Ohrid - the town on the shore of the crystal-clean Lake. Ancient and contemporary at the same time; spiritual, cultural, educational and artistic centre with the millennia long, continual development.
It is overwhelmed with the traces of time, the testimonies of various truths and lives, power, prosperity, and beauty. It is a true treasury, and within it - as one of the most precious gems - the Ohrid icons, the external and visible manifestation of the inner and spiritual clemency.
Dating from a lengthy period that stretches from the XI to the XIX century, they are now here, before us, to transfer to us the divine mercy and to enable us to sense the spiritual, to perceive the envisioned celestial divinity.
Some of the Ohrid icons, together with those of Sinai, Athos, and Russia, are one of the highest achievements of the Byzantine and Slavonic iconography. They reveal the developed aesthetic sense of their authors and commissioners, as well as the high cultural and artistic level of the environment they were either created in or brought to.
The development of the iconography in Ohrid, the fluctuations in the quantity and the quality, can be traced down a number of chronological and stylistic periods.
The earliest icons, the XI century ones, express the main idea of their authors - the emphasizing of the profound religious message and a simultaneous establishment of a wider distance between the believers and their ideals. And all of these are delivered through the tranquil, frontal, and on occasions artificial postures of the saints.
The icons "Ss. Vasilie Veliki (Basil the Great) and Nikola" and "The Forty Martyrs of Sebast" are both among the oldest Ohrid icons, and among the rarest such presentations in the Byzantine painting style.
Dating from the earliest decades of the XI century are two large icons with the portraits of "The Virgin" (from the Annunciation), and "The Archangel Gabriel" (from the Annunciation). Here a refined elegance in the strokes and composition is already felt, together with the increasing presence of graphithizing in the portraits, characteristic for the Komneni époque.
New painting trends, aimed primarily at resolving the issues of the light and the plasticity of the forms, are combined with the contents of the inner life of the saints, and the relation with the distant early Christian period is closer and more realistic.
The broad treatment of the frescoes' plasticity is obvious in the icon "Jesus Christ" of Archbishop Constantine Cavassila, dated 1262/63, which is very similar to the famous two-sided liturgical icon with the portraits of the Holy Mother Odigitria and the Crucifixion, dated in the second half of the XIII century.
The paramount of the Byzantine painting was during the so-called Palaeologues' Renaissance period, named after the dynasty that labeled the entire époque during its long lasting reign (1261-1453).
Although the Byzantine XIV century did not alter the essence of its painting style, the main aspirations that had emerged ever since the eight decade of the XIII century increasingly penetrated the paintings' structures, giving them an entirely new character. This powerful influence spreaded quickly from the Byzantine empire workshops and was widely accepted by painters and commissioners throughout the world of the Orthodox Christians.
There are several true masterpieces among the early XIV century icons that utterly reflect the changes brought about by the new era inclinations. One of the most beautiful is, certainly, the two-sided liturgical icon with the presentations of the Holy Mother Psychosostria and the Annunciation.
Of the same high quality, but a bit more unobtrusive is also the other two-sided icon that depicts Jesus Christ and the Crucifixion..
A small group of Ohrid XIV century icons reflects the high intimacy of the current artistic style.
These are slightly more coherent in style.
Dating from the mid-XIV century are two icons, the largest in dimensions - "Jesus Christ Panthocrator" and "The Holy Mother Psychosostria". The identical style features indicate the same artist.
The interaction of the style manners, the typical features in the portraying of the local saints such as Clement and Naum, the rare but present Slavonic inscriptions - all of these denote the existence of the Ohrid painting workshops.
A unique late XIV century work, highly distinctive by its artistic value from all others of the same period, is the liturgical icon with the portraits of Ss. Clement and Naum. These Slavonic educators are portrayed in the iconografic manner typical for the Ohrid XIV century painting.
After the fall of Ohrid under the Ottoman rule (1395), the artistic activity did not stop at once. It continued for some time, and then suddenly ceased. It happened with the vanishing of the generation of painters educated in liberty, the generation that also created with the assistance of the artists from the larger urban centres.
Only later, in the XVI, XVII, and particularly in the XIX century, through the activities of the painters Konstantin and Dico, will something recur in the icon painting, however without the conditions and possibilities for achieving the high quality so common in the Middle Ages.
The painting of this period is only a distant echo of the achievements from the previous époques. The painters - successors of great painters, hindered from the life streams and without any hopes for the future, did not have to say anything more, just as the poet used to sing:
In the Ohrid Gallery of Icons several other icons are rather impressive: