I recently photographed a remarkable period house in the Batistei area of Bucharest, built in an abstract Venetian style, popular among well to do Romanians in the inter-war period, especially during the reign of King Carol II (1930 – 1940). The quality of the construction is obviously exceptional, since its intricate details survived practically unscathed the decades of communist and post-communist neglect.
The house is from a period when the city was a cosmopolitan place with a very vibrant cultural life, still unsurpassed by the today amorphous urban agglomeration that represents Bucharest, the sixth largest EU metropolis. The popularity of the abstract Venetian Renaissance architecture stemmed from the fact that it had a high degree of convergence with the Neo-Romanian style, the most popular architectural order in interwar Romania, which itself has at its core elements of late Renaissance motifs borrowed from Venetian villa architecture (see my post on the origins and features of Neo-Romanian style for details). Also during the interwar period, especially starting with the 1930s there was a strong Italian cultural influence in Romania. Many Romanian intellectuals went to study arts and architecture in Italy and also the Romanian state established for those students and scholars research institutes (“Casa di Romania”) in Rome and Venice itself, similar with how the more developed European countries opened such establishments in Italy in late 19th century.
What I found very interesting was the large ornament design of upper floor window screens that displayed a series of intermingled cross symbols, which if carefully examined, can reveal a fascinating riddled message about the ethnic and cultural identity of the house owner.
One can see at the centre of the ornament a Latin cross, a clear reference to the Latin origin of the Romanian people, flanked by two smaller traditional Romanian circled crosses, very similar with the Celtic type ones (a reference to the ancients roots of Christianity among Romanians who display in their peasant ethnographic art motifs similar whith the ones encountered among communities form the Celtic fringes of Europe such as Ireland, Brittany or Galicia). Under the Latin cross’s arms there is another pair of stylised crosses originating in local ethnographic art, also similar with Celtic motifs: the rope symbol arranged as a cross. Remarkable are the inverted Gamma crosses (inverted Swastikas) that surround the Latin and Romanian – Celtic ones. The Gamma and inverted-Gamma crosses are again very ancient, pre-Christian Indo-European symbols, that are still often found represented on local peasant artifacts, indicating the time immemorial roots of the natives of this country, among which probably the owner-builder of this house counted himself. The whole panoply is bordered by a long undulating grapevine, a symbol of plenty and also reference to the ancient Hellenistic culture that influenced these lands during classical times through the Greek colonies from the Black Sea coast. There are probably other similar identity messages hidden in the squares that accompany the inverted Gamma cross ring, the two snake like motifs from above and beneath the Latin cross or the regular arrays of three small grooves (the Trinity perhaps) adorning the rectangles that encapsulate the grapevine. The message is without doubt much more elaborated and metaphoric than what I deciphered so far, making such ornament example an extremely interesting and value added feature for a period house.
The window screen is also like an arabesque that filters the sunlight and projects soothing shades inside the house, thus stating within and without the walls the ethnic and cultural identity of the house owner.
This type of identity laden message expressed in art and architecture was part of the ethos of the 1930s, which by the end of the decade unfortunately degenerated in fascist and nationalist extremism. The period building examined here is thus an unusual witness of a captivating period of cultural upheavals in Romania. ©Valentin Mandache
If you are interested in acquiring a period property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.