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The „poetry“ of Ivan Milev

“Milev was the first and only one to paint Bulgarian rural Christianity. In his painting are our souls, our manners, our hopes, our sharp profiles and rounded backs, our hard long fingers that grip the kaval or ax hard.
In Ivan Milev I had what the civilization of Occitania gave me as a whole: the prayer in the cathedral and the flowering tree in the fields.
Vladimir Svintila

Ivan Milev was born on February 19, 1897, in the family of shepherd Milyu Lalev, from the village of Shipka.

In 1916, before his graduation from Kazanlak Pedagogical School, he was mobilized in the Infantry Barracks in Sofia and enlisted in the headquarters of the Aviation Company as a military artist. He received his certificate of maturity in 1919 and decided to teach in order to save money and be able to study at the Academy of Arts. He spent three years in the village of Gorski Izvor, Haskovo Province, teaching in the primary school. These years were extremly formative and significant for his work- his sensitive spirit was exploring the beliefs and legends of simple villagers.

In 1920 he was admitted to the National Academy of Arts in Sofia where he studied under prof. Stefan Badzhov. In 1923 he visited Turkey, Greece and Italy, on a student trip and became familiar with Italian Renaissance and Baroque. He gratuated in 1926 and started to work as a stage designer for the Ivan Vazov National Theatre.

He died of influenza at a young age- three weeks before he turned 30- but his complex mind and soul gave birth to different forms of art.

According to Angel Georgiev, who served with Ivan Milev at the front, the artist used to write poems- “Some I liked – especially a poem “Adagio”. The artist often connected his paintings with poetry and folk songs.” 1

I like the poets that paint their poems

Regarded as the founder of Bulgarian Secession and representative of Bulgarian modernism, Ivan Milev explored social themes, religion and mysticism. The narrative of his paintings combine different types of symbols, mystical imagery and folklore.

Most of his life he lived in poverty, but that didn’t kill his creative spirit, on the contrary- the poor people, the villagers are a constant subject of his work. To paint them with such a splendor it means to merge with their beliefs and values, to observe and absorb their way of living.

“He strives to transform everything around him in order to be in harmony with the beauty of his inner world.”2

Ахинора (Anihora)- that can now be found in the Art Gallery, in Kazanlak, Bulgaria- is his most famous painting. It is a representation of the wife of Khan Asparuh, the founder of Bulgaria, during the First Bulgarian Empire (681–1018). The exotic beauty of Ahinora becomes the symbol of the beauty of the Bulgarian woman. Milev gave her the features of one of his most important women: Anna Orozova. She was the wife of the millionaire and philanthropist Mito Orozov who was a kind of modern Khan Asparuh and of course patron of artists like Milev.3


“When he painted my portrait… his imagination preceded what he saw and the ordinary clothes for a moment turned into a heavy crimson, colored and illuminated by his creative imagination” – writes Anna Orozova4


1.To feel like a king and live like a beggar-

2.Ivan Milev – the “most Bulgarian” artist- http://www.pravoslavieto.com/history/20/1927_ivan_milev/index.htm

3. Ahinora. Milev portrays the wife of the founder of Bulgaria-  https://historia-arte.com/obras/ahinora

4. Ivan Milev – the “most Bulgarian” artist- http://www.pravoslavieto.com/history/20/1927_ivan_milev/index.htm

Iulya Tudosie

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