January 8, 2021

The Defaced Fresco of the Baptism of Christ at Gracanica Monastery

In the hardships that befell Gracanica Monastery 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 Synod and the illustration of the poem "In the grave bodily..." are especially interesting in thematic terms. The Baptism of Christ 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 colors, 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.