Iconostasis of the Homeland Plain
There, on the gentle rise along the right bank of the river Tamiš, the house the great painter was born in no longer exists, but the old mulberry tree is still there. In the village church, work of Dragiša Brašovan, iconostasis painted by Uroš Predić in 1926, St. Petka has the face of the painter’s mother, and St. Sava and St. Nicholas faces of his father and grandfather. Mother of God is in a Banat landscape, Vršac Mountains can be seen in the distance, as well as the bell tower of the Orlovat church. Uroš Predić rests on the village cemetery, ”next to his good mother”, and the new tombstone resembles a palette

Text and Photo: Miodrag Grubački

One of the greatest Serbian painters of realism, Uroš Predić, was born in the Banat village of Orlovat on December 7, 1857, as the youngest son of priest Petar Predić, and, according to his wish, buried in his place of birth. The villagers are observing the 160th anniversary of the birth of their most famous inhabitant. Besides the ”Days of Uroš Predić” event, they organized several more programs dedicated to him this year.
Predić left an inerasable trace in Serbian visual arts, by showing on canvas the life of ordinary people, his neighbors, peasants, as well as by creating extraordinary portraits of famous people – Serbian rulers, military commanders, scientists, artists, industrialists. Ecclesiastical painting is a special chapter in his creative work. His iconostases are in churches and chapels throughout Vojvodina today.
In the middle of the road connecting Zrenjanin and Pančevo, about twenty kilometers from its administrative center, Zrenjanin, Orlovat peacocks along the right bank of the Tamiš. Sailing downstream that picturesque river, the first following village is Idvor, which gave another famous Serb, Mihajlo Pupin. The relation between those two great men, almost peers and contemporaries (Pupin is only three years older), is reflected not only in their origins, but also in the fact that Mihailo of Idvor exceptionally appreciated Predić’s art.
They also have in common the fact that they haven’t forgotten their origins until their death. Pupin added the name of his village of birth as his last name, while Predić returned to live and work in Orlovat after the Academy of Arts in Vienna, where he was offered position of assistant, and later moved to Belgrade. He chose his place of birth as his final resting place. Predić left an important trace in the Austrian capital city in thirteen mythological presentations painted in the parliament building.
The future scientist and future painter became friends already in the German elementary school in the nearby Crepaja, preparing for the Pančevo Gymnasium, and their connection from the earliest days grew into a permanent friendship. Famous is Pupin’s patriotic gesture in 1889, when he purchased two Predić’s masterpieces at the World Exhibition in Paris, Refugees of Herzegovina and Orphan on Her Mother’s Grave, and gave them as a gift to the National Museum in Belgrade, where they are still kept today. He did it after discovering the intention of an American museum to purchase them for its own collection, led by the noble idea that the most significant works of Serbian art must belong to our people.


In 1926, at the age of seventy-two, Predić painted the iconostasis in the Church of the Presentation of Mother of God in Orlovat, designed by Dragiša Brašovan, famous Serbian modernist architect. The church was erected in 1924, in the place of an older, smaller one, whose priest was Petar Predić. It includes Byzantine elements in its construction, façade decoration and windows, three domes and bell tower, built looking up to medieval monastery towers. It is a cultural monument of exceptional importance. St. Petka has a central place in the iconostasis, with the face of the artist’s mother. Predić said that this icon, ”with an expression of deep melancholy noticed only after watching her face for a longer time”, was one of his best works. The Mother of God is placed in a Banat landscape, with the Vršac Mountains and Orlovat church clearly recognizable in the distance. Uroš eternalized his father and grandfather on the iconostasis as well, in the faces of St. Sava and St. Nicholas.
Predić witnessed the biggest historical changes in our lands, dissolution of the empire he was born in, both world wars, changes of several social systems and regimes… He died in 1953 in Belgrade, at the age of ninety-six, as the oldest Serbian painter, lively and full of energy for working almost until his last day. Except in the Serbian capital city, where he spent most of his life, he also lived in Vienna, Novi Sad, Bečej and Orlovat…
The people of Orlovat initiated the construction of a memorial house of Uroš Predić in the village center, since his house of birth wasn’t preserved. A new object was built in its place, but a gigantic white mulberry tree is still in its yard, planted by Petar Predić and depicted by Uroš in his drawings and paintings. His famous canvas is Children under the Mulberry Tree from 1886, in which the painter expresses his love for mulberry trees in the village.
Priest Pera had five sons. He planted five mulberry trees – two in his yard, two in front of his house and one on the side – and watched them grow together. They all had different fates, just like his five boys. Only one is preserved, thanks to the Stankov family, present owners of the estate, and their great respect for Uroš and this tree, previously considered the symbol of Banat, and now seen only in traces. It is believed that as many as a million trees disappeared, thereof ten thousand in Orlovat and its surroundings. Hardly thirty remained here. Elderly Boško Stankov, who was ten when he met Uroš Predić and remembers a few encounters with him, enthusiastically tells about the tree in his yard.


Orlovat is one of the few villages in Serbia with two separate railway stations. Railways from Belgrade and from Novi Sad towards Zrenjanin intersect here, so the main station was raised on the southern, and the other, smaller one, on the north direction. One of the village landmarks – iron railway bridge over the Tamiš, with three arches and two pillars, used for filming war scenes of foreign film productions, was built on the second one, in 1894.
People of Orlovat, descendants of previous military frontiersmen on the southern border of the Empire, proudly emphasize that their village was named after a habitat of eagles (Serbian ”orao”), who made their nests in the branches of ancient oak trees on the high right bank of the river. According to the last census, the population of Orlovat is 1.500. The gently rolling terrace of the Tamiš, east of the village, is suitable for wine growing, so the people of Orlovat are also known as excellent vintners. They are organized in the ”Merry Brothers” society, named after the famous Predić’s painting. They jokingly state that their vineyards are on the ”highest” point of Middle Banat, as high as 99 meters altitude.
Memories of one of the most famous people of Banat are, except in his village of birth, also cherished in the biggest city of the northern Serbian region. Zrenjanin built a memorial bust to Predić within the unique complex called the Alley of the Greats in Karađorđe’s Park, and a middle school and one street in the city are carrying his name. The National Museum in Zrenjanin keeps the artist’s legacy, with several extraordinary works, such as portraits of King Petar I Karađorđević and King Aleksandar the First, as well as numerous drawings, sketches, accessories from his studio, personal correspondence, notes, documents and photographs. Besides the famous self-portrait, painted in 1949 when he was ninety-two, the legacy also includes his last, unfinished work – Stoning of St. Stephen (1953), exhibited on the easel from Predić’s Belgrade studio.
The representative salon of the museum at the central city square was opened in 2005 with the exhibition of Predić’s paintings, and visited by more than fifteen thousand visitors. With a similar exhibition, planned for the day of Uroš’s birth, December 7, Zrenjanin is further demonstrating the immeasurable importance of his art and deep trace he left in Serbian art.


Works in Bečej
Also famous is Predić’s iconostasis painted in the Orthodox church in Bečej, where he was later hired by one of the most prominent families in Vojvodina, landowners Dunđerski, to paint the iconostasis in the chapel of Bogdan Dunđerski, raised next to his ”Fantast” castle. This friendship also lasted long, more than half a century.


Stone Palette
According to his testament from 1949, Uroš Predić asked to be buried in Orlovat, ”next to his good mother”. In February 1953, he was welcomed by his villagers in silence and with great respect taken through the village one last time, to the family tomb in the local cemetery, on a gentle height along the Tamiš. The modest grave was coated with marble only decades later, and a new tombstone made, resembling a painting palette.


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