The Icons Painted on Glass Museum at Sibiel

What’s the first thing that comes in your mind when you hear about Sibiel? If you don’t know, we will tell you about what it stands for. Sibiel is a village in Romania, near Sibiu. Here you can find an unique museum. The largest collection of icons painted on glass in Europe – more than 700, as well as furniture and ceramics.

The icons painted on glass tradition

The painting of icons on glass began in Transylvania in the first decades of the eighteenth century and reached its peak in the years between 1750 and the end of the nineteenth century. The tradition almost lapsed in the period between the two World Wars. The icon is essentially connected with the liturgy and with prayer. Usually the work of an anonymous painter, often a monk, the icon opens the believer to the adoration of God in tangible form, made possible by the Incarnation of the Son. Lastly, contemplating the image, the believer stands in the presence of and prays to the one it represents.

icons painted on glass at sibiel
icons painted on glass at SIbiel

Painting on glass is a very ancient art

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was used, particularly in Bavaria. The main use was to decorate religious objects and pieces of jewelry. In East Central Europe, this technique was used by artisans. They made mass-produced objects figuring traditional motifs such as landscapes, portraits but also religious subjects. The centres of production were situated close to forests because the factories that produced glass needed supplies of timber for melting its basic components. Painting on glass was introduced to Transylvania after its annexation to the Habsburg Empire, the main agents being itinerant merchants, foreign monks and painters (some of whom came from Sandl, an important centre in Austria).

Adam and eve paint on glass
Adam and eve paint on glass

The centre of Orthodox iconography is always the figure of Jesus Christ, from which all other subjects derive. However the most frequently painted image is that of the Virgin Mary, shown in the various moments of her life. Primacy of place goes to depictions of the Madonna with Child.

The Zosim Oancea Museum at Sibiel

The museum offers a wide and detailed panorama of this great phenomenon of Romanian popular religious art.

Traditional room sibiel
Traditional room sibiel

In this museum the icons are displayed according to district of origin and represent a complete range of themes. The museum is composed of two buildings. In the first one, the so called „ New Museum” because it was recently finished, can be found the major part of the icon collection and that of antique. In the other building – smaller but the original location of the museum – are kept the supplementary sections of the collection.

The first painted icons on glass collected were placed in an old store-room behind the church which Father Zosim had had completely rebuilt for the purpose between 1970 and 1971, to make it the home of the first museum.

Icon on glass representing the sacrament
Icon on glass representing the sacrament

The first collection (between 150 and 200 icons) meant that Sibiel was included in the regional cultural and tourist itinerary. And so outsiders began to visit, among them a UNESCO delegation already at the end of 1969. While every visit was under the strict supervision of the National Tourist Board – the first museum attracted many visitors. The greatest development starting in 1973 and so Sibiel became also a kind of mini ecumenical center.

If you want to see the impressive collection of painted glass icon and to find out more stories about the founder of the museum, Zosim Oancea you can have a private guided tour in Transylvania with a special stop in the village of Sibiel.

Original photos by Țetcu Mircea Rareș at ro.wikipedia

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