"What is that impulse, that irresistible force which will not let the peasant rest content with the merely useful, but drives him to seek the best proportioned and most harmonious forms that appeal to the eye by color and line, are pleasant to the touch and produce that rare sense of contentment, poise of mind and joy which characterize aesthetic enjoyment?
(Art Historian George Oprescu, Peasant Art in Romania, 1922)
While Romania gave the world fine artists, among whom sculptor Constantin Brancusi is probably the best known, the typical zest for life and almost naive optimism of Romanians is perhaps best expressed in the traditional arts and crafts of local artisans and peasants, extending even to the colorful, unique, grave markers in the "Merry Cemetery" of Sapanta, (NW Romania). There, carved wooden crosses painted in blue, feature colorful traditional motifs and a brief, in many cases humorous, ephitaph concerning the deceased's lifestyle, ocupation, remarkable skills or weaknesses.
Romania offers a wealth of crafts and traditional decorative items, the most popular being:
The most readily recognizable examples of Romanian popular art are, perhaps, the painted eggs.
Painting of real hollowed-out eggs was and still is an integral part of preparations for Easter, a celebration of renewal.
In many rural parts of Romania, women and children still gather, before Easter, in someone's home and spen a day painting and gossiping.
Intricate patterns were actually secret languages known only to residents of the regions where they were painted.
The oldest known were painted with aqua fortis (nitric acid) on a traditional red background. Painted eggs are available in nearly all souvenir shops and street markets.
Romanian pottery is still made mainly on traditional kick-wheels with simple finishing tools. Shapes, sizes and patterns reflect the different clays and cultures of diverse areas where are produced. Color glazes and decorations vary from strong geometrics, to delicate florals, animals and humans. There are approximately 30 pottery centers throughout the country, each with its own distinctive style, but the main areas are in Horezu in Oltenia; Miercurea-Ciuc and Corund in eastern Transylvania; Baia Mare - NW Romania, and Radauti and Marginea in Bucovina region (NE Romania).
Maramures region (NW Romania) is, without a doubt, the area in wich almost every household item made from wood is adorned with traditional motifs. Homes are made from elaborately carved wood beams, wooden gates and even fences are intricately decorated. Historically, in this area, a family's community status was displayed through the carvings in the wooden-gates – the more elaborate, the more important and wealthy the family. In the "Merry Cemetery" of Sapanta, hand-carved decorations in complex patterns hold meanings beyond the purely decorative. Trees of life, twisted rope, moons, stars, flowers and wolf teeth to ward off evil spirits are associated with myths and superstitions. They show up in furniture, spoons, ladles, walking sticks, keepsake chests and other decorative objects, sometimes embellished with paint. Wooden flutes and recorders are also elaborately carved. Most prized are the multi-piped pan flutes, which are now very rare, as few artisans know how to make them and even fewer know how to play them.
Textile weaving is the most widespread craft in Romania, handed down from generation to generation, using distinctive family patterns along with those specific to different districts. Looms still are common in homes and women weave and embroider from childhood through old age. The predominant fibers, wool and cotton are woven into rugs, wall hangings, table covers and clothing. Some Romanian weavers and embroiderers still work with threads and yarns they produce themselves, but younger weavers tend to purchase their raw materials. They weave and embroider just about every cloth article used in their homes, from colorful linen and cotton towels to window draperies, bedspreads, rugs, wall hangings, furniture throws and clothing. In a village near Sibiu, part of a bride's dowry is still a tolic, used to decorate horses of those who ride from house to house issuing wedding invitations.
Embroidery on folk costumes worn for holidays and special occasions (like weddings) follows strict regional patterns and serves also as a sort of secret language known only to people within the different regions. In Sibiu (Transylvania) graphic black and white motifs, reflecting its Saxon heritage are used; In southern Romania red, brown, yellow, gold, and silver threads, reflect influences of the Ottoman Empire. Terra cotta is used in the areas at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains; Green is used in Oas land (NW Romania) while in Moldavia (NE Romania) orange and the Voronet blue are the dominant colors. Especially beautiful is cut embroidery on white or ecru linen and cotton, done throughout the country.
Weaving wool from own sheeps, with thread she spins, is not uncommon and priceless examples of an enduring way of life can still be found in in many villages in Romania.
While technically textiles, these deserve their own category, because no other textiles so dramatically reflect their regions of origin. As varied as different areas' attractions, so too are the rugs that are displayed on surrounding fences. Most are flat-weave kilims, probably introduced centuries ago by the controlling Ottoman Empire. Today's hand-weavers mix traditional vegetable-dyed yarns with commercial aniline-dyed yarns to produce startling accents within traditional patterns and colors. Rugs from Oltenia reflect nature, with flowers, trees and birds. Those of Moldavia have patterns of little branches repeated in rows to create a tree of life. Rugs from Maramures tend to have geometric shapes, resembling those from Turkey and the Caucasian mountains.
Masks are linked to folk festivals held predominantly in Maramures and Moldavia. Typically made from the hides of sheep, goats or cows, the masks are adorned with fabric, hats, pompoms, metallic bits, feathers, beans, straw and animal horns to represent bears and goats, they're traditionally worn to welcome in the New Year during a couple weeks in December and early January.
The oldest preserved glass found on Romania's territory dates back to the Roman Empire. Currently, there is a renewed passion for creating art in blown glass and several contemporary Romanian glass artists enjoy international recognition. Most of the professional glass artists are clustered in the northeast, near Botosani. Glass artisans in small workshops, located in Transylvania and in Walachia, turn out molded, hand-shaped and hand-blown glass in spectacular creations.
Works of sculptor Constantin Brancusi are exhibited in the world's finest art museums, but his largest works can be seen in the town of Targu Jiu, in Oltenia region (south-western Romania). "The Endless Column" (Coloana Infinita), "The Gate of the Kiss" (Poarta Sarutului), "The Table of Silence" (Masa Tacerii) and "The Alley of Chairs" (Aleea Scaunelor) are placed in Targu Jiu central park, exactly where the great sculptor wished.
Not far from Targu Jiu, Horezu is a major ceramics centre and home to the "Contemporary Folk Art Gallery where works of Romanian artists are exhibited.
Romania has a great diversity of museums preserving every facet of its history and arts. Some are small museums, catering to enthusiasts with a taste for special interests such as pharmacy, clocks, railway trains, folk arts and architecture, wine making and traditional crafts. Larger museums host regular exhibitions from around the world, as well as housing permanent collections of paintings and sculptures. Prominent museums include Romania's National Museum of Art, the Art Collections Museum, the Village Museum, the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest, and the Bruckenthal Museum in Sibiu.
Romania Main Art Museums include:
Arad Art Museum
(Complexul Muzeal Arad )
Brasov Art Museum
(Muzeul de Arta Brasov)
Brasov Ethnography Museum
(Muzeul de Etnografie Brasov)
Cotroceni Palace & Museum
(Muzeul National Cotroceni)
Minovici Museum of Ancient Western Art - Bucharest
(Muzeul de Arta Veche Apuseana)
Bucharest - Museum of the Romanian Peasant
(Muzeul Taranului Roman)
Bucharest - National Art Museum
(Muzeul National de Arta - Bucuresti)
Bucharest - National Museum of Contemporary Art
(Muzeul National de Arta Contemporana)
Storck Art Museum - Bucharest
(Muzeul de Arta Frederic Storck si Cecilia Cutescu-Storck)
Theodor Pallady Art Museum
(Muzeul de Arta Theodor Pallady)
K H Zambaccian Art Museum
(Muzeul de Arta K H Zambaccian)
Cluj Napoca National Art Museum
(Muzeul National de Arta - Cluj Napoca)
Cluj Napoca Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania
(Muzeul Etnografic al Transilvaniei)
Constanta Art Museum
(Muzeul de Arta Constanta)
Iasi Art Museum
(Muzeul de Arta Iasi - Palatul Culturii)
Samuel Brukenthal National Art Museum - Sibiu
(Muzeul National Brukenthal)
Sibiu - ASTRA Ethnography Museum
(Muzeul, in aer liber, ASTRA - Dumbrava Sibiului)
Franz Binder Universal Ethnography Museum
(Muzeul de Etnografie Universala Franz Binder - Sibiu)
Maramures Ethnography Museum
(Muzeul de Etnografie al Maramuresului - Sighetu Marmatiei)
Bucovina Ethnography Museum
(Muzeul de Etnografie Hanul Domnesc - Suceava )
Timisoara Art Museum
(Muzeul de Arta Timisoara)