Saturday 14 January 2017

My Memories of Ivan Mestrovic - J Croatian Studies


Ivan Meštrović grew up in my father's generation, and knew my grandfather, three of grandfather's daughters, as well as several of his sons. I myself was born in 1909, grew up between the two World Wars, and did not meet Meštrović before World War II. To my generation, Ivan Meštrović was considered the most famous living Croatian; we were proud of his artistic achievements. In a country politically and ideologically much polarized, this great man's political stance and ideological orientation were of paramount importance. Speaking very generally, we saw him as a staunch supporter of Yugoslav unity; we heard that during World War I, together with Frano Supilo and Ante Trumbić, he advocated the creation of a Yugoslav state following the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In the '20s and '30s he was known to us as an intimate friend of King Alexander Karadjordjević.

However, during that time the Croato-Serbian animosity progressively worsened. To be a Yugoslav meant that one was not a good Croatian ideologically. Meštrović was also considered to be a liberalac, i.e. a sort of secularist — a person who disregards forms of established religious worship. To be anti-Yugoslav and to be a church-goer were in many instances closely connected. It was also very well known at that time that Meštrović had made religious sculptures, but many of our contemporaries interpreted these as simply conventional artistic subjects. He was commissioned, for example, to decorate St. Mark's Church in Zagreb. The commissioner, Msgr. Rittig, himself an advocate of Yugoslav unity, was considered a political anomaly as a priest of Yugoslav orientation.

In the fall of 1941, after the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia, I went to the University of Rome to teach the Croatian language. At the same time, Meštrović was imprisoned by the new regime. He describes that painful experience in his Uspomene na političke ljude i dogadjaje (Memories of Political Men and Happenings). Released after several months, he was allowed to go to Italy; in 1942 we met in Rome. After a short stay there, Meštrović withdrew to Switzerland. Later, as the war ended, he returned to Rome with his wife, two sons and a daughter. Since he did not wish his sons to attend an Italian secondary school he asked me to be their private tutor. Although I continued to teach at the University, my monthly salary was sufficient to support my family for only the first half of the month — the stipend I received from Meštrović saw us through to the end of the month. At the same time he asked me to translate his "Conversations with Michelangelo" into French, which I think he did mostly to help me financ ...

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Journal of Croatian Studies, XXIV, 1983, – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition byStudia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.
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