Albanian Art

 Deutsch  |    Shqip This website is devoted to Albanian art in the broadest sense, that it to say, to the various artistic endeavours undertaken by Albanians or connected in some way with Albania and/or the Albanians. It does not purport to provide a comprehensive history of Albanian art, but simply to present aspects and phenomena that might be of interest to the international reader/viewer. Art forms in Albania were moulded by traditional Albanian folk culture, by early Byzantine traditions and by the country's inclusion in the Ottoman Empire for five centuries until 1912. Among the earliest works of architecture of artistic value in Albania are the many old Byzantine churches such as those in Berat (ca. 1300) and southern Albanian regions of Gjirokastra and Korça, and venerable mosques such as the Mirahor Mosque in Korça (1495), the Sultan Mosque (1492) and the Lead Mosque (1553-1554) in Berat, the Murad Mosque in Vlora (1537-1542), the Naziresha Mosque in Elbasan (pre-1599), the Lead Mosque in Shkodra (1773-1774) and the Et’hem Bey Mosque in Tirana (1793- 1794). Less well known are the superbly elegant Ottoman-style vaulted bridges, few of which have survived the centuries. Not much remains either of the many early Catholic churches of the north. Notable in style for private dwellings are the lofty mansions of Gjirokastra, the windowed homes in the Mangalem quarter of Berat (The City of a Thousand Windows), and the lonely kullas (fortified stone towers) planted here and there in isolated regions of northern Albania and Kosovo. Following mosaics and murals from antiquity and the mediaeval period, the first concrete representations in painting were icons in the Byzantine Orthodox tradition. The earliest Albanian icons date from the late thirteenth century and there is general agreement that they reached their artistic zenith in the eighteenth century. Among the greatest protagonists of Albanian iconic art were Onufri and David Selenica. The museums of Berat, Korça and Tirana have good collections of the few icons that remain. In the Ottoman period other painting was limited mostly to folk art and to the often exuberant decorations of mosques. Modern painting and sculpture arose in the first half of the twentieth century and reached a modest zenith in the 1930s and 1940s when the first major art exhibitions were held in the country. The traditions of Albanian art that evolved up until the Second World War were largely destroyed by the communist regime that took power in Albania in November 1944. In the following years, some artists endeavoured to conform to the new doctrine of socialist realism. Others fled or ceased all creative activity. Political extremism in 1966-1967, inspired by the cultural revolution in Albania’s only political ally at the time, communist China, put fear into the hearts of all Albanians of creative talent. Some well-known artists were imprisoned and many other interned in remote villages for said bourgeois or reactionary proclivities. Countless works of art disappeared. Religion was officially banned in Albania in 1967 and century-old icons, old paintings, books and manuscripts were left to rot in cellars or abandoned church buildings. People were simply too afraid to preserve and take care of them. At that time there were about 1,050 mosques, 200 Bektashi tekkes and mausolea and about 400 Catholic and Orthodox churches in the country, most of which were torn down or converted for other usage. Among the noted victims of this great cultural tragedy were early mosques and churches of substantial cultural value that had been meticulously restored by Albanian specialist but a few years earlier. Despite the many losses from war and wanton destruction, Albania is still rich in art, and this website hopes to attract the intention of the reader/view to several aspects of it. Robert Elsie
Robert Elsie Albanian Art