in Bulgarian history as the Ottoman Yoke) which is also divided into two sub-periods.
“The Early Christian period has to do with the establishment and spreading of the Christian religion on the territory of the Roman Empire. The strategic geographic location of the Bulgarian territories right next to the large administrative centers of the Eastern Roman Empire turned them into a crossroads of ideas and cultural influences between the East and the West," explains the Museum.
It adds that items on display in the Bulgarian Christian art exhibition in Austria’s Klosterneuburg Monastery include from this period a silver reliquary from Yabalkovo, Haskovo District, in Southern Bulgaria, with images of Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and liturgy artifacts from Stara Zagora, including a silver monogram of Byzantine Emperor Justin II (r. 565-574), among others.
An Early Christian silver reliquary found in Yabalkovo, Haskovo District, Southern Bulgaria. Photo: Klosterneuburg Monastery
This 9th century item, a paten, or diskos, a vessel for holding Eucharistic bread, decorated with crosses, is featured on the posters and brochures of the Bulgarian Christian Art exhibit in Austria’s Klosterneuburg Monastery. Photo: Klosterneuburg Monastery
The second time period, the Middle Ages, has to do with the medieval Bulgarian Empire and its adoption of Christianity as the formal state religion in 865 AD.
“After an interruption of more than two centuries, Christianity was reintroduced in Bulgaria’s territories, this time within the borders of the Bulgarian state. With the aid of the new religion, the foresighted Bulgarian rulers managed to erase the internal tribal differences and form a single nationality on this foundation. The international authority of the Bulgarian state grew, as did diplomatic contacts, there were conditions for increase literary activity, and a cultural and economic upsurge called by the historians “The Golden Age" of Bulgaria," explains further the National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
The time period of First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) is presented by focusing on the 10th century capital Veliki Preslav (893-970) as a cultural center by showcasing the typical painted ceramics found there.
The High Middle Ages, i.e. the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396), are presented with murals from the town of Melnik in Southwest Bulgaria, an image of St. Dimitar (Demetrius), the only known medieval seal of a Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch, that of Patriarch Visarion (Bessarion), procession crosses and icons worn on the chest, among other items.
The Bulgarian Christian art from the period of the Ottoman Yoke is presented in the Klosterneuburg exhibition with some of the best samples of icons and church plates from the iconography schools of Nessebar,Veliko Tarnovo, Samokov, and Tryavna as well as metal vessels and ornaments produced in goldsmith centers such as Chiprovtsi in Northwest Bulgaria.
Christ Pantokrator on a throne, an early 17th century icon from the St. John the Baptist Church in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort Nessebar, Nessebar Iconography School. Photo: Klosterneuburg Monastery
The exhibition “Gloss of the East: Christian Art from Bulgaria" will be open for visitors at the museum of the Klosterneuburg Monastery in Austria until July 31, 2016. It was organized with the sponsorship of the Vienna Insurance Group, Bulstrad, Hypo Niederösterreich Gruppe, the province of Lower Austria, and Kapsch Group.
At the end of the opening ceremony, Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev and Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov were awarded the “Leopold’s Cross" medal of the Klosterneuburg Monastery by its Provost, Bernhard Backovsky.