Neo-Romanian tower ceiling decoration: peasant cosmogony

The following images are from the Minovici museum, also knonw as Mina Minovici villa, in Baneasa – Herastrau area of Bucharest, which is one of the most iconic Neo-Romanian style edificies, erected in 1905 – ’06 after the plans of architect Cristofi Cerkez, to house the Romanian ethnographic art collection of dr. Nicolae Miovici, the first national art museum in the country. What drew my attention was the amply decorated ceiling of its imposing tower, a rare occurrence for this architectural order. It is clearly inspired from the late medieval Wallachian, also known as Brancovan, church decoration, such as that which I documented at Stavropoleos church. It is a cosmogonic composition, depicting the celestial universe, with its constellations seen in the yellow colour vines and leaves curling intricately around small red buds signifying the diverse worlds and flowers with red stamen and yellow petals signifying the burning asters, where the Sun, the largest flower, is at the centre of the cosmos. The decoration is thus an excellent rendering of the Romanian peasant cosmogonic belief system, expressed in legends and ballads such as the well known Miorita, which I can say with a high degree of expectation that is architecturally rendered in this wonderful painted ceiling.

Neo-Romanian tower ceiling decoration signifying the cosmos with the Sun at its centre, Minovici villa, arch. Cristofi Cherkez 1905 - '06, Baneasa - Herstrau area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Neo-Romanian tower ceiling decoration, Minovici villa, arch. Cristofi Cherkez 1905 - '06, Baneasa - Herstrau area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Minovici villa, arch. Cristofi Cherkez 1905 - '06, Baneasa - Herstrau area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Manichean battle symbolism on Neo-Romanian architectural panel

Neo-Romanian style architectural panel: Manichean battle symbolism, mid-1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The above panel is about 1.40m in length and constitutes the fence of a second floor Juliet balcony adorning a mid-1930s house built in a mix of Neo-Romanian and what I call fairy tale castle styles, located in Dorobanti area of Bucharest. I made the photograph during the architectural tour, which I organised there a couple of Sundays ago. The two sectors of the panel display a very expressive and refined Manichean symbolism: the good and evil principles on the left hand side panel and their never-ending and never-decided battle on the other, encircled all along by grapevines representing, in Neo-Romanian imagery, succeeding cicles of the universe. The Manichean myths have ancient roots in the Romanian peasant beliefs, being expressed in ethnographic art, legends and also intensely intermingled with the type of Christian religion practiced by peasants. The Neo-Romanian architecture has adopted the symbolism associated with those beliefs in its represenetations, as I often was able to find such wonderful depictions within panels and architectural elements on Bucharest’s buildings in that style, such are the examples featured here or here.

In the case of the panel presented here, its first sector (the right hand side one) contains a lion symbolising the good principle, paired by a fantastic and fearsome winged four legged animal with a “bloodthirsty”-like bird head that symbolises the evil principle. The second sector contains representations of battles between the good and evil: the first battle, from the left, is won by the good forces, where the eagle kills a serpent, while in the second battle representation the evil forces win over the good ones seen in the wolfish animal grabbing and eating a fallen eagle. I am impressed by the drama exuded by this last particular scene, rendered in a naive artistic manner, something which very much reminds me of the famous paintings of Douanier Rousseau (Henri Rouseau), the post-impressionist French artist, especially his canvases called The Sleeping Gipsy or Scout Attacked by a Tiger. I included bellow a close up of that scene to highlight that stupefying similarity. It denotes perhaps a phenomenon of artistic convergence in visual naive arts spanning decades and meridians.

Manicheian battle symbolism, Neo-Romanian style panel, mid-1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.

The “classical” Art Nouveau doorway of a 1920s Neo-Romanian style building

The Art Nouveau style doorway of a 1920s Neo-Romanian style house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

I found the above doorway that displays some “classical” Art Nouveau patterns, especially the oval motif around the door window, in the quite unusual setting of a 1920s Neo-Romanian style house located in the Cotroceni area of Bucharest. My view is that this design contrasting quite markedly with the rest of the building, was not the whim of the initial owner or the architect of the house, but that the door comes from an older building which might have been there before the Neo-Romanian style one took its place or has been the doorway of the owner’s former home from some other part of Bucharest or even another town within or without Romania. That is quite plausible as in the aftermath of the Great War and the break up of the Habsburg, Russian and Ottoman empires, there were many population movements and refugees criss-crossing this part of Europe, many of them bearing with them relics of their former dear homes (lamps, chairs, trunks, etc.), and this doorway might have been one such a treasured memento, used as part of a new home in a new country.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Short Neo-Romanian style column inscribed with masonic symbol/ monogram

An attractive example of short and ornate Neo-Romanian style column, deorated on the capital with a stylised letter "G"; en of the 1920s - early 1930s mansion, Cotroceni area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The “G” letter inscribed on the column capital in the photograph above is very intriguing as it may be a masonic symbol representing the masonic gnosis in the form of the letter G shaped as a fragmented square, or it could be the more prosaic possibility that the letter is the monogram of the house owner. My inclination is toward the masonic connection as many among the Romanian elite of the era when the house was built were freemasons and some lived in the upmarket Cotroceni quarter. I documented a few weeks ago another architectural rendering of a masonic symbol discovered in this area, click here to access the article.

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I endeavor through this series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Masonic Symbol on a Neo-Romanian Style Panel

Masonic symbol on a Neo-Romanian style panel that adorns a late 1930s house in the Cotroceni area of Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The freemasonry had an important presence within the Romanian elite since early c19th until the communist takeover in 1948. The influential pan-European networking conducted among its members of various nationalities and their often close associations had in a certain measure impacted positively the course and outcome of pivotal moments in recent Romanian history such as the 1848 Revolution, unification of the Danubian Principalities in 1859 that resulted in the creation of the modern Romanian state or the backstage negotiations of the auspicious peace treaty conditions referring to Romania that concluded the Great War. The communist regime prosecuted the freemasonry, perceiving its members as implacable class enemies. The organisation was forbidden and many freemasons ended up in the communist prisons. The masonic symbols were systematically erased from the building façades and interiors and its memory confined to the “dustbin of history”, as the communists liked to say. I was therefore quite thrilled to find the rare surviving symbol, presented in the photograph above, located at the centre of a decorative panel that embellishes a house built in the late 1930s in a mix of standard Neo-Romanian architecture and what I call inter-war Venetian style, from the Cotroceni area of Bucharest. It is in a quite discreet position, relatively high above the ground, on a side façade and under a large tree canopy. I have not been able to fully decipher the significance of this symbol consisting of a compass and an inverse equilateral triangle within a toothed circle. I hope that someone among my readers would offer a clue! Another reason why I think the communists left it alone was because it also resembles an inoffensive  professional symbol/ logo, such as that of a draughtsman or mechanical engineer and interpreted that way by the officials of that era, a quite ignorant lot in fine matters pertaining to symbols or decorative arts.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Greek God Statues on the Façade of the National Bank of Romania

The four allegorical Greek Gods statues on the façade of the National Bank of Romania dating from 1890, Lipscani, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

I detailed in an extensive earlier article the allegorical statues that embellish the 1890s sector façade of the National Bank of Romania in Bucharest. The above collage is made with the images of the Greek Gods that personify the economic activities and legal environment bringing wealth to Romania’s coffers in late Victorian period: Justice (Themis), Trade (Hermes), Industry (Hephaestos) si Agriculture (Demeter). They are made from a beautiful yellowish calcareous sandstone sourced in Rustchiuk (today Russe in Bulgaria) from quarries close by the right bank of the Danube. What I found very interesting is that the statues are modelled after local Romanian racial types, of men and women who lived in Bucharest and the surrounding area at the end of c19th, similar with the local human types seen in vintage Victorian era photographs.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Art Deco Window & Tree of Life Neo-Romanian Panel

Art Deco window & tree of life Neo-Romanian ornamental panel adorning a late 1920s house in Gara de Nord area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The image above shows a telling example of Art Deco – Neo-Romanian syncretism of styles often encountered on the Romanian architectural scene in the period spanning between late 1920s and 1930s. The window openings and panes are designed in an Art Deco manner, while at its centre is a narrow Neo-Romanian style ornamental panel depicting a gracious tree of life symbol. This is a representation of the grapevine plant, a Neo-Romanian motif that originates in the late medieval Wallachian church decoration register. The tree of life rises up in leaf waves from a flower pot that resembles a traditional Romanian peasant pottery example, surmounted by birds flying in ascending spirals along its upright stem toward the Sun, the generator of life and energy, symbolised in this instance by a sunflower flower.

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I endeavor through this daily series of images and small articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Neoromanian Style Peacock Motif Photomontage

A photomontage with a sample from the myriad of peacock motif ornaments that adorn the inter-war Neo- Romanian style houses of Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The Neo-Romanian style has the peacock motif, inspired from the late-medieval Wallachian church architecture, as one of its key decorative elements, adorning many houses built in this style in the inter-war period. The photomontage above shows a sample from the multitude of patterns depicting this motif, that have as a common theme the representation of this bird as a symbol of beauty and peace, often shown feeding from grapefruit among grape leaves and vines that signify the biblical Garden of Eden, and its modern correspondent in the abundance of that plant and wine industry in the prosperous peace times from 1920s to late 1930s Romania.

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I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Daily Picture 16-Mar-10: Traditional Peasant Gate from a Transylvanian Alps Village

Traditional peasant gate from Muscel ethnographic area, Romania (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)
Traditional peasant gate from Bran ethnographic area in the Transylvanian Alps, Romania (early 1930s postcard, Valentin Mandache collection).

The ancestral villages that dot of the Carpathian Mountains are still preserving many examples of traditional houses boasting beautiful ethnographic decorations. Some of these buildings are now on the market at quite reasonable prices, but unfortunately often the buyers’ intention is to demolish the old structure and put in place a more profitable and in their vision more prestigious modern building. One of the most conspicuous elements that form a traditional peasant house assembly is the wooden gate which gives access to its front yard. It has, in many cases, monumental proportions and is decorated with exquisite wood-carved ethnographic motifs, being a powerful symbol associated with marking the limits and passage between the unpredictable outside world/ cosmos and the venerated and well ordered space of the family house seen in peasant lore as the worldly equivalent of a cosmic temple that has the hearth as its altar. The image above shows such a monumental example from the Bran area of the Transylvanian Alps. It is a model which has hardly changed in this region since the Iron Age when efficient tools were first available to carve hard wood timber (oak, etc.) The traditional costumes of the peasant women gaily chatting in front of the gate also follow patterns from times immemorial. Elements of this type vestments are present on stone monuments from two millennia ago when the Roman Empire conquered the area, such as on the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome. In conclusion, those intending to buy, restore/ renovate a traditional peasant house in the Carpathian region, must pay special attention to its front yard gate and in cases in which it has been destroyed (not an unusual occurrence during of the last seven decades of communism, followed by a chaotic transition to democracy), seek to recreate this essential artefact.

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I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.