Mosaic “Themis“ in Sofia Court House
Sofia Court House
The mosaic “Themis“ is part of the larger decorative plan for the Sofia Court House. The building is a monumental ensemble decorated by the artists Dechko Uzunov and Ivan Penkov. Ivan Penkov created the project for the mosaic in 1939, and the Berlin-based company “August Vagner” received the commission for it. However, they did not complete the mosaic until 1941. The mosaic embodies the artist’s personal style as well as artistic tendencies in the 1930s in both execution of form and visual message. During this period, the country’s economy became more stable, and the construction of administrative buildings became more of a priority, thus naturally creating a need for large-scale decoration.
The mosaic “Themis“ by Ivan Penkov, 1941
The “Themis” mosaic is thematically connected to the function of the courthouse. Ivan Penkov’s tendency for laconic and schematic images aligned well with the specifics of the mosaic technique. His composition is symmetric and holds heraldic meaning. This is not the artist’s first reflection on justice and law. He chose Themis – the ancient Greek goddess of justice, divine order, and law – as the centerpiece for his impressive mosaic. He depicts her with her typical attributes: she is a blindfolded woman holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other. Her figure is flanked by two lions and fortress towers above in the background, which symbolize the medieval Bulgarian kingdom. The location of the mosaic in an alcove creates a sense of depth and correlates well with the surrounding architectural space. Themis’ golden background underscores the idea that the concepts she represents are both eternal and powerful.
Ivan Penkov (1897-1957)
Ivan Penkov was born in the city of Kazanlak. In 1919, he was admitted to the State School of Drawing in Sofia, currently known as the National Academy of Art, where he studied under professors Petko Klisurov, Boris Mihailov, Anton Mitov, Haralambi Tachev, Zheko Spiridonov, and Stefan Ivanov. In 1922, he organized a joint exhibition with Dechko Uzunov, a friend and fellow student. Between 1922 and 1924, he studied painting at the Munich Academy under Professors Meyerhofer and Hengeler before returning to Bulgaria to continue his studies at the Academy.
Penkov’s work in scenography was paralleled in his painting, and he was invited to work as a decorator in the “Ivan Vazov” National Theater. By the 1920s, he had become one of the most influential theater artists in Bulgaria. He graduated from the Art Academy in Sofia under Prof. Dechko Uzunov in 1933 and taught scenography at the Academy from 1939 to 1955, during which time he founded the “Scenography and Theater Costume” studio. In 1948, he became a full professor in the Applied arts department of the Academy of Arts. Penkov also served as chairman of the Union of Bulgarian Artists in 1931 and 1946. In 1953, Penkov was appointed director of the Institute of Art Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and was a member of the Scientific Council. He died in 1957.
Penkov’s artistic repertoire extended to various mediums such as painting, graphics, book layout, scenography, and monumental painting. In addition to paintings, illustrations, costume and set designs, Penkov created stained glass, mosaics, murals, wooden dolls, and iron works in private and public contexts. Among his emblematic works are murals in the Burgas Chamber of Commerce and Industry (1929), which he completed with Nikola Marinov; stained glass windows in the Bulgarian Embassy in Belgrade (1939); stained glass windows for the Rectory of the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” (1932–1933); the stained glass panel “Themis with the scales of Justice” in the Central Court of the Ministry of Justice in Sofia (1940); the stained glass panel “Coinage in Medieval Bulgaria” in the Bulgarian National Bank (1940); the stained glass panel in Hall 15 and the foyer on the 3rd floor (1940), the mosaic “Themis” (1941), and another stained glass panel “Themis” in the Court House in Ruse (1940).
Link to Google Maps: