Thursday, January 31, 2013


Art has long had an important standing in Bulgaria’s history and goes back to the days of antiquity. The arts in general are seen as a means of expression. Some of the most best preserved pieces are from ancient Thracian art. The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak is a key piece that allows us to learn about their lifestyles and their culture. It’s been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.  The tomb consists of a long hall covered in murals, depicting funeral rituals, paintings of horses, and other scenes. It’s considered one of the most well-preserved artifacts of Hellenistic art of the Middle Ages. One of the murals is of a couple who are seated and holding each other’s wrists in a moment of good-bye. In fact, the woman in this scene was placed on the back of the 50-stotinki coin (issued in 2005).

Murals, frescos, and icon art have been an important medium throughout the centuries, especially during the Middle Ages which saw a large push towards the visual arts. And no doubt there was some outside influence from the Romans and Greeks.  Many art schools started popping up, especially in the old capital of Tarnovo which became a center for the arts. While it was similar to other schools of art, it actually was unique in other ways, especially when it came to realism and individualism.  Many artists around this time focused their skills on mural painting in churches. The Bulgarian National Revival of the 18th and 19th centuries brought another surge in promoting the arts, and as they gained their independence, they also expanded their repertoire to include other European art movements.

One famous artist is Christo, who studied art at Sofia’s Academy of Fine Arts before travelling around and eventually losing his citizenship. His wife Jean-Claude (who was born in Morocco) did large works of environmental art. Some of the famous ones are the Pont-Neuf Bridge in Paris, The Gates in New York City’s Central Park, the 24-mile “Running Fence” in California, and the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin.

The Gates -- looks like giant hurdles with curtains. 
The artist known as Pascin studied art in Paris (and especially the art circles in and around Montparnasse) and was best known for his influences in the Modernist movement. He created a lot of watercolor and sketches, many of which he sold to newspapers and magazines. He had long battled depression and alcoholism which had turned fatal with his suicide in 1930 at the age of 45.  He divided his estate equally between his wife and his mistress. I’m sure that left a few people in awkward situations.

One of the most prolific painters from Bulgaria is Vladimir Dimitrov.  Later in life, he simply became known as Maystora, or the Master.  He utilized many post-Impressionistic styles (as well as others) and tended to use bright colors in his work as well.  He was quite eccentric: he chose to live in poverty, never wore new clothes or shaved, and ate a vegetarian diet.  Some called him a saint, even while he was still alive.  Maystora Peak, part of the South Shetland Islands (Antarctica) is named after him. 

Bulgarian literature in general is any literature written in the Bulgarian language, and is one of the oldest forms of literature of the Slavic peoples. Of course, being the inventor of the Cyrillic alphabet sort of puts Bulgarian literature in its place at the top of the class of Slavic literature, and it led to the formation and expansion of literary schools, namely the Preslav, Ohliv Literary School, and the Tarnovo Literary School. Medieval literature is mostly centered around religious texts, treatises, hymns, letters, and historical documents.
During the Bulgarian National Revival, as with the other areas of the arts, literature also surged. One of the most important voices to come out of this movement is Hristo Botev, notable poet and revolutionary. Others include Lyuben Karavelov and Georgi Sava Rakovski (whose Gorski Patnik is considered one of Bulgaria’s first literary poems).

Ivan Vazov is considered the “father of new Bulgarian literature” in the years after the country gained liberation from the Ottomans. He’s most famous for his book called Under the Yoke which has been translated into over 30 languages.

Modern Bulgarian literature generally starts right around the time of their independence, or the beginning of the 20th century. It started to include and become influenced by other European philosophies, but maybe only in parts. Symbolist poetry became a very common catalyst for expressing political and social ideologies. Peyo Yavorov, Hristo Smirnenski, and Dimcho Debelyanov were three such poets who developed and made names for themselves as well as many others. The focal point of this movement is like offering an alternate plane for the bleak realities around them. It’s often full of emotions, yet intellectual with many historical and literary references. It tends to be descriptive, refined, and introspective.

The communist years after WWII certain had its effects on Bulgarian literature. Certain books were not able to be published and others were required to be changed. However, as communism began to fade from this area as a form of control, literature was allowed to grow and expand into many of the popular genres of the 20th century found in Western and European literature: surrealism, expressionism, existentialism, postmodernism, crime fiction, science fiction, and structuralism.  Elias Canetti, mostly writing in German, became the first Bulgarian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981. He was known for his novels Auto-da-Fé and Crowds and Power.

Elias Canetti

Up next: Music and Dance

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