Sucevita Convent, Romania
Sucevita is chronologically the last and greatest monastic ensemble among the painted monasteries in Bukovina, as it has the appearance of a real fortress, with towers, buttresses and watch roads.
It was erected in 1581 by Gheorghe Movila, Bishop of Radauti, and consecrated to the Assumption in 1584. Ruling prince Ieremia Movila, Gheorghe Movila's brother, added to the church two open porches (to the north and to the south); he also built massive houses, thick surrounding walls and defence towers.The legend has it that an old woman had been working there for thirty years, carrying in her ox wagon stone for the construction of the monastery. This is the reason why a female head is carved on a black stone in the monastery's yard.
The fortress structure of the site had a defensive role; it actually prevented the mural paintings (made in 1595-1596) from serious damaging as it happened with frescoes of other painted monasteries.
Paintings at Sucevita were best preserved both on the outside and on the inside.
Frescoes are painted in purple red and blue against an emerald green background. There is plenty of gold too, taken from the art of miniature. They belong to Romanian masters of the Moldavian school of painting - Ioan the Painter and his brother Sofronie from Suceava -. They have a strongly narrative character and many of them represent scenes taken from the daily life of the 16th century Moldavia.
The most outstanding paintings are the Ladder of Virtue, presenting the angels who assist the righteous enter the Paradise, while sinners are punished by a grinning demon, and the Last Judgement, left unfinished because its painter fell down from the scaffoldings and died. The latter one has scenes with the Romanians' traditional enemies, the Turks, getting ready for the Last Judgement, joined by Jews, who were also considered to be pagans. Outside the porch, is to be seen the terrible vision of the Apocalypse, displaying two-headed Beasts and the traditional rivers of fire. On the south wall, there is a remarkable Tree of Jesse, displaying both the human origin of Jesus, under the form of His family tree, and His divine ascendence, as the Prayers to Holy Virgin scene is also painted nearby. Theologically, the Tree of Jesse is a symbol of the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments, as well as of the Logos before and after the arising of Jesus.
The Tree in Sucevita is an evolved version, as compared to the same scene at Voronet. The Crowning of the Virgin, a theme which is not common for Byzantine art, is a sample of the Polish influence over Moldavia (due also to the Movila family's close relations to Poland); it can be also related to a syncretic vision bringing together western and Byzantine forms of art.
Other important paintings at Sucevita are the Siege of Constantinople (1453), and a scene presenting the first two verses of the Genese. The Siege of Constantinople proves the great impact this historical event had upon Eastern civilization and culture; it gives one a notion of how the siege was perceived and artistically rendered more than a hundred years later.
The two verses offset the divine presence in the first moments of Existence, when God had begun to create the world.
In the nave, on the right side wall, one can see a faded votive painting of Elisabeta, Ieremia's wife, together with her children. Become a widow, she never saw them on the throne, as she died in a Sultan's harem, far away from her country. Ieremia and his brother Gheorghe are buried nearby.
The museum of the monastery holds precious objects, among which manuscripts and embroideries donated by the Movila family.
Important restoration works were carried on between 1960 and 1970
To see some of the monastery frescoes, click here.