Page 5, 30th October 1953

30th October 1953
Page 5
Page 5, 30th October 1953 — Religious frescoes from Yugoslavia

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Religious frescoes from Yugoslavia

And the gloomy ritual of Football By IRIS CONLAY DAINTING with a purpose is likely to be more satisfying than painting without one. but the purpose can be of two kinds, the one hacked up by inner conviction, and the other compelled by an outside demand.

The Yugoslav religious frescoes at the Tate Gallery and the football collection at Park Lane House demonstrate—if it needed to be demonstrated—the gap which yawns between the conviction innate and the conviction assumed.

It is the difference between pleasure and duty.

• Yugoslav medieval art is not so unfamiliar as one might perhaps expect. It reflects very faithfully aspects of the two worlds in which its feet are planted. It is Eastern, Byzantine, Orthodox and also Western, Gothic and Catholic.

One can follow Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern, Florentine, Sienese and even German patterns interwoven into a native manner and one can emerge bewildered by the complexity of the influences.

Change of focus

Or one can change one's focus, neglect the derivations, and see only the particular Yugoslav characteristics—the immense nobility, the absolute detachment which might well lead one to expect the hierarchic style of the ikon but not the humanly expressed depth of spiritual feeling; to expect also the monumental character, remotely aloof, but not the homely detail of it—for example; St. Joseph letting the milk boil over.

The earliest work shown—so brilliantly is the original imitated that it is hard to remember that we look only upon copies—is the long, extremely impressive frieze of angels in adoration, Ilth century in origin and hidden for many centuries under whitewash while the Turks converted the church into a mosque.

The greatest series is perhaps from the Milescva monastery (13th century). Pastel pale, the colours have faded to a dim mysteriousness from which features and forms shadowly emerge and then sink back again into the ruined background.

The Decani monastery has the largest number of frescoes. More than 1,000, in varying styles, survive. They are 14th century and at this time the story begins to take precedence over the figure.

Illustrated here is a detail from a Transfiguration. From Christ's majesty the Apostles. in awe, are precipitated like thrown stones down the mountainside.

Lyrical gaiety, plastic form, expressive drawing, all the signs of the dawning renaissance belong to the later western Yugoslav frescoes, and from walking in Paradise we slowly succumb to the earthly pleasures of charm.

'Dreadful ritual'

Plastic form and expressive drawing one can find, too, at the exhibition of Football and the Fine Arts; what one finds too little of is lyrical gaiety. Football might be some quite dreadful ritual to which our race is committed and from which it sees no possible withdrawal without giving mortal offence to the gods of Albion. That is the impression which one gets from a visit to the exhibition of painting and sculpture dedicated to Football. With few exceptions, artists clearly cannot envisage either players or spectators getting any fun out of the game, Brian Robb's prize-winning entry is a major exception. It has a remote, trance-like quality—football without mud can only be in a dream.

Two figures are locked in a second of intense action, that second which is really the eternal, still centre between two quivering movements. Similarly the pause immediately before the firework explodes, and the suspension of the drop of fountain water which, in an extremity of effort, reaches the zenith of its strength—these are the essential and recurring moments of excitement which are picked up in Mr. Robb's poetic vision of football.

Distant figures'

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