The Painter – The Revolutionary Life of Petar Nikolajević

The beginning of the 19th century saw Serbia finally shake off the damn Ottoman Empire after two uprisings. These uprisings also created a division in Serbian society, but many would take inner-national squabbling over brutal occupation. Many men took part in both uprisings, but only one man wrote a letter to the leaders in his own blood. Well, only one that we know of anyway.

He was nicknamed Moler, which means ‘The Painter’, if you are interested in such translations. His actual name was Petar Nikolajević, and he was born in 1775 in a central Serbian village by the name of Babina Luka, not far from Valjevo. Babina Luka was also the hometown of legendary Serbian Orthodox archimandrite Hadži-Ruvim, which makes sense as the abbot was Petar’s uncle. Hadži-Ruvim met his demise at the Slaughter of the Knezes, which is every bit as grim as it sounds.

Petar worked as a school teacher in the late 18th century, but the beginning of the next century saw him abandon education in favour of revolution. His painting increased, explaining the nickname, and he gained a lot of favour during the First Serbian Uprising by painting a church built by Karadjordje in Topola.

The First Serbian Uprising took place between 1804 and 1813, and ended with the Ottomans reestablishing control of Serbia and brutalising its people in the process. Times were tough (clearly). Petar Nikolajević found himself in Loznica, where he decided to write a letter to the leaders of the Uprising. Unfortunately there seemed to be a lack of ink available in Loznica, so Moler used the next best thing – his own blood.

As you do.

Nikolajević subsequently fled to Austria following the failure of the uprising, only to return for the sequel that kicked off in 1815. This second go-around was far more successful, resulting in a Serbian victory and the establishment of the autonomous Principality of Serbia. Nikolajević was a hugely important cog in the machine of the Second Uprising, serving as Prime Minister between 1815 and 1816.

This position of influence would eventually be his downfall. Petar was one of the first to oppose the leader of the Uprising, one Miloš Obrenović, and this earned him little more than a stint in a Belgrade prison. His stay wasn’t a long one however, and in late 1816 he was drowned in the slammer. He left behind four kids.

Petar Nikolajević doesn’t take up a huge chunk of Serbian history, but his contribution has not been forgotten. His paintings have outlasted him, although that isn’t so hard when you die in prison aged 41. Plenty of monasteries pay homage to the man, the revolutionary dauber who sacrificed his own blood for the cause.

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