The Boyana Church was built in three stages: in the late 10th and early 11th, the mid-13th, and the mid-19th centuries. The oldest section (the eastern church) is a small one-apse cross-vaulted church with inbuilt cruciform supports. It was built in the late 10th and early 11th century.
The second section, which adjoins the eastern church, was commissioned by Sebastocrator Kaloyan and his wife Dessislava and in the mid-13th century. This building belongs to the two-floor tomb-church type. It consists of a ground-floor family sepulchre with a semi-cylindrical vault and two arcosolia on the north and south walls, and an upper-floor family chapel identical in design to the eastern church. The exterior is decorated with ceramic ornaments. The last section was built on donations from the local community in the mid-19th century.
The life of St. Nicholas is depicted in 18 scenes in the narthex (the second section of the church). The unknown artist included elements of contemporary life in those scenes, and many of the figures are quite realistic - especially their countenances. The lunette above the entrance of the narthex displays the Virgin and Child, St. Anna and St. Joachim, and Christ Blessing. St. Catherine, St. Marina, St. Theodore the Studite and St. Pachomius are portrayed in the lower tiers on the walls. The south arcosolium features the scene of Christ Disputing with the Doctors, and the north one, the Presentation of the Virgin. Two highly revered Bulgarian saints are also represented in the narthex - St. John of Rila (the oldest surviving representation of the saint) and St. Paraskeva (Petka). The hermit St. Ephraim Syrus appears among the monks portrayed here.
The expressive realistic portraits of the donors Sebastocrator Kaloyan and his wife Dessislava, and of the Bulgarian Tsar Constantine Asen Tikh and Tsaritsa Irina - painted with precision, extraordinary skill and feeling - are among the oldest portraits of figures from Bulgarian history.
Today the name “Boyana Master” stands for the team of unknown artists who decorated the church and mastered their art in the studios of the Turnovo School of Painting. The frescoes are genuine masterpieces with a flawless technique, psychological depth, complexity and realism. Boyana is the only and the most impressive wholly preserved monument of the Turnovo School of Painting from the 13th century.
According to many leading experts, the world famous frescoes in the Boyana Church played an important role in the development of mediaeval Bulgarian and European painting.
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