Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962)

Ivan Meštrović was Croatia’s greatest sculptor of religious art since the Renaissance. He worked in various materials—marble, wood, and bronze—to creative realist sculpture, usually exploring religious themes. Meštrović was born in Vrpolje (Slavonia) to a peasant family on August 15, 1883, and spent most of his childhood in Otavice, a tiny, impoverished village in the mountainous interior of Dalmatia west of Šibenik. When he was 16, Meštrović was apprenticed to a stonecutter in Split, where he developed his skills by reproducing the city’s Roman works of art. After just 9 months in Split, a wealthy Viennese patron sponsored a place for him at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. There, Meštrović met French sculptor Auguste Rodin, who became a strong influence on the young artist and encouraged him to broaden his artistic vision through travel. Meštrović took Rodin’s advice and spent time working in Paris, Belgrade, and eventually Rome, where he won a first prize for sculpture at the World Exhibition of 1911. In the early 1920s, Meštrović settled in Zagreb, where he transformed a 17th-century house (Meštrović Atelier, see below) into his home and studio. In 1942 he was imprisoned by the Ustaše, but released thanks to intervention by Pope Pius XII. After World War II, he immigrated to the U.S., where he became a professor of sculpture at Syracuse University and later at Notre Dame. There are a few of Meštrović’s works in Zagreb, most notably the “Well of Life” (1950) in front of the Croatian National Theater. In addition to the atelier, I recommend a visit to the Meštrović Gallery (a villa he designed himself, where he spent his summers) in Split, for travelers who are heading to Dalmatia after the capital. Meštrović’s best known public work in Split is the colossal bronze statue of “Grgur Ninski,” which stands just outside the walls of Diocletian’s Palace, close to the Zlatna Vrata. Travelers continuing down to the Dubrovnik area might want to check out the elegant white stone Račić Mausoleum in Cavtat, also designed by Meštrović.

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