Discovering Dalmatia: A week of research, scholarly exchange and friendly conversation

The week of 18-23 May 2015 saw a series of interesting events dedicated to research and scholarship, which were hosted by the Institute of Art History – Centre Cvito Fisković in Split in association with the Ethnographic Museum in Split and the University of Split’s Faculty of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Geodesy. The events, taking place in the heart of Diocletian’s palace, in the beautiful building of the Ethnographic Museum, were organised as part of the research project Dalmatia – a destination of the European Grand Tour in the 18th and the 19th century of the Institute of Art History, under the aegis of the Croatian Science Foundation. Additional support was kindly provided by the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports, the City of Split, the Faculty of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Geodesy of the University of Split, the Split-Dalmatia County Tourist Board and the Tourist Board of Split.

The rich week-long programme, developed under the umbrella title Discovering Dalmatia, included a student workshop, public lecture, scholarly colloquium and an international conference, all of which addressed distinct but interlinked topics concerning Dalmatia’s artistic and architectural heritage. The common thread was the perception of the region in all its different aspects and the recording of its space from the 18th century up to the present times.

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The series began with the student workshop entitled (Un)Mapping Diocletian’s Palace. Research methods in the understanding of the experience and meaning of place, held from 18 to 23 May. The workshop brought together fifteen students of architecture and sociology from the University of Split, whose work was closely supervised by sociologist Anči Leburić (University of Split, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences), psychologist Nelija Rudolfi (Manufaktura, Society of Psychologists in Split), media artist Pino Gamulin (Split), art historian Iva Raič Stojanović (Institute of Art History), and architects Hrvoje Bartulović (University of Split, Faculty of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Geodesy = FGAG), Saša Begović (3LHD, FGAG), Ivo Čović (Politecnico di Milano), Ivan Jurić (FGAG), and Ana Šverko (Institute of Art History – Centre Cvito Fisković, FGAG). The programme was complemented by a lecture by Iva Raič Stojanović, who presented a case study on the differences in the perception of Villa Januševec after its destruction and reconstruction.

During the lecture by Iva Raič Stojanović at the study room of Institute of Art History - Cvito Fisković Centre.
During the lecture by Iva Raič Stojanović at the study room of the Institute of Art History – Centre Cvito Fisković (photo A.Š.)

The workshop focused on the Palace of Diocletian in Split, the historic core of the city and an essential stop for 18th- and 19h-century Grand Tour travellers to Dalmatia. The students were encouraged to rethink the space of the palace in terms of its past and contemporary values, and develop an innovative methodology which would allow them to record its various physical and conceptual layers. The overall idea was to deconstruct (or, in this context, to de-map) the simplistic preconceptions about the monument and explore (and map) its complex identities.

The first group of students used different media to examine several sites within the palace and identify the differences in the meanings ascribed to them in the 18th century and today. Group two conducted a survey on the psychological impact different places in the palace have on the city’s visitors and residents, which enabled them to draw an emotional and mental map of the area. The third group explored the locations of organised events and spontaneous gatherings within the palace, tracing their dynamics across different times of the day and different seasons. The outcomes of the students’ well-defined and creative projects will serve as the basis for an international workshop to be held in 2017. During the next academic year they will be further developed to facilitate the making of a comprehensive identity map of the palace.

The ensuing event aimed to enrich the discussion on Dalmatia’s historical links with other regions on the Adriatic coasts. On 19 May Italian researcher Mateo Mazzalupi gave a public lecture on Painting in Ancona in the 15th century with several parallels to Dalmatian painting. The lecture, looking at the art worlds of Ancona and Dalmatia during the medieval and Renaissance periods, was organized within the research project of the Institute of Art History entitled Fine Arts and Communication of Power in the Early Modern Period (1450-1800): Historical Croatian Regions at the Crossroads of the Central Europe and the Mediterranean, supported by the Croatian Science Foundation.

On 20 May a scholarly colloquium entitled Zadar: space, time, architecture. Four new views took place. It consisted of four lectures intended to provide new perspectives on the urban fabric of Zadar and advance the argument that the town’s historic centre should be included in the Unesco World Heritage List. Following this line of thought, Joško Belamarić (Institute of Art History – Centre Cvito Fisković) offered an illuminated insight into the continuities and changes of the historic core of Zadar from the antiquity to the present times. He emphasised that its urban grid, derived as much from the local topography as from the Roman planning standards, has been well preserved throughout the town’s many physical transformations. This aspect, coupled with the continuity of the centre’s religious and civic life, provides Zadar with a truly unique character and outstanding value.

The following lecture was given by Laris Borić (Universtiy of Zadar), who discussed the urban transformations of Zadar during the medieval and early modern periods, setting them in their wider political and social contexts. Ana Šverko responded with a related topic on the architecture of Zadar Town Gate and the Fortress of St. Nicholas in Šibenik, discussing their significance within the practice of the distinguished sixteenth-century Venetian architects Michele and Giangirolamo Sanmicheli. The destruction of Zadar in the Second World War and its rebuilding in the early post-war period were the subject for Antonija Mlikota (University of Zadar). She examined the modernist plans developed to recreate the town’s historic layout, touching upon individual buildings that had formed the new urban fabric. The lectures given within the scholarly colloquium earned great interest and feedback so the future development of each of these studies will be looked forward to.

The series of events organised in Split culminated in the three-day international conference entitled Discovering Dalmatia. Dalmatia in 18th and 19th century travelogues, pictures and photographs (21-23 May). The major goal of the conference was to stimulate new scholarship on written and visual records made by 18th- to early 20th-century travellers to Dalmatia in order to obtain an in-depth cultural portrayal of the region in that period. Participants from several countries (Croatia, Slovenia, Russia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) and of different backgrounds (history, art history, architectural history, and comparative literature) naturally brought a wide variety of views to the conference, making it a lively platform for exchanging thoughts and ideas. Milan Pelc, head of the Institute of Art History, opened the conference with a warm welcome and a few words. He emphasised the value of nuanced interpretations of literary and visual sources relating to Dalmatia, and their various political, social, scientific and artistic dimensions.

The conference was divided into four half-day sessions and a walking tour around Diocletian’s Palace. The full proceedings of the conference will be published by the Institute of Art History – Centre Cvito Fisković in 2016.

Elke Katharina Wittich discussed late 17th- and early 18th-century historiographic reports and travelogues on Dalmatia, which, published and translated, circulated across Europe
Elke Katharina Wittich (Hamburg University of Applied Siences) discussed late 17th- and early 18th-century historiographic reports and travelogues on Dalmatia, which, published and translated, circulated across Europe (photo A.Š.)

The first session began with the presentation by Elke Katharina Wittich (Hamburg University of Applied Sciences), who discussed late 17th- and early 18th-century historiographic reports and travelogues on Dalmatia, which, published and translated, circulated across Europe. She commented in particular on the images and maps supporting the texts and their cultural and political undertones. Jean-Pierre Caillet (Université Paris Ouest) spoke about French antiquarian Jacob Spon’s accounts of Dalmatian architecture, landscape and people, which enjoyed great popularity among the 18th-century European intelligentsia. The paper by Valery Shevchenko (State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg) was dedicated to the thirty two drawings of Dalmatia by Charles Louis Clérisseau that are kept at the Herimitage Museum. Made during the artist’s journey with architect Robert Adam, the drawings remain among the most valuable depictions of Dalmatian monuments. Closing this session, Gabrijela Vidan (University of Zagreb, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences) elaborated on Dalmatia’s liminal position between the European West and East, which, as a motive of many travellers’ visits to the region, can be analysed on the basis of literary texts from the 17th to the 19th century.

Valery Shevchenko (State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg) was dedicated to the thirty two drawings of Dalmatia by Charles Louis Clérisseau that are kept at the Herimitage Museum (photo A.Š.)
Valery Shevchenko (State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg) was dedicated to the thirty two drawings of Dalmatia by Charles Louis Clérisseau that are kept at the Herimitage Museum (photo A.Š.)

In the afternoon session, Cvijeta Pavlović (University of Zagreb, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences) examined Ivan Lovrić’s critical review of the famous travelogue about Dalmatia by Alberto Fortis. A piece of neoclassical writing, Lovrić’s report aimed to correct Fortis’s factual inaccuracies and give a truthful description of the region. The following paper was given by Patrick Levačić (University of Zadar), who tracked instances of humour in French travel literature describing Dalmatia, interpreting them within a wider theoretical framework. Joško Zaninović and Antonia Tomić (Drniš Town Museum) gave a comprehensive overview of traveller’s descriptions of ancient and Islamic monuments in and around the town of Drniš. In conclusion to the first day of the conference, Flora Turner Vučetić (researcher, UK) presented and discussed some of the lesser known paintings of Dalmatia by notable British artists, such as J.M.W. Turner, Thomas Patch, Carl Haag, Edward Lear, and Walter Tyndale.

With the presentation by Andrej Žmegač (Institute of Art History, Zagreb), we entered the second day of the conference. His paper centred on Maximilian De Traux’s early 19th-century description of Dalmatia, compiled for the Austrian Archduke Johann just a year before the region was taken over by the French. This was followed by the paper by Nataša Ivanović (RI19+, Ljubljana), who examined the watercolours by the 19th-century Austrian painters Jacob and Rudolf von Alt depicting Dalmatian towns and landscapes. Irena Kraševac (Institute of Art History, Zagreb) discussed the work of another 19th-century Austrian artist, Emil Jakob Schindler, who made numerous drawings and paintings of Dalmatia, many of which provided the basis for the illustrations in the so-called Kronprinzenwerk, an encyclopaedia on the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The session was concluded by Zoraida Demori Staničić (Croatian Conservation Institute, Dubrovnik), who reported on T. G. Jackson’s drawing of one of the pulpits in Hvar Cathedral with an interesting painting, a motif which reveals the architect’s great perceptiveness and sensibility.

In the last session, Josip Vrandečić (University of Split, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences) reflected on Thomas Masaryk visiting Split in 1909. The Czech politician did not take a tour of Diocletian’s Palace, perceiving the monument as an imperial symbol (Roman as well as Austrian). The paper by Sanja Žaja Vrbica (University of Dubrovnik) discussed six of more than seventy travelogues written by the Archduke Ludwig Salvator von Habsburg, which were dedicated to several places on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. The second day of the conference was rounded off by Dragan Damjanović (University of Zagreb, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences), who gave a paper on the 1910 trip to Dalmatia undertaken by professors and students of Vienna University. Some 350 photographs made during the trip, capturing Dalmatian monuments, people and nature, constitute an invaluable archival source for the study of the region.

The final day of the conference was reserved for a visit to the historic centre of Split and informal conversations. Goran Nikšić (City of Split, Service for the Old City Core) guided the participants through Diocletian’s Palace, discussing the change in the ways it had been perceived over the centuries and presenting the recent insights into its forms and original functions. Just like during the Grand Tour, the first-hand observation of the monument, enriched by learned interpretation, proved to be a highly rewarding and stimulating experience.

Goran Nikšić, during the walking tour through the Diocletian's palace (photo A.Š.)
Goran Nikšić, during the walking tour through the Diocletian’s palace (photo A.Š.)

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Summing up everything seen, heard and experienced during the six days of the Discovering Dalmatia series of events is not easy. The events were particularly valuable for their interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to the exploration of Dalmatian heritage, allowing students, early-state researchers and established experts to come together and engage in a fruitful dialogue. The main aim of the programme – the study, interpretation and contextualisation of the phenomenon of recording the space in Dalmatia in the past and today – has been successfully fulfilled and many more topics have been opened. Much of the credit for this must go to the Centre Cvito Fisković, and particularly to Ana Šverko, whose exceptional organisational and planning skills have made the process of discovering Dalmatia possible.

(written by I. R. S.)