The Art of Gracanica Monastery

The founder of the Monastery - King MilutinIn the last year of his long reign, 1321, King Milutin issued a chrysobull granting estates to the monastery of Gracanica, the seat of the bishops of Lipljan, after he had built a church there and was about to finish painting its walls. A copy of the document has survived, spelled out in fresco technique on the wall in the southern chapel, most probably functioning as a diakonicon here storing precious liturgical vessels and important manuscripts, especially foundation and gift granting charters. In addition to a list of assets enhanced by the king with his own contributions, the charter discloses that here in the fertile plain of Kosovo he had completely rebuilt the earlier cathedral of the Bishopric of Lipljan. Excavations of the church interior suggest as much They reveal not only the remains of an early Byzantine basilica with a narthex and lateral wings, but also foundations of a smaller, elongated religious building above its central nave. It is not certain whether the lower structure was the old episcopal seat of Ulpiana, a nearby ancient town whose tradition was continued by subsequent spiritual dignitaries. The ground plan of the upper edifice, however, certainly was the seat of the Bishop of Lipljan, one of the first archpriests ordained by St. Sava in the autonomous Serbian church. It was a modest single-aisled building with pilasters suggesting that it was domed (the excavated fragments of murals show that the frescoes were painted in the decades around the mid-13th century). Apparently it was demolished when King Milutin had the new, monumental edifice built. Nowadays, the king's charter is all the evidence that remains of a formerly grand, still uninvestigated monastic complex of which only a few buildings can be reconstructed on the basis of preserved foundations.

The church of the Virgin in Gracanica - the last in a series built in the second decade of the 14th century by the greatest patron in medieval Serbian art - represents the most significant achievement of the Byzantine architectural tradition he embraced. With its complex and gracious forms it deeply impressed writers of travel accounts and was sung by folk epics. Experts, for their part, early saw in it a creation of outstanding artistic skill. The focus of their research has, naturally, shifted from the analysis of forms and the outer appearance, whose beauty is captivating, to consideration of spatial structure, its elements and origin.

Gracanica Monastery
Gracanica Monastery near Pristina

The church's floor plan is rectangular, while further up it develops into forms which articulate into sloping masses, ascending towards the main dome. Basically simple and easy to comprehend, the composition of these masses reveals to a great extent the intricate internal plan, although the character and disposition of all spatial and constructive elements do not have corresponding counterparts in the exterior. In the core of the building is a cross-in-square form with four freestanding piers crowned by the dome which springs from a square base. It is supported by lofty barrel vaults spanning the arms of the cross, dominating the enitre entity. Spatial elements encompassing the central section play a special role in the external composition. Of diverse forms and height, they create with their harmonious relations and characteristic rhythm an entity of unique compositional value: in the extension of the arms of the cross, bays maintaining the same width are covered by barrel vaults placed at a lower height, while the corners are topped by domes of appearance and structure identical to the main dome. It has been emphasized in scholarly literature that this simplified scheme is formed "by placing one cross-in-square onto another"; the whole is assembled in a fashion aiming to achieve a perfect outer appearance.

"Double, two-level intersected vaults" with the dome in the center and four elevated cupolas at the ends as counterparts, certainly represent the skeleton of the structure. Symmetrically placed as the vaults rising above the outer bays, they cover different elements of space invested with articulated meaning and function.
The real character of the whole and parts in the intricately designed space can be established only by observing the structure and all its components, the easiest approach being their analysis on diverse levels. As a matter of fact because it is divided by a multitude of supports which block the view of some of the sections, the interior does not readily expose itself to the observer, though impressing profoundly with the richness of forms and interplay of light. The spaces on all sides are open to view below the dome, depending on the height and manner in which the respective bays are vaulted. Through the arched apertures placed between piers and pillars in the east there is a large altar, the width of which is equal to the naos whose central bay carries a blind calotte. The broadest, unrestricted views from the center towards the exterior sides of the church opens to the north and south where the last segments, somewhat lower, originally had direct lateral entrances, while in the west the round-arched passage allows a view of the space of the esonarthex with the groin-vaulted central section. On the upper floor above it there is a middle-sized chamber which in other episcopal churches had the function of a catichumenon. It was reached by a stone staircase through the southern part of the wide wall between the narthex and the nags, lit by a window on the western side.

To the north and south of the naos and the altar the church had special ambulatory wings terminating in the east with the enclosed parekklesia with semi-circular apses. In the interior these spaces were of uneven height, vaulted in a different manner, and the domes at their corners were not placed at the height of the neighbouring bays. With their square bases resting on relatively narrow rectangular spaces they rose to a height at which they established a remarkable harmony with the central section, thus constituting an entity whose forms rank among the noblest in Late Byzantine architecture. The effort to repeat particular forms consistently and preserve their sophisticated rhythm also contributed to this. Thus, the roof over the low blind dome of the sanctuary was turned into a barrel-vault in order to correspond to the forms of the vaults on the other sides. It is evident that the gifted architect concentrated his attention on the plastic articulation of the edifice, not completely fulfilling the well-known tenet regarding the relationship between the interior structure and the outer appearance of the building, so that the spatial forms and construction elements in it became easily distinguishable from the outside. In Gracanica, the wide wall areas of the lower portion thus had shallow pilasters dividing them into well-proportioned, harmonious surfaces, but the space behind them was designed in an utterly different manner.

Gracanica Monastery
Gracanica church with its nartex

The building material and construction techniques were typical of widespread building practices used for shrines in towns and the western provinces of the restored Byzantine Empire, chiefly in the closing decades of the 13th, and the beginning of the 14th centuries. The standard use of stone, bricks and mortar reached a high degree of sophistication here, manifested in the choice of material and its adaptation to the proportions and structure of particular parts. The face of the dome, the sides of the arms of the cross and the surfaces of the base of the dome were executed in tiers of large blocks of sandstone and limestone of different hues, interpolated by of two rows of brick with layers of mortar. Stone blocks were mostly framed by mortar joints and vertically placed bricks - thicker in the lower zones - in the so-called closonne technique. However, the cornices below the eaves, the frames of openings, the archivolts closing the gables of the particular sections of the facades and the cubical base of the drum, and the entire dome as well were carried out in brick whose rows, in color and fabric, stood apart from the level surfaces made in stone. The lunettes above the windows, as was customary, were an opportunity for ornamentation: the bricks, in fairly simple, mainly semi-circular rows, formed several motifs there. The manner of their arrangement and construction was neither rigid or strict. The best sample of masonry workmanship is the eastern facade of the church, its silhouette slender; adorned areas clustered more closely together than on the other sides. The relatively tall surfaces of the externally three-sided apses broken by elongated windows topped with fields of ornamentation also contribute to the density of the facade. With regard to this angle, the builder enlarged the height of the upper portions in order to convey full proportional harmony.

The interior, subdivided by piers, received unequal amounts of light not only because of the diversely proportioned sections of the structure, but also because of unequal light sources. As in other domed churches, the greatest amount of light, chiefly admitted by the tall windows piercing the drum, spread over the surfaces of the subdomical area and the neighbouring bays; it penetrated into the arms of the cross through three-light mullioned windows placed on the gables of their lower segments. But the smaller domes, raised high over the relatively narrow spaces in the corners, could not provide light of the same intensity to the lower parts, nor could light directly spread from them and illuminate the bays next to them to the same degree. In such an interior the lighting of the upper sections - a celestial residence in the cosmic understanding of God's abode - was replaced in the lower zones by deep shadows, enhanced by dark fumes of candles and incense in which holy paintings lost their contours during most of the day.

The fresco of King Milutin
The fresco of King Milutin

As work on the wall-paintings was drawing to an end - probably in the summer or at the beginning of the autumn of 1321 - King Milutin and Queen Simonis were painted on the lateral sides of the passage leading from the narthex into the nags, dresssed in solemn vestements echoing Byzantine imperial garb. High above, accommodated at the apex of the arch, Chirst pronounces a blessing on them, while the angels, expressing God's will, are offering crowns to them.

The king on the left side holds a vividly articulated model of the church in both hands. This depiction, however, does not show the exonarthex, today forming a well-balanced, inseparable and, it seems, logical part of the whole. The confidence with which all the details of the sprawling, compelling building model were executed leaves no doubt that at the time when the fresco painting of the church was about to be completed the exonarthex still did not exist. In all probability, it was added soon thereafter. Excavations have revealed that it was of the same volume, but with a different spatial disposition: massive piers subdivide it into six bays above which a belfry formerly rose at the west end.

A large part of the original exonarthex appears to have been destroyed in the first Turkish raids and in a fire in the monastery before the battle of Kosovo (1389). It is difficult, however, to say what was retained from its original plan in the reconstruction undertaken soon afterwards. Having gained experience in the erection of open narthexes in the second and third quarters of the 14th century, the master-masons raised a serene structure whose height, forms and construction were a fortunate addition to Milutin's endowment. The lateral sides were composed of sturdy piers with arches resting on the pillars between them, while the western facade featured narrower piers between the corresponding supports, also linked by arches - two on each side and three in the central section providing access to the church. In that, the narthex successully adopted the rhythm of the upper portions of the church which was of tremendous importance for the entire structure: the apex of the blind dome above it was placed in continuation of the slanting plane, whose angle was determined by the height of the main and subsidiary domes.

the fresco of Queen Simonis
The fresco of Queen Symonida

Light and transparent, the narthex remained open in the course of almost two ensuing centuries. It was blocked up afterwards before being furnished with new wall-paintings after the renewal of the Patriarchate of Pec (1557). Prior to this time, in a wood-cut showing the contemporary appearance of the church in a book printed in Gracanica (1539), a belfry was depicted above the narthex. This belfry may have been demolished after that because of stricter measures imposed by the Turkish authorities regarding the use of bells.

The full extent of the remodelling of the exonarthex carried out in the 16th century has not yet been ascertained. It is therefore difficult to perceive the character and all the merits of the former structure. Its present-day appearance does not display the same polished, refined masonry as the church itself does.

In searching for the origin of the master-masons employed by King Milutin and the place they were trained we cannot name any single workshop. The analogies regarding the articulation and conception of space open up a series of possibilities in the northern regions of Byzantium, especially Thessalonica, while similar designs occur primarily in Epirus and Thessaly. The masters from these regions readily joined building projects undertaken by the Serbian ruler and having brought in by local associates, developed ideas and experiences with them.

Now that the building has been cleaned the details are more visible; the wall surfaces in the interior of the church of the Virgin accommodate numerous representations, comprising the culmination of wall-painting in Serbia during King Milutin's epoch with their profusion and i selection. It can be claimed with considerable certainty that until the very end artists from

Thessalonica were exponents of the new style which matured before the eyes of the Serbian founders and the clergy. Architecturally preceded by the five-domed churches of the Virgin of Ljevisa at Prizren and St. George in Staro Nagoricino, created some years before in the restoration of earlier structures erected in the Byzantine tradition, the Gracanica wall-paintings grow out of this tradition in a confident manner. The underlying ideas and forms of expression neither fluctuated nor flagged in further elaboration of the program and the refined interpretation of messages which the earlier seat of the bishopric had striven to transmit to its congregation. Finding a place for the entire subject matter in such a complex space necessitated experience and skill. We are not sure, however, that this was done in a manner befitting the abilities of the faithful. Aside from those thematic segments which, despite noticeable differences in the shape of the building, were common to all, only with considerable effort could great connoisseurs of ecclesiastical history and doctrine follow the painted thought of the man who commissioned the building and the artist. Representations were frequently placed at a large distance from the observer on surfaces difficult to be seen due to the angle. The question at issue, understandably, was not merely recognition of the subject matter, although this in itself was not always simple. Scenes which were iconographically similar or even identical were interpreted by, and occasionally differed from each other only through Biblical quotations or verses from ecclesiastical poetry the texts of which, situated far from the observer, could only be read with great difficulty. It is possible, however, to single out certain larger cycles, although their sequence is not always easy to grasp.

The sanctuary posed the least problems though it does include representations invested with various meanings. In the spherical area of the wide apse beneath Christ Emmanuel, the Virgin is painted with archangels Michael and Gabriel in a circular segment of light surrounded by cherubs. With her appearance and outstretched arms, the Mother of God corresponds to her frequent epithet Wider than the Heavens because she carries in her the Lord himself. Liturgical themes - the Communion of the Apostles and the Service of the Hierarchs are below it. The last composition features the fathers of the church preceded by John Chrysostom and Basil the Great whose mystical action evokes Christ's sacrifice. It repeats an oft-used iconographic formula formed at the end of the 12th century. In accordance with the character of the space, several individual images of the holy fathers were painted on the other sides as well, while the Resurrection was placed over the central section in the blind calotte. The neighbouring vaults and areas below them display a series of events from the Virgin's cycle (The Refusal of Gifts by Joakim and Anna, the Return of Joakim and Anna from the Temple, the Annunciation, the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple, etc.). The second significant group includes the Sacrifice of Abraham, the Invitation of the Three Angels into the Home, Abraham Giving Hospitality to the Three Angels, Gideon's Fleece, the Tabernacle, Divine Wisdom Which Hath Built Her House, etc. Several scenes evoked the Eucharist, but in accordance with the Old and New Testaments they represent at the same time protoptypes (prefigurations) of the Mother of God and the embodiment of the Logos. More recent studies dealing with the complex meanings and stock iconographic content typical, for instance, of the Old Testament Tabernacle, disclose not only an early established dogmatic foundation, but also expresssions in religious poetry which disseminated certain ideas that prompted painters to include them in their wall-paintings.

Certain scenes linked with the Virgin's life are painted in her parekklesion, i.e. the southern one, while the northern contains illustrations recounting the life of St. Nicholas to whom this space is dedicated. The chapel's apse, however, also received St. John the Forerunner. His impresive image with its vigorous features became widely known and contributed greatly to a proper understanding of the values of the Gracanica frescoes.

a fresco from Gracanica Monastery
A fresco from Gracanica Monastery

The subject matter of the main dome is similar to that of many such churches: at its apex personifying the celestial heights in the notion of church as universe, Christ All-Sovereign (Pantocrator) is customarily represented; below him is the Divine Liturgy painted after the model of the liturgical service on this earth, itself invoking the participation of the heavenly powers with the small Christ - the Lamb on the communion table (hagia trapeza) and rows of angels dressed as deacons in stycharia with oraria, holding liturgical vessels.

The Great Feasts are in a fresco on the tall vaults of the nags, while the emphasis on narration typical of the epoch has come into full play on the lower sections of the corresponding areas. This was an important feature, by which the new current in the Palaeologian painting was simply called narrative . Numerous passages relating to Christ's teaching are portrayed from the Gospels, while his parables are vividly illustrated. Christ's Passion, in the main position beneath them, is represented in as many as twenty compositions, from the Last Supper to the Resurrection, in which the Crucifixion, although painted within the Great Feasts, appears as well. The significance given to Christ's suffering renders its illustration essential to each sequence, though several decades later it was considerably shortened. They had soteriologic significance - the suffering and death of the Son of God were a pledge to the salvation of mankind.Christ's appearances after his death form a special cycle. They were embodied in the liturgy itself with the appearance of the priest at the Royal Door blessing the believers and retreating afterwards like Christ, while the selection and order of representations corresponded to the order in which the appropriate passages from the gospels were read in liturgical services during Lent before Easter - Three Women and the Virgin at Christ's Tomb, the Myrrophoroi, Do Not Touch Me (Noli me tangere), the Myrrophoroi Informing the Apostles, etc.

The painters, inspired by a wealth of religious literature, depicted in the west part of the naos the end of the Virgin's life, illustrating it in a series of episodes: the prayers before her death announced to her by the angels; trees, bending, bow to her, her farewell to the Apostles who when they are summoned, arrive on clouds, and the Dormition featuring numerous participants and Christ with the accepted soul which the angel is to carry through the opened door of paradise. In the continuation, one can see the passing of the Virgin into heaven with the apostle Thomas who is given a belt from her; the Apostles find the empty tomb with Thomas behind them confirming that he encountered the Virgin by showing her belt. Evolving this theme in great detail, painters produced various versions of it in the second decade of the 14th century, obviously well acquainted not only with the writings attributed to St. John the Theologian and his contemporaries, but also with several more recent works which relied on them, ranging from synaxaria to various poetic creations.

In the outlined themes with to the idea of incarnation, while "historical" representations derived inspiration and motifs from various apocryphal texts. They also altered the character of painting. Their profusion and arrangement on relatively small surfaces, frequently only on the sides of piers, had as a consequence the reduction of scenes, especially the number of participants recounting the events Only by such reduction was it possible to depict the calendar with representations of holy events and personalities for each day of the year. Several centuries before that, the Menologion had been illustrated in codices. Apparently it made its first appearance in wall-painting in the 13th century. Locally, however, it had been represented in a similar vein in Staro Nagoricino two or three years preceding Gracanica. The masters from the same region must have been using the same source the calendar of the Constantinopolitan church for both churches. It is certainly interesting that except in Serbia, the Menologion appears only in Thessalonica whence the masters must have come, in the church of St. Nicholas Orphanos, quite a well-known structure which King Milutin had built and dedicated to this saint in the second town of the Empire.

The reasons why the cycle of the Calendar occupied a different position in this church than it had in the others lies in the spatial scheme and the general disposition of ornaments. As a matter of fact, their entire repertoire and exact arrangement cannot be established on account of considerable damage to particular surfaces, and we therefore cannot be sure whether the Menologion - analogies for this exist as well - was illustrated here in its entirety. However, large sections, sometimes in bands, can be followed on different sides - on the piers and passages, below the small domes on the western side of the church and in the narthex. With their appearance and disposition, they correspond in many aspects to individual images of saints, most frequently martyrs, predominantly encountered here in the lower zones.

The icon of Theotokos, the main iconostasis of Gracanica Monastery

In a series of themes the subject-matter of which has eschatological connotations or bears a message associated with salvation, the representation of the Last Judgment in the western part of the church was customarily given the central place. At the entrance to the narthex the faithful were encountered by a complex vision of the Apocalypse - Christ, the Virgin and John the Forerunner, the apostles, the angels rolling up the heavens, sounding the trumpet and weighing souls, the lake of fire from which fish, beasts and birds on its banks are returning parts of human bodies at the last hour, the personification of the Sea and the Earth from which the dead emerge, and terrible suffering awaiting the sinful (cold, fire, worms and gnashing of teeth); on the other side is the fenced garden in Paradise with Abraham, the righteous in his lap, the Virgin and the Righteous Criminal, while the choirs of the heavenly powers and the righteous (holy women, martyrs, prophets, monks, etc.) are represented separately. The picturesque scene, primarily based on the narration of John the Theologian, had its pendant in theological literature which the artist used with endless open or implied references to the end of human life and the road of salvation which can save a man from a terrible sentence.

In the same space, in the passage leading towards the naos stand King Milutin and Queen Simonis in a scene of the ruler's investiture, wearing Byzantine imperial garb with angels offering them crowns. The close tie with the Constantinopolitan court is especially emphasized by the inscription next to the young queen designated as "Palaeologina, daughter of the Emperor Andronikos Palaeologos".

In a more ornate manner the divine origin of rule is stressed in the depiction of the holy dynasty of which King Milutin is a descendent. The elaborate genealogical composition of the ruling house over a century and a half on the Serbian throne repeats the imagery of Christ's family tree branching out of Jesse's root in the shape of foliage. The bottom of the Serbian rulers' tree is taken by Nemanja, while his descendants are placed in four rows above him, in tendrils.The most distinguished members of the dynasty have been selected from this lineage teeming with offspring, including, understandably, those who, following St. Sava, belong to his spiritual branch. In the vertical, direct line, kings Stefan the First-Crowned, Uros and Milutin are represented as the most significant upholders of Nemanja's work. At the top, Christ is blessing the entire Tree with outstretched arms while angels on the lateral sides, flying, repeat the symbolic investiture, handing his regalia - the crown and the loros - to the king in power.

After several changes in the manner in which the Serbian sovereigns were painted and the emphasis on the divine origin of power invested upon them, the house of the Nemanjics in Gracanica for the first time was represented in a meticulously designed, visually clear iconographic formula. The number of its members displayed on the joint picture is considerably larger than on other compositions of this kind. In a broader aspect such a representation, understandably, was not new and it could be traced back to antiquity, from which the Tree of Jesse also originates; the Arabians and dynasties in the West were also familiar with it. However, it is not encountered in Byzantine art from which Serbia, as a rule, derived all iconographic patterns. The very position of these Nemanjices in relation to the position of the Second Coming of Christ, opposite Paradise - that "fortunate" segment of the apocalyptic vision which threatened other sinners on earth - was certainly selected by the master himself or his spiritual counselor from the ranks of the local clergy, in charge of such undertakings.

An old icon in Gracanica

The wall decoration at Gracanica, the work of Thessalonica masters commissioned by King Milutin, concluded the maturation of painting during his reign. The numerous frescoes, considerably damaged, yield no information about their painters, as was true with the frescoes in several other shrines. There is no reason, however, why they should not be associated with the reputable artists Michael Astrapas and Euthychios. The frescoes in Gracanica are closely aligned to their perception of art and style, the development of which can be followed on signed and dated frescoes over a quarter of a century preceding Gracanica. It seems unlikely, therefore, that as early as 1319-1321, after Staro Nagoricino was completed (1317/18), entirely new artists came along, fully mature and sophisticated, who belonged to the same stylistic circle and produced works indistinguishable from those of their predecessors. These brilliant artists introduced new styles from the major Byzantine centers, while also participating creatively in their adaptation to the environment where they were engaged for many years on grand churches under obviously favorable conditions. Their work secured for them in scholarly literature the name of the "school of King Milutin's court." Their sojourn in Serbia concided with his reign and ended in about the same month, after they had completed the last in a series of the king's portraits when he was already of an advanced age with a long, grey beard, and "seemed to have been touched by death."

Under well-protected vaults roofed with lead the fresco-paintings remained undamaged for many years and did not require renovation, as otherwise was frequently the case. There are only two frescoes created at a later date, linked with events which came about in the meantime. In the southern chapel dedicated to the Virgin Intercession (Parakklesis) under the arcosolium where the tomb was originally situated of Bishop Ignjatije who supervised construction of the church stands a depiction of the Death of the Bishop of Lipljan Teodor: over his body lying in state is a monkpriest a prayer and swinging incense, accompanied by singers with pointed caps and a reader with an open book which is being read by all of them.

the plan of Gracanica church
The plan of Gracanica church

In close proximity, on the surface of the former entrance to the same parekklesion, young Theodor, the eldest son of the Despot George Brankovic (1427-1456) was painted after his death, some time before 1429. The confidently and meticulously drawn portrait features and the nobility and beauty of the painted subject-matter attest to the value of the painting of this epoch, only known, in fact, in a small number of surviving works of art.

In the hardships that befell Gracanica and other monuments following the first attacks of the Turks, the original outer narthex with its entire fresco decoration was devastated, and subsequently, after its restoration, a greater part of the frescoes dating from a later time were destroyed as well. Several representations have survived in it, of which the depiction of the Second Ecumenical Council and the illustration of the poem "In the grave bodily..." are especially interesting in thematic terms. The Baptism in the southern portion of the east wall, however, is the most telling example of the character of the style: of a very complex iconographic pattern, it features the troubled and wide course of the Jordan River cutting across the scene, and several episodes accompanying the event. Superbly painted and of glowing harmonies of colours, almost all the figures of the participants and the antique personifications have, unfortunately, lost their facial features, so that opinions concerning the exact date of their creation differ considerably. In all probability, they can be dated to the second quarter of the 16th century, during the time of the educated and energetic Metropolitan of Gracanica Nikanor who took an active part in spiritual life, renovated the library which had burned down, and even established a printing press in the monastery. The large icon of Christ the Merciful (139x269 cm) with the Ancient of Days and the apostles, offers a more direct testimony to the painting of this period, very poorly known in the Balkans. On the lower part of the frame, between the ancient sages and the prophets, the

Metropolitan Nikanor comissioned his portrait, outstandingly painted in the proskynesis, with a poetically composed prayer written on a long scroll, and an angel offering him in Christ's name the Archbishop's mytra in the act of investiture.
The icon of the Virgin, of smaller dimensions with prophets holding scrolls and the objects of their visions in their hands probably dates to the same period. Nowadays, the iconostasis of the church and its parekklesia do not contain earlier works; neither does the treasury, which must have been very rich. However, several works created at a later date have survived, of which the most significant is an icon from 1607/8 depicting the life of St. Feuronia, who rarely appears on her own with a portrait of Viktor, the Metropolitan of Novo Brdo (Gracanica) in that epoch.

The restoration of the Patriarchate of Pec stirred up the spiritual life in the state, having left a visible trace primarily in the large centers of ecclesiastical administration. At that time, the character of the Gracanica exonarthex was significantly altered by blocking up the space between the columns on its open sides, although with their light structure and the form of the vaults they had been excellently adapted to the plastic values of Milutin's temple. In the most recent conservation works it regained some of its former value, but all elements of its original appearance have not been established with certainty, neither was it possible to remove all sections subsequently added because of the fresco-paintings these later additions contain.

Newer murals which were completed in September 1570 exhibit a genuine profusion of themes and even iconographic rarities. Most of the paintings relate to the Virgin to whom the church was dedicated: episodes from her life previously depicted in the church, scenes from the Old Testament which have the meaning of her prototype, and illustrations of the Akathistos in which she had been venerated from the 14th century. Special stress was laid on the role of the Virgin as the mediator of mankind addressing the Son, on her own or with John the Forerunner in the developed Deisis with the apostles. In the last scene she is humbly approached by the founders, the Patriarch Makarije, the first head of the restored Serbian Church, with the Metropolitans Anthony and Dionisius. In all probability, the latter archpriest passed away some time before the work on the fresco-painting was done, so his death was depicted here. Because of the moment at which Metropolitan Dionisius died and undoubtedly because of his merits, in the depiction of his funeral dozens of spiritual and secular dignitaries have gathered in groups with their arrangement and expanse forming one of the most beautiful compositions of its kind. At the same time, with emphasis on the long tradition of the Serbian Church as confirmation of its autonomy, its heads were depicted in the lowest zone, starting from the first Archbishop, St. Sava, to the last, Patriarch Macarius, whose image has been damaged.

In comparison with painting dating from King Milutin's time, whose masters produced works which resonated with tension even in their later years, always creatively modulating their visions, the decoration of the exonarthex was duller and more schematic, evolving from extinguished artistic centers which were being brought back to life, repeating the traditional features of earlier art. Nonetheless these paintings can be counted among the fine work by masters who had, before that, left their art in the earlier shrines of Pec and Studenica.


Serbian Army in front of Gracanica Monastery 1878 - During the Serb-Turkish war 1876-1878
Serbian Army libarated parts of Kosovo and reached Gracanica Monastery first time after the 15th c.