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The territory of today's Serbia has been inhabited since pre-historical times. Indeed, Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica) is one of the oldest settlements in Europe with archaeologists tracing some form of urban life as far back as 5000 BC.
The Romans conquered Sirmium in the 1st century AD and in the latter history of the Roman Empire, Sirmium was one of the four capital cities of the Tetrarchy with the Emperor Galerius establishing his capital there. It had architecture befitting its status including palaces, large public buildings and baths and marketplaces. Galerius also built temples and a palace at a site in Gamzigrad near Zaječar in honour of his mother Romula.
Medieval 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 to 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 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.
|This section requires expansion. (May 2009)|
|Name||Location||Date||Artist / Community||Depicting|
|Christ Carrying the Cross Fresco||Dečani Monastery||14th century||Unknown / Dečani Monastery||Christ Carrying the Cross|
|Assumption of Mary||Gračanica Monastery||14th century||Unknown / Gračanica Monastery||Taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven|
|Dormition of virgin Mary||Sopoćani||14th century||Unknown / Sopoćani||Dormition of Virgin Mary|
- Sopoćani monastery, 1265, Ras city
- Mileševa monastery, 1236, Prijepolje
- Visoki Dečani, 1327, Dečani
- Patriarchate of Peć, 13th century, Peć
- Our Lady of Ljeviš, 12th century, Prizren
- Gračanica Monastery, 1321, Gračanica, Kosovo
- Đurđevi stupovi, 1166, Novi Pazar
- Studenica monastery, 1190, Kraljevo
- Saint Archangels Monastery, 1343, Prizren
- Ostrog monastery, 17th century, Montenegro
- Krka monastery, 1345, Dalmatia
Visual arts in Early Modern Serbia
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 nobles were not integrated into the Ottoman state system. As the nobility and church were the main sources of patronage for architects and artists, the early modern period is considered an artistically less productive period in the art of Serbia. Despite the general trend, remarkable monuments were built.
There was some resumption of artistic endeavour after the restoration of the Serbian patriarch in 1557. Djordje Mitrofanović was the leading painter of the early 17th century with his work on the church at the Morača Monastery considered as amongst his best. The Husein-Pasha Mosque in Pljevlja (Montenegro) is the most notable Muslim structure in the Balkans and dates from the middle of the 16th century.
A "Baroque" church 'Our Lady of the Rocks' on an island in the Boka Kotorska (Montenegro) is one of the most notable pieces of architecture in the Serbian lands from the early modern period. There are many fine specimens of silverware dating from the 17th century there. Traditional Serbian art was beginning to show some Baroque influences at the end of the 18th century as shown in the works of Nikola Nešković, Teodor Kračun and Jakov Orfelin.
Modern visual arts
There was somewhat of a resurgence in Serbian art in the 19th century as Serbia gradually regained its autonomy. Prince Aleksandar commissioned the building of a Monument to the Insurgents in Karađorđe Park in 1848 in Vračar. Serbian paintings showed the influence of Neoclassicism and Romanticism during the 19th century. Anastas Jovanović was a pioneering photographer in Serbia taking the photos of many leading citizens.
Kirilo Kutlik set up the first school of art in Serbia in 1895. Many of his students went to study in Western Europe, especially France and Germany and brought back avant-garde styles. Nadežda Petrović was influenced by Fauvism while Sava Šumanović worked in Cubism.
After World War I, the Belgrade School of Painting developed in the capital with some members such as Milan Konjović working in a Fauvist manner, while others such as Marko Čelebonović working in a style called Intimisme based on the use of colours.
Some artists chose to emigrate: thus Yovan Radenkovitch (1901–1979) left Belgrade for Paris in the 1930s, befriending Matisse and Vlaminck and adopting a style greatly inspired by Fauvism, before eventually leaving Europe to show his work in New York, in 1941; meeting with considerable acclaim, he decided, in the 1950s, to settle in the USA – near Waterbury, Connecticut, where several of his paintings are still kept today, in Mattatuck Museum.
Socrealism was the dominant school after World War II with the rise to power of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito. However, that period did not last long – during the 1960s, Serbian artists started to break free from the constraints of the Communists led by figures such as Petar Lubarda and Milo Milunović. The Mediala group featuring Vladimir Veličković was formed in the 1970s to promote Surrealist figurative painting. Serbian art was split between those basing their works on the traditions of Serbian work such as frescoes and iconography and those exploring international styles.