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FLORA OF THE RENAISSANCE CHAPEL OF THE CATHEDRAL AT TROGIR
; Filozofski fakultet Zagreb
The author states that the generally high assessments of the Renaissance Chapel at Trogir, a joint work of Nikola Ivanov Firentinac and Andrija Aleši (1468–1482), haven’t yet been accompanied in specialized literature by indispensable analyses and critical interpretations of this extremly complex monument, even if since Kukuljević’s article in 1858 numerous publications have been devoted to the subject. So, it happened that the rich floral repertory of the reliefs inside the Chapel has remained entirely neglected up to present-day. After a detailed analysis and critical interpretation of its plant repertory, the author claims the existence of a double link between the choice of plants, the shapes of bunches, cornices and garlands in which they appear as fruit decorating candalabra or overflowing from the mouths of vases, and the Classical tradition. Namely, the same motifs may be observed in the Classical mousoleums, while the written sources and pictorial representations attest that they were employed in the same manneer in the chamber of the Classical tomb. It was a custom to display bunches of acanthus leaves on the door of the house of the person deceased (in the Chapel – at the entrance, on the pillars of the triumphal arch), on the candelabra arranged around the cataphalque and on the walls (inside the Chapel – in the candelabra and vases on the pillars, in the garlands under the vaulting, in the patterns running around the oculi). Judging from the use of floral motifs, the Chapel represents a scenographic reconstruction of the Classical tomb or a reinterpretation of the Classical mousoleum.
After having investigated the Classical origins of the floral motifs and analysed their Renaissance analogues, the author clams that some twenty different kinds of fruit, foliage and flowers employed in the reliefs at the chapel at Trogir represent one of the richest floral repertories that may be found in the 15th century European architecture. Where the bunches of acanthus leaves in the pillars of the triumphal arch are concerned, after having analysed vast comparative material, the author concludes that, even though this type and arrangement of elements in quite frequent in Classical art (the base of the so called »plant candelabrum«) – and has been found in numeorous examples in, for ex., near-by Salona, the treatment and methods adopted in shaping the acanthus motifs at Trigir are of a highest order and find their equals only in the most classic and most prominent Antique monuments, like the reliefs on the panels of the fence of Augustus’ Ara pacis at Rome.
The author also asserts that, compared to other similar examples known from the 15th century sculputre and painting, the shapes of the fruit in the garlands of the chapel are less naturalistic, closer to a realistic synthesis; the patterning of fruit and foliage obeys more rigid principes of composition. The greatest innovation in the Chapel are the mouldings of the oculi fashioned into wreaths and the method employed in the patterning of single wreaths. Even if the seventeen wreaths are unequal, with each other (there are only three »parts«), they all share a common scheme: rhythmic alteration of foliage and fruit (for. ex., 2-3-3-2 or 2-3-2-; 2-3-2) and a »rotation« of leaves shown alternatively in profile and from above. This common »concealed structure« proves that the composition of the wreath moulding was worked aut already in the plans mentioned in the contract concerning the construction of the Chapel (4 January 1468). In the author’s opinion it is of a highest importance that even the wreaths obey the basic planning principle of the Chapel where everything is made on a unique scale, proportioned in »human measure« so that the figures in the niches rise to the height of an average human stature (5 reet high), the reliefs of genii, putti and angels (3 and 2 feet high) as well as the heads of seraphs in the vaulting to those of four and three years old children, while the representations of the plants are full – scaled. Like the other element in the Chapel previously analysed by this author (see the iconologic study in Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji no. 26/1986–1987) this investigation of its floral reliefs speaks in favour of the thesis that the Chapel at Trogir illustrates the »total design« of Nikola Firentican and represents an anthological example of the Early Renaissance architectonic-scultural synthesis.
Also the author points to the sepulcral connotations contained in the symbolism of almost all of the depicted plants. Yet, he submits that the »reading« of these symbolic meanings should not be doctrinal, since this plentitude of palnt life, this »quiet life« (stil life) and not »dead life« (natura morte) is, at the same time, an expression of the typical Renaissance attitude toward nature.
In the end, the author tires to reconstruct the original arrangment of the wreaths in the space of the Chapel, retaining that the composition of the north, altar wall was symmetric with the most prominent mouldings: a lavish acanthus wreath (fig. 10) flanked by wreaths of oak leaves with acorns (fig. 9 and 11); carved at the edges were laurel – wreaths bound by four ribbons. The changes might have occured during the constructions works, as a consequence of the shrinkage of the north wall, when the space for wreaths was curtailed so that a part of the ribbons of one of teh laurel wreaths had to be removed (fig. 7).
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