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Culture & People


The culture of Serbia has a strong influence from the peasantry, especially in its arts, crafts and music. The nearby Byzantine Empire had a strong influence in the Middle Ages while the Serb Orthodox Church has had an enduring influence. The Serbian (Byzantine) culture was weakened during more than three centuries of rule under the Ottoman Empire, nevertheless, It was influenced greatly in music. At the same time flourishing during the rule of Habsburg Empire and Republic of Venice in the Adriatic sea. Following autonomy and eventual independence in the mid 19th century, Serbian culture could be restrengthened in the people. Socialist Realism was predominant in official art during the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia but recent decades have seen a growing influence from Western and traditional Serbian art.

Architecture & Visual Arts

There was an early Byzantine city generally thought to be Justiniana Prima (Caričin Grad) built near today's city of Leskovac with an acropolis and secular and church buildings in the lower part of the town. However, it wasn't until Serbia fully converted to Christianity in the 7th- 9th centuries AD that a Serbian style of church architecture developed. Timber aisled churches with basilicas with a notable example being the Mother of God Ljeviška at Prizren.

Much of the remaining architecture and art from the medieval period is ecclesiastical in both urban and monastic churches. In contrast, there is little remaining secular architecture with the most extensive remains being at Stari Bar.

Church architecture developed under the patronage of the Serbian state. However, the most distinctive piece of medieval Serbian architecture was the Studenica monastery founded by Stefan Nemanja, the founder of medieval Serbia in c1190. This monastery also featured significant works of art including its Byzantine style fresco paintings. Its church also features extensive sculptures based on Psalms and the Dormition of the Theotokos. UNESCO added this monastery to its list of World Cultural Heritage sites in 1986. It was the model for other monasteries at Mileševa, Sopoćani and the Visoki Dečani.

The influence of Byzantine art became more influential after the capture of Constantinople in 1204 in the Fourth Crusade when many Greek artists fled to Serbia. Their influence can be seen at the Church of the Ascension at Mileševa as well as in the wall paintings at the Church of the Holy Apostles at Peć and at the Sopoćani Monastery. Icons also formed a significant part of church art.

The influence of Byzantine architecture reached its peak after 1300 including the rebuilding of the Our Lady of Ljeviš (c1306-1307) and St. George at Staro Nagoričano as well as the Gračanica monastery. Church decorative paintings also developed further in the period.

The Visoki Dečani monastery in Metohija was built between 1330 and 1350. Unlike other Serbian monasteries of the period, it was built with Romanesque features by master-builders under the monk Vitus of Kotor. Its frescoes feature 1000 portraits portraying all of the major themes of the New Testament. The cathedral features iconostasis, hegumen's throne and carved royal sarcophagus. In 2004, UNESCO listed the Dečani Monastery on the World Heritage List.

There was a further spate of church building as the Serbian state contracted to the Morava basin in the late 14th century. Prince Stefan Lazarević was a poet and patron of the arts who founded the church at Resava at Morava with the wall paintings having a theme of parables of Christ with the people portrayed wearing feudal Serbian costumes.

Manuscripts were another significant feature of Serbian medieval art. Miroslav's Gospel (Miroslavovo Jevandjelje) features lavish calligraphy and miniatures and is a significant artwork as well as a notable work of literature. The Chludov Psalter dating from the 14th century is beautifully decorated and was probably owned by a high-ranking noble. Serbian princes were well known in the 15th century for supporting manuscripts employing scribes and artists to create manuscripts.

The Ottoman conquest of Serbia during the 15th century is traditionally said to have had a negative impact of the visual arts. The church was not subdued to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate at Constantinople and the class of nobles, where not integrated into the Ottoman state system, was discontinued. As the nobility and church were the main sources of patronage for architects and artists, the early modern period is considered an artistic less productive period in the art of Serbia. Despite the general trend, remarkable monuments were built.

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