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44 The Bellu Christian Orthodox Cemetery and its valuable heritage

Architect Ion Mincu and his


Funerary Designs

Ion Mincu is unanimously regarded as


the emblematic figure of late 19th
century-early 20th century Romanian
architecture. His both qualitative and
quantitative efforts clearly point to his
abiding quest for a higher form of
architecture, currently labeled as the
“national style”, which he thought in
terms of a synthesis of traditional
Romanian architecture made simpler by
the modern building techniques of late
19th century, something meant to clear
the ground for what his disciples would
call “The Revival of Romanian
Architecture”.(1)
The signs of his artistic nature appeared
during his childhood being fostered by
the artistic milieu of his family. His older
brother, Ştefan Mincu, taught drawing
and introduced and guided him to his
future career. Ion Mincu was also a
precocious poet who published his
poems in a famous literary magazine,
“Convorbiri Literare”, between 1876 and
1877. Having graduated high school
(1863-1871), he enrolled to Bucharest’s
National School of Roads and Bridges,
which he finished in 1875 with a diploma
in engineering. Then he went to Paris
and attended the architecture courses
(1877-1882) of the period’s most
Vaults 45

famous school, École des Beaux-Arts,


which he graduated successfully having
won the Great Prize of the Central
School of French Architects in 1883. He
was given a study scholarship to Spain,
Italy, Greece, and Istanbul.

Ion Mincu opened and closed ways and


always placed himself in-between
innovation and tradition; his calculated
and rational architecture was very
personal and sought for a thorough
stylistic unity to the smallest detail. In his
work, although very reduced, he
approach all the architectural
programmes, from interior design – with
remarkable decorative details and
furniture – to large scale, monumental
architecture.

Ion Mincu’s work displays a


wide and heterogeneous range of
traditional Romanian elements selected
according to the programme and
structure of each building, further
filtered through his artistic sensibility. In
comparison with other architects who
excelled in this style (i.e. Petre
Antonescu), he chose to embrace the
syncretism of plastic elements that did
not necessarily look for a rigid and
46 The Bellu Christian Orthodox Cemetery and its valuable heritage

everlasting style; he searched instead


to render the picturesqueness and
vivacity of the Romanian traditional
architecture. Thus, the architect
appealed to the concomitant use of
forms and motifs borrowed from various
artistic ages and geographical zones
(the Venetian lancet arch of Moorish
origin, the loggia, the enameled
terracotta typical of Italian Renaissance,
etc) along with regional traditional
elements. All are set within a
peremptory academic syntax in his
designs for monumental buildings (the
Administration Palace of Galaţi, the
Commercial Bank of Craiova), while in
smaller size buildings, they are let
loose, which conveys an air originality
and freshness (the Lahovary House, the
Buffet on Kiseleff Avenue).

***
The Bellu Cemetery was
founded in 1850-1852, when the Baron
Barbu Bellu donated an estate with all
its surrounding lands to the City Council
with a view to be used as cemetery
outside the town (beyond the Şerban
Vodă town boundary). That was thought
to be the best way to reach a hygienic
Vaults 47

solution and do away with the old habit


of burying people in the churchyard, in
the town.(2)
The landscaping of Bellu Cemetery as
a unitary park, also called “the garden
of Bellu cemetery”, was based on a
careful urban planning operation
involving plotting and planting of various
species of decorative trees, probably
following the model of the Parisian
Père-Lachaise (1804).(3) It was the
architect Gaetan Burelli who, as an
engineer working for the Ministry of
Cults, did and coordinated the whole
planning operation, the plotting
included.(4) Ion Mincu designed a few
monumental buildings, of which two are
public administrative ones, such as
theAdministration Palace of Galaţi and
the Commercial Bank of Craiova; the
rest belonged to funerary architecture
and most of them stand in Bellu
Cemetery of Bucharest. The five burial
vaults take a special place among
Mincu’s designs and prove through their
spatial and decorative experiments his
intense connection with the turn of the
century art.
Ion Mincu’s vault designs belong to the
tradition of mausoleum - type
monuments which the master could see
48 The Bellu Christian Orthodox Cemetery and its valuable heritage

at Père-Lachaise, particularly the vault


of Prince Gheorghe Bibesco (1859-
1860), the former Ruling Prince of
Wallachia, designed by Schmit, an
entrepreneur (5). His commissioners
held influential positions in Romania’s
history, which points to the fact that the
Romanian architect took his inspiration
from similar models of aristocratic
families from the Parisian cemetery,
people who chose this kind of
architectural discourse to mark their
names in the European memory.(6) As
a matter of fact, he did not only borrow
the repertoire of forms but also the
overall design strategy involving the
architect, the sculptor, a muralist and an
artist specialized in wrought-iron.(7 )

The group of funerary


monuments shows carefully balanced
volumes with stone, bronze ornaments
expressively carved and mural painting
that make them into consummate
“architectural jewels”. At the same time,
they display an obvious relation
between art and architecture. The
simple stone volumes contrast with the
well-established place of the decoration
that perfectly matches its support thus
merging into a remarkable unity.
Vaults 49

His volumetric choice was the classic


stone rectangular-based mausoleum
covered with a dome. The only
exception is the Lahovary Chapel
(1905), for which he chose an unusual
formula: the traditional cruciform
Romanian church built at a smaller
scale, which makes it a rare example
among the Romanian funerary
monuments.
Composition wise, all edifices
consist of a conspicuous base with
stone decorative mouldings and friezes,
a monumental portal placed on its axis;
the corners are marked by

The Lahovary vault, mature work of architect Ion Mincu, overall vue and detail
50 The Bellu Christian Orthodox Cemetery and its valuable heritage

statues (the Gheorghieff Vault) or


bronze urns, on the upper side, with the
flame motif (the Stătescu and Ghica
vaults), decorative belts and friezes
made of curved vegetal motifs or
neo-Romanian arches; the attic is
decorated with antefixes, while the
cupola is crowned with a cross. The
decoration is somewhat mixed
stylistically, containing Byzantine /
Romanian elements along with
classical and Secessionist (the
Viennese art at the turn of the century).
“The cleanest” ones and, at the same
time, close to the 1900 style are the
Stătescu, Cantacuzino and Ghica
vaults.
The author of the chapels uses
the volumetric surfaces with an
exquisite subtlety leading to a coherent,
monolith-like appearance where each
decoration finds its right place. In my
opinion, the Vault of the Ghica-Razu
Family is probably the most articulated
and original funerary monument from
his designs. It is designed at a smaller
scale than the Gheorghieff and
Cantacuzino edifices that do not only
attempt to impress through their
monumentality but also through their
rich decoration. Its shape is set into a
Vaults 51

rectangular based pyramid topped by a


cupola crowned with a bronze cross.
The leaning surfaces of the walls are
blank, that is, devoid of the stone
decoration from the Gheorghieff chapel;
thus, the architect made a clear
statement about the role of architecture
and the role of sculpture, the latter being
made of bronze instead of stone. The
base shows structural architectural
elements that become decorative in
themselves being marked by sculptural

The Gheorghieff vault, detail


52 The Bellu Christian Orthodox Cemetery and its valuable heritage

elements (the motif of leaf and dried


poppy bulb) cast in bronze and built-in
the mural; the bronze decoration runs
on the monument surface as a frieze
made of an entrelac of laurel branches
and shields with emblems and coat-of-
arms at the four corners, thus marking
the four cardinal points with flame
topped urns; that is continued on the
cupola tier as eight-corner stars and
rays that practically cover the upper
part.

Indubitably, the most richly


decorated monument of Mincu’s,
displaying an almost baroque virtuosity,
is the Vault of the Gheorghieff
Bankers (1900-1902).
A similar monument apparently
designed prior to the chapel of the
Gheorghieff brothers is the vault of the
Terry y Dorticos family from Père-
Lachaise8 (photo).
There is a striking similarity with the
heteroclite decoration composed of
classical eclectic elements and some
taken from the neo-Gothic and
neo-Byzantine repertoire. The canopies
placed in the four cardinal points
sheltering feminine statues
resemble the four evangelists from the
Vaults 53

Gheorghieff chapel. (photo).


The monument plan shows a
rectangle extended to the east with a
space housing the stair to the chapel
basement. The base is decorated with
egg-and-dentils and a frieze of entrelacs
with vegetal elements and acanthus
leaves. In the middle tier there is the
access portal to the west topped by a
pediment decorated with neo-Romanian
vegetal elements framed by a
semicircular niche where a bronze
“flame” is placed.

The Dorticoff vault (Pere Lachaise, photo Ciprian Buzilă) and The Lahovary Vault, Bellu Cemetery
54 The Bellu Christian Orthodox Cemetery and its valuable heritage

The middle tier of the monument is


much simpler, being composed of blank
rectangular panels framed by rows of
dentils.
However, the upper tier is richer
displaying arches with columns with
bases and capitals which are carved
within the façade ending up in a frieze
with vegetal elements specific to the
neo-Romanian style supported by
brackets carved in stone.
The massive cornice is crowned by an
attic with gargoyles and antefixes. The
four corners of the chapel are flanked by
canopies sheltering the ronde-bosse
figures of the four evangelists (Luke,
Mark, Matthew, and John), sculpted by
Frederik Stork (1872-1942).
Their severe, pondering attitudes reflect
the classical representation principles in
sculpture combined with the spiritual
character of Byzantine art.
The Chapel of Iacob Lahovary’s son
enjoys a particular place in this group of
monuments9. It is shaped like a “small
Romanian church”, a form imposed by
Iacob Lahovary himself10. The balanced
volumes of the little cruciform chapel
topped by a tower are the result of the
interplay of verticals and horizontals in
keeping with the classical compositions.
Vaults 55

Thus, the base is decorated with


crosses while the middle tier of the
access is devoid of decoration; the
upper tier is composed of arches that
run on the whole surface of the edifice.
Within the soffits of pediments there are
rosettes that have either a decorative or
ventilation role. The cornice displays
sawtooth mouldings that border a frieze
of vegetal and floral elements painted
against a brown-red background. Saint
Jacob, the patron of the commissioner,
stands on the entrance axis.
Pondering on Mincu’s designs
from Bellu Cemetery, we may conclude
that the architect manipulates the
architectural styles without any difficulty;
thus, he can embrace either the
neo-Romanian style as shown in the
Lahovary church-chapel or the 1900s
style in its purest lines as displayed in
the Ghica chapel. The Stătescu,
Cantacuzino and Gheorgieff styles
could be placed in-between this
dichotomy, being a mixture of the two
and based on the principles and
compositional manner of classicism.
As Professor Mihail Caffe1
pointed out, Ion Mincu’s attempt at
creating a national style led him to his
own formula, the Ion Mincu style, which
56 The Bellu Christian Orthodox Cemetery and its valuable heritage

could be understood and further refined


by some of his colleagues, each in his
own way (Petre Antonescu, Cristofi
Cerchez, Grigorie Cerchez, N. Ghica
Budeşti, and Constantin Iotzu). His
funerary designs show stylistic and
compositional similarities with the
monuments he saw at Père-Lachaise
during his apprenticeship in Paris and
that were, unquestionably, the visual
models for his own creation and which
he did equal at least.

Ion Mincu’s Funerary Designs:


The Dimitrie Ghica Vault, Bellu
Cemetery (1897, fig. 41)
The Eugeniu Stătescu Vault, Bellu
Cemetery (1898, fig. 28 bis)
The G. Gr. Cantacuzino (the Nabob)
Vault, Bellu Cemetery (1898-1899, fig.
40)
The Simionescu-Rîmniceanu Vault,
Central Cemetery – Focşani (cca.
1900).
The Iacob Lahohary Vault, Bellu
Cemetery (1905, fig. 55)
The Evloghie and Christu Gheorghieff
Vault, Bellu Cemetery (1900-1902, fig.
47)
Vaults 57

Notes

1
I. D. Traianescu, „Fresca înaintaşilor noştri” [A
Fresco of our Forerunners], in „Arhitectura”, no. 1,
1941, p. 110
2
Paul Filip, Bellu, Panteon Naţional, Bucureşti,
ediţia a II-a, Bucureşti 2001, p. 11.
3
Ioana Beldiman, Sculptura franceză în România
(1848-1931). Gust artistic, modă, fapt de
societate, [French Sculpture in Romania (1848-
1931). Artistic taste, fashion, society facts],
Editura Simetria, Bucureşti, 2005, p. 237
4
Andrei Pănoiu, „Cimitirele ca program
arhitectural. Regulamentul pentru înmormântări şi
Legea pentru cimitire”,[The cemeteries as an
architectural programme. Funeral regulations and
the Cemetery Act] in Arhitext Design, no. 12,
1999, p. 30
5
Ioana Beldiman, op. cit, p. 246
6
Idem, p. 250
7
Idem, p. 245
8
Avenue Transversale no 2, 92 Division. In the
chapel there are the remains of the following
persons: Don Thomas Terry, (1808-1886), Teresa
Dorticos (1817-1915), Eduardo Seraphin Terry y
Dorticos (1848-1886), Antonio Terry y Dorticos
(1857-1898) and of the Prince Henry de la Tour
d’Auvergne Lauraguais (1921-1999)
9
The inscription above the entrance, in capital
etters, reads: “In 1905 this saint chapel was
erected to shelter the earthly remains of my very
best and dearest son, Jacques I Lahovary”.
10
When general Lahovary came to me and asked
me to design a house in the Romanian style and
then a small church in the same style, I realized
58 The Bellu Christian Orthodox Cemetery and its valuable heritage

the extent to which this foreigner identified with


the Romanian people […]”, apud Sp. Cegăneanu,
”Ion Mincu (1851-1912)”, in Arhitectura, no. 1,
January-March 1941, p. 31
11
Mihail Caffe, “Ion Mincu”, in Mari arhitecţi,
[Great Architects], Editura Meridiane, Bucureşti,
1971, p. 78

Selective Bibliography
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(1848-1931). Gust artistic, modă, fapt de
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Simetria, Bucureşti, 2005
Buzilă, Ciprian, „Casa Ion Mincu”, [“Ion Mincu”
House], in Buletinul Comisiei Monumentelor
Istorice, nr. 1/2006, pp. 71-83
Caffe, Mihail, „Ion Mincu”, in Mari arhitecţi, [“Ion
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Bucureşti, 1971, pp. 68-78
Caffe, Mihail, Ion Mincu, Editura Meridiane, Bu-
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II-a, Bucureşti 2001
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Editura Silex, Bucureşti, 1997
Pănoiu, Andrei, „Cimitirele ca program
arhitectural. Regulamentul pentru înmormântări şi
Legea pentru cimitire”, [Cemeteries as
architectural programme. The burial regulations
Vaults 59

and the Cemetery law] in Arhitext Design, nr. 12,


1999, pp. 30-32
Petraşcu, N., Ion Mincu, Bucureşti, 1929
Socolescu, T. T., Arhitectul Ion Mincu, [The
architect Ion Mincu], Bucureşti, 1942
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Vasilescu, S. „Ion Mincu văzut de un fost elev al
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*** Personalită i româneşti ale ştiin elor naturii
şi tehnicii, [Romanian personalisties in natural sci-
ence and technology], Editura Ştiin ifică şi Enci-
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