Fresco Painting

The painting with earth colours (natural dry-powder pigments ground in pure water) on freshly applied wet plaster made of fine fluvial sand, slaked lime, and cut straw, hemp, or goat hair is known as "fresco" technique. It is one of the oldest and most durable painting techniques, most resistant to aging.

Macedonia is among the countries with the most beautiful preserved Byzantine fresco painting, mainly from the period between the 11th and 16th centuries. There are several thousands square metres of fresco painting preserved, the major part of which is in very good condition and represent masterworks of the Macedonian School of ecclesiastical painting.

There are fragments of an early-Christian fresco painting preserved in the Episcopal basilica at the archaeological site Stobi. One of the most renowned preserved frescoes is the rendering of the Holy Fifteen Hieromartyrs of Tiberiopolis in Strumica that dates back to the end of the 9th or the beginning of the 10th century.

The frescoes in the Holy Sophia, the cathedral of the Ohrid archbishopric, in Ohrid, (between 1040-1045), are the best preserved fresco painting of all the existing fresco painting programmes in a cathedral church from the 11th century Byzantium. It is considered one of the key artefacts in the general history of Byzantium. From this period, to the same fresco-opus, also belong the partly preserved frescoes in the Vodoča and Veljusa monasteries, near Strumica.

According to the time of origin, follows the fresco painting in the monastery church of St. Panteleimon in Nerezi, near Skopje, from the 12th century (1164), exceptional in its style and aesthetics, painted by anonymous masters of the rank of the best Byzantine imperial fresco painters of that period. Then, the frescoes in the church of St. George in Kurbinovo, on the shore of Lake Prespa, among the most beautiful, most original, and in their entirety best preserved frescoes from that period that have reached us. The work of the three anonymous masters in Kurbinovo is a continuation of the work of the Nerezi masters, though it shows a great deal of originality in style and expression. Until the end of the 13th century, the Komnenos style dominates in the Macedonian fresco painting.

A new, majestic period in the Macedonian fresco painting in palaeological style begins with the appearance of the zographers Michael and Eutychius, who, in 1295, on invitation from Progon Zgur, the great heteriarch of Byzantium, started decorating the Ohrid shrine dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos Peribleptos. Later, the same masters completely painted the churches of St. George in Staro Nagoričane, in Kumanovo (around 1317) and of St. Nicetas in the village of Banjani, in Skopje (around 1320). Their work is a specific zographic and theological masterpiece, extraordinary in its expression and its high artistic and spiritual qualities.

From this period (around 1298), also dates the fresco painting in the monastery church dedicated to St. Nicholas in Varoš, Prilep, painted by an anonymous zographer. It leaves an impression that its master was not familiar with the works of Michael and Eutychius, since it greatly differs from them in style.

The fresco painting in the monastery church dedicated to the holy Archangel Michael, in the Lesnovo monastery dates back to the year 1347. The names of three of the four zographers, authors of this fresco painting are known: Michael, Mark, and Sebastos. The name of the chief master, though, is damaged and remains unknown to us. Among the frescoes originating from the 14th century, by their value and beauty also stand out the ones in Marko's monastery (painted by anonymous zographers of the Ohrid fresco painting centre, in the period 1346-1372), as well as the ones in the church of St. Andrew, Matka (painted by the metropolitan John the Zographer from Zrze and Gregory, around 1389), both of them near Skopje. The work of the renowned brothers-zographers, the metropolitan John and the hieromonk Macarius from Zrze, culminated in the throne icons of Jesus Christ the Saviour and Life-giver and of the Most Holy Theotokos Pelagonitisa, from the iconostasis in the Holy Transfiguration monastery in the village of Zrze, near Prilep.

With the invasion of the Ottoman Turks, Macedonia enters into a neo-martyric period of five centuries of Turkish oppression. Even though the Ohrid Archdiocese was not abolished until the 18th century, yet the magnificent epoch of the Macedonian fresco painting remains irretrievably behind, in history.