Church of Saint Nicholas: History and significance of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Novi Bečej

Dive into the past through the story of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Novi Bečej, the famous Serbian Orthodox Church that proudly carries the burden of centuries of history and spirituality of this region. This feat of construction symbolizes togetherness and faithfulness, representing at the same time a monument to past times and a place of faith that gathers the community in prayer and worship.

The iconostasis of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Novi Bečej

The iconostasis of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Novi Bečej

The existence of the iconostasis of Stefan Gavrilović in a town Novi Bečej, in the Middle Banat, is not easy to explain when we know that the location of his creative work was almost always on the territory of Srem. That was admitted by O. Milanović-Jović while she was studying his work, back in the seventies of the 20th century; however based on her study Gavrilović was being credited for his work in Bečej in the first place.

The explanation was found in the newly discovered documents and research by Branislav Todić, published in 2010, which prove that Gavrilović was indeed the author of these icons and that he painted them at the same time as the icons on the iconostasis in Platičevo and Beočin.

The iconostasis of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Novi BečejAlthough we do not know why, when and how the commission for painting the iconostasis of the Bečej church is contracted, we do know for a fact that it was completed by November 3, 1804. On that day, the Bečej municipality addressed Timisoara consistory asking them to form and send a committee to review the painted partition of the altar. The committee, consisting of archimandrite Pavle Kengelac from Sendjurdj and abbot from Vojlovo, Joanikije Milković, filed a very unfavorable report a month later. They criticized Gavrilović, claimed that the characters on the icons, their clothing and drawing were very bad and inadequate so they required of him to rectify the mistakes, or else he will be forced to do that by the Magistrate of Karlovac.

From the found and published archival documents by Todić, pertaining to this church, we have further found out that the verdict of the consistory was based on the Gavrilović’ contract with the church municipality of Novi Bečej, by which the painter was bound to fix all the flaws on the iconostasis if they are spotted by experienced personnel. Finally, it has been concluded for certain that the painter did that, because the iconostasis in Bečej is not mentioned in Timisoara or in Karlovac archives any more.

Interestingly, as pointed out further by Todić, the formed committee had no objections to the iconography of Gavrilović’ icons in the church in Novi Bečej northeir technology, but only to the visual content.

Seen from today’s perspective, the judgment of Kengelac and Milković stated at the time about the iconostasis in Bečej, as already said, surely seems to us too harsh. Especially when we take into account that the unfavorable assessment was not made about any of his iconostases in Srem. On the contrary, we learn from the published documents that he was mentioned there only with praise and the parishes were competing among themselves to hire him first.

No matter what, as the researchers conclude, it can not be disputed that Gavrilović had many virtues both in terms of composition and the drawing, skillfully painting still lifes and landscapes in the background of icons, fine character modeling, especially the Madonna and

angels, and pleasing color palette with effective accents of light. Simply put, restless and hectic working inevitably led to the repetition on his paintings, sometimes to the same schematized characters, drawing flaws or errors of perspective, all of which did not much affect the favorable assessment of the Gavrilović as one of the most prominent Serbian artists of the late Baroque and classical painting. After all, it was noted that this iconostasis, in addition to those in Kamenica and the village of Beočin, ranks among the best of Gavrilović’ work. Furthermore, since all the three occurred at approximately the same time, between 1800 and 1805, it means that the artist was at the zenith of his creative work in that period.

We are familiar with the iconostasis in Novi Bečej only in part, because many of its icons were repainted in 1928. The work on that renovation was entrusted to the following artist: painting to Vasa Pomorišac, an academic painter from Belgrade (originally from Modoš, today Jaša Tomić) and to Zdravko Sekulić, also from Belgrade (born in Surduk).

It is also very likely that Gavrilović had help in Novi Bečej from his associates who were also his apprentices, among others: Dimitrije Djurković, Petar Nikolajević and Georgie Bakalović.


(The parts from the published literature were used: B. Todić, Works about Serbian Art and Artists of the 18th Century: according to archival and other information, Gallery of Matica Srpska, Novi Sad, 2010. pp. 475-482; B. Todić, Serbian Painters from the 14th to the 18th Century, The Provincial Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments, Platoneum, Novi Sad, 2013. pp. 139-140; O. Bataveljić, Several documents on the painter Stefan Gavrilović, Journal of Matica Srpska, Vol. IX, Novi Sad, 1954. pp. 139-146).

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