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Ivan Meštrović and Politics as an Arena for Ahistorical Idealism

Vinko Srhoj ; Department of History of Art, University of Zadar, Croatia

Puni tekst: hrvatski, pdf (2 MB) str. 369-384 preuzimanja: 1.807* citiraj
APA 6th Edition
Srhoj, V. (2014). Ivan Meštrović i politika kao prostor ahistorijskog idealizma. Ars Adriatica, (4), 369-384. Preuzeto s
MLA 8th Edition
Srhoj, Vinko. "Ivan Meštrović i politika kao prostor ahistorijskog idealizma." Ars Adriatica, vol. , br. 4, 2014, str. 369-384. Citirano 27.11.2020.
Chicago 17th Edition
Srhoj, Vinko. "Ivan Meštrović i politika kao prostor ahistorijskog idealizma." Ars Adriatica , br. 4 (2014): 369-384.
Srhoj, V. (2014). 'Ivan Meštrović i politika kao prostor ahistorijskog idealizma', Ars Adriatica, (4), str. 369-384. Preuzeto s: (Datum pristupa: 27.11.2020.)
Srhoj V. Ivan Meštrović i politika kao prostor ahistorijskog idealizma. Ars Adriatica [Internet]. 2014 [pristupljeno 27.11.2020.];(4):369-384. Dostupno na:
V. Srhoj, "Ivan Meštrović i politika kao prostor ahistorijskog idealizma", Ars Adriatica, vol., br. 4, str. 369-384, 2014. [Online]. Dostupno na: [Citirano: 27.11.2020.]

Meštrović’s political activity, reflected in his sculpture and architecture, was closely tied to the idea of a political union of the South Slavs which culminated on the eve of and during the First World War. As a political idealist and a person who always emphasized that he was first and foremost an artist, Meštrović had no inclination for classic political activism which meant that he was not interested in belonging to any contemporary political faction. Since his political activism was not tied to a specific political party and since, unlike the politicians with whom he socialized, he did not have a prior political life, Meštrović cannot be defined either as a supporter Ante Starčević and an HSS man, or as a unionist Yugoslav and royalist. He was passionate about politics, especially during the time when the idea about a single South Slavic state took centre stage in politics, and he actively promoted this idea through his contacts with politicians, kings, cultural workers, and artists. He never acted as a classic politician or a political negotiator on behalf of a political party but as an artist who used his numerous local, regional and international acquaintances for the promotion of a political interest, that is, of a universal political platform of the entire Croatian nation as part of a Slavic ethno-political framework. Even within the political organization he himself founded, the Yugoslav Committee, Meštrović did not present a developed political manifesto but, being an artist and an intellectual, ‘encouraged the ideology behind the idea of unification through his activism and especially through his works’ (N. Machiedo Mladinić). The very fact that he was not a professional politician enabled him to ‘learn directly about some of the intentions of the political decision makers at informal occasions he attended as a distinguished artist, particularly in those situations when a direct involvement of political figures would have been impossible due to diplomatic concerns’ (D. Hammer Tomić). For example, he was the first to learn from the report of the French ambassador to Italy Camillo Barrera that Italy would be rewarded for joining the Entente forces by territorial expansion in Dalmatia. Equally known is Meštrović’s attitude towards the name of the committee because, unlike Trumbić and Supilo, he did not hesitate to use the word ‘Yugoslav’ in the name. He believed that a joint Yugoslav platform would render Croatian interests stronger in the international arena and that this would not happen had the committee featured ‘Croatian’ in its name and even less so if it started acting under the name of wider Serbia as Pašić suggested. Meštrović’s political disappointment in the idea of Yugoslavia went hand in hand with the distancing of Croatian and Serbian politics which followed the political unification. The increasing rift between him and the Yugoslav idea was becoming more and more obvious after the assassinations of Stjepan Radić and Aleksandar Karađorđević between the two Wars. His reserve towards the Republic of Yugoslavia, augmented by his political hatred of communism, was such that Meštrović never seriously considered going back to his native country and after his death, he did not leave his art works to the state but to the Croatian people.
This article focuses on the most politicized phase in Meštrović’s work when he even changed the titles of the art works between displays at two different exhibitions: the works that bore the neutral names, such as ‘a shrine’, ‘a girl’, or ‘a hero’, at the 1910 exhibition of the Secession Group in Vienna were given the names of the heroes of the Battle of Kosovo the very next year and displayed as such in the pavilion of the Kingdom of Serbia at the exhibition in Rome. Special attention was given to the idea of the Vidovdan shrine, a secular temple to the Yugoslav idea, and the so-called Kosovo fragments intended to decorate it. The heightened controversy surrounds the sculpture and architectural projects Meštrović created during the period in which his political activism in the Yugoslav political and cultural arena was at its peak and he himself did not hide the intention to contribute to the political programme with his art works. This is why critical remarks which were expressed against or in favour of Meštrović’s sculpture during the early twentieth century are inseparable from the contrasting opinions about the political ideas from the turbulent time surrounding the First World War, and all of this, being a consequence of Meštrović’s political engagement, pulled him as a person into the political arena of the Croatian, Serbian and Yugoslav cause. The closest connection between Meštrović’s sculpture, architecture and politics occurred during his work on the Vidovdan shrine and the so-called Kosovo fragments. At the same time, there was a marked difference between Meštrović’s architecture which is eclectic and referential in its style and bears no political message, and sculpture which strongly personified the political programme based on the Battle of Kosovo and expressed in monumental athletic figures. Meštrović opposed the desire of the political establishment to depict his figures in national costumes so that they may witness ‘historical truth’ and, instead, continued with his idea of universal values and not historical and political particularism. Believing that only the passage of time could assess the historical protagonists best, he deemed that some of them would vanish while the others would remain, ‘so to speak, naked’ and acquire ‘supernatural dimensions’ (I.Meštrović). By depicting his figures as having torsos stripped of any sign of national identity, Meštrović wanted to provide them with a ‘general human meaning and not a specific one of this or that tribe’ (I.Meštrović). Aside from the Vidovdan Shrine and the Kosovo Fragments, the article discusses a number of other works onto which Meštrović grafted a political programme such as the Mausoleum of Njegoš on Mount Lovćen, the funerary chapel of Our Lady of the Angels at Cavtat, the equestrian reliefs of King Petar Karađorđević and ban Petar Berislavić, and the sculptures of the Indians at Chicago as ‘ahistorical’ pinnacles of his monumental Art Deco sculpture. The article argues that, based on the consideration of Meštrović’s ‘political’ sculpture, it can be said that the best achievements are found in the works in which political agendas and historical evocations (for example the caryatids, kings and bans, and even the portraits of Nikola Tesla and Ruđer Bošković) gave way to the naked ahistorical physis of a number of Kosovo heroes, female allegorical figures and, most of all, the pinnacle of the Art Deco equestrian sculptures of the Chicago Indians. What matters in the Chicago statues is the contraction of the muscles which accompany the movements of the Bowman and the Spearman and not the type of their weapons which are absent anyway, because this feature indicates that Meštrović focused on what he was best at: the naked human body relieved of the burden of costume, signs of civilization, and the pomp of political, ideological and historical attributes. This is why the politics of Meštrović’s sculpture is at its strongest when it is at its most general or, in other words, when it embodies an ideal and not a political pragmatism or a specific historical reality.

Ključne riječi
Ivan Meštrović; Yugoslav idea; Vidovdan Shrine; Kosovo Fragments; ‘political sculpture’

Hrčak ID: 130931



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