Page 334 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
P. 334

Ljubica D. Popović
The first known Serbian representation of the Battle of Kosovo was painted in the refectory of the Vrdnik Mon- astery by ambrozije janković (1731-?).52 This master-zo- ographer painted Biblical scenes on the ceiling of this struc- ture, and on the wall in the western lunette he executed a multi-figured composition of the battle. This work, paint- ed between 1771 and 1776, suffered excessive damage from the austrians in World War i. in his study of the remains of this painting and of the subsequent, rather interpreta- tive graphic copies, Pavle Vasić established the basic fea- tures of the composition.53 The almost destroyed south (left) side contained Ottoman forces and showed com- positional fragments of tents, turbans, and horses. On the north (right) side were Serbian riders organized in zones by the red or blue color of their hussar hats. They wore multi-colored cloaks and carried sabers in their hands. Prince Lazar with his flag-bearers, all mounted on pow- erful chargers, occupied the center. This artist’s formal orientation oscillated between medieval and contempo- rary styles. From the tradition of the former come such elements as simultaneous narrative, isocephalic arrange- ment of the figures, inverted perspective, stylization of horses and frontality of faces. The baroque style inspired decorative illusionism, as well as contemporary details of arms, armor, and clothing. in this composition the mount- ed riders with Prince Lazar are young Serbs, contempo- raries of the painter, who, as an ethnically identified na- tionality, served the Habsburg monarchy by defending its borders against the Turks. David Racković, the donor of the Battle of Kosovo painting in this refectory, was not a nobleman but an ordinary citizen of Novi Sad.54 This fact indicates the shift in art sponsorship from the nobility to the citizenry.
While the literary inspiration for the painting came di- rectly from the epic poem Boj na Kosovu (The Battle of Kosovo), a specific formal source of inspiration has not been established. Pavle Vasić assumes that janković may have seen some of the austrian prints depicting military campaigns against the Turks. in general, this scene is con- sidered an original composition and the first historical painting of this subject in Serbian art.55
One may wonder if a monastic refectory was not an unusual place for a historical composition. To understand this location one must remember that between the fall of Smederevo in 1459 and the conclusion of the insurrection Wars of the early nineteenth century, the Serbian people lived without their own independent state. They were di- vided by two empires, the Ottoman and the Habsburg. Consequently, there were no royal palaces or public plac-
52 Enciklopedija Likovnih Umjetnosti, iii, 60 s.v. “janković, am- brozije.”
53 Pavle Vasić, Doba baroka (Belgrade: Umetnička akademija, 1971), p. 11.
54 Vasić, Doba baroka, p. 10.
55 Vasić, Doba baroka, p. 13.
es which would have afforded a natural setting for histori- cal compositions inspired by the nation’s past. The church was the only independent organization that the Serbian people had to provide both the setting and the stimula- tion for such compositions. The Battle of Kosovo was not depicted inside the catholicon of the Monastery Vrdnik, where the body of Prince Lazar was kept and from which his cult emanated.56 However, because the subject of this painting was appropriate to the monastic complex which was the center of the veneration of the prince martyred at Kosovo, it was fitting to place the scene of the Battle of Kosovo in the monastery’s second most important cere- monial place—the refectory.
Several times in the course of the nineteenth century a historical composition inspired by the theme of the Bat- tle of Kosovo was painted inside a church building prop- er. around the middle of that century, anonymous zoog- raphers painted the Battle of Kosovo in a rather naive man- ner in the Serbian churches in Tovariščevo (Bačka) and Šarengrad (near ilok, Srem).57 Somewhat later, N. aleksić painted the scene of Miloš Killing the Turkish Sultan Mu- rad on the vault of the Serbian church in Ostojićevo (Ba- nat), which will be discussed with the other compositions depicting episodes from the battle.
among rare modern works dealing with an historical theme, one can cite Peter Lubarda’s rendering of the Bat- tle of Kosovo (1953).58 a lack of narrative elements seems to purify this expressive painting elevating it to the level of heroic type works, among which Picasso’s Guernica comes to mind.59 in Lubarda’s painting, the observer sens- es more than sees the dramatic charge of the mounted warriors. The subtle suggestions of rearing white horses, bold strokes of the brush, and a carefully selected palette seem to evoke fresco representations from the medieval period. in a true sense this modern painter transcended the narrative subject of the Kosovo battle and created an icon of war. in this manner Lubarda joins past with pres- ent, making his vision of the Battle of Kosovo a symbol of all other battles that the Serbian nation had to wage.
any significant commemorative celebration stimu- lates the interest of both scholars and artists in the given
56 The body of Prince Lazar was taken from his foundation, Mon- astery Ravanica, to the city of Budim (Hungary) in 1690 during the Great Serbian migration; and in 1697 it was deposited in Monastery Vrdnik-Ravanica (Srem), where it rested until 1941. at that time it was brought to Belgrade’s cathedral for safekeeping. Finally in 1989 the body of Prince Lazar made its pilgrimage through Serbia, on its way once again to the Monastery Ravanica where it found its permanent rest. For information on the cult of Prince Lazar, see: Dejan Meda- ković, “Kult kneza Lazara u srpskom baroku,” O knezu Lazara- Nau- čni Skup u Kruševcu, 1971 Belgrade, 1975), pp. 321–35, and figs. 1–8.
57 Enciklopedija Likovnih Umjetnosti, iii, 60, s.v. “janković, am- brozije.”
58 jevtić (ed.), Zadužbine Kosova, plate on page 202.
59 Frank D. Russell, Picasso’s Guernica: The Labyrinth of Narra- tive and Vision (Montclair, N.j.: allanheld, Osmund & Co. Pub., inc., 1980), figure on page 1; for the horse: study 4, fig. 5.

   332   333   334   335   336