The religious art objects

The peasant religious art objects collection comprises icons on wood, on glass, patterns for icons (izvod), church objects, crosses, woodcuts, wooden and stone cross seals.

Most of them are icons on glass, and other 12 pieces, in close connection with them, are izvoade – patterns that were placed behind the glass sheet on which the icon was to be painted.

The painting on glass appeared and evolved as a specialised craft, which was practised in icon producing centres all over Transylvania, but also in Moldavia; it was influenced by the production in the Central Europe centres (Alsace, Bavaria, Swizerland, Tyrol, North Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia).

The legend says that in 1699, an icon of Virgin Mary from the Monastery of Nicula (Transylvania) miraculously cried. Naturally the peasants wanted copies of this icon and they started to paint them themselves, on glass.

Although the majority of the icons on glass are reproductions of icons or religious drawings, the peasant craftsmen did not copy them identically, but they interpreted the pattern after their own imagination, introducing in the structure of the icon elements of rural landscape, saints dressed in Romanian traditional costumes, representatives of the authorities which were placed in Hell as doomed characters, family scenes (The Mother of God breastfeeding Baby Jesus). The icons on glass were painted after patterns or models that were placed behind the surface of manually obtained glass. (These patterns were called tipar in Nicula, or izvod in Șcheii Brașovului).

The main icon painter centres, which are known and represented in our museum collection, are those from Nicula, Gherla (Cluj), Laz and Lancrăm (Alba), Şcheii Braşovului (Braşov), Sibiu and Făgăraş.

The icon painters were in general “country church painters” or “rooks” (monks). Nevertheless, there were also laymen grouped in teams or families.

The icons made at Nicula centre have as principal features the naive, but very suggestive drawing, and the simple and clear composition. Very few characters are represented and they are treated with great simplicity; the backgrounds are decorated with vegetal ornamental elements (leaves, flowers), and only a few geometrical, freely arranged in the central register. Architectural elements appear very rarely, one instance being the city of Jerusalem.

In the close vicinity of Nicula centre there is Gherla centre, where they painted icons stylistically related to those in the nearby village. Their characteristic features are the presence of white fields, decorated with red flowers and bunches of flowers and also inscriptions in Latin.

The icons from Şcheii Braşovului have a fine drawing, an ample and balanced composition, warm and harmonious colours. When compared to those from Nicula, they reflect a better control of the means of artistic expression. They depict The Mother of God, with necklaces of big golden coins painted in one or two rows around the neck, which are elements of the peasant costume from Muscel or Bran.

In Sebeş-Alba area, even from the 18th century, two major centres emerged, which are important because of the oldness of the craft and because of the beauty of the painting. They are Laz and Lancrăm.

One of the distinctive details of the icons painted in Lancrăm is the presence of the pale colours, on white backround at the old ones and on blue background at the new ones. The characteristic features of these icons are the small size and the fact that there are more characters present in the composition, if we compare them with those from Nicula. Nicolae Zugrav’s icons (zugrav is a Romanian word for “painter”), from Lancrăm, as well as those made by the Costeas, are part of the collection; they developed this craft for three generations. In Laz there were painters like Ion Zugravu, Simion Zugravu and his sons Toma, Ion and Ilie Poienaru, who transmitted this craft to their sons, Aron, Partenie and Ilie Poienaru II. Other painters from other families, Rodean and Zamfir, worked together with them. The great majority of the icons, dated and signed, are remarkable because of a unique refinement within this style. Very often golden or silver sheets were used for the background.

Many centres of painting on glass, like Poiana Sibiului, Sălişte, Răşinari, Miercurea, Rahău sau Săcădate were identified in this area surrounding Sibiu. The painting in this region is known both for its spectacular colours, in which the gold shine blends with red and green, and for the finesse and expressiveness of the drawing.

The activity in the centres from Țara Oltului (Olt Land) increased in the 19th century. Some famous icon painters worked here, and their names were mostly identified through their dated and signed works. One of the most important was Savu Moga; he came from Gherla, and settled in Arpașul de Sus in 1843; he worked here all his life. It is believed that he already knew the craft when he came to Arpaș. Savu Moga’s art was free of the exigencies of symmetry and of ornamental preocupations, in favour of the elements of narration, which are part of the theme. His icons are remarkable for the elegance of the drawing, the variety of colours and for the way he developed his composition on many levels. His favourite themes were “Birth”, “Saint George” and “Resurrection”.

The most original icon painter is Matei Țîmforea from Cârțișoara, a pupil of Savu Moga. His favourite themes were ample and have subjects as “Genesis”, “Heaven”, “The Last Judgement”, “Jesus’ Passions”, “The Last Supper”, “Saint Elijah”, which he painted with a lot of fantasy and boldness, using many characters (taken from the every day life), angels, fantastic animals, displayed in many overlaid registers.

Other icon painters, like Ion Pop, Petre Tănase, Ion-Pop Moldoveanu, Ana Tămaş-Dej, Ion Purcariu, lived and worked in the Făgăraș area, and they all contributed to the developing of a specific tehnique of glass icon decoration called glajă. Such glass workshops, glăjării, produced glass with a waved surface. This old glass, 0.5 – 1.5 mm thin, contained many air bubbles and “knots” due to the imperfect techniques of melting and softening the mush and of manually spreading it. The glass obtained in this way rendered a specific vibration to the icon.

The icons on wood represent a different category of hoarded objects, valorised by being displayed in national and international exhibitions. The oldest object in the collection is part of this department: it is a 1698 icon of Saint Nicholas.

The icons from Muntenia are monumental, they have sombre colours and the saints have an austere expression. Those from Moldavia are remarkable for their grace and for their vivid colours. The icons from this area are probably less carefully worked, if we refer to the technique; the craftsmen did not pay enough attention to the preparation layer or to the wood panel. The colours, spread sometimes on big surfaces, are combined with regular golden hachure. The icons acquire a special brightness as that of the emails and mosaics. Many of the Moldavian icons, but also some from Transylvania, are characterized by a carved, golden background, made on a thicker preparation layer, in which vegetal motifs of Renaissance influence were cut.

The icons from Maramures show a naive lyricism, and the colours are somehow pale. The faces and the clothes are contoured by a thick strong brown or white line. The saints’ faces have the face oval a little sharper and the eyes are clearly marked. The blue used for the sky accentuates and enlightens these icons, which have a platinized silver background, and where oak leaves and palmettes are beautifully harmonised with the central composition.

The Transylvanian icons are easily identified by the violent outbreak of colours and by the vigorous stroke of the brush. The backgrounds are made up of a series of diamonds, in which crosses are inscribed, resembling the paintings in the altar, in the illuminated manuscripts, and in the 14th and 15th century Gothic embroideries. The faces painted on these icons have an oval form, full, as in the German and Flemish portraits. The characters’ eyes are clearly marked by brown lines and strokes of white, drawing attention on the arcades and the insertion of the eyes. The drawing and the modelling of the hands are specific to this group of icons.

The icons from Banat have a mannerist, fine drawing and a balanced chromatics, without any colour exaltation. The style of the icons from this area is a combination of Brancovan and Balkan traditions with the local one, which is original and daring in the respect of the interpretation of hands and faces.


The hand crosses, the cross seals for marking the communion bread (pristolnic) makes up a special category of objects.

We must draw attention to Marian and Luminita Iacob’s donation (185 pieces from Muntenia, from the 19th and 20th century) and Constantin Movileanu Bobulescu’s valuable collection (8 pieces from the 19th century, Moldavia). Used to inscribe the communion bread (prescura), this sort of seals (pristolnic) are surprising because of their variety of forms.

Stone crosses, silver crosses, tomb crosses, religious ritual objects (candle-sticks, bowls, icon lamps) but also religious books are part of the typology of our collection.

The stone sculpture, a craft practised especially in the sub-Carpathian area, where there is a great variety of rocks, had a clear functional character. The themes of the peasant stone sculpture are related to the themes of the other genres of peasant art: like for instance the religious mural painting or icons painted on wood.

The collection of the museum has almost 70 items of stone crosses, acquired from Ilfov (Dobroeşti), Ialomiţa (Alexeni), Hunedoara (Gurasada and Lunca Moţilor), Alba (Ţebea) and Bistriţa–Năsăud (Livezi).

The religious book collection contains The Bible, The New Testament, prayer books and Stephen the Great’s pomelnic (a list with relatives to be mentioned at every Liturgy).

In 1997, the collection has obtained an exceptional group of books, the religious manuscritps made by Picu Pătruț, an illuminator. Picu Pătruț was a self-taught peasant, born in Săliște, Sibiu County, who became a monk at Cheia Monastery, in 1849, and then he went back to his native village. He was also a hymnist and a hymnologist; he copied important works of his predecessors and of his contemporaries. His work consists of original verses in a rustic style, describing the lives of the saints and the major events in the Holy Bible, but also verses with a social, moral and patristic character, inspired from the works of some of his predecessors or contemporaries like Anton Pann, Ioan Tincovici, Ioan Barac, Vasile Aaron, etc. It is important to draw the attention on his illuminations that embelish his verses and last but not least, the fact that he noted down the music used when his verses were sung.

After 1991, six churches entered the museum collection, which prove once again the ingenuousness and mastery of the peasant-craftsmen and of the church painters.

Two of them were moved in the museum residence: the wood churches from Bejan and Mintia (Hunedoara).

The other four churches from Julița, Troaș and Groșii Noi (Arad), and Lunca Moților (Hunedoara) are preserved in situ, as marks of the Museum’s presence in these regions.