Nikolai Rainov

A Short Biography

Nikolai Ivanov Rainov (1 Jan. 1889-2 May 1954) was a prominent Bulgarian writer, artist and academician. He was one of the foremost East European modernists.

Nikolai Raynov was born in the village of Kesarevo, Veliko Tarnovo, on 1 January 1889 in the family of a noteworthy activist for national liberation — Ivan Raynov. Brother of the artist Stoyan Raynov, a professor of ceramics; father of the eminent sculptor Bojan Raynov and the writer Bogomil Raynov.

He graduated from the Theological seminary in Sofia (1908).  Later, he graduated from the philosophy department at the University of Sofia (1911).  Took part in the First World War as a war correspondent to the 9th Pleven Division.

He graduated from the State Art-Industrial School in Sofia (1919).

He wrote poetry, fiction, works on culture and the history of art, folklore, ethno our are graphy; cooperated with the press; did researches on many cultural monuments; published a number of articles on art and literature.

Editor of the magazines «Zenica» and «Orpheus», the newspapers «Belfry» and «Ankhira.» His first book, «Bogomil legends» (1912) was published by the pseudonym Anonymus. Several months later, Anton Strashimirov published an extensive review of the book in two successive instalments in the magazine «Our life» (v. 9-10), describing the author as «a creative talent with a visage, such as we have not had hitherto,» and his debut – «an event.»

In the period 1918-1919, he worked together with Geo Milev, writing several articles for his magazine «Vezni» («Scales»). That same year he published several books: «Visions from Around Ancient Bulgaria,» «The Book of Kings», «The Eyes of Arabia,» «Sunny Tales», «Between the Desert and Life», the poem «The City.» He produced a second edition of «Bogomil legends,» expanded the edition of «Book of Mysteries,» translated «Thus Spake Zarathustra» by Friedrich Nietzsche. In 1919, he embarked on a prolonged journey in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor.

During the period 1922-1927, he worked as chief librarian at the National Library in Plovdiv. Then he studied for two years in Paris to become familiar with the cultural monuments in the French capital. When he returned, he was given a teaching position at the Academy of Arts in Sofia, where he was a professor of art history from 1927 to 1950.

He wrote the book «The Brother Saints.» In 1933 (together with Prof. Blagoi Mavrov and Nikola Trifonov) became acquainted with the Bogomil literature, kept in storage at the state library on the island of Malta. Studied thoroughly the history and the essence of the Bogomils in Bulgaria. In 1930, he founded the Bulgarian Association «Roerich».

Because of his novel «Between the Desert and Life» dedicated to the life of Jesus Christ, Nikolai Rainov was excommunicated from the Orthodox Church. In 1924, he became the editor of the new magazine «Orpheus», whose objective was to promote the theosophical ideas, and at the end of the 1920s, he created the theosophical lodge «Orpheus». The journal was published for only two years.

He is the author of 30 collections of tales from around the world (1930-1934); 9 volumes of «The Eternal in Our Literature» (1941); «A History of Plastic Arts» in 12 volumes.

Professor of art history at the Academy of Art, Sofia (1927-1950). Chairman of the Union of Bulgarian Artists. Academician (1945), a corresponding member of the Bulgarian Archaeological Institute. Co-founder and first director of the Institute of Literature of the Academy of Sciences (1948-1949).

Here is a brief autobiographical note by Nikolay Raynov in the «Harvest» almanac  in 1922:

“I studied philosophy and also graduated with decorative and graphic arts; I had decided to become a monk, but eventually got married; I loved the people, and they came to hate me; my enemies are those to whom I have done only good; I am thirty and look old; I thought my calling was reading, but then had to force myself to write. I owe my greatest gratitude to the Theological seminary, where I was taught to think, to keep silence, to revere, to contemplate and seek something higher than man …

I suffered anguish and poverty, in which I rejoiced: from the start I sought support in none other but myself, and to none gave up myself. I wandered far and wide in our lands, in all Bulgaria, to study my own language, because I was ashamed of not knowing it, but having the need of foreign words. I roamed the East as well, from where I keep yellowed notebook of memories that someday I might edit and publish. I looked for traces of lost spiritual movements, met dear people of whom I dare not talk, I saw things no pen could ever commit to the paper. I lived as a bird. I learned many things. Many sciences I needed. Having been pregnant with impressions long enough, I gave them to others: this is how, one by one, all my books came to life. Many of them contian confessions: whoever knows how to read them, shall see me for what I am and what I was.”

His granddaughter Diana Raynova said of him: «One wonders where his Indian diaries are now, and the lore he was given by Moriah his teacher. … We are yet to rediscover Nikolai Rainov’s personality and the legacy he bequeathed to us.”

For two years he researched all gravestones and inscriptions in Koprivshtitza, and published a comprehensive monograph on the subject. He also carried out an extensive research on Bulgarian wood carving art and ancient history.

After September 9, 1944 Rainov initially was on the side of the Fatherland Front, but a few years later fell into disfavour. Ideological differences with his son, the writer Bogomil Rainov, subsequently brought about to a rift between them.

English translation: Petko Hinov



“Bulgarian Tales of Old”


Selected excerpts