The unveiling of the museum in Kazanlak on 24 May 2023, Source: Kazanlak Municipality

This Bulgarian town unveiled a museum for one painting

This Bulgarian town unveiled a museum for one painting

It’s the first of its kind in the country and it’s quite unique even in a global context

One museum – one exhibit. This is the creative and philosophical concept behind a new museum that opened its doors on 24 May in the Bulgarian town of Kazanlak, known as the informal capital of the Rose Valley region.

The permanent collection of the museum will only exhibit the painting ‘Ahinora’ by Bulgarian artist Ivan Milev (1897-1927). The enigmatic portrait of a woman was painted in 1925 and donated to the municipality not long before the artist’s death from influenza at the age of 29.

This makes the museum quite unique as it is the first of its kind in Bulgaria – to be only dedicated to a single artwork. In fact, it might be fairly unique in the world as well. Inconclusive research, done by TheMayor.EU, only managed to find one other example of a similar museum, located in Penza (Russia). The Russian G. V. Myasnikov Museum of One Painting, as it is formally known, however, changes its single exhibit on display and is thus not dedicated to a particular artwork.

The Bulgarian Gioconda

The subject of ‘Ahinora’ is expressive with vividly sad green eyes and a half-veiled face, but it remains a mystery who exactly the woman is and if anyone stood in as a muse for the portrait. Some have even likened it to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa in terms of mystique.

ahinora painting

Ahinora was painted in 1925. Source: Kazanlak Municipality

Some suggestions have proposed that the woman in the painting is one Anna Orozova, who was the wife of a local rose oil merchant. There were rumours in Kazanlak that she and Ivan Milev were having a love affair. But there is also a version that Milev portrayed his own wife - the opera singer Katya Naumova.

Who knows? The title of the painting itself refers to the semi-mythical wife of the first Bulgarian ruler – Khan Asparukh, who is credited with founding the first Bulgarian state in 681.

Apart from the actual painting, visitors will get the chance to listen on their phones to the story The Tale of Achinora by writer Nikolay Rainov, which is the basis for Milev's inspiration. This is where the concept behind the project reveals itself best, as it gives the viewers the chance to trace the transfer of ideas from one art form to another.

There will also be a wing of the museum, which will be dedicated to temporary exhibitions. There the town administration will show other paintings by Milev and other artists, however, only for a limited time. 



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