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The Battle of Kosovo (1389) and Battle Themes in Serbian art
Ljubica D Popović
Even after the concerted efforts of many scholars, the course of the battle which took place at Kosovo Polje on 28 june 1389, remains unfamiliar in its many
details.1 Sources written close to the event offer little in- formation about this military confrontation.2 They es- tablish that the battle occurred at that particular place and time, and that neither the Ottoman Sultan Murad i (1362–89) nor the Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović (1371–89) survived it. Beyond these established facts, many uncertainties remain. Therefore, historians studying this battle have had to depend upon later sources in trying to reconstruct the exact course of events. The Serbian peo- ple, on the other hand, believe they know the Battle of Kosovo well. This folkloric feeling of familiarity is actu-
1 Numerous scholarly meetings held in Yugoslavia and around the world testify to that effect. These were stimulated not only by the celebration of the six hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, but also by a desire shared by scholars from various disciplines to advance further our understanding of this event and its historical consequences. it is not the purpose of this work to evaluate the enor- mous existing bibliography pertinent to this subject; only studies relevant to this paper’s topic will be cited. However, it is interesting to note several anthological and multi-disciplinary publications aimed at the informed public, as well as popular editions (books and maga- zines) dealing with the Battle of Kosovo published to satisfy the in- terest of the public at large, especially in Serbia, in this historical event. as typical examples one can cite the following: atanasije jevtić and Živorad Stojković (eds.), Zadužbine Kosova: spomenici i zna- menja srpskog naroda (Prizren-Belgrade 1987; Kosovska Bitka: mit, legenda i stvarnost, izbor tekstova Ratko Peković, izbor ilustracija Dr. Nikola Kusovac (Belgrade: “Litera,” 1988); “Boj na Kosovu,” Politika: intervju, Specijalno izdanje 4 (28 july 1988).
2 as an example of Serbian sources, the text written by Despot Stefan Lazarević and inscribed upon the marble column at Kosovo Polje can be mentioned as quoted in: a. jevtić and Živorad Stojković, (eds.), Zadužbine Kosova, p. 192:
“They attacked the enemies / and they overran the true dragon / and killed the wild beast / and the great adversary / and the never- sated Hades who devours all, / I am saying Amurad and his son, descendent of an asp and a snake, a cub of a lion and of a basilisk, and with them (they killed) not a small number of others. / O, miracle of God’s destiny / the courageous sufferer was captured / by the lawless hands of the Agarens / and at the end he suffered / to become Christ’s martyr / the great Prince Lazar. / No one else cut him down, O my beloved, / but the hand of that killer, son of Amurad. / And all told above happened in the summer of 6897, 12th indict, in the month of june, day 15, on a Tuesday, and the hour was six or seven, i do not know, God knows. (1403–4). Unless otherwise noted, all translations of Serbian text by Lj. D. Popović.
ally based on popular legends and epic poetry rather than on concrete historical evidence. Consequently, the Ser- bian national perception of the battle is individual, arrived at through anonymous bards’ interpretations of the actual event.
The purpose of this study, concentrating primarily on painting, is twofold: first, to examine how those medi- eval art monuments and literary texts most nearly con- temporary to the Battle of Kosovo can tell us about that event and about the psychological atmosphere after it; second, to examine the themes depicted in Serbian art that were inspired by the events associated with the Bat- tle of Kosovo, and to find the written sources which pro- vided this inspiration. it is neither possible to offer an en- cyclopedic approach here, which would include all Ser- bian and other Slavic artists who depicted subjects related to that battle,3 nor is it possible to offer a lengthy formal analysis of each individual work included in this essay. Other studies will have to examine portraits of historical persons as well as pseudo-historical figures who, accord- ing to the legends, participated in the battle. The same is true for those works of art, especially paintings which con- centrate on incidental episodes, not particularly connect- ed with a specific event in the popularly accepted chron- ological sequence of the battle.4 Moreover, this study will devote only brief attention to the images of women as- sociated with the Battle of Kosovo in order to strengthen the visual perception of this military engagement.5 instead,
4 For example, the equestrian representation of Miloš Obilić paint- ed in 1861 by aleksandar Dobrić (1835-?) is not included in this study. For this artist, see; Miodrag jovanović, Srpsko slikarstvo u doba ro- mantizma 1848–1878 (Novi Sad: Matica srpska, 1976), pp. 107–9, pi. ii. also omitted is Boško Jugović na konju, created ca. 1900 by Djoka Putnik(?). For this work, see: Kosovska bitka: mit, legenda i stvarnost, unnumbered color plate.
5 Because of length limitations such an important personality as Kneginja Milica cannot form a significant part of this study. Her portrait can be gleaned through literary texts and contemporary
  The number of South Slavic artists who painted themes inspired by epic poetry dealing specifically with Kosovo is not a large one. among the Croatian painters, Ferdo Quiquerez (1845–93) will be discussed. Others not included in this study are Vladimir Bečić, jo- sip Lalić, and Ljubo Babić who illustrated subjects from epic poetry; this task was shared by two Slovenian artists, Saša Santel and Hinko Smrekar: Pavle Vasić, Umetnički život: kritike, prikazi, i članci, 1961– 1970, v. 2 (Belgrade, 1976), p. 667.

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