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THE RELICS OF ST JOHN – A TROGIR PALLADIUM DISPLAYED IN ZADAR Filigree in the Treasuries of the Cathedrals of Dalmatia

Joško Belamarić ; Ministarstvo kulture Konzervatorski odjel u Splitu

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 8.404 Kb


str. 151-177

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Puni tekst: engleski pdf 8.404 Kb


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The two gilded arms of St John of Trogir have been widely believed to have been gifts from Queen Elizabeth Kotromanić, wife of King Louis Angevin the Great to St Lawrence’s Cathedral in Trogir, i.e., from the 1470s. However, before restoration work even now being completed in Vienna, as part of the great »Trogir: 1200–1600« exhibition to be mounted in Venice and subsequently in Zagreb, I was able to observe certain differences in the design and shaping of the filigree work, the niello and the fixing of the gemstones with which the relics were studded, in other words that the relationship of left to right arm was that of copy and original. More detailed workshop analysis of their form (under the auspices of Professor Christa Angermann at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst, Wien) and a sequence of events that can be followed almost day by day from known and as yet unpublished archive material provide a highly suggestive answer.
In the turbulent events of the last decade of the 14th century, the people of Trogir were forced to pawn the relic of the arm of their patron saint to Zadar, just as in 1391 the men of Split had to pawn several of their reliquaries in Dubrovnik for the sum of three thousand ducats; their presence in the treasury of Dubrovnik Cathedral can be traced all the way up to the great earthquskr og 1666. In 1398, King Sigismund, chronically in want of funds for his wars, especially after the Nikopolis disaster, demanded that Trogir pay him the sum of 3,500 ducats on the feast of St Luke. But there was yet another debt that pressed hard upon the municipal budget. Since 1393 the city had dragged out the payment of damages of as many as 1,100 ducats for certain cloth that the man of Split Ser Dujam Teodozijev had been holding in the house of the late Nikola Jakovljev Vitturi of Trogir, which had been taken from him by certain people and serfs who had earlier fled the city but now returned with the gentry »who were now ruling the city«. As earlier as 1399, the Trogirans resolved not only to redeem their relic, but also, it is quite clear, to make a new arm on the model of the original. After all, Split, and Dubrovnik, and Zadar, had both the arms of their patron saints. In 1399, then, the Zadar goldsmith Emericus promised Luka Vitturi, representative of the cathedral in Trogir, to make a new right arm for the blessed John of Trogir, and from his own gold and silver to boot: »facere unum brachium dextrum beati Johannis confesoris de Tragurio de bono et fino argento deaurato, de argento et ipsius Emericis«. From the mention of the relics in the plural – pro certis relliquiariis per ipsum Emericus fabricandis – it can most likely safely be assumed that the contract also covered the restoration of the primary reliquary, as well as the fabrication of a new one, according to the original, and probably with the making of a new base. This, however, Emerik did not manage to do, because at the beginning of June 1400 he died, together with his wife (the daughter of the sailor of Zadar, Kresulo longo), most likely of the plague that was then ravaging the city. On 20 April 1401, the council of Trogir voted to take a loan of 200 ducats, at 10%, the amount that was missing to pay the damage to the heirs of Theodosius, and for one procurator to »explore all the ways and manners to regain the arm of St John, which now lies in Zadar«.
Emericus the Goldsmith can be seen in Zadar documents of 1392. In 1399 he sold a certain Stanka Dujmova from Obrovac silver buttons, rings, earring and certain silver bowls, which he probably wrought himself. Completely at home in the cosmopolitan surrounds of the Zadar of that time, in which kings and imperial pretenders and their retinues either lived or passed through year after year, and with somuch work on the go, Emericus took a certain Cvitko Juraj Radoslavov of Zemunik as a new apprentice. In the same year that he took on the making of the arm of St John of Trogir, he also negotiated with representatives of the Zadar commune the making of the reliquaries of the heads of St Leonard and St Cosma for the cathedral there »that shall be so nicely wrought that every good craftsman would be proud of them«. There relics too remained uncompleted, and the first was taken on by Krševan Krišava in 1440. It is hard to say which of the many well-known Zadar goldsmiths might have taken on the job of finishing Emerik’s work. Some of them – Magister Petrus Aurifex de Udine and Magister Doimus Aurifex Matafariss – were in precisely that year into alchemy.
Whence Emerik came to Zadar has not to date been able to be established. The Zadar archivist Praga wrote in the margin of one document: Theutonicus, but with a question mark, which will have to remain. The documents give him various names: Emericus, Emricu, Emerrico – Aurifex quondam Cregnighi, Crengnichi, Chergnichi, Chergnuchi, Cregnichi, Chergnchi (Cherguthi?); and Croatian writers refer to him as Emerik, Henrik, Enrik, Mirko – Krnjić, Kernić, Kernić.
With these two works that, dying of the plague he left unfinished, we can find him, like very few of the old goldsmiths in the country, possessed of a full range of the techniques of his metier – from hammering out the silver to the making of filigree and niello. The original arms St John of Trogir that was to be copied – which forced him to have a go at a technique that was not typical of Zadar goldsmith work – was itself, in my view, a masterpiece of Venetian goldsmith work of the 1270s or about 1280, the most similar thing to which is the Amphora of the treasury of St Mark’s in Venice (Cat. no. 144) – of glass framed with silver gilt, covered with filigree arabesques and – to some extent – the pendant of it, an amphora of mountain crystal (Cat. no. 123), the most refined example of »opus Venetum ad filum«, a little after the mid-13th century. The amphora (Cat. no. 144) is actually the simplest example within this group, but it should be said that has been radically restored (with glass instead of the original mountain crystal), with a number of missing parts or some badly put back. Originally it was shaped with a subtle play of swirling tendrils with gold beads that give a sculptural animation to the whole of the arabesque, which with a less skilled goldsmith could deteriorate into mere werisome geometry. The fundamental feature of the Venetian and Trogiran works is a vibrant and miraculously airy lacework of swirling golden tendrils that glitter with countless beads, raised above the base of dark seared gold. The Trogiran filigree is among the first of several of the Hahnloser degrees of Venetian filigree – a simple filigree »a palline«, characterized by spirals in the center of which are simple silver gilt beads; but it is among a mere score of specimens to have been preserved at all.
Judging from the inventories, it would seem that there were many more liturgical items, especially reliquaries, than have actually been preserved. The relics of the arms and head of St Blase (remodeled in the Baroque period) – judging from the striking similarity of their enamel and filigree work to that of the famed cross collection of Cosenza in Calabria – were made most likely in the last decade of the 12th century in some cosmopolitan palatine workshop in Palermo during the reign of William II, when for a short time Dubrovnik was (in 1185 – 1192) under the wing of the Norman southern Italian kingdom.
One of the two arms of St Dujam, which in current literature is held to be a work of the 14th or 15th century, is without any doubt the work of a Zadar goldsmith who made in filigree and set with precious stones a lovely arm of St Isidore, the inscription of which contains Chiacia uxor Dimitrii, probably the wife of the Zadar prior, or Consul Dimitri, who is mentioned in 1162 and 1174. This attribution helps to confirm the certainty with which, with all caution, it has so far been affirmed that the reliquary of St Isidore was created in a domestic setting in the last third of the 12th century.
There is also argument for the domastic origin of the Zadar and Split arms in the historical conditions of the 1170s in Dalmatia. The Split arms were in all likelihood created at the time of Bishop Arnir (stoned in 1180), a little earlier than the arms of St Blaise in Dubrovnik – perheps even by way of direct reflection of the theft of the arm of St John of Trogir. That is in 1171, when the Venetian fleet turned against Emanuel Comnenus. Trogir and Dubrovnik were sacked on the way. The Venetian sailors on this occasion, for the sake of the Bishop’s ring, stole the saint’s arm and afterwards exhibited it in the Church of St John on the Rialto. Legends tell that because of this only six out of thirty galleys returned from the expedition to Venice or, according to the investigations of Ivan Lučić in the Venetian chroniclers – only 17 out of one hundred triremes, and that after the return of the fleet, the city was ravaged by the plague. However it was, some little time later, the arm, which the Venetians had not wished to return via the fruitless missions from Trogir – borne by angels, miraculously flew over the Adriatic to Trogir Cathedral, on 14 November some year later, and since then a star marking the event has been present in the coat of arms and seal of Trogir.
Particular attention is attracted by the fact that the Trogirans decided to pawn their most precious reliquary, the real palladium of the city. But even a sacual glance at the time in which all this happened, not just mention of the contemporary cases of Split and Kotor, will tell us this was quite an ordinary affair. We might mention only the most picturesque example, because it talks quite directly of the causes and events of historical reality – the disgraceful sale of Dalmatia in 1409, the causes of which, it would seem, Croatian historiography has looked upon with an inadequately wide vision. When Gregory XII – eighty year old Angelo Correr, Cardinale di San Marco, ascended to the Papal throne on 6 December 1406, with the other cardinals hoping that he was not far from the grave, he decided with unquenchable senile egotism to make use of every moment of his ruke, also satisfying the circle of his insatiable nephews, and was soon forced, to get 12,000 forins with the Florentine bankers (actually, the grand granfather of Lorenzo the Magnificent), to pledge the papal crown. At the same time, taking refuge in Viterbo and leaving Rome to the mercy of Ladislas of Naples, he hit the city’s clergy with an enormous tax, ordering that many reliquaries and liturgical items of solid gold and silver be melted down. Ladislas arrived in the Capitol in summer 1408. Provinces of the clerical state were incorporated into the kingdom of Naples, and the king planned to occupy the whole of central Italy. Gregory, without a penny to his name, in exile, was forced to meet the antipope (neither of them wished for reconciliation), and completely desperate, carried out an almost inconceivable action (even for the annals of the papacy): in early spring 1409 he signed over Rome and the whole of the ecclesiastical state to Ladislas for 25,000 florins. This transaction of Ladislav’s with Pope Correr was prepared in parallel with the several months long negotiations that he had with the Venetians about the sale of Dalmatia, finished in July 1409, in which the king of Naples knocked his starting price of 300,000 ducats down to 100,000 in the end pocketing only 40,000.
The two arms of St John of Trogir, both in a ruined state, and Emerik’s then still probably unfinished, later on were displeasing to the Bishops of Trogir. Until then they had been put to their original use. Paolo Andreis, 17th century Trogir historian, saw the saint’s skull in the cathedral (it no longer exists, but it was probably formed at the same time as the arm, i. e., with filigree and niello) and the arm – kept in silver gilt. The ring and jewels on the arms were used for the new orders. Bishop Giuseppe Caccia in 1736 categorically asked that both these »mostruosi mani« be melted down, or that the saints »manaccie« – great paws – be at least removed. Many votive rings remained along with the saint’s arm that on 17 May 1756 was solemnly moved to a new Rococo silver theca made in Venice. The two arms obtained a new function: the relic of his nodulus was placed in them, although Bishop Caccia had already asked to have them withdrawn from use. The compunction of some sacristan had saved them and made possible today’s total restoration operations, which also foresee the restoration of parts of the saint’s relics to them, which will restore them not only to their original form, but also their primary function.

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