Page 345 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
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marily of a ruler. Such a tradition can be followed from ancient egypt almost to the art of our own time.128 among these historical compositions are those rarer ones com- missioned to glorify through a specific event a city-state or a republic,129 rather than a ruler.
The historical compositions in Serbian art depicting Kosovo themes were not intended primarily for glorifi- cation of the ruler. When judged by european standards, some of these historical scenes dating from the Roman- tic and post-Romantic periods are modest in size, often provincial in style, and even anachronistic. Created long after the given event had taken place, they are by defini- tion pseudo-historical scenes. Due to their historical dis- tance, they are free from the need to flatter a ruler or the state. instead, they glorify martyred heroes, many of whom are legendary rather than real.
Through these heroes, the artists celebrate in their works, not an individual, but the personification of a na- tion, its courage, its ethical standards, and, finally, its his- tory.
While the majority of historical compositions deal with national themes, the question remains as to whether or not all of these scenes should be understood in purely ethnic terms. Or, do some of these images transcend the most visible, outward signs of that which is regional or national, and reach into something that can be termed universal? indeed, all battle scenes can qualify as univer- sal, since they deal with the theme of human conflict. Most scenes of battle celebrate the aggressor. in scholarly treat- ment of these works, the question of aggression versus defense is generally overlooked, resulting in scarce atten- tion to ethical issues in military conflict as rendered in art.
Where pictorial subject matter treats a battle as the defense of a nation rather than the aggression of one nation against another, and where it glorifies tragedies through which the spirit triumphs rather than temporal victories of arms, then historical compositions are elevated beyond mere descriptions of war to another realm. in these re- spects the Kosovo themes touch upon moral issues and teach more than history: they deliver a message and exalt
128 W. Stevenson Smith, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt, revised with additions by William Kelly Simpson, 2nd. ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1981), p. 32, and figs. 13–14 (Palette of Narmar); pp. 257, 273, 357, 358, 359–61, 370, 372, and illustration 351 (Battle of Kadesh). For the vestiges of the glorification of a ruler as a military leader one can mention the case of Queen elizabeth ii: Serge Lem- oine, Silver Jubilee Year: A Complete Pictorial Record (London: Co- lour Library international, 1977), photographs on pages 118 and 119.
129 For the battle scenes planned to decorate Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, see Carlo Pedretti, Leonardo: A Study in Chronology and Style (New York, London: Harcourt, Brace, jovanovich, Publ., 1973): johnson Reprint Corp., 1982, pp. 81–83, 89, 95 Charles de Tolnay, Michelangelo. Sculptor. Painter. architect. (Princeton, London: Princ- eton University Press, 1975), pp. 20–22, fig. 366. For the Palazzo Du- cale in Venice, see alvize Zorzi, elena Bassi, Terisio Pignati, and Ca- millo Semenzato, II Palazzo Ducale di Venezia (Torino: eRi, 1971), pp. 109, 110, 121–23, 130, and 148, figs. 82, 83, 122, 125, 131, 135, and 136.
The Battle of Kosovo (1389) and Battle Themes in Serbian art
old-fashioned virtues such as sacrifice, love, and compas- sion.
Miloš Obilić may have reached the presence of Sultan Murad by deceit, but it is impossible to call him an assas- sin. His cause was just; he fought for the freedom of his people and his faith and atoned for his act with his own life. His deed becomes purified, a symbol of the eternal struggle of good and evil, of the aggressor and the defend- er. Thus, the image of Miloš and Murad can be equated with the struggle between Theseus and Minotauros, the Lapiths and Centaurs, and with that of many other he- roes and anti-heroes.130 in this manner they all merge to become a concept or a prototypical image, a universal per- sonification of a cosmic struggle between known and un- known forces.
at the time of their creation, the scenes of Miloš Kill- ing Murad must have been understood first and foremost as illustrations of a historical event. With the passage of time perhaps our understanding of such images ought to be different. Now the meaning of such scenes can be in- terpreted first from a universal point of view and, second- ly, from that view particular to a given ethnic group or individual.
The legend and reality of the Battle of Kosovo lived in- separably intertwined in the memory of the Serbian peo- ple, who were stimulated by the ever-present epic poetry. Likewise, individual Kosovo subjects existed on the walls of religious institutions, in panel paintings, on graphic leaves, and, finally, in sculpture. Yet these post-medieval images, like their medieval textual131 and visual anteced- ents, remained fragmentary. in spite of some attempts a single iconographically complete cycle of Kosovo subjects was never created, which, in the final analysis, is as it should be. a national event of such historical magnitude and spiri- tual power ought not be confined to the physical bound- aries of man-made images, but should transcend them and live eternally in the collective hearts and minds of a nation and its people.
Thomas Emmert/Wayne W.S. Vucinich (eds.),
Kosovo: Legacy of Medieval Battle, Minnesota Mediterranean an East European Monographs, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN., 1991, pp. 227–266.
P. Grimal, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, 1985, s.v. Theseus: 445–52; s.v. Minotaur: 292–93; s.v. Lapith: 251; s.v. Cen- taurs: 94–95.
131 For example, a series of lithographs illustrating episodes from the Battle of Kosovo, was prepared by adam Stefanović, see: Enciklo- pedija Likovnih Umjetnosti, s.v. “Stefanović, adam”; also Ivan Meš- trović, see M. Ćurčin, ivan Meštrović, 1919, pis. i and ii, and nos. 81–87, 99–107, 117–18, and 151, among other artists.

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