IX, 2013, 1

Some Notes on Moses as a Biblical Model of Leadership and Moses’ Vita in the Frescoes of the Suceviţa Monastery | p. 367–386

biblical model, Moses, Movilă, mural paintings, political ideology


The article discusses once again the meaning and function of the Moses’ cycle depicted in the fresco program of the Suceviţa Monastery. This visual narration has been created to transmit certain ideas to beholders – members of the monastic community and ecclesiastical circles, noble donors and laity. Its ideological significance can be split into two main levels that interweave in the visual narration, but are examined separately for the purposes of the present study. The first one depends on the way the story of Moses was envisioned in the Church, which is attested in the writings of Church fathers and in liturgical texts. It defines the overall role of the cycle of Moses in Suceviţa’s mural painting ensemble. The second level of significance of this cycle derives from the long established use of certain aspects of Moses’ image as a model of comparison in political leadership. It is connected to the question how exactly the rendering of Moses’ story in Suceviţa fits in the contemporary experience of the Moldavian elite and what was the character of the relation of Moses’ figure to the representatives of the Movila family whose endowment was Suceviţa. The Suceviţa cycle is not unique; other Balkan examples exist that have not been mentioned so far, which help to clarify the Suceviţa specifics: the Church of St. Nicholas on the island of Nissi in Ioanina, Greece (1560) and the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Arbanassi, Bulgaria (1643). However, Suceviţa differs distinctively from them: its cycle of Moses embellishes the burial chamber, and the presence of the tombs of Ieremia and Simeon Movilă inevitably furnished the visual narration with possible allusions to the representatives of the Movileşti. A detailed exploration of the ways in which Moses participates in the symbolic language of political ideology allows arguing that in Suceviţa the image of Moses was chosen deliberately to underline the ruler’s abilities as a benefactor of the Church and a devoted supporter of Church causes. It is evident that in the Suceviţa program we encounter a powerful statement of an ambitious ruler who is a new Moses, new Melchizedek and new Constantine, thus positioning his status as an intercessor between God and people and a defender of Orthodoxy, of the Church and of his people. About the time of creation of the Suceviţa cycle, the main goal that would fit best such aspirations, expressed in images, were the efforts for the improvement of the status of the Moldavian church and acquiring the rang of Patriarchate.