Books - Part 10

posted by mh on 2006/05/06 02:56

[ Books ]

Petur Yokimov and Lyubinka Stoylova, the authors of a recently published book on Art Nouveau and Bulgarian architecture have offered me to publish the English summary of their work here at [BalkanCities]; an offer that I appreciatively accepted. The summary – approximately 3,5 pages in A4 print – can be found in the subtext (click on more below). ---
Bibliographical reference:
Yokimov, Petur and Lybinka Stoylova: Secesionut i Bulgarskata arhitektura [Sezession and Bulgarian Architecture]. Sofia: Art&Arch, 2005. ISBN 954-8931-35-4. P. Iokimov: Main text with illustrations and a Lexicon of Sezessionist forms; L. Stoilova: References with illustrations and bibliography. Picture of cover. The book can be ordered online for the price of 10 euro (20lv) plus postage here


Our knowledge of history is never complete.
New facts that can change our ideas of the past are constantly coming up.
Ernst Gombrich

In 1899, P. Momchilov, a Bulgarian architect, who had graduated from the Technical School in Prague, designed his house in Sofia. The plan and the functional arrangement of the house were free from rigid symmetry of Palladian formalism and were based on the logical requirements of the inhabitants’ needs and way of living – a humanistic idea, quite innovative for the late 19th century not only for Bulgaria.

The house built in 1899 marked a completely new stage in the development of Bulgarian architecture at the turn of the 20th century – a time of global historic and political changes and spiritual renovation throughout Europe. Electricity with its energy potential, railroads and telephone with the new speed of communications, steel and glass with their newly discovered aesthetic properties as building materials became a grand symbol of progress. And progress inseminated with the romantic spirit of the time with its discontent and escape from reality gave birth to new concepts in architecture. The desire to overthrow the burden of the past, to overcome the discord with applied arts, to revive architecture and give it sense, to make it humane and perceptive gave a new meaning to its social function and a new philosophical meaning to its basic categories – function, structure and form.

This wave of innovation was inspired by the social behaviour and identification of the young European artists and architects. Starting from the Pre-Raphaelites in England, through William Morris’s philosophy, Philip S. Webb’s aesthetics, through the works of practitioner and theoretician Charles F. A. Voycey, through Walter Crane’s decorative frankness, this wave grew into theArts and Crafts movement and The Studio Magazine became the voice of the new style. The front page designed by Arthur H. Mackmurdo in 1883 is quoted as the first work of the style.

At the turn of the 20th century, Cercle des Vingt was set up in Brussels, which was at that time the centre of artistic avant-guarde. Members of this society included Henri Van de Velde and the decorator Serrurier-Bovy, whose works fell firmly within the style of Art Nuveau.

Floralism dominated the works of the late 19th century. However, the approach was not that of the Renaissance. Stylization was ‘deforming’. Change of proportions resulted in a metamorphosis of shapes, in a flexibility that spoke of dynamics and vitality. Victor Horta was the most brilliant protagonist of these metamotrphoses, and his works – The Tassel House, The Aubecq House and his own house in Brussels were emblematic examples.

In France, a number of architects worked in the spirit of avant-guarde aesthetics. The works of Frantz Jourdain, Charles Plumet, Leon Benouville, Henri Sauvage were full of romantic influences. Hector Guimard’s works were the most outstanding among them. With his exceptional flair for eccentricity and innovation in structuring and modeling spaces, H. Guimard definitely marked a stage in French as well as in world architecture.

Guimard was influenced by Viollet-le-Duc. Although he did not admire the Middle Ages, he believed that its principles should lead to a new architectural renascence which could be the backbone of national art – a concept that had its impact on the development of Bulgarian architecture at the beginning of the 20th century.

Logic, harmony and feeling were the key notions in the philosophy of the new art, a kind of reaction to the need for overthrowing the cramping authority of pseudo-classicism.

For architecture, the new style was a revelation bearing the spirit of the new time with its social and democratic philosophy, dynamism and changeability, impulsiveness and universality. It was multi-faceted and multinational. It had many names but in essence, it was the same.

In Europe, the newly emerged style marked the collapse of empires and the beginning of the struggle for national identification.

One of the most outstanding characteristics of the new style was its openness to national specifics. Irrespective of the authentic principles, which made it generally valid and universal, there were local trends, which through the authority of their outstanding proponents actually formed schools. Among these, we should note the above mentioned Brussels circle around V. Horta, Paul Saintenoy and Paul Hankar, the French circle – around H. Guimard, the Austrian one – centered around Wagner Schule, Franz Freiherr von rauss and their students, the Prague one – atound Jan Kotera, Joze Plecnik, Josef Drahonovsky, the German one – round Martin Duelfer, Schuhmacher, Josef Olbrich, the Scandinavian – around Eliel Saarinen, the Scottish one – around the Glasgow Four and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Spanish one – around Antonio Gaudi y Cornet, John Ruskin’s philosophy and Richard Wagner’s dramatic works. Without breaking away from the overall stylistics, they introduces lexis of their own, thus making their work easily recognizable.

As a whole, the emerging of the Bulgarian architectural Sezession was very similar to the ongoing processes in Western Europe. Influences were obvious, and cultural borders insignificant for a style both so vital and democratic. P. Momchilov’s house built in 1899 came as evidence that creative concepts in Bulgaria were in line with the spirit of the time. Sezession in Bulgaria could be identified in two aspects: the historic-romantic and the universal.

The historic-romantic aspect in which a group of architects of the first generation (Petko Momchilov, to some extent Jordan Milanov, Anton Tornyov, Naum Torbov and Friedrich Gruenanger) experimented to some extent successfully in their attempts at interpreting the Neo-Byzantine style lexis in the light of H. Guimard’s concept transmitted through Viollet-le-Duc. The Mineral Bath in Sofia is definitely the most emblematic example. Having passed through several painful design stages, revealing nuances of the Austrian Neoclassicism and the French renaissance Revival, this building is remarkable for the new ‘dynamic’ principles of interaction among architectural elements, romantic Early Middle Ages hints in the decoration and stylistic lexis.

P. Momchilov, J. Milanov and A. Tornyov (in his early works)followed closely the suggestions of the Mount Athos, Epirus and Nessebar, which gave the impression of a delayed Bulgarian architectural historicism dominated by the decorative. However, the romantic was given not as an archaic reminiscence but in its evolution, translated into the universal language of Sezession.

One of the buildings where the national-romantic concept is most organically interwoven with Sezession is the building of the Central Covered Market in Sofia. The architect, N. Torbov designed the specious inner space as a large metal structure with a feeling for the specifics of the material that he shared with V. Horta and H. Guimard.

Worthy of special attention is the work of F. Gruenanger from Austria especially notable for the famous Synagogue in Sofia – the biggest on the Balkan Peninsula – in which the spirit of Alhambra conveys the exotic message from the land of Gaudi, and for his attempts at interpreting the local tradition. F. Gruenanger was a remarkable artist, who dictated architectural trends and fashion for over two decades. His national-romantic passion, however, did not evolve into the underlying elements of the national style and remained within the Historicism trend. This comes to prove that not every work embodying the national in a romantic context was in line with the new style.

In 1903, in Bulgaria the Society Savremenno izkustvo (Contemporary Art) was set up and it brought together various artists, proponents of the free aesthetics. The founders included the architect Kiro Marichkov and the painter and decorator Haralambi Tachev. The goals of this Society were to introduce and promote the new stylistics and get rid of the pattern imposed by academic formalism. Modern art established itself ads a Sezession type formation very similar in its philosophy to the Belgian Architectural Society, closely related to the rationalism of Viollet-le-Duc, the Vienna Sezession of Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Otto Wagner and Josef Olbrich, who later founded the Darmstadt Sezession Society. Savremenno izkustvo quickly brought together all those who shared the same views, including painters and decorators, art critics, theoreticians, researchers and architects, whose work marked the development of Bulgarian architecture during the first quarter of the 20th century.

G. Fingov and K. Marichkov were among the most prominent representatives of Modern Art. Their joint partricipation in two consecutive exhibitions of Lada – the Union of South-Slav Artists in 1904 and 1908 grew into an active professional collaboration, which resulted in dozens of buildings – outstanding examples of the new aesthetics. Being educated in different architectural schools, having their aesthetical and philosophical views (K. Marichkov having preferences for the more frivolous Viennese style, and G. Fingov tending towards the silent introversion of the North), they expressed their individuality in their joint work – a remarkable manifestation of the universal Sezession in Bulgaria.

There is something enigmatic and contradictory in Nikola Lazarov’s work. He was educated in the French classical school of the late 19th c. and pursued perfection in the neo-style stylization. However, in two of his numerous projects Lazarov modeled matter just as well as H. Guimard himself.

The Sezession era started to fade in the early 1920s. Throughout Europe and the world, it left works of lasting impression that even today make us feel nostalgic about that romantic period. Throughout the world and in Bulgaria, Sezession was the destiny of a generation of architects, of which we now have the memory.

P. Momchilov, P. Koychev, G, Fingov, K. Marchkov, N. Torbov, N. Jurukov, D. Nichev, N. azarov, are only a few of the many Bulgarian architects who more or less embraced the ideas of Sezession and whose works made Bulgarian architecture part of European architecture. Among the most notable of their works we should mention those of Dabko Dabkov in Varna, of Kamen Petkov in Plovdiv, of Stefan Dzhakov in Svistov and Plovdiv, of Svetoslav Slavov in Burgas, as well as many of their students and followers who worked in many towns in Bulgaria and whose contribution to Bulgarian architecture is invaluable.

This book aims at paying tribute to their life and work.


Links to pictures of buildings mentioned in the text:
Sofia Central Synagogue
Central Market
Public Bath.



Welcome to [BalkanCities], a weblog established to serve a "community of interest" holding stake in a diverse but interconnected range of topics (Urban and Architectural History, Cultural Heritage, -Policy, -History, -Studies, Urban Life and -Development) related to the study of cities of Southeast Europe. Readers are encouraged to participate in this process, either through adding comments to existing postings or posting news to the editor, Maximilian Hartmuth. To subscribe to the notification service (a roughly monthly digest), send a blank email to this address.
> RSS Feed RSS 2.0 feed for Kakanien Revisited Blog Balkancities