Knjižnica Filozofskog fakulteta
Sveučilišta u Zagrebu
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Institutional Repository

Typology and origin of ornamentation of 17th and 18th century wooden altars in northwest Croatia : reception, application and development of motifes. [Sv. 1 i Sv. 2]


Downloads per month over past year

Wolff Zubović, Martina. (2017). Typology and origin of ornamentation of 17th and 18th century wooden altars in northwest Croatia : reception, application and development of motifes. [Sv. 1 i Sv. 2]. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Art History.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij povijesti umjetnosti) [mentor Repanić Braun, Mirjana].

PDF (Croatian)
Download (41MB) | Preview
PDF (Croatian)
Download (52MB) | Preview


The topic of this doctoral dissertation is the ornamentation motifs in the decoration of wooden polychrome altars in north-western Croatia in the 17th and 18th centuries, their origin and the variations of ornamental forms in the period in this area which, much like in other parts of Central Europe, includes the phases of Baroque and Rococo, which in terms of the decoration of the wooden inventory lasted until the beginning of the 1780s, when it was replaced by a much more restrained expression of classicist decorations. The thesis gives the first systematic analysis and interpretation of the development of the hitherto unexplored corpus of ornaments, in terms of the influence of works by foreign artists, their often one-off commissions and with regard to the reception of ornaments in the local community, in the works of local carvers/sculptors, whether native or immigrant, for which ornamental prints often played an important role. The starting points are given in the introduction – a summary of previous findings on the subject in Croatian scholarly and technical literature and an overview of the relevant foreign literature. The chapters that follow deal with a detailed analysis of the origins and the development phases of the ornamentation in the context of Central Europe, and finally there is a glossary of ornaments and a catalogue of the analyzed altars. Ornamentation deserves special attention as a component of the altar retable which was the fastest to adopt changes in form in north-western Croatia, and thus it became the exponent of style and an indicator of date. A possible reason for this lies in the fact that carved ornaments, as well as the construction of the altar retable according to already finished drafts (which was mainly done by carpenters and only exceptionally by sculptors) required craftsmanship, rather than academic or artistic education in workshops of great masters, which was then reflected in the quality and stylistic features of sculptural works. At the same time, the application of this new ornamental idiom gave the retable a “modern” look in the contemporaries’ eyes. Altar ornamentation has not been studied systematically as a separate subject so far. Existing studies, which have served as the basis for this research, place stronger emphasis on sculptural or architectural components of the altar, and deal with ornaments only incidentally. Therefore, the analyses published thus far lack a precise definition of certain types of ornamentation, the exploration of their genesis and a connection to the ornamental prints and similar material in present day Slovenia, Austria and Germany through a comparative analysis. I would like to single out an indispensable study by Milan Železnik from 1957 as the first major analysis of altar ornamentation. The study under the title “Osnovni vidiki za študij ‘zlatnih oltarjev’ u Sloveniji” (“Basic views for the study of ‘gold altars’ in Slovenia”), in which morphological changes which occur in architecture, ornamentation and polychrome altars during the period between 1630 and 1720 are defined. Within this rather systematic analysis, the terminology, typology and chronology of the ornamentation are defined. The results of his research have rightly met with positive reception among Croatian researchers (Anđela Horvat, Doris Baričević, Ljerka Gašparović) since the material is so similar. However, when speaking about the ornamentation in the 17th century, Železnik did not mention the motif of strapwork (germ. Schweifwerk) and interpreted it as the Roman acanthus. This has contributed to a different interpretation of the motif among Croatian researchers, who in its thick tendrils at the bottom often accompanied by plant shoots, also recognized the Roman acanthus. In comparison with contemporary graphic prints, it was found that the motif of scrollwork on the altars of north-western Croatia originates in the first half of the 17th century, and in some places even later than that. The motif developed from the initial phase in which it is mixed with the elements of the strapwork motif to the final stage in the 1660s when it was fused with the motif of the cartilage. Long conservation work and systematic research by Anđela Horvat resulted in an overview of Croatian continental art within which she dealt with altar retables (Horvat, Između gotike i baroka, Umjetnost kontinentalnog dijela Hrvatske od oko 1500. do oko 1700. Zagreb: Društvo povjesničara umjetnosti Hrvatske, 1975. – Between the Gothic and the Baroque, Croatian continental art from around 1500 to about 1700, Zagreb: Croatian Society of Art Historians, 1975). In this paper the altar architecture typology is analysed and altars are examined in a broader context of the similar material in Slovenia and Austria. Speaking about the decorations, the author draws on the guidelines established by Železnik, and gives her own descriptions of a more associative nature. Thus, for the ornamentation of an altar from the first half or the middle of the 17th century, she states that it is reminiscent of a “somewhat disturbed sequence of a dog jumping,” and she describes different variants of the motif of cartilage as “well-indented forms of seaweed stems” and an “acanthus braid with thick hooks.” In her master’s thesis entitled “Drveni oltarni retabli XVII. stoljeća na teritoriju bivše banske Hrvatske” (Wooden altar retables of the 17th century on the territory of the former Civil Croatia) written in 1965, Gašparović gives a comprehensive formal and stylistic analysis of wooden retables with an emphasis on the mutual relation between structural and decorative elements. She divided altar retables in four typological groups, paying special attention to the decorations, which she considers to be “the most authoritative criterion in classification of altar retables” and that they “most obviously express the style of a particular era.” In her research of Ivan Komersteiner’s work and his workshop, Gašparović also touched upon the topic of ornamentation. Identifying specific formal characteristics of the acanthus motif that were created in the workshop (along with the analysis of sculptures, naturally) helped her in completing the catalogue of that important workshop in north-western Croatia from the mid1680s to the first decade of the 18th century (“O aktivnosti Ivana Komersteinera u Hrvatskoj” – “The activities of Ivan Komersteiner in Croatia”, Peristil, 18-19, 1975/1976). In her research, Doris Baričević focused on altar architecture and sculpture. Meticulously analyzing formal features of sculptures and connecting them with a detailed research of archives, she saved many sculptors from oblivion and reconstructed their oeuvre. Many missing pieces of Croatian Baroque sculpture were put in their proper place owing to her dedicated research. Baričević also dealt with ornaments by establishing a basic typology of ornamental motifs and the chronology of their appearance. One of the reasons why she explored this topic was that certain types of ornaments could be linked to a specific time slot, which helped her in dating the altars if there were no archival data. The system she set up in her works is an important base for the research included in this dissertation. When analyzing ornaments of wooden polychromatic altars, one should consider that it is only part of a diverse corpus of ornamentation which can be found in all of the decorative arts. These problems are explored in the following books from the series “The History of Decorative Arts” edited by Alain Gruber: “The Renaissance and Mannerism in Europe” and “Classicism and the Baroque in Europe.” These two books integrate the work of an international team of experts, and are part of a series dedicated to the study of decorative arts from the late 15th until the early 20th century. Each chapter is devoted to one of the ornamental motifs typical for a certain period, and its various applications in all types of art are explored. These include architecture, painting, sculpture, interior decoration, furniture, tapestries, embroidery, bookbinding, ceramics and metalwork. This complex topic is dealt with through a synthetic approach, so that the usual division in terms of artistic types or countries of origin was avoided. The synthetic approach also stressed the links between various forms of artistic expression that would otherwise remain unrecognized. The books are richly illustrated with extremely useful visual material. The reader is sensitised by the synthetic approach to the fact that, for instance, the motif of the grid (part of a leaf and scrollwork ornament), which can be found on altars made in the 18th century, can be recognized as an element of stucco decoration and as a decorative embroidery on fabrics. The concise overview of the history of Western ornament from 1450 to this day – “The V&A Book of Western Ornament” – is similarly conceived. The overview is illustrated by diverse objects from the “V&A Gallery of European Ornament” collection and graphic prints with ornamental inventions. The author is Michael Snodin, the former curator of the collection. Alessandra Zamperini’s book “Ornament and the Grotesque” explores the metamorphosis of the grotesque from ancient times to the Art Nouveau period. A better knowledge of the ornamental idiom typical of the grotesque facilitated the recognition of some of its elements in polychrome wooden altars of the second quarter of the 18th century. Extensive research conducted by German art historian Günter Irmscher was indispensable. Apart from his doctoral thesis on the ornament of scrollwork in ornamental prints (“Das Schweifwerk: Untersuchungen zu einem Ornamenttypus der Zeit um 1600 im Bereich ornamentaler Vorlageblätter”, Köln, 1978) and an overview of the general development of ornamentation in Europe in the period from 1450 to 2000 (“Ornament in Europa”, Köln: Deubner Verlag für Kunst, Theorie & Praxis, 2005), in other works (“Akanthus - Zur Geschichte der Ornamentform”, “Das Laub- und Bandlwerk – Zur Geschichte eines vergessenen Ornaments” and “Style rocaille”), he analyzed individual motifs thoroughly. The author defined the basic types of ornaments precisely as well as individual motifs within them. He supported this division with precise descriptions of ornaments and numerous examples of their application in a variety of media and extensively cited ornamental prints, which were dated and with which the development and expansion of the motifs could be monitored and, in some cases, their origin could be revealed. The results of his research have been used in this dissertation for the first time as a valuable aid in the analysis of the ornaments on the wooden altars of north-western Croatia. They have contributed to the revision of the existing and the establishment of a more precise typology and terminology. The studies by Wolf-Dieter Hamper “Böhmische-oberpfälzische Akanthusaltäre” included “acanthus carved altars” (Akanthus-Schnitzaltar), common in Upper Palatinate in East Bavaria, in Lower Bavaria and the neighbouring Czech Republic. Different as their execution may be, these altars have one thing in common: they renounce the architectural building with columns and gables and convert the retable behind the altar table into free richly carved acanthus branches that spread around the altarpieces like a tree, sometimes reminiscent of the monstrance. The adaptability of the ornament to various needs of the communities can best be seen when such atectonic acanthus altars made up of dense hypertrophied branches are compared to some altar retables of a later date, decorated by acanthus and made in Croatia. Acanthus, the ornamental motif taken from the ancient repertoire, can be used on altar retables in a way that is subordinate to architecture (which is very frequent in north-western Croatia) and in that case reflects the desire for preservation of the classical influence, particular to the Italian circle of influence, but it can also be interpreted in a different way where its wild overgrowth exhibits the freedom from the influence of the “classical”. The aim of this research is to precisely define the typology and chronology of the altar ornamentation of the 17th and 18th century in north-western Croatia. Due to various circumstances that dictated the spread and acceptance of certain ornamental motifs, the typology and periodisation can most accurately be established on a regional basis, respecting its specificity. The ornaments will be discussed using a comparative method and brought into relation with similar material in present day Slovenia and Austria, and with contemporary ornamental prints. Possible influences of more powerful cultural centres will be recognized, as well as features typical of Croatia. New findings will enable a more comprehensive evaluation of the corpus of altar ornaments. The hypothesis of this research is that the change in the type of ornamentation on altars of north-western Croatia occur almost simultaneously with the chronology of ornaments in the neighbouring provinces in the west, and that the ornaments are the stylistic feature that was first to be adopted. About a hundred and thirty altar retables have been examined in continental Croatia so far, namely in Croatian Zagorje, Pokuplje and Turopolje and the major Baroque centres such as Zagreb and Varaždin. Altars that were made in the period from the 1620s to the 1750s have been included and the research that is to follow will include altars made in 1770s, as well as the related material in Slovenia and Austria. In selecting the altars for the research, priority was given to those with a significant share of ornaments. The altars were recorded in situ (described and photographed), and in places where this was not possible, existing photographic documentation was collected (Doris Baričević’s photograph library, photograph library of the Croatian Conservation Institute, photograph library of the Institute of Art History). If by examining archival photographs we noticed that over time altars sustained changes or that parts of the altar architecture, sculpture or ornamentation were lost, this was noted. Particular attention was paid to chronograms and votive inscriptions on the altars, which usually contain the year they were erected and the name of the client. Apart from the inscriptions, an important primary source are canonical visitations in which one can find descriptions of the altars and the year they were erected, while the names of the authors of the altars can be found in the contracts with the clients. For this purpose, the Archdiocesan archives in Zagreb are continuously being researched. Data acquired from field and archival research, by reviewing the relevant domestic, from foreign literature and from analyzing the ornaments will be summarized in catalogue entries that will accompany each altar. The ornaments are listed in chronological order, in such a way that a chapter is devoted to each ornament. The genesis of each ornament is first analyzed within the context of European heritage, and then forms in which this ornament appears on altar retables in northwestern Croatia are analyzed. Modifications of each ornament in various periods of time are also analyzed against the examples of our material as well as the stages in which different motifs coexisted. Examples of two different and chronologically adjacent motifs occurring simultaneously at the altar are mentioned. Special attention is devoted to defining the hitherto unrecognized or differently interpreted ornamental motifs, thus enriching the corpus of ornamentation. The terminology of ornaments is enriched with new terms compatible with their versions in German- and Slovenian-speaking territory. These findings are included in the glossary.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: Northwest Croatia, altar, ornament, motif, ornamental print, strapwork, auricular style, acanthus, leaf and strapwork, rocaille
Subjects: History of art
Departments: Department of Art History
Supervisor: Repanić Braun, Mirjana
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij povijesti umjetnosti
Date Deposited: 21 Feb 2018 13:05
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2018 13:05

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item