The development of iconographic programmes for specific church interiors

The interwar period was the time of Meštrović’s most prolific religious creativity. He built four churches to designs of his own: Our Lady of Angels in Cavtat (1920-1922); the Most Holy Redeemer in Otavice (1928-1930); Our Lady in Biskupija (1937-1938) and Holy Cross Church (1939-1941), which was interpolated into the Renaissance fortalice of Crikvine in Split. He also devised for each of them the whole of the interior decoration. Another Meštrović design was for the sculptural decoration of the interior of the Parish Church of St Mark in the Upper Town in Zagreb (1932-1940). These projects are a very important contribution to Croatian modern sacred art.

Pietà (for St Mark’s Church)

Zagreb, 1932
bronze, 165 x 97 x 39 cm
owned by the Meštrović Atelier in Zagreb, inv. no. AMZ-201

Meštrović made a huge contribution to modern Croatian religious art with his implementation of the whole project for the sculptural decoration of the interior of St Mark’s Church in Zagreb Upper Town. For the Chapel of the Redemption in the form of a relief he developed the iconographic depiction of the theme of the mourning or the deposition from the cross; this was a theme with which he was engaged from 1913 to almost the end of his life – whether in stone, wood or bronze. Meštrović thought the Pietà was the “most widespread, most faithful and most realistic image of applied Christianity” (Grlica 1983: 607). The intimate drama of Mary’s farewell to her dead Son is realised at the moment of the kiss that the mother gives Christ on his cheek, holding his tortured body. The compactness of the relief heightens the linkage of the protagonists of the scene. In this classical and realistic design, Meštrović comes close to Michelangelo, his great exemplar.
(B. V.)

Our Lady (Our Lady of Biskupija)

1937
bronze, 153 x 93 x 40 cm
owned by the Meštrović Gallery in Split, inv. no. GMS-111

For the altar of the Church of Our Lady in Biskupija near Knin, built in 1938 after drawings by Meštrović at a site of great importance for the history of the medieval Croatian state, the sculptor designed the Our Lady statue. In terms of iconography, the Lady of Biskupija is sedes sapientiae – a depiction of the Virgin and Christ in her lap, holding a scroll in his left hand and performing a blessing with his right. But the sculptor gave his Virgin a local habitation and a name, dressing her in traditional Dalmatian attire, while the expression on her face evoked the calmness and seriousness of the portrait of his mother, Marta (My Mother, Otavice, 1909). According to an epistle of Meštrović that he wrote while the church was being consecrated, the Madonna and child, who is writing out the book of life, bears a symbolic and historical meaning: “Our Lord writes in the book of eternity the currents of the life-giving juice, and this wells out of the Mother, guardian of the thread of our life…” (Soldo 1988: 53).
(Z. J. Š.)