On this day, August 16th, 1893, in Hrvatska Kostajnica, Jaroslav Kratina, painter, copyist and restorer, was born, a man who greatly contributed to the study and preservation of Serbian medieval fresco painting, as well as its fame and affirmation in the world.

Although his father was Czech, he declared himself a Serb, which he confirmed by entering the Orthodox faith in 1943. In 1907, he enrolled in the decorative painting course at the Royal Land Crafts School in Zagreb, where talented enrolees were trained in various artistic trades so that they could later easily work on the restoration of monuments of primarily sacred art. He continued his education at the Higher School of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb, with one of its founders, professor Bela Čikoš-Sesija, a painter known for his work in the spirit of symbolism and art nouveau. After completing his studies in 1919, he came to Belgrade, where he had his first solo exhibition.

Already in 1922, he will exhibit at the Fifth Yugoslav Art Exhibition, in addition to criticism from critics for his “rare, dull and insufficiently material tone”, he will receive the sympathy of critics for his talent to arouse admiration even in the eyes of ignorant observers. At that exhibition, Kratina will present her painting “Three Graces” about which Branko Popović, a painter and art critic, will write the following: “In front of this image, which has not been technically mastered, which, for the common audience, is quite freely understood and therefore unacceptable, we saw undoubted ignoramuses, from whom no understanding could be expected in any case, where they stop. We asked them if we could find out anything. They didn’t know how to say anything. But when we drew their attention to that well-seen and finely executed scale of broad and beautiful tones from the crown of the tree, beneath which are the graces, to the earth below, they cheerfully approved, as one whose eyes burst, as they say. Indeed, Kratina, even if a little unmade, shows eminent painting abilities: he seems to be a born painter. What spontaneity in the handling of the tassel, what nuances in tones and colors, the truth of his still rather muted palette!”

On the other hand, the art of copying frescoes, although often unfairly equated with forgery and mere copying without artistic value, required exceptional craftsmanship as well as knowledge of iconography, entailed a difficult production process in conditions of poor visibility under candlelight close to that of medieval fresco painters created originals. It has not been established when Kratina started copying frescoes. When building his “medieval biography”, contemporaries attributed that moment to Divine Providence, where he, as a young professor from Priština, converted with his students in Gračanica and lost his serenity until “the frescoes that moved into his dream” were transferred to the canvas. This claim is partially supported by the fact that Jaroslav Kratina was appointed as a temporary art teacher at the Gymnasium in Pristina in 1921, when some of his first copies of the frescoes date. He will paint the last one in 1952 for the Gallery of Frescoes as the first copyist who will work on the creation of the collection alongside his French colleagues. His oeuvre includes paintings of Church of St. Sophia of Ohrid, Nerez Monastery, Đurđevi Stupovi Monastery, Mileševa Monastery, Morača Monastery, Sopoćani Monastery, Arilje Monastery, Church of the Holy Apostles in Peć, Stari Nagoričino Monastery, Church of St. Nikita, Dečani, Psača Monastery, Mark’s Monastery, Resava Monastery, Church of St. Nicholas in Banja Pribojska, Longinus icons.

Jelena Marković
art historian, volunteer
National Museum Kraljevo

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