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The Fresco
fresca-ateneu-previewFresca

Since 1888, both C. Exarhu and Al. Odobescu wanted to create a monumental fresco on the circular wall of the concert hall. Its purpose was to evoke the most important moments in the history of Romania and, at the same time, render an accurate image of the uniqueness of the Romanian spirit.

Suggesting a project that reflected this goal, in 1901, painter Stefan Popescu proposed creating the 300-sqm painting on canvas, thinking it would spare the hall from being shut down for a while. Nevertheless, the lack of sufficient funds made the project last for years.

Finally, Professor Costin Petrescu's project for a fresco representing important moments in the Romanian history in 25 episodes was accepted. Funds were gathered by public subscriptions.

The 75-sqm long and 3-m wide piece was started in 1933 using the "Al Fresco" technique and inaugurated on March 26th 1938.

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It is important to describe the painting since it is a programmatic piece. The succession of episodes is as follows:

  1. Emperor Traian enters Dacia. The emperor is in his headquarters, near the bridge over the Danube, at Turnu Severin.
  2. The Colonisation of Dacia. The Adam-Clisi monument is in the background. The Legionnaires enter Dacia in the foreground.
  3. An idyll between a young Dacian woman and a Roman soldier presents the merge of the Dacians with the Romans. The tomb scene features one piece found while digging in Alba Iulia.
  4. On the horizon, a Roman sentry guards the frontier. The black clouds symbolise the oncoming barbarian invasions.
  5. The barbarian invasions.
  6. The beginning of a Romanian patriarchal life. The clouds vanish and the population comes down from the mountains. They build homes and a house of prayer.
  7. The Homesteading. The Romanian peasant prepares his weapons, the bow and the axe.
  8. The dismounting. A knight on a horse appears from the mountains and the population welcomes him with bread and salt.
  9. A military state. Emperor Mircea the Old talks with the Turkish emissaries.
  10. An administrative state. In the yard of Moldovita Monastery, Alexander the Good distributes civil positions.
  11. The Crusade. Iancu of Hunedoara, Vlad Dracul, and Stefan the Second raise troops to banish the Turks. The castle in Hunedoara and the Poenari Palace in Arges are in the background. The figure of King Tepes is portrayed as a mysterious shadow.
  12. The time of Stephen the Great. A peasant makes a pike from his scythe. Stephen, in front of Suceava Castle, receives the Pope's emissaries who bring him the sword and the title of Soldier of Christ.
  13. The era of peace and faith. Neagoe Basarab and his family come out of the Episcopal Church in Curtea de Arges.
  14. The time of Michael the Great. The Unifier prepares to enter Alba Iulia.
  15. The Cultural Eras. Matei Basarab and Vasile Lupu (the Castle in Targoviste and the Church of the Three Hierarchs are in the background), Dimitrie Cantemir and Constantin Brancoveanu (Hurezu Monastery and its builder Parvu Mutu in the background).
  16. The uprising led by Horia, Closca and Crisan. The three heroes are depicted standing in front of the church in Tebea (Motilor Country). Gheorghe Lazar appears as a connection between this episode and the episode depicting the uprising of Tudor Vladimirescu.
  17. Prince Tudor leads the Pandours into Bucharest and the police present him with an order granting the rights requested by the Assembly of the People. Nearby, the Bishop of Arges and a cloak indicate the origin of Tudor Vladimirescu.
  18. 1848: in Transylvania, Avram Iancu goes to war.
  19. 1848: Wallachia and Moldavia. The Bonjourists fraternize with the peasants.
  20. Alexandru Ioan Cuza gives land to the peasants. Mihail Kogalniceanu appears in the background.
  21. Union of the Romanian Principalities in 1859. Two women in national costumes spin the same thread.
  22. Carol the First and the War of Independence. The ruler receives a flag captured from the enemy. I. C. Bratianu appears in the scene.
  23. National unity, 1918. On the battlefront, soldiers stand behind barbed wire.
  24. King Ferdinand the First and the united Romania. King Ferdinand and Queen Mary are in Alba Iulia. General Berthelot is part of the king's suite. All pass before women whose costumes symbolise the old kingdoms, Transylvania, Bassarabia and Bucovina.
  25. The last scene should have presented Carol the Second, the founder of the modern city, who, together with Michael the First, comes down among the people, in order to be patrons of sciences, literature, arts and industry. The version that was later chosen presents people with flags, who celebrate the unification of Romania. Artistically, this last scene is treated differently from the rest of the fresco, as the colour is livelier and the drawing is freer. Overall, the fresco is made in a free manner, in a flat realistic style. The dominant colour is cold and rich in shades of grey. This results in the slightly faded general effect, without special artistic effects.

At first sight, these characteristics of the fresco could leave the impression that the work lacks artistic value. However, in the context of the hall, these traits become qualities, as the work stays discretely in its place, complementing the warm tones of red and gold of the luxurious decorations of the vaulted ceiling.

Serving the idea that national history must be presented as an open book, where each viewer can find something from the past's majesty and meditate upon our people's spiritual and moral values, the Athenaeum fresco is significant for its emblematic nature.

Emperor Traian enters Dacia. The emperor is in his headquarters, near the bridge over the Danube, at Turnu Severin.