by Owen Lipsett
New York, New York
May 14, 2005
The finest of Zagreb’s innumerable galleries, the original basis for this exhibition was the private collection of Josip Juraj Strossmayer (1815-1905), the Bishop of Đakovo (in eastern Slovenia), who donated it to the then-Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences on his death, after whom the square is also named. Despite being the son of German peasants who had immigrated to Slovenia, Strossmayer was a passionate advocate of Croatian culture and Yugoslavism (the union of southern Slav peoples) as the best way of preserving that culture from its traditional opponents (German, Italians, and Hungarians). Although few of the works in the collection are by Croatian artists, Strossmayer’s ecumenical (and at times unorthodox) religious views are evident in this often unusual collection.
The first four rooms largely consist of religious works by lesser Italian masters (labeled in English as well as Croatian), but there are some famous names among them. Tintoretto’s "Madonna and Child with Donor" in Room 4 is the true highlight of this section, although it should be noted that it was a donation by the master swindler and Nazi associate Ante Topic Mimara (whose personal collection forms the basis of the eponymous and grandiloquent museum nearby). Veronese, Ghirlandaio, and Carpaccio are among the other artists represented in this section, which also contains a few works by medieval Croatian artists.
The collection in the Gallery’s final six rooms is significantly more interesting. Room 5 features a superb "St. Jerome" by Jusepe de Ribera and an almost masculine small painting of a penitent Mary Magdalene by El Greco. The delightful collection of Dutch and Flemish genre painting in Rooms 7 to 9 is highlighted by Pieter Breughel the Younger’s "Village Wedding" (Room 8) and Jacob van Ruisdael’s "Crossing the River" (Room 9, another dishonestly acquired Mimara donation). A room filled with playfully light, small canvases by 18th-century French artists, including Fragonard and Boucher, rounds out the collection.
From journal Zagreb: A Central-European Metropolis with Balkan Charm