The Brâncovenesc style, also called Romanian Baroque, is one of the most important Romanian art trends. Its denomination comes from the Prince of Wallachia, Constantin Brâncoveanu, who is celebrated as a saint in the Romanian Orthodox Church. It was he who encouraged the development of this style which blends Baroque elements, characteristic of Venice, traditional Romanian elements, as well as Balkan and Byzantine features. One of the masterpieces of the Brâncovenesc Style is the Horezu Monastery, located in the south of Romania. This is without doubt the most appealing monastic centre in this part of the country. The main structure of the monastery is the church dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helena. This structure was built between 1690 and 1692 and was consecrated on September 8, 1693, on the celebration of the birth of the Virgin Mary. The church was destined to become the necropolis of Wallachia’s princely family, but Prince Constantin Brâncoveanu and his sons were killed in Constantinople, at the Sultan’s order, who accused the Wallachian ruler of treason. As proof of the significance of this establishment, the prince appointed the boyard Pârvu Cantacuzino, his relative, to supervise the construction and decorative work. Following the death of Pârvu Cantacuzino, in 1691, the work was supervised by the great former military boyard, Cernica Știrbei.
An Ecclesiastical Haven
The church dedicated to the Saints Constantine and Helena is located in the centre of the inner court of the monastic assembly. This site accommodates the Bolnița Church, founded by Princess Maria Brâncoveanu, the wife of Constantin Brâncoveanu. The first abbot of the monastery, John, erected the Monastery of the Holy Apostles, while the eldest son of the ruler, Prince Stefan, built the Hermitage of Saint Stephen. The Church of the Saints Constantine and Helena is built following a three-cusped plan, reminiscent of the shape of a Greek cross. The model that inspired the builders of this place of worship is the church in the Curtea de Arges Monastery. The Horezu Monastery Church has a porch with 10 columns of stone, characteristic of the late Renaissance. The church’s facades are decorated with rectangular panels and alcoves with hoops. The frame of the entrance is made of stone and the church features the Wallachian coat of arms and the Cantacuzino family crest, who was related to Brâncoveanu. The mural painting was masterfully created by Greek and Romanian craftsmen, also the Byzantine canons are enriched with traditional Italian and Romanian influences. In addition to the icons of the saints, the painting reveals an illustrated history of the Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire and is considered a Saint in the Orthodox Church.
The altar screen of this church was carved from linden wood and then gilded. The church also preserves silver candles. The altar screen and the candles were a gift from Princess Maria Brâncoveanu. The inner court of the monastery also comprises the princely residence located in the south. It is an authentic mansion reserved for family members, and above it we can see the bell tower of the monastery rising. There is also a council hall, where Prince Constantin Brâncoveanu met with members of his court and the princes of Wallachia.
The northern part of the inner court hosts the monk’s chambers, which are built on two levels and bordered by arcades. In the eastern part we find the refectory or the dining hall, with the chapel located above it. The west side of the court features a brick wall, while the inner court is protected by an outer enclosure, with strong walls and an imposing gateway. Later on, between 1725 and 1753, the abbot Dionysius Bălăcescu built a stone chapel inside the inner court.
The Horezu Monastery was not only an ecclesiastical centre, but also a cultural one. Prince Constantin Brâncoveanu endowed the monastery with one of the most impressive libraries in Southeast Europe, with 4,000 volumes that survive to this day. Among the volumes stored in this library we find books printed in Basel, such as Homer's Odyssey, printed in 1541, or the Tragedies of Euripides, printed in 1551, and also some copied by hand by the monks of the monastery. For a long time, a school of manuscripts copyists operated inside the Horezu Monastery, as well as a painting and sculpture school. The Brâncovenesc style used sculpture as an annex of painting, because in the Byzantine tradition, sculpture could not have any religious role.
The opening to Western influences was encouraged by the Prince's personal ties with other royal houses of Europe. In 1695, Constantin Brâncoveanu received the title of Prince of the Roman-German Empire. Horezu Monastery is a good example of the synthesis of Byzantine and Romanian traditions and influences from northern Italy. The monastic haven extends over a surface of about three hectares. From its establishment until 1872, Horezu Monastery was inhabited by monks, and from that date onwards it became a nunnery. The monastery was restored several times. It was included on the World Heritage List in 1995.
Travel info: Distance București – Horezu is 218 kilometres. There are 314 kilometers between Cluj-Napoca and the Horezu Monastery.
Photo: George Trandafir, [url=http://]www.touringromania.com[/url]