Art of Croatia

Art of Croatia

Croatian art describes the visual arts in Croatia from medieval times to the present. In Early Middle Ages, Croatia was important centre for art and architecture in Southeastern Europe. There were many Croatian artists during the Medieval periods, and the arts flourished during the Renaissance. Later styles in Croatia included Baroque and Rococo.

Ancient Heritage

= Prehistoric Art [] =

Ancient monuments from Paleolithic are very poor and it consists out of simple stone and bone objects. Some of the earliest remaining historical features include 100,000 year old bones of a Neandertal man near Krapina (Krapina-Zagorje county).

Ancient habitants of Mediterranean cultures on the coast and those of Pannonian cultures in the continental area were developing Neolithic cultures in the boundaries of present day Republic of Croatia. Neolithic is marked with big production of ceramics and sculptures of human and animal forms reduced to a form of sign. The most investigated are listed chronologically:
"Starčević culture" (Pannonian culture named after its founder archeologist "Starčević") had characteristically fine red and ochre ceramics. "Istrian culture" (named after peninsula Istria in Croatia) which characteristic is stone houses ("Bunja") without any type of bounding material, natively called dry-wall building ("suhozid"). These types of houses have staid in use until 19th century for shepherds. "Sopot culture" and "Korenovo culture" (named after towns of "Sopot" and "Korenovo" in Slavonia) with original ceramic pots decorated with flat parallel lines, curves or v-shaped cuts."Danilo culture" (found on Adriatic coast and islands) was rich with fine dark ceramics decorated with engraved geometrical motifs, spirals and meanders. Out of this culture sprung "Hvar culture" (after large island of Hvar) that is linked with Neolithic Greek cultures. We should also mention Neolithic excavation sites in "Ščitarjevo" near Zagreb, "Nakovanj" on the Pelješac peninsula and elsewhere.

The most interesting Copper Age or Eneolithic finds are from "Vučedol culture" (named after Vučedol near Vukovar). Ceramics are of extraordinaire quality with black color, high glow and specific decorative geometrical cuts that were incrust with white, red or yellow color. Sculptures are few, but very skillfully done and very expressive (like pot in shape of Dove with engraved double axe – "labrys"). People were living on hilltops with palisade walls. Houses were half buried, mostly square or circular (they were also combined in mushroom shape), with floor of burned clay and circular fireplace. Out of that culture sprung out Bronze Age "Vinkovci culture" (named after city of Vinkovci) that is recognizable by bronze fibulas that were replacing objects like needles and buttons.

Bronze culture of Illyrians, ethnic group with distinct culture and art form started to organize itself on today’s Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. From 7th century BC bronze is replaced by iron, and only jewelry and art objects were still made out of bronze. Illyrian tribes, under the influence of Halstat cultures from north, form their regional centers that were slightly different. Very important role in their life was the cult of the dead, which is seen in their careful burials and burial ceremonies, as well as richness of the burial cites. In northern parts there was long tradition of cremation and burial in shallow graves, while in the south the dead are buried in large stone, or earth tumuli (natively called – "gromile").
Japod tribes have had affinity for decoration with heavy, oversized necklaces out of yellow, blue or white glass paste, and large bronze fibulas, as well as spiral bracelets, diadems and helmets made out of bronze. Small sculptures out of jade in form of archaic Ionian plastic are also characteristically Japodian. Numerous monumental sculptures are preserved, as well as walls of citadel "Nezakcij" near Pula, one of numerous Istrian cities from Iron Age.

In 4th century BC first outbreak of Celts is recorded; they have brought technique of pottery wheel, new types of fibulas and different bronze and iron belts. They only passed on their way to Greece, so their influence in Slavonia, Istria and Dalmatia is negligible.

In delta of Neretva on the south there was important influence of Hellenistic Illyrian tribe of Daors.Illyrians even conquered Greek colonies on Dalmatian islands. Famous is the queen Teuta of "Issa" (today island of Vis) which waged wars with Romans. But finally, Romans subdued Illyrians in first century BC, and after that the history of these parts is a history of Illyrian provinces of Rome and Byzantium.

= Antiquity [] =

Greek sailors and merchants have reached almost every part of Mediterranean and so on the shores of today’s Croatia. Greeks from Syracuse in Sicily in 390 BC came to islands of Vis ("Issa"), Hvar ("Pharos") and Korčula ("Corcyra Nigra") and there have founded city-states in which they lived quite isolated. Trade cities on Adriatic shores as "Tragurion" (today Trogir), "Salona" (Solin near Split), "Epetion" (today Stobreč), Issa (Vis), were geometrically shaped and had villas, harbors, public buildings, temples and theatres. Pharos and Issa were strong Greek centers that showed their independence with their own money and marital fleet. Unfortunately, beside painted pots and ceramic tanagra sculptures, there is only few material founding of this culture. One of those are: "Croatian Apoxyomenos", Bronze head of goddess Artemis from Issa, 4th century BC; and stone relief of Kairos (god of happy moment) - from Tragurion, 3rd century BC, associated to famous Greek sculptor Lysippos.While the Greek colonies were flourishing on the island, on the continent the Illyrians were organizing their centers. Their art was greatly influenced by Greek art, and they have even copied some.

Romans [] subdued Greek colonial cities in 3rd century BC. They have imposed organization based on military-economical system. Further more, Romans subdued Illyrians in first century BC and organized the entire coastal territory by transforming citadels to urban cities. After that the history of these parts is a history of Illyrian provinces of Roman Empire.
Numerous rustically villas, and new urban settlements (the most impressive are "Verige" in Brijuni, Pula and Trogir - formerly Tragurion) demonstrate high level of roman urbanization. There have been at least thirty urban cities in Istria, Liburnia and Dalmatia with roman citizenship (civitas). The best-preserved nets of roman streets (decumanus/cardo) are those in "Epetion" (Poreč) and "Jader" (Zadar).The most entirely preserved roman monuments are in "Pola" (Pula); founded in first century dedicated to Julius Caesar, it is full with classical roman art [] as: stonewalls, two city gates, two temples on Forum, and remains of two theaters, as well as the Arch from year 30 AD, and the temple of August build in years 2 to 14 AD, and finally the Fluvian Amphitheater (so called – Arena) from 2nd century. In 3rd century AD the city of "Salona" becomes the largest (it had 40 000 inhabitants) and most important city of Dalmatia. Near the city emperor Diocletian, born in Salona, build the Palace (around year 300 AD), which is largest and most important monument of late antique architecture in the World. On its pathways, cellars, domes, mausoleums, arcades and courtyards we can trace numerous different art influences from the entire Empire. Sculptures that we inherited are ones like: "the head of a boy, girl and a woman" from Salona, "monumental figure of Minerva" from Varaždin, "the head of Hercules" from Sinj, "sculptures of roman emperors" from Nin and "Vid" near Metković, "damaged sculpture of emperor" in Zagreb Museum etc.

In the 4th century Salona have became the center of Christianity for entire western Balkans. It hade numerous basilicas and necropolises, and even two saints: "Domnius" (Duje) and Anastasius ("Staš").

One of few preserved basilicas in western Europe (beside ones in Ravenna) from the time of early Byzantium is Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč from 6th century.

The early Middle Ages brought the great migration of the Slavs and this period was perhaps a "Dark Age" in the cultural sense until the successful formation of the Slavic states which coexisted with Italic cities that remained on the coast, each of them were modelled like Venice.

Medieval Art

1. First Croatian Art Of Early Middle Ages []

The term Middle Ages [] , in Western Europe, designates the period following the decline of the Roman Empire through the thirteenth century. Early Middle Ages [] (Pre-Romanesque) covers the time from seventh to the end of the tenth century.In the 7th century the Croats, with other Slavs and Avars, came from Northern Europe to the region where they live today [] . They were on the level of Iron Age nomadic culture, so they did not know how to enjoy the advantages of urban cities. That’s why they first inhabited city boundaries on close by rivers (like "Jadro" near roman Salona) [] .

The Croats were open to roman art and culture, and first of all to Christianity. First churches were build as royal sanctuaries, and influences of roman art was strongest in Dalmatia where urbanization was thickest, and there was largest number of monuments. Gradually that influence was neglected and certain simplification, alteration of inherited forms and even creation of original buildings appeared. All of them (dozen large ones and hundred of small ones) were build with "roughly cut stone" (natively called – "lomljenac") bounded with thick layer of malter from outside. Large churches are longitudinal with one or three naves like church of Holy Salvation on spring of river Cetina, build in 9th century. The church has strong semi-circular buttresses that give feeling of fortification, emphasized with mighty bell-tower positioned in front of entrance.

Smaller churches are interestingly shaped (mainly central) with several apses. The largest and most complicated central based church from 9th century is St Donatus in Zadar. Around its circular centre – with dome above – is nave in shape of ring with three apses directed to east; that shape is followed on second floor forming a gallery. From those times, with its size and beauty we can only compare the chapel of Charlemagne in Aachen.

Altar fence and windows of those churches were highly decorated with transparent shallow string-like ornament that is called pleter (meaning to weed) because the strings were threaded and rethreaded through itself. Motifs of those reliefs were taken from roman art (waves, three-string interlace, pentagrams, net of rhomboids etc.), but while in roman art they only made frame of a sculpture in Dark Ages it fills entire surface. Those reliefs were vividly colored (red, blue and yellow), and because the paintings from that period are not preserved (we know the existed because they were mentioned in written sources as "liturgical from Split", 8-11th century), they remain the only remains of old-Croatian painting.

Sometimes the figures from Bible appeared alongside this decoration, like relief in Holy Nedjeljica in Zadar, and then they were subdued by their pattern. That happened to engravings in early Croatian script – Glagolitic.s of old-Croatian churches. Those inscriptions usually mention to whom the church was dedicated, who build it and when it was build, as well who produced the building. That was the way that "“barbarian newcomers”" could fit amongst the Romanised natives.
From "Crown Church of King Zvonimir" (so called "Hollow Church" in Solin) comes the altar board with figure of Croatian King on the throne with Carolingian crown, servant by his side and subject bowed to the king. Linear cuts representing lines on the robes are similar to lines on their frontal faces, and also on those of a frame. Today the board is a part of Split cathedral baptistery.

Out of artistically applied objects there are many reliquaries preserved [] . They were adored and believed to have magical powers of healing. They were usually shaped as the part of body that was in them [] . That’s why the "relic of Saint James's head" in Zadar is shaped in form of a head; the tube part has section with stream of arcades with single saint in every one, while a dome-like cover is decorated with medallions bearing symbols of evangelist and Christ on the top.

By joining the Hungarian state in the twelfth century, Croatia lost its independence, but it didn't lose its ties with the south and the west, and instead this ensured the beginning of a new era of Central European cultural influence.

2. Romanesque Art

and reform of the church. In that period many valuable monuments and artefacts were made. We can find them mainly allocated alongside Croatian coast and nearby lands: Istria, Dalmatia, and Primorje; while artefacts and monuments from Croatian north are scarce. In 11th century the monumental cities were build along entire Dalmatian coast. Houses were out of stone, on ground floor there were shops or dinners (natively – "konoba") like in cities as: Poreč, Rab, Zadar, Trogir and Split. In them the most important buildings were churches. They were commonly stone-built basilicas with three naves, three apses, columns, arches, arcades and wooden roofs; build near monasteries of benedictian monks who came out of Italy. St. Peter in "Supetarska Draga" on island of Rab (11th century) is best-preserved church of that type in Croatia. On the same island is "Cathedral of Rab" (12th century) that has high-Romanesque bell tower, largest in Dalmatia. It is specific with its openings, which are multiplied as we go higher floor by floor (Latin: mono-fore, bi-fore, tri-fore, quadro-fore); typical for Romanesque, but also architecturally smart because it makes every next floor a bit lighter than the preceding one.

Cathedral of St. Anastasia, Zadar (natively - St. Stošija) in Zadar (13th century) is marked outside by a string of blind arch-niches on both sides and on frontal side where it also has two Rose windows with radial columns and three portals. Inside it has three naves, slim columns that are supporting a gallery, and flat figurative reliefs.

In Croatian Romanesque sculpture we have a transformation of decorative interlace relief (natively – pleter) to figurative, which is found on stone ceilings. At the end of Romanesque period, in Istria there were workshops of monumental figures. They had geometrical and naturalistic features reminiscent of gothic. The best examples of Romanesque sculpture are: wooden doors of Split cathedral done by Andrija Buvina (c.1220) and Stone portal of Trogir cathedral done by artisan Radovan (c. 1240).

"Main portal of Trogir cathedral", done by artisan Radovan, is the greatest and the most important monument of medieval sculpture, not only in Croatia but also in all Balkans. It consists out of four parts: surrounding, on door jamb, are naked sculptures of Adam and Eve on both sides, carried by lions; and inside are numerous reliefs with every-day scenes organized in monthly calendar, and scenes from hunting; and finally in the middle are scenes from the life of Christ: from Annunciation to Resurrection – positioned in arches around tympanum. Finally, in tympanum is the "Birth of Christ". The way the figures are formed is very realistic, calling on new gothic humanism, on the trail of the highest achievements of French sculpture (of that in Chartres). Radovan is oriented toward human counterpart in art; best seen in selection of main scene in the tympanum – instead of usual Romanesque motif of Last Judgement he had chosen "The Nativity".

Romanesque painting is on walls, on board and in books – illumination. Early frescoes are numerous and best preserved in Istria. On them we can evidence the mixing of influences of Eastern and Western Europe, for example: flat, linear drapes and round red circles on their cheeks. Paintings on board are usually "Madonna with Child" and painted Crucifixions. The oldest miniatures are from 13th century – Evangelical book from Split and Trogir.

3. Gothic Art

canals and communalities. Largest urban project of those times was complete building of two new towns – "Small and Large Ston", and about a "kilometre of wall" with guard towers between them (14th century). After Hadrian's wall in Scotland, the longest wall in Europe. That way all of Pelješac peninsula was surrounded and protected from land shore whit aim to protect the most valuable possession of Republic of Dubrovnik – salt from Ston.

We can recognize Gothic fortification with its high towers in shape of square prism from simple Romanesque one, or round Renaissance one. The best-preserved ones in Croatia are in Istria (Hum, Bale, Motovun, Labin etc) and those on north ("Medvedgrad" above Zagreb from year 1260) or on the south "Sokolac" in Lika (14th century).

"Franciscan church in Pula" (1285) is the most representative example of Early Gothic. Simple one nave building with wooden rib-vault ceiling, with square apse and high stain windows was built from 13th to 15th century.

Tatars destroyed Romanesque cathedral in Zagreb during their scourge in 1240, but right after their departure Zagreb got the title of a free city from Hungarian king Bela IV. Soon after bishop Timotej began to rebuild the cathedral in new Gothic style. Building with three naves, polygonal apses and rib-vault had Romanesque round towers. The naves were built in 14th century, and the vault was finished in 15th. With the arrival of Turks in 16th century high walls and towers surrounded it. Only one tower was finished in 17th century, while in 18th the Baroque roof became the landmark of entire city. With the restoration in 19th century in Neo-gothic style it lost former harmony.

During the 14th century, "the Split cathedral of St Duje" and cluster of Franciscan monastery in Dubrovnik were also build.

."The Church of St Mark" in Zagreb was built in 14th and 15th century in Late Gothic style. In that manner was also the main portal with portraits of St Mark, Christ, Madonna and 12 apostles with slightly rounded heads and softly drapes on their clothes. Originally the entire portal was vividly colored as we can see by the remains of colors on wooden figures.

over the saints’ grave.

Gothic painting is less preserved, and finest works are in Istria as fresco-cycle of "Vincent from Kastv" in "Church of Holy Mary" in "Škriljinah" near "Beram", from 1474. Characters are tangible, three-dimensional in illusion of space. By the scenes from the life of Christ there is also "The March of the Dead" ("The Dance of Death"), which is humanistic, late gothic theme, very popular in Renaissance.

Paolo Veneziano was the greatest painter of the Adriatic in the 14th century. His works were mixture of Byzantine iconography and gothic idealisation. He worked on the icons in Krk, Rab, Zadar, and Trogir. In Dubrovnik he has done a masterpiece - "Dubrovnik Crusifiction".

From that times are the two of the best and most decorated illuminated liturgies done by monks from Split, – "Hvals’ Zbornik" (today in Zagreb) and "Misal of Bosnian duke Hrvoje Vukčić Hrvatinić" (now in Istanbul).


occupation. Dalmatia was on the periphery of several influences, just as far from Italy as from Ottomans in Bosnia and Austrians in the north, so it thrived from all. In those circumstances in Dalmatia flourished religious and public architecture with clear influence of Italian renaissance, but still original. Three works out of that period are of European importance, and will contribute to further development of Renaissance: "Cathedral of St James in Šibenik, Chapel of Blessed John in Trogir, and Sorkočević’s villa in Dubrovnik."

Only in the kind of environment, free of dogmas and self-governed - far of major governing centers, could it be possible for artisan known as Juraj Dalmatinac to build a church entirely by his own project – Cathedral of St.James in Šibenik, in 1441. Besides mixing of gothic and renaissance style it was also original by unity of stone building and montage construction (big stone blocks, pilasters and ribs were bounded with joints and slots on them - without concrete) in the way that was usual in wooden constructions. This was unique building with so-called three-leaves frontal and half-barrel vaults, first in Europe. The cathedral and its original stone dome was finished by Nikola Firentinac following the original plans of Juraj. On the cathedral there is a coronal of 72 sculpture portraits on the outside wall of the apses. Juraj himself did 40 of them, and all are unique with original characteristics on their faces.

. All is ceiled with coffered ceiling with image of God in the middle and 96 portrait heads of angels. With so many faces of smiling children the chapel looks very cheerful and there isn’t nothing similar in European art of that time.

In the entire area of Republic of Dubrovnik there were numerous villas of nobility, unique by their functionality and space organization - combination of renaissance villa and government building. "Sorkočević’s villa" in "Lapad" near Dubrovnik in 1521 is original by order of building parts in asymmetrical, dynamical balance.

Wordiest Croatian renaissance sculptures are linked to some architecture, and the most beautiful one is perhaps relief "Flagellation of Christ" by Juraj Dalmatinac on altar of St Staš in Split cathedral. Three almost naked figures are caught in vibrant movement.

The most important Croatian renaissance painters are from Dubrovnik: Lovro Dobričević, Mihajlo Hamzić and Nikola Božidarević. They painted the altar screens with first hints of portraits in characters, linear perspective and even still life motifsIn northwestern Croatia, the beginning of the wars with the Ottoman Empire caused many problems but in the long term it both reinforced the northern influence (by having the Austrians as the rulers). With permanent danger by Ottomans from east, there was modest influence of renaissance, while fortifications thrived. The plan for fortified city of Karlovac in 1579 was first entirely new urban city to be built by renaissance plans (so called “ideal city” plan) in Europe. It was built in radial plan, later common in Baroque. Renaissance fort of Ratkay family in "Veliki Tabor" from 16th century has mixed features of gothic architecture (high roofs) and renaissance (cluster and round towers) making it an example of mannerism.


Baroque and Rococo

In 17th and 18th century Croatia was reunited with the parts of country that were occupied by Venetian Republic and Ottoman Empire. The unity attributed to sudden flourishing of Art in every segment. In northern Croatia and Slavonia sprung out numerous and worthy works of baroque art – from urban plans and large forts to churches, palaces, public buildings and monuments, all were done in Baroque style.

Large fortifications with radial plan, ditches and numerous towers were built because of constant Ottoman threat. The two largest ones were Osijek and Slavonski Brod. Later they become large cities. They were fortified with water and earth – earth mounds with cannons and canals filled with water that was supposed to slow dawn the approaching enemies."The fort of Slavonski Brod" was the largest in all Croatia, and one of the largest ones in entire Europe because it was bounding fort of Europe toward Ottoman Empire.

Urban planning of Baroque is felt in numerous new towns like Karlovac, Bjelovar, Koprivnica, Virovitica etc. that had large straight streets, rectangular squares in the middle surrounded with buildings as government and military ones as well as representative church.

Square" below.

During the Baroque numerous churches, enchanting us with their size and form were built in all Croatia, thus becoming a crown in every town or a city.The monastery churches often had an enclosing wall with inner porches lavishly decorated, like in "Franciscan monastery" in Slavonski Brod where the columns are as thick as baroque abundance. The most beautiful one is probably the "church in Selima" near Sisak. It has oval shape with elliptic dome and concave and convex front with two according towers. But most luxuriant is church of "Maria of the Snow" in "Belec" from 1740 with entire interior filled with lively gilded wooden sculptures, frescoes of painter Ivan Ranger from Austria. Ranger was classic Rococo painter whose characters were softly painted in graceful positions and optimism of cheerful colors. He also lavishly painted the gothic church in Lepoglava, and ceiling of Banqueting Hall of "Bistra Palace" (one of most beautiful elliptic plans in profane architecture).

Wall painting experienced flourishing in all parts of Croatia, from illusionist frescoes in "church of Holy Mary" in Samobor, St Catherine in Zagreb to Jesuit church in Dubrovnik. Best preserved ones are Rococo frescoes in "Miljana mansion" where allegorical seasons and natural elements were depicted through human nature and his reflection on art.

An exchange of artists between Croatia and other parts of Europe happened. The most famous Croatian painter was Federiko Benković who worked almost his entire life in Italy, while an Italian – Francesco Robba, did the best Baroque sculptures in Croatia. His most beautiful and moving work is "marble altar of Crucifixion" in "Church of Holy Cross" in Križevci. Beside masterly carved body of Christ there is a theme of Abraham’s Sacrifice; it is diagonal composition in anxious tension with several movements of limbs and drapes.

The Nineteenth Century


Romantic movement in Croatia was sentimental, gentle and subtle – real image of bourgeoisie’s humble and modest virtues. In architecture there were simple decorations made of shallow arch like niches around windows, while the furniture was of mildly bended Biedermeier furniture, and even in dressing the cheaper materials with cheerful colors prevailed. So, it is no surprise that instead of representative portraits in Croatia miniature portraits are preferred.

At the end of 19th century architect Herman Bolle undertook one of the largest projects of European historicism – half-kilometer long neo-renaissance arcade with twenty domes on Zagreb cemetery Mirogoj.

s decorated with numerous fountains, sculptures, avenues and gardens (known as “Green Horseshoe”) making Zagreb one of first cities build according to new European art theory of “city as a work of art”.

. “The Golden Hall” becomes unified monument of its age, one of few in Europe.The in Zagreb is a .)

Realism appeared in bourgeois portraits by Vjekoslav Karas. The characters of his portraits are true expressions of their time.Realistic landscapes are linked to certain parts of the country – Slavonian forests by artists of Osijek school, Dubrovnik in works of Celestin Medović, and Dalmatian coast in works of Menci Klement Crnčić.

In sculpture the hard realism (naturalism) of Ivan Rendić was replaced by art nouveau composed and moving reliefs by Frangeš Mihanović.

Vlaho Bukovac brought the spirit of impressionism from Paris, and he strongly influenced the young artists (including the authors of “Golden Hall”). Right after he painted the screen in HNK in Zagreb with theme of "Croatian Illyrian Movement", and symbolic portraits of Croatian Writers in National Library, he founded "The Society of Croatian Artists" (1897), so called "Zagreb’s colorful school". With this society the Croatian Modern Art started. On the "Millennium Exhibition" in Budapest they were able to set aside all other artistic options in Austro-Hungary.

The Twentieth Century

The turbulent twentieth century re-oriented Croatia politically on many occasions and affected it in many other ways, but it couldn't significantly alter its already peculiar position at the crossroads of many different cultures.

Recent Directions in Art

See also


External links

* [ Prehistory art in Croatia]
* [ Antiquity in Croatia]
* [ Croatian Culture Links]
* [ Preromanesque art of coastal Croatia]
* [ Croatia Arts and Literature]
* [ Croatian cultural heritage]
* [ Online library of major Croatian literary works from Renaissance to Modernism. In Croatian only]

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