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Joško Belamarić ; Institut za povijest umjetnosti Centar Cvito Fisković – Split

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str. 233-256

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»Chi voi imparar a orare, vadi per mare«, goes a saying quoted by a pilgrim on the deck of a ship that bore him down the Adriatic off towards the Holy Land. The pilgrims had their eyes open all the time, mainly, of course, for the bizarre. The picturesque local stories of oarsmen and sailors slid easily into their ears, the inflated experiences of those who had sailed the same routes before them. The Blessed Virgin Mary could be met everywhere. There was not a church that did not contain at least one altar consecrated to her, and signs of her personal presence surprised nobody in the many shrines, from Rovinj and Pula, to Dubrovnik, Boka and Budva, Corfu and beyond. Some of these icons and statues were the genuine palladia of their communes, and some were elevated to the level of state insignia.
Our Lady of Trsat in Rijeka, Our Lady of Pojišan in Split, Our Lady of Vrpoljac in Šibenik, and Our Lady of the Port in Dubrovnik have been honoured continuously since the 14th century. The most uncommon trans-Adriatic relation in the veneration of Our Lady can be found in the cult of the house of Nazareth in Loreto, Marche, and at Trsat, in the bay of Quarnero, high over Rijeka. A little before Nazareth fell into Muslim hands, on May 10, 1291, the angels transported to Trsat »that house in which Mary was seated on her bed when the Angel Gabriel came and greeted her and said: Ave Maria, gratia plena.« To this day there is a living memory of the event, notwithstanding the fact that just a few years later, the hut flew over the Adriatic and made itself at home near Recanati, »for in the first place it was less honoured«. There it became the focus of continuous votive prayers, and in many wills of wealthy Dalmatians we find provision for some person, if they have not already done it themselves, to set off on a pilgrimage to Loreto (or equally frequently to St James of Compostella, or, in a later version, and somewhat less often, St Nicholas in Bari, and St Catherine in Sinai). Legend says that in order to comfort those whom the Lady had abandoned, Pope Urban V sent to Trsat an old picture of the Mother of God painted by the hand of St Luke the Evangelist; its many miracles and mercies soon made its name, and this became the most visited of all Adriatic icons. Grgo Gamulin and Marisa Bianco Florin have correlated with it a number of similar paintings, sketching out the hypothetical oeuvre of »an itinerant painter the maestro della Madonna di Tersatto«. Zoraida Demori Staničić has, more realistically, analysed the features of this group of paintings and concluded that the Trsat Madonna points to the beginnings of the painting of the Venetian Trecento from the first decades of the century, before the appearance of Paolo Veneziano. In other words, together with the paintings with which it is commonly compared (above all the Split Madonna of Pojišan), the Trsat Madonna suggests that within the Adriatic, or the Eastern Mediterranean, there existed a prototype icon of considerable importance, and that this group of images falls beneath the umbrella of Belting’s happily-coined phrase l’Art du Commonwealth Mediterraneen de Venise.
At the period of Venetian rule (after 1409) many of these icons took on more important regional characters according to the well-conceived concept of propagating the rule of the Serenissima along the eastern coast of the Adriatic, which was tightly connected with the state-building cults of the Venetian Republic. In 1461, thanks to the endeavours of Bishop Toma Tommassini, and the contributions of the burgher class, a Franciscan monastery began to be built alongside the extant Chapel of Holy Cross that had stood at the entrance to Hvar port. In 1465 the icon of the Madonna was presented to the church (which had a name for miracle working), by Pietro Soranzo (Superantius), Capitano del Golfo, as the result of a vow made in a storm from which the whole fleet was saved by the intercession of the Madonna.
Today, when we visit the churches of Dalmatia and the many pictures of the Virgin in them, most often we are not at all aware of the extent to which the type depends on the political connotations that the Serenissima endeavoured to emit through their honouring. This is particularly visible in Hvar, where as well as the mentioned Lady of Mercy they venerated the Madonna Kruvenica (from horugva, an Old Slavonic term for flag, here of course the Venetian) and Madonna Annunciata – a great icon of the »Creto-Venetian school« that was carried in a procession whenever there was an emergency. For the processions that still today on the second day of Easter go from the cathedral to the Church of the Annunciation, the people say »going to the rejoicing of the Madonna«. The icon of the Annunciata was dedicated, of course, to the most widely disseminated Venetian Marian cult, to the festival that the Serenissima had held in the foundations of its political calendar ab immemorabili tempore. The most widely diffused cults of the Virgin in Dalmatia are related to Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of Health, also connected with the endeavours of the Venetian government to make use of the unifying cult of the Virgin, the particular protectress of the city, particularly after Trent. Venice appropriated for itself the victory of the Christian fleet over the Ottoman at Lepanto in 1571, encouraging the production of a huge number of pictures of Our Lady of the Rosary and various memorial signs that commemorated what was after all a short-lasting victory.
Equally wide spread is a cult still more characteristic of the post-Tridentine Counter Reformation, that of Our Lady of Karmen (Carmel), connected with the honouring of the Souls of Purgatory. Particularly well-documented is the honouring of the Lady of Carmel that developed around a Romanesque icon of the end of the 13th century in Hvar Cathedral.
The cult of Our Lady of Carmel was overtaken by a Dubrovnik icon of the 13th century from the medieval church of St John on the mole, on the site of which a new Baroque church dedicated to the Lady of Carmel was built. Related to it, from 1628, the state of Dubrovnik developed a very complex ceremonial of masses and processions. On the feast of Our Lady of Carmel, 1683, commemorating the victory of the Christian army below the walls of Vienna, a particularly solemn procession as held. The republic at that time had broken free of the Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha Pasha who had for almost two decades kept all the diplomatic endeavours of Dubrovnik vis-a-vis the Sublime Porte in check. An anti-Ottoman ferment can also be found in a series of paintings of the Virgin of the 16th to 18th century in Dalmatia.
The Pelješac Channel, which for several centuries separated Venetian Korčula and Dubrovnik’s Pelješac, became a scene for the competition of two important Marian shrines. In the Franciscan church over Orebić the Regina coelorum or Our Lady of Angels (a characteristic Franciscan cult) was celebrated. A miraculous icon that, legend says, floated in by itself from the islet of Žanjica in Boka Kotorska gave rise to the building of the monastery (1470-1486) on the border point with Venetian Korčula.
Equally famous for its miracle-working was the great Hodegetria, a work of the Cretan icon writers of the early 15th century, in the Franciscan church on the islet of Badija. It was particularly venerated after 1571 when the Lady on the day of her Assumption saved Korčula by her intercession from the attack of the corsair fleet of Uluç Ali and Karakoz.
In the archbishopric of Dubrovnik today there are twentythree Marian shrines. Every city has as a rule several, in fact, a whole series, of miracle-working paintings that it might oppose to fate, the ambience, the universe. It is enough to place on the maps of Zadar, Šibenik, Split or Dubrovnik and their regions the pictures of thaumaturgical Madonnas and Child (or of the Crucifixion that were often directly correlated with the pictures of the Virgin) to understand the extent to which these towns were redundantly defended. In each of them we would find a score of holy pictures.
The Madonna (in olden days called Our Lady of Brač) on the fresco from the middle of the second half of the 13th century, with a depiction of the Deisis, over the altar of the parish church in Donji Humac on Brač – also attracted pilgrims from the whole of the island and the wider area. The faithful carefully followed all the changes of the Madonna’s flesh tones, which happened to the holy image on the day of the patrons of the church, SS. Fabian and Sebastian, in the middle of the winter. If they did not happen, this was an omen of plague, drought, famine, war or other woes.
Bishop Valeri in a report of 1590 and Bishop Morari in 1620, mention that the image was covered as if with a cloud and that the person on it could not be recognised »no second on the feast of SS. Fabian and Sebastian (January 21) when at mass the priest sang the Gloria, and if not then, then certainly at the time of the sanctification, the cloud would rise a little and Jesus could be seen well blessing the folk, the BVM on the right and St John the Baptist on the left. Apart from that the walls of the old part of the church sweated at the same time, and this sweat, captured in cotton, would cure sicknesses, particularly of the eyes. This happened in any weather, nice or bad, hot or cold.
Flaminio Corner records that the colour of the face of Our Lady of Sinj also changed, that sometimes she was ruddy, sometimes pale »by which she indicated that there were happy or sorrowful events to come, that prayers had been answered or rejected, and so on«. In just the same way flesh tones were interpreted in the face of the Madonna of the Angels in the fort in Imotski and of Our Lady of Health in Vrgorac.
The Virgin Mary was the Comforter of the Sorrowing, the Succour of Christians, the Health of the Sick, the Refuge of Sinners, the Star of the Sea. She reconciled the embroiled, redeemed them from the hands of the foe, and from the rule of the devil, provided rain in drought, protected the fields, warned of coming evil – she was the agent of all grace.
In all these pictures the faithful experienced the depictions of the Madonna as a living person. As with good reason in the north of Croatia she was called Fidelissima Advocata regni Croatia, along the coast of Dalmatia she was the most reliable shield of the believers for many a long century, until this very day.

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