Under the Aegis of Brâncoveanu by
Acad. Răzvan Theodorescu, 2013
Address delivered at the gallery opening of the Exhibition “Brancovan Roots” at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant
Brâncoveanu is a landmark for many people, for many Romanian intellectuals. To me he is the absolute embodiment of the Romanian people, with all the lights and shadows that they encompass. His martyrdom – 300 years will soon have passed – enables him to transcend the common profile of the great Romanian.
Brâncoveanu was a role model of his time though that was not immediately obvious. I have a study which shows how heartlessly the people of Bucharest treated the 1714 moment. However, the very instant that Lady Marica retrieved the bodies of the Brâncoveanu family in 1720 – and Elena Murariu createsa hagiography of that moment with her admirable artwork – brought by the revelation of what had happened 6 years before. That same year, that same month of September, they changed the murals in the thresholds of Kretzulescu and Văcăreşti Churches to illustrate the Apocalypse instead of the Advent. They felt that Brâncoveanu’s death foreboded the Apocalypse!
Elena Murariu has a vast experience of the Brâncovenesc style of painting. She has worked at Gura Motrului, on the infirmary of Bistriţa Monastery, Fundenii Doamnei in Bucharest, Polovragi and Dintr-un Lemn Monastery. She is therefore familiar with this area known for its Brâncovenesc style, as well as with that around Vâlcea, Ilfov, and most of all Hurezi.
Elena Murariu is clearly obsessed, that is the word for it, beautifully obsessed with creating an iconography which is, and I do insist and pray that the esteemed clergy take this exactly as it is, a modern iconography. Our Church, fromthe uppermost hierarchies to the humblest clergy, is beginning to modernize its views on painting and architecture. However, it has yet to reach that point of incredible openness which some Russian intellectuals and clergymen had achieved almost 100 years ago, around the time of the revolution. Back then Tatlin, Goncearova, the constructivist painters worked on icons and created an iconography which might have taken a certain path had it not been for the year 1924, the disappearance of Lunacearski and the coming to power of Stalin. Elena Murariu’s iconography may very well be theBrâncoveanu Ladder, the cypress or the fir – trees which are meaningful in our land and the Orient and which you are all familiar with. Elena Murariu is obsessed with the severed heads of the Brâncoveanus and that of Văcărescu, obsessed with an entire connection between the animate nature and the inanimate bodies! As Virgil Niţulescu, the Director of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant aptly said, “this exhibition brings about a certain cycle.” In the last few years, Elena Murariu has created the prolegomena of a well-deserved visual and literary commemoration of the Brâncoveanu moment.
I am pleased that Professor Daniel Barbu, my younger colleague and the new Minister of Culture, has developed a program for the Brâncoveanu year. I expected that from him as he is a renowned specialist in that particular age. I would like to tell you that the Romanian Academy has also elaborated a Brâncoveanu project and that, first and foremost, the Orthodox Church has great plans in this sense which I hope will come to fruition, and toward which some of us have made suggestions that were so kindly accepted by His Beatitude Daniel, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
In 1914, at Nicolae Iorga’s encouragement, of course, the Royal House, the Government and Parliament declared the Brâncoveanu moment, with the 200 years passed since his martyrdom, a national remembrance day. We are no longer living in those times but I do hope that at the very least the Academy, the Church, part of the Government and, in any case, the representatives of the Royal House will associate themselves with the proceedings.
Elena Murariu, because it’s her we should be talking about, offers a modern interpretation. She is tied to this Brâncovenesc vision though she knows that the early modernity began with the Cantacuzino and Brâncoveanu styles of churches, with the group portraits of the Cantacuzinos and the extraordinary painting at Hurezi Monastery. Remember the aulic group in the narthex of Hurezi Monastery! Remember Brâncoveanu as a child ready to reign and to sacrifice himself! A truly special kind of alchemy lies in what was created at Hurezi during Brâncoveanu’s lifetime. We must decipher the things that happened since his days because, ladies and gentlemen, we are still living in an epoch inaugurated by this supreme figure of the Romanian culture. We still live for feasts, for European synchronicity, for dalliance, playfulness, expectation, prudence, sometimes live evenfor the little betrayals. This great martyr of our people was also an accomplished diplomat, a lover of culture and of Europe. I wrote a book entitled Constantin Brâncoveanu between “The House of Books” and “Ievropa”. “Ievropa” was the name given to the continent to which we were opening up back then. The books that came our way, the images that circulated were of European origin.
At Polovragi Monastery one can find the only representation of Mount Athos but how many remember that this originated in one of Bernard de Montfaucon’s engravings from Paris. Who remembers that Charles du Cange’s byzantine histories were ordered by Brâncoveanu and arrived at Hurezi only a few years after they had come out. We were visually, literarily, I dare say even philosophically – as much as there existed back in the day a theological thought that touched on philosophy – in harmony with Europe.
I wonder, and with this I will round off, what a non-orthodox would understand of what Mrs. Murariu presents us with. He or she would understand that there is much elegance and refinement in what the artist creates by drawing on historic Brâncoveanu sources. Mrs. Murariu must persist in this direction and I hope the church hierarchs from the new and very open-minded generation will welcome this vision which is not created by Brâncoveanu-era painters but by a contemporary artist with a modern take on the subject. If the historical realities of Stephen the Great and Michael the Brave belong almost to the world of myth, Brâncoveanu belongs to our modernity. Certainly, we do not ask for martyrdoms nowadays; people are less and less capable of such acts and so Brâncoveanu remains an instance we will never reach! Out of the “prince of gold’s” love for the playful, the festive, we are left with the joy brought by the art of his time. This joy that Brâncoveanu and his era bring is, of course, the one that contradicts the drama provoked by his own kin. Brâncoveanu was betrayed by Constantin Cantacuzino, a great scholar, a brilliant humanist whom we are taught about in school but who, unfortunately, was a terrible scoundrel! Brâncoveanu was betrayed by his own people! We will probably continue to betray one another but let us always carry with us the image of he who represents an unattainable ideal. Constantin Brâncoveanu was such an ideal and Elena Murariu celebrates his memory with the painter’s modesty and exquisite taste for which I would like to thank her.