Onufri Red: The Revolutionary Hue from Albania’s Master of Color - Into Albania

Onufri Red: The Revolutionary Hue from Albania’s Master of Color

Somewhere between blood orange, fuchsia, coral and red, lies one of the most undefinable and dazzling hues in the history of art, created by Albania’s own master iconographer, Onufri.

Red is perhaps the color most associated with the Balkans, be it for the fields of blood-red poppies punctuating much of the region’s countryside or the region’s dramatic character and history. Its rich hue of blood is the one that colors Albania’s flag. Yet, there is another Albanian red that has made a splash since the 16th century. The innovative shade was dubbed “Onufri red” by the French, and the rest is history.

Red for Revolt

In the 16th century, Albania’s virtuoso iconographer Onufri carved his name in Albania’s “red” history and culture by creating a shade of red no one had seen before. Born in the early 16th century, the backdrop to Onufri’s childhood was the Ottoman conquest of Albania. As such, his Christian iconography was not only innovative but outright revolutionary for the time. Onufri’s depictions of St. Mary, Christ and countless biblical scenes are immersed in one of the most brilliant red hues that the country and, perhaps the entire region, has seen. It was thus that the “Onufri red” was born.

What is “Onufri red”

The rich hue verges on blood orange and fuchsia but, as with anything truly great, the color’s rich dimensionality and dazzling power is undefinable. Only Onufri’s own name can do it justice. What one immediately notices is how contemporary the hue appears. Indeed, Onufri was an artist that was far ahead of his time. Not only his colors but his compositions, as well, signaled a revolution in style at the time of his artistic activity and continued to inspire an entire school of iconographers. He introduced greater, more realistic, facial expression to his icons as well as an unprecedented kind of individuality.   

See “Onufri red” for yourself

Onufri’s name graces the National Iconographic Museum in Berat, located in the Dormition of St. Mary Cathedral, inside the Berat Castle. The museum’s collection, which amounts to a total 173 selected items, also includes the greatest part of Onufri’s work. Huge Bonus: the museum has the greatest digital audio-guide system in the country. You get all the historic (and juicy) details in four languages!

You can also find Onufri’s works in the National Historical Museum of Tirana, specifically in the pavilion dedicated to post-Byzantine iconography. One of the most impressive works, dominated by the “Onufri red,” is “St. Mary’s Entrance into the Temple.” The same pavilion exhibits works from the artists of the school funded by Onufri, Berat School of Iconography. If you find yourself in Korça, stop by the National Museum of Medieval Art to see some more “Onufri red.”

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