THE ICON-PAINTER OF KINGS, POPES AND PATRIARCHS
The recently painted icon Christmas (70/56 cm), owned by the US Ambassador in Sofia H.E. James Pardew, was consecrated on December 28, 2002 in the Rila Monastery in a humble setting and in the presence of His Holiness patriarch Maxim. Christmas was painted by the young restorer and icon-painter Zdravko Kamenarov (b. 1967), who has realized a great number of orders over the last five years. Zdravko Kamenarov graduated in Restoration from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1993, but even before that he painted icons and sold them to the spontaneously born cultural centre called Crystal. The icons were expensive at that time, selling at USD40 apiece on the average. As a student the artist worked on larger projects too, such as the restoration of the king's throne in the St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral under the guidance of his master Plamen Petrov. In 1997 the young icon-painter was asked to work out the iconostasis in the Uniate Catholic Church The Assu in Sofia. This was a very important and enormous work, having in mind that only two of the so-called king's icons (painted by the famous artist Rostovtsev) were preserved on the iconostasis. After a few years of strenuous, high-quality work, the altar was consecrated by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Bulgaria in May 2002.Catholics are upright men of affairs and their high-ranking clerics mandatorily have higher education in arts. This makes them connoisseurs of the really fine workmanship. They have given full credit to the talent and diligence of Zdravko Kamenarov and made plans for future cooperation with him. Therefore, they've sent the young artist on several business trips to Italy in order to acquaint him with the achievements of the religious art. In the autumn of 2001 Mr. Kamenarov was asked to paint an icon of the venerable Yosafat Shishkov, Kamen Vichev and Pavel Djidjov. The icon was worked out in two versions. One of them was consecrated by Pope John Paul II personally and remained in Plovdiv, and the other went to Vatican.Meanwhile, Zdravko Kamenarov painted several icons for the Ministry of Education. One of them - St. Sofia - was presented by the ministry to Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gother for his birthday. People say that the PM likes it very much and keeps it in his office.The information about the talented Bulgarian icon-painter reached the US Ambassador to Bulgaria H.E. James Pardew. On July 4, 2002 he asked the artist to paint an icon for him. When the icon Christmas was ready and consecrated on December 28, 2002, the Ambassador wrote to Mr. Kamenarov: Zdravko, this is a great work of the Bulgarian art and a treasure for our family. Congratulations and many thanks.The icon has nothing to do with the Orthodox canon and very much resembles he old Italian artists of religious paintings. Yellow and golden shades predominate, lending additional light to the work of art. However, the Uniate catholic church is Mr. Kamenarov's biggest patron. He is presently working on quite an unusual order, which is unique in the millenial icon-painting traditions. The subject is the procedure for the canonization of St. Eight Hundred Martyrs. The story tells about a dramatic episode from the life of the Catholic church. When the Turks reached Venice they began to impose the Islamic religion on the local population. On an island near Venice 799 men were gathered, who had to give up Christianity and accept the Islam. Anyone who refused to do that was beheaded. When the head of the last, 799th Venecian, was chopped, the executioner voiced his hesitation: Perhaps their God is the real and only one! So, he was also beheaded. Thus, the number of martyrs became 800. It is that episode which Zdravko Kamenarov has to paint. An Eastern Orthodox icon-painter will enter the pantheon of never-dying artists professing the Catholic faith.