May 30, 2016

Boasting with property not their own

Scattered heritage


However, that's not all the National Museum in Belgrade possesses. In fact, there are so many artefacts there that they cannot be listed. In the Medieval department, there is an Ohrid icon, painted on both sides of the canvas, which dates from the early 14th century. It was discovered in Belgrade in 1930 and was given to the king Aleksandar. There are also other Ohrid icons, some painted on old and worn out boards, soiled by smoke and candlewax. Among them are the left half of the Birth of Christ composition, and the right half of the Descent of the Holy Spirit (the other two halves were accidentally discovered in 1955 and are being kept in Ohrid). In the National Museum in Belgrade there are icons that were taken away from several cities, i.e. Macedonian monastery centres, as well as carved pieces, such as the Ohrid tzar gates (dating from the 16th century) and the Andreas gates from the St. Nikola church in the Skopje village Šiševo dating from 1389.

The National Museum in Belgrade has a permanent exhibition prominently featuring objects from Macedonia, although they are not exhibited according to museum standards and usual exhibition practices. Namely, the difference between them and the Serbian objects on display is that next to the archaeological site's name there's no mention of the country of their origin. The other objects that aren't on permanent display are even more skillfully concealed. Yet, there have been cases when this museum, in order to reveal its treasures, included Macedonian masterpieces in its exhibitions. Thus, in 1980 (that is, when Serbia and Macedonia were still parts of a mutual state), there was a Madrid exhibit titled "Serbian Art in the Middle Ages, from the 12th to the 17th century". Medieval Serbia was also represented by 25 Macedonian (?!) medieval artefacts and golden jewellery, all of them in the possession of the National Museum in Belgrade. The same museum, in 1984, to celebrate its 140th anniversary, set up an exhibition titled "The Art Treasures of Serbia", which featured more than 150 objects from Macedonia!

Works that belong to Macedonian cultural heritage can also be found in other Serbian museums—the Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church has, in addition to manuscripts and other objects, ten Macedonian icons, whereas in the Patriarchy Library there are five icons—but the National Museum is the place where a rich Macedonian heritage is stored. This museum jealously guards other items, the origin of which is already known to be Macedonian. When the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Macedonia was being prepared in 1982, the Belgrade Museum was asked to lend 29 items to be used temporarily, but instead it gave only 12 copies of objects, even though a reciprocal lending (of ecclesiastical, ethnological and archaeological objects discovered in Kosovo and kept in Skopje) was offered. Hence, even in those days borrowing wasn't possible. And today still, borrowing, let alone restitution, is in the realm of fantasy. In fact, the denial of Greek and the Egyptian pleas for the return of their heritage doesn't bear any good omens for the return of Macedonian cultural heritage either. 

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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