The emerging visualization of women in Black Sea Region (Bulgaria)

Religion and visualization process

Georgeta Nazarska

The female images were an important part of the cult of the saints in the Eastern Orthodox religious painting, the Virgin Mary and many women saints as St. Marina, St. Paraskeva (Petka), St. Nedelya etc. Often they were saints-patrons of temples, monasteries, and sacred springs. In their portrayal, artists were bound to observe special rules of poses, colors, gestures, etc. The full covering of the body with clothing was one of them. The women saints were painted at indefinite age, without three-dimensionality and without bright colors. Since the early 19th century under the influence of West European art there was a change in the artistic images. The Church artists had begun to use brighter tones, accentuating the youth and maternal feelings of St. Virgin Mary. Frescoes with naked feminine bodies – of fornicators and sinners in hell – also occured. The first examples of secular female portraits appeared, which models were usually from the close family circle of the first academically educated artists.

Bulgarian artists in the 19th century directed their eyes to secular women to laugh at their new urban clothing, replacing the traditional costume, and their new corrupted manners. An example is the composition of the “Dooms day” in the Bachkovo Monastery where Zachary Zograf painted the wives of Bulgarian rich merchants dressed in luxury gowns in the group of sinners and fornicators.


The fornicators of the Rila Monastery
Prostitute, church village lower
Zachary Zograf, Terrible court, Bachkovo Monastery

At the beginning of the 20th century, the visualization of Bulgarian women was already happening through their eyes. The first Bulgarian artists Elena Karamichailova (1875-1961) and Elissaveta Konsulova-Vazova (1881-1965), who studied in Germany, prefered women’s models – children, girls, and adults who usually situated at home, with their families or in air. They had usually painted their own relatives.

In the 20th century the first Bulgarian photographers appeared. At first they were predominantly foreigners. Some of them created an independent practice after the deaths of their fathers, brothers or spouses who helped previously. Raina Baldzhieva-Karastoyanova (1878-1958) had been shoting  with her sons, and Elena Tcherneva-Hitrova handed over the craft of her daughters Ivanka and Boyka.

Elena Karamichailova
Elissaveta Konsulova-Vazova
Secular painting, Hristo Tsokev, Ivana Nenova Karoleva 1875 (2)
Raina Baldzhieva-Karastoyanova
Elena Tcherneva-Hitrova and her family, 1903