Master of Boyana, 1975-2006, bronze, 220 cm
The Master of Boyana was put on view for the first time in 1976 at a large exhibition in the gallery of the Union of Bulgarian Artists in Sofia. The work was created by Dimitar Boykov (1927-2000), one of the leading names in Bulgarian art in that period. The 1970s and 1980s was a time in which the Communist regime turned its attention to monumental arts, and a host of Bulgarian artists responded to this shift by creating large-scale memorial works. These were affecting compositions dedicated to heroic moments of the country's history. Boykov, who belonged to this group of artists, worked on several large monuments, among them To the Fallen Soviet Airmen and To the Seven Fallen Anti-Fascists. But what brought him fame in the early 1960s were his plaster figures. Throughout the Communist period he created a string of memorable large works, in which ideology was put in the background.
And such is the case with the Master of Boyana. It is an interpretation of one of the perhaps most mythologized characters in the history of Bulgarian art. The Master of Boyana stands in for an unknown mediaeval painter or group of painters who worked on the walls of the church of Sts Nikolas and Panteleymon, in the village of Boyana near Sofia, in 1259. The wall-paintings are among the most significant monuments in Bulgarian lands from the time of the so-called Palaeologue Renaissance in Byzantine art. The person or persons who did them have gone on to become the object of legends and mystifications. In the early 20th century the Master of Boyana became a symbol of the Man Devoted to Art. He was the protagonist of books, films and an opera.
Dimitar Boykov has presented his Master as a tall, gaunt man who is holding a small bowl full of paints in front of his chest; the other hand dips a paintbrush into the bowl. The wide shoulders and the large chest additionally highlight the fragility of the fine painting instruments that the man is holding. The painter is presented as static, with eyes fixed in a forward gaze. It's as if the moment was captured in which the artist is contemplating his just-finished wall-paintings. Despite the realistic manner the artist used, the head and the face do not have clear portrait features. Central accent are the vertical folds of dress. Their dynamics turns the body into a column with deep vertical grooves. Boykov made the folds of the dress into the work's main expressive means, a manner that eventually became characteristic for his art.
In 1963 Boykov created September 1923, a figure of a kneeling man whose right arm is raised in a fist. The entire movement, designed in a sharp diagonal, and the gesture's expression are brought to the foreground by deep plastic folds of the garment, which reach up to the outstretched hand. This was one of the first works that made Boykov popular. The approach, used to the fullest, was applied to Boykov's work on a woman's figure from 1981 for the central lobby of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. The statue is positioned in the building's entrance, upright and with arms outstretched sideways, the dress, which envelops the entire body, is immersed in ripples and folds.
The Master of Boyana was first cast, in white plaster, in 1975; it was 250 cm high. It existed in this state until 2006, when it was re-cast in bronze on request by Hugo Voeten. The work is currently on view in the sculptural park in Gheel, Belgium. It is the only sculpture by Dimitar Boykov in the Collection Hugo Voeten.
Text: Vessela Nozharova