Politika, August 2002

author: Katarina Mano-Zisi

translation into English: Vesna Janković

The first book was printed in Belgrade exactly 450 years ago and represents monument of Serbian culture and literacy of its kind.

In August 2002 it was exactly 450 years since the first book had been printed in Belgrade, a representative Tetraevangelion completed on August 4, 1552. (August 17 according to the new calendar). It is by all means a great jubilee of Belgrade printing and important date for the cultural history of the city. Known also as the Belgrade Tetraevangelion, according to the name of the town in which it was made, this book by its age, contents, text, language, typographic and esthetic characteristics is also a particular monument of the Serbian culture and literacy.

From the elaborate afterward it is possible to learn that the printing works were established by Knez (Prince) Radiša Dmitrović who had acquired the equipment and had cast the letters but who suddenly died during these preparations. The work was continued by Trojan Gundulić from Dubrovnik who brought the printing works to his home in Belgrade completing the book on his own expenses. He entrusted preparation and printing management to hieromonk Mardarije from the Monastery of Mrkšina Crkva. It is noted that the book was made in time of great Turkish ruler, Sultan Suleiman and that it was completed on August 4, 1552 in Belgrade .

Dubrovnik citizens in Belgrade

The knowledge on Radiša Dmitrović who initiated Belgrade printing works is scarce. It seems he was related to one family of traders from Dubrovnik that lived in Belgrade. But we know much more about Trojan Gundulić, Dubrovnik citizen, craftsman and trader in Belgrade. Thanks to the archives it is possible to reconstruct almost completely his biography. Trojan was one of the illegitimate children of Federik Dživo Gundulić, Dubrovnik nobleman and Tomuša, woman of the people, probably a maid in his household. Although officially recognized by his father he did not get the nobleman’s title. In Dubrovnik Trojan became a barber. It is known that he practiced this craft in Belgrade as well. In one of the records on his property barber's tools, found in his shop, were listed. Besides, in Belgrade , perhaps even more successfully he dealt with the trade business which enabled him to undertake financing of book printing. Like most of the Dubrovnik citizens who were permanently or temporarily settled in Belgrade he lived in Dubrovnik quarter, one of the oldest and best organized colonies since the times of Despot Stefan Lazarević (1404-1427) when the new capital of the Serbian state became transit town with increased trade with diverse goods. When later on Belgrade got under Turkish rule and thanks to privileges granted by the Sultan protecting their trade, this colony flourished in the mid 16 th century.

It that time Belgrade already assumed oriental character. The Osman Empire, at the culmination of its power, undertook general islamisation having greatest impact on the domestic Serbian population.

It the atmosphere of general jumble and trade of diverse religious, national and trade interests, Dubrovnik citizens settled in Belgrade lived a life more protected than those of other inhabitants due to their organized administrative and legal living in the colony. It was situated in the trade center of the town, in a suburb descending towards the Danube . It might be that Trojan Gundulić, as well-to-do man was an owner of one such well equipped house with working premises where he could put the printing office after taking it over upon the death of Radiša Dmitrović. When, after his death, a record of his property was made the list contained apart from precious furniture and movables, 121 printed books, 59 ones of which were registered as the Serbian Gospels. For sure it was part of Tetraevangelion edition finished in his printing works in 1552.

Ornaments and flags 

When he entered into publishing enterprise Trojan Gundulić made sure of having a man experienced with books and art of printing. It was hieromonk Mardarije. According to the data he provided on himself in the afterwords of his books (save for the Belgrade Tetraevangelion he also printed another one in 1567 in Mrkšina crkva as well as Cvetni triod in 1566) he was “by origin from the area of the river Drina” and belonged to the brotherhood of Monastery Mrkšina crkva situated at the bottom of the mountain Crna Gora. Location of this, nowadays vanished monastery, has not been established with certainty and only Mardarije's book give evidence on his existence.

It is not known where hieromonk Mardarije had learned the printing craft but Belgrade Tetraevangelion leaves no doubt that he knew the entire process of book printing. As it is known so far it is his first book and his best work both in technical and esthetic sense. He managed the whole printing process. He also did editing job concerning selection and preparation of texts for printing according to the manuscripts and then decided on technical and artistic shaping, selection of patterns for ornaments, flags and initials. That required certain education, knowledge about church texts, grammar and orthography which any scribe-calligrapher knew. Technical works such as cutting letters according to the patterns, casting, type setting, work with press were done by other workers and obviously there were quite a few of them. This lively workshop filled Gundulic's house until August 4, 1552 when Belgrade and Serbian history became richer for one luxurious edition. Tetraevangelion was made with the ambition of being representative one as it becomes one of the most important Christian books. It was printed in Serbian-Slavonic literature language. Large letters done as to good calligraphic pattern contribute to solemn type. Technically perfected, clearly cut, these types were not layed tightly so that the text is well legible and easy to survey.

Hieromonk Mardarije paid special attention to the book form. Ornamental motifs and types of flags ahead of the beginning of each of the four gospels and big beautiful initials in red and black color by which this book was generously decorated are of different stylistic orientations ranging from renaissance, south Slavonic to Oriental the samples of which were transferred from one Serbian printing works to another. Succession of red and black color by turns in the printed text, masterly engraved flags and two-colored initials, set proportionally in the whole book contributed to harmonious and esthetic visual impression because of which, among other things, Belgrade Tetraevangelion is considered among the best achievements of the old Serbian printing. The value of this book is even greater and more important if one has in mind that it took 280 years to print book in Belgrade again in liberated Princedom of Serbia when the Serbs got that right by Hatisherif of 1830.


We are grateful to National Library of Serbia for enabling reproduction of pages of phototype edition of Belgrade Tetraevangelion.