The First Croatian State


 

Church of St Donatus, Zadar, 9th century. The largest Pre-romanesque building in Croatia, it is also one of the most impressive churches of centralised type of the Carolingian period in Europe. The circular church, formerly domed, has three apses and an ambulatory around the central area, surmonted by circular gallery.

Church of St Donatus, Zadar, 9th century. Vierw of eastern side where, instead of massive piers on the ground floor and gallery, double columns frame the tripartite opening towards the tree apses. The original dome was replaced by a wooden roof.
Pre-romanesque (9th - 11th centuries)

Justinian"s reconquest was an attempt to hold back the tide of history.
The territory which he had briefly wrested back from the Ostrogoths (535) was penetrated as early as 568 by the Langobards, who occupied northern Italy, while the area between them and Byzantium was soon to be settled by the Slavs (Slav graves at Buzet, Motovun and Vižinada in Istria).
At the beginning of the 7th century, a mass of Avars and Slavs entered the territory of present day Croatia in the movement that has justly been called the "great migration of peoples".
Historical sources record, and archaeological evidence confirms, their incursions and ravages from Constantinople and Salonica in the south east to Nesactium and Buzet in Istria, in the north west. A particularly deep imprint on historical memory was left by the fall of the main city of Dalmatia, Salona (614), since this signified the definite end of antiquity.

From then on, for the next two centuries, historical events were to go unrecorded, for the barbarian newcomers were not yet literate, and the numerically reduced and terrified inhabitants of the region were preoccupied with the struggle for survival. But from later writings, when historical events again began to be recorded in the 9th century, we know that in the meantime several important processes had evolved. The Slavs had assimilated the Avars, and the Croats, settled in the Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dalmatia and the region of Histria, had formed their first close knit state organisation, adopting Christianity and   in the upper strata of society   becoming acquainted with the Latin language and alphabet. This was symbolically expressed in the Latin inscription on the hexagonal stone font of Prince Višeslav, one of the earliest Croatian monuments (8th century): "This source refreshes the weak..." Significant changes had also occurred in the utilisation of land and organisation of settlements.

The surviving inhabitants of the Roman cities, who had retreated before the Avar Slav incursions into smaller and better fortified or more easily defensible areas, did not always return to the towns. A typical choice of refuge site in the Europe of that time was in a lagoon   as at Venice, for example, or on an island, such as Grado in the northern Adriatic. Similarly, on the southern Adriatic, the people of Epidaurus (Cavtat), according to legend, took refuge on the tiny isle of Ragusium, close to the shore, which was later to be connected with a nearby Slav settlement and take its name: Dubrovnik.

Neither did the refugees from Salona return to their city, but settled inside Diocletian"s Palace, a fortress suited to the new conditions of life, which before long would develop into the Slavicised medieval town of Split. The Croat newcomers did not rebuild great Salona either, but for their new settlement, the small town of Solin, chose a naturally protected site well placed for communications at Otok (Island) and around the mouth of the river Jadro. We know that Solin became one of the centres of the early medieval Croatian state, for a tomb inscription found in the ruins of the church of St Stephen "at Otok" is dedicated to Queen Jelena (+ 976) "widow of King Mihajlo (Krešimir), mother of King Stjepan (Držislav)". The church nave was separated from the lateral aisles by stone built columns, and had a square apse. The narthex, where Queen Jelena"s sarcophagus was found, served as a mausoleum. The vestibule of the church had a gallery and two towers at the sides, a sign of Carolingian influence.
On the area of Early Croatian Solin the remains have been found of two other buildings equally important from both the historical and art history standpoints. One, the church "at Gradina" (6th century), with its almost square ground plan and unusual octagonal central area with columns   long thought to have been intended for coronation ceremonies   belongs to the Byzantine tradition (the type of SS Sergius and Bachus in Salonica). The other, the aisled basilica of SS Peter and Moses, exemplifies the combinatio of regional Early Croatian traditions with the new architectural forms spread by the Benedictines from the mid 11th century. Instead of the characteristic smooth wall surfaces of the Benedictine aisled basilica and its three semicircular apses, the walls here are divided within and without by lesenes, (pilaster strips), while the apses are incorporated in the wall mass of the flat eastern facade, the central one being rectangular. All these are features of early Pre Romanesque architecture. This was the coronation church of Croatian King Zvonimir, who, according to records, was crowned in a church of this name by a legate of Pope Gregory VII in 1076.
When we say that the inhabitants of Salona moved into Diocletian"s Palace, we are noting one of the major differences between antiquity and the middle ages in architecture and urban lay out: the change in scale. The city moving into the palace means, in other words, that a Roman palace (Diocletian"s) was spacious enough to contain an entire medieval town (Split). The transition from late antiquity, including the Early Christian and early Byzantine phases, to the early medieval epoch can perhaps best be followed and understood by examining the transformation of Salona and Diocletian"s Palace.

Altar closure slab from the church of St Domenica, Zadar with scenes of The Massacre of the Innocents and The Flight into Egypt, late 11th century. Archaeological Museum, Zadar. A traditional antique type of arcadede sarcophagus reworked with low relief in linear Pre-Romanesque stylisation which reduced the formenr architectural background to no more than an ornamental frame.
In the turbulent times of population movements in the 7th century, the large 5th century Early Christian basilicas at the cemeteries around Salona were destroyed. The only building to survive was the smallest but most strongly built   the mausoleum (of St Anastasius?, 4th century) at Marusinac, its barrel vaulting reinforced with ribs and buttressed externally by massive counterforts (an example of Syrian influence). The martyr Anastasius was drowned, with a millstone round his neck, in the river Jadro. His relics and those of the first bishop of Salona, Domnius, were later translated to Split. Domnius (Dujam) became the town"s patron saint, his relics and those of St Anastasius (Staš) being placed on the altars of Split cathedral.
From the 4th century, when pagan cults were replaced by Christianity, Diocletian"s mausoleum (with the tomb in the lower part and the imperial cult area above it) was used as a church, and after the destruction of Salona, as the cathedral of Split, while the Small Temple in the palace became the baptistry. A further example of the modest scale of Pre Romanesque life is the adaptation of the former guard posts above the northern and western palace gates into small churches. In the confined space of one (St Martin) a stone altar enclosure was placed, while above the other (St Theodore, "Our Lady of the Belfry") a small belfry was built. Also preserved are some Pre Romanesque houses built within the spacious palace apartments in rough broken stone with small arched apertures, a few set in stone frames carved with plaitwork ornamentation.
Along with the abandonment of large cities and move to smaller ones, the reduction of large Roman buildings to more modest dimension and purposes, and the use of architectural fragments (spolia) as building material for rough adaptation, other characteristics of this transitional period are the decline in the quality of building techniques and the shallowness of relief in stone carving. When, in the 9th century, reliably dated buildings and stone reliefs reappeared, together with a series of carved inscriptions and written documents testifying to the existence of an organised Croatian state   a principality until the 10th century and then a kingdom  they would display the features of the new artistic style known in European art chronology as Pre Romanesque.
This style, its significance and origin have given rise to many theories, and are still a subject of debate. One of the key questions is the relationship, with antiquity: whether Pre Romanesque is a continuation of the art of its predecessors (the theory of the continuity of antiquity) or whether following a break, it constitutes an autochthonic innovation of the new inhabitants (the so called barbarian theory). Seeking models for some Pre-Romanesque forms or individual monuments, scholars have put forward a mass of hypotheses: on the tradition of late antiquity, Early Christian and early Byzantine art, on the influence of the Goths, Langobards and Franks, as well as middle Byzantine, Syrian, Persian, Armenian and oriental influences in general, and finally the Nordic and proto Slav contribution.

It would appear, however, that all this can be reduced to four main components in the formation of Pre Romanesque art: two traditional   the art of late antiquity (4th and 5th centuries) and early Byzantium (6th century), whose influence was mainly exerted by way of monuments and through continuity in a given area, and two contemporary components influential in the 9th century which acted simultaneously from without   the western Frankish and the eastern Byzantine of the second "golden age", during the reign of the Macedonian dynasty.

The Frankish contribution was long underestimated and only occasionally mentioned by scholars, even though the political history of the time points towards it: it was precisely through Croatian territory that the claimants to the Roman imperial heritage, Byzantine Emperor Michael (by reason of the continuity of the Eastern Empire) and Charlemagne (reviver of the Western Empire) demarcated their spheres of interest at the Peace of Aachen (812).

The Carolingian square apse, such as the palace chapel at Aachen   the archetypal monument of the Frankish Empire   originally had, appears regularly in Pre Romanesque architecture from Istria to Dubrovnik and Kotor, as does the typical Carolingian westwork of a church, combining vestibule and towers (in Istria, on the Kvarner islands and in the Dalmatian hinterland). In the mentioned division of spheres of interest in 812, the Roman cities and islands of "Byzantine Dalmatia" (Krk, Osor, Rab, Zadar, Trogir, Split, Dubrovnik, Svac, Ulcinj and Bar) remained under Byzantine sovereignty, while the hinterland and continental regions belonged to the Franks; at the same time, ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Dalmatia gravitated to the Church of Rome, and not Constantinople. This created the complex and volatile situation in which political ties were with the East and religious with the West.

Much architecture and sculpture from the Pre Romanesque period has been preserved along the entire coastal region of Croatia. Scholars have differed in their interpretation of its significance and estimation of its value. For the most part they have been content to point to its modest size, lack of refinement in execution and the irregular shape of its buildings as negative qualities, but stress has also been laid on the originality and independence of influences shown in the diverse types of ground plan of the little churches, the "free forms" and regular use of vaulting, or on the complex significance of every irregularity and the excellence of design even in the smallest structures.
It is not only the diversity but also the quantity of the Early Croatian monuments that give them an exceptional place in the European artistic heritage. From the baroque until the early 20th century, the coastal region of Croatia was an economic backwater where there was progressively less building activity. This resulted in the preservation of a large number of small, unpretentious Pre Romanesque churches or ruins that would have been rebuilt or demolished in more prosperous conditions.
The plaitwork ornamentation of Pre Romanesque reliefs over the vast area of the former Western Roman Empire shows marked similarities, though this is hardly surprising in view of the common classical substratum from which it developed and the similar living conditions of those for whom it was intended. Thus, some Pre Romanesque capitals at Angers in western France are close, for instance, to those of the Zadar church of St Lawrence (Sveti Lovro), while fragments of 9th century plaitwork in southern Germany resemble Dalmatian plaitwork carving.
The large number of Pre Romanesque buildings on the eastern Adriatic coast could have been raised only by intensive building and stonecarving activity on the part of a great many local craftsmen and workshops. This heritage undoubtedly owes much to the building and stoneworking traditions on this territory and to the high quality of Dalmatian stone (the quarries on Brac and Korcula, near Trogir and elsewhere were well known in antiquity) which were also to feature notably in the art of later periods.

The architectural monuments of the Pre Romanesque are predomnantly small churches with a diversity of ground- plans, especially numerous variants of the centralised type. Together with the exclusive use of stone and crude building technique, another characteristic is the frequent use, considering the confined space, of vaulting, apses and domes. Stone was employed for all parts of the building: the portals and window frames, the transennas (perforated stone slabs covering the window apertures), the church furnishings, especially altar closure screens with columns, and the architraves with a characteristic triangular gable in the middle enclosing a semi circular arch, as in the mentioned prothyron tympanum of the Peristyle of Diocletian"s Palace in Split.

Figure of a King, Relief in the Small Temple (baptistry) in Split, late 11th century. The altar closure slab (from the coronation chuch of King Zvonimir at Solin?) portrays the King with a courtier beside his throne and one of his subjects.
In the large aisled buildings such as the cathedral at Biograd, the church at Biskupija near Knin, St Martha"s at Bija6i and several others, there was also a stone ciborium on four columns over the main altar. All the stone church furnishings were covered with shallow, linear ornamentation made up of three interlaced bands, and therefore known as "plaitwork". In these often crudely carved and irregularly shaped plaitwork reliefs, one should not overlook the basically strictly organised geometrical design of the ornamentation (its "hidden structure"), in accordance with the principles of proportion and composition within a given framework, which, like the building technique itself, originated in antiquity.
For almost all the motifs that appear in Pre Romanesque reliefs, models can be found in the rich repertoire of classical ornamentation, though frequently they appear in different materials and techniques   in floor mosaics, for instance. We find linked circles, rhombs, knots, plaits, volutes and others. At the beginning and end of the plaitwork phase of PreRomanesque stone carving, typical motifs of classical architectural decoration also appear, such as bead, astragal or egg patterns. This last was "translated" in the plaitwork into a pattern resembling arcading.
In this general reduction of scale, three dimensional sculpture vanished for fully six centuries (6th 11th). Even the relief which replaced it became shallower and depressed into the surface, virtually level with the background, from which it stood out less than an inch, the roundness of the relief and modelling of detail being reduced to the carved line. A new artistic system evolved, in which all the means of expression in antiquity seem to have become one degree less complex: sculpture being reduced to relief, relief to a flat surface, a raised surface to a line.
Plaitwork carving is the embodiment of the principle of "respect of the plane"   a world composed of two parallel flat surfaces: background and motif. In the Pre Romanesque period, all areas of the stone architectural elements (frames of doors and windows, imposts, transennas) and church furnishings (altar screen, altar and ciborium) were covered with geometrical ornamentation  a case of horror vacui. Only the occasional small bird or a few flowers in extremely linear stylisation are worked into the pattern, and even then for a rhythmical, ornamental, not a narrative effect, though they undoubtedly have a symbolic significance. The period of absolute domination of geometrical ornamentation in stone reliefs, replacing the human figure and figural compositions in art, lasted fully four centuries, from the 7th to the 10th.
In Pre Romanesque architecture, the classical differentiation between flat wall surfaces and carved, i. e. sculptural elements (column, base, capital, frieze) was abolished, and the entire wall surface was moulded. The continuous or broken wall surface became a constituent element of the space within and the volume of the building without.
Like the repertoire of ornamental motifs originating in antiquity, PreRomanesque architecture, notwithstanding its diversity, has no forms which in embryo or fully realised were unknown in late Roman, Early Christian or early Byzantine architecture in general, and even in the surviving monuments on this territory. Recent archaeological research and the ever greater number of Pre Romanesque monuments that have been scientifically studied   about 150 to date   have by their quantity led to qualitatively new conceptions. Thus, it no longer appears to us   as it did to scholars half a century ago  that there are only "free forms", that each church is of a different shape. Instead, we now perceive a certain number of Pre Romanesque architectural types, some of which are frequently repeated: so far we know of seven examples of the circular church with six semi circular niches radially disposed, known as the hexafoil type (and two octofoil, a variant of this), and thirty or so examples of the tripartite longitudinal church with a square apse, and often with a dome over the central area. Greater frequency of a particular type in one region has also been noticed: of the seven small hexafoil churches, five are around Zadar, while the longitudinal type with a dome predominates in the Dubrovnik area.

More detailed study of the buildings likewise leads to the conclusion that the appearance of moulding of surfaces   the rhythmical alternation of semi circular niches and projecting rectangular pilasters on the internal walls   is the rule rather than the exception.
Following recent examination of the walls of some churches, the most important among them being the church of St Peter at Priko near Omiš, opinions have been revised. That relief like treatment of wall surfaces in Pre Romanesque architecture is more typical than exceptional is borne out not only by small churches (St George at Kaštel Stari; St Michael, Mrkan; St Thomas, Kuti; St Michael, Ston; St Peter, Šipan and others) but also by larger ones, such as St Stephen"s at Otok or the church at Gradina in Solin, and by the largest   St Donatus in Zadar.
Contrary to the oft quoted view of the "provincial" backwardness of artistic output in these regions in relation to many major European trends, every new discovery confirms that the arts in Croatia by no means lagged behind contemporary European achievements. This is certainly true of the most imposing monument, the church of St Donatus at Zadar, but also of the smallest, such as Holy Cross (Sveti Križ) at Nin. The Early Croatian builders were as conversant with the artistic idiom of the Carolingian West and the building programme of the learned Benedictines as with contemporary innovations in form in the Byzantine East, where churches appeared with an inscribed transept (and with a dome over the junction?) like those of St Lawrence (Sveti Lovro) and St John or Domenica (Sveti Ivan, Nedjeljica) at Zadar, St Martin (Barbara) at Trogir, St Benedict (Euphemia) and St Nicholas (Sveti Mikula) in Split and St Stephen at Otok in Solin. The discovery of a larger number of churches conforming to a particular type has not, however, diminished our appreciation of the astonishing variety of ground plans and spatial solutions of Early Croatian church architecture.

Pre Romanesque churches reflect and are the result of a new principle of building. In contrast to the classical principle of articulation, i. e. differentiation of the structural parts (base   shaft  capital   arch), which makes evident the relationship of support and weight, Pre Romanesque churches seem to be moulded into a single mass. Often the wall merges without a break into the vault, the niche of the apse into the calotte, the tambour into the dome. The exterior volume of the church and the internal space are shaped by curves and breaks in the continuous wall surfaces. Clumsy execution, the roughness and simplicity of the building technique and the poorness of the material (broken or roughly hewn stone walls, uneven mortar) should not be allowed to blind us to the perfect design.

An outstanding place among the centralised type of Pre Romanesque building belongs to the Zadar rotunda of St Donatus, not only as the most complex in form but also as the biggest. Whereas the rotunda of St Mary at 12 measures only seven metres in length and six in height, and the diameter of the other centralised churches averages ten metres, the Zadar rotunda is twenty three, metres across and twenty high (without the once existing dome). The present structure is from the 9th century, the Carolingian period. Originally dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the church later took its name from Donatus, a 9th century Zadar bishop. The three apse construction has a symbolic connection with the original dedication to the Holy Trinity. Within the episcopal complex, this church and the Early Christian cathedral formed a typical "twin" composition, and it is not to be excluded that it had a memorial function.
The central cylindrical area is encircled on the ground floor by an arcaded ambulatory covered with barrel vaulting, and  on the upper story by an areaded gallery, supported by huge piers. Three rounded apses rise the entire height of the building on the eastern side; the arches at the entrance to these apses are borne by two Roman columns.
Numerous Roman fragments were incorporated into the church, which was built directly on the floor of the forum on heaps of Roman masonry (stela, architraves, shafts of columns), so that some experts in the field of statics long ago reached the conclusion that it was bound to collapse. It would seem, however, that precisely these flexible foundations of St Donatus enabled it to withstand all earthquakes and also the heavy bombing in the Second World War which destroyed all the surrounding buildings.
This type of monumental centralised building with an upper story gallery corresponds to imperial churches such as Justinian"s San Vitale (6th century) at Ravenna, and Charlemagne"s palatine chapel (9th century) at Aachen, where the ruler had his place and throne in the gallery opposite the apse. Similar to these buildings in shape and importance, the church of St Donatus at Zadar is nevertheless distinctive, and the most monumental Pre Romanesque rotunda in Europe.
Its influence seems to account for the frequency of circular small sixniche churches in the Zadar area, where the majority are located. Their form can be shown to be a synthesis of the constructional principles of the three apse part of St Donatus and the hexagonal ground plan of Zadar"s 5th century Early Christian baptistry of Zadar cathedral   also with six conches in the interior   which was similar in its modest dimensions to these Pre Romanesque monuments.
A separate group among the Early Croatian churches are those with massive rounded counterforts: Lopuška Glava near Knin and St Saviour, (Sveti Spas) at the source of the river Cetina   aisleless with a trefoil sanctuary; and the cathedral at Biograd na Moru and St Cecilia"s at Biskupija near Knin, both aisled structures. These churches also had a belfry in the middle of the western facade and a narthex (vestibule) with a gallery   except for Biograd cathearal. Connected with the donations, estates and functions of the Croatian rulers, these churches are of considerable size. From the only one which is partially preserved (to the roof), the church of St Saviour at the source of the Cetina, twenty one metres in length, we can imagine how impressive must have been the appearance of St Cecilia"s at Biskupija near Knin, which was aisled and thirty three metres long. When it was standing in ruins, the people used to refer to it as the "Pillars" (Stubovi), because of the massive piers which originally supported the vaulting.
From the Istrian examples of Pre Romanesque belfries in the centre of the westwork (Plomin, Bale), the churches of St Vitus (Sveti Vid) near Dobrinje, St Lucy on Krk and several others, and also from examples known from records (Gracišce), it is clear that this. type was particularly widespread in the rural hinterland, whereas within the former Roman towns on the coast the bell tower was usually separate from the church.
The rectangular churches with inscribed apses, usually classified as an Istrian regional type, are also found in Dalmatia: apart from the mentioned coronation church of St Peter at Solin, similar examples are the large abbey church ( "Crkvina" ) at Biskupija near Knin, the smaller churches of St Domenica (Sveta Nedjeljica) and St Lawrence (Sveti Lovro) in Zadar, and the two aisled church of St Peter "the Elder" in the same city, which we mention in order to round off the catalogue of diverse forms.
 

The Pre Romanesque undoubtedly marks a new beginning. The Illyrians had just got themselves Romanised and urbanised when the Roman Empire collapsed and the Croats appeared, starting everything anew, as did the other South Slavs and all the European peoples who settled in the former empire: the Langobards in Italy, the Goths in Spain, the Franks in Gaul, the Germans in the north. The works of the early periods are often characterised by the amalgamation of different functions, lack of differentiation as opposed to the division and "specialisation" typical of developed and late periods. Thus, the Early Croatian churches are not only monuments of sacral architecture but the most important historical records of the period, for on the architraves and entablature of altar screens, on portals or ciboria, along with the plaitwork ornamentation are carved the names of Croatian princes, local leaders and distinguished persons.
The earliest datable inscription relating to Croats discovered so far, from the church at Rižinice, mentions the Croatian prince (knez) Trpimir (PRO DVCE TREPIMERO). This is from c. 850. The inscription of Prince Branimir from c. 888 contains the first mention of the name "Croat": Crvatorum, while others from the 10th century refer to the princes Držislav and Svetislav. They continue down to King Zvonimir at the end of the 11th century. But the famous inscription mentioning Zvonimir is already in the vernacular and written in the Glagolitic alphabet. This is the stone altar closure slab known as the Baška tablet from the church of St Lucy at Jurandvor near Baška on the island of Krk, which was carved to commemorate a royal endowment ("I, Abbot Držiha, write this of the land which King Zvonimir gave in his reign . . ." ). The inscription   the most extensive from that time   was probably carved c. 1100, but it reminds us that during the Pre Romanesque period the Croats had not only mastered Latin, the international language of West European educated circles, and adopted the Latin alphabet, but celebrated the liturgy in the vernacular (which the Pope was obliged to recognise officially as early as the 10th century) and wrote legal documents in their own Slavonic alphabet, transforming the uncial Macedonian script into the "angular Croatian Glagolitic."
The earliest Glagolitic epigraphic monument is the Plomin relief (11th century) with a rustic representation of a human figure, beside which the mason carved an inscription: "Written by S..." The bilingualism among the Croats is recorded on the Valun tablet, also one of the earliest, from Cres (11th century), where the same inscription is written in the Croatian and Latin languages and carved side by side in Glagolitic and Carolingian script. Despite periodic persecution, the Croats were to use Glagolitic and the vernacular continuously and to an increasing extent down to the 16th century, especially in the liturgy in Istria, the Kvarner region and Croatian Littoral. In places, Glagolitic is still in use today.
Istria, with its less violent transition from antiquity to the early middle ages, has preserved remains of several churches from the 7th and 8th centuries, of which there is scarcely a trace elsewhere. The aisled church at Guran from this period is in the regional tradition of Early Christian hall churches of the 5th century with their smooth east fagades and inscribed square apses   as in the church of Holy Wisdom (Sveta Sofija) at Dvigrad, while columns have given way to piers. Using ashlar and a superior building technique, the Romanised masons in Istria raised a number of variants of the rectangular church with inscribed apses: the majority are without aisles with one inscribed semi circular apse (Rakotole, Draguc, Roc, Lovran, etc.), but we find some with two inscribed apses (Mala Gospa near Bale), aisled structures with three inscribed apses (St Fosca near Peroj), and churches without aisles with three inscribed apses (St Vincent at Svetvincenat   high Romanesque of the 13th century).
Besides these traditional elements, a typical early medieval innovation is a bell tower in the middle of the westwork, the lower part serving as an entrance into the aisleless church (St George the Elder, Plomin, and St Elijah, Bale), which here too is undoubtedly in the Frankish tradition.
 
From a later period we also find in Istria interesting examples of the "flattened" bell tower, reduced to a projecting wall in the centre of the west facade surmounted by a bell cot. This type, later on usually with the bell cot as an extension of the flat facade   the so called "distaff belfry", was to remain a distinctive regional feature of Istrian churches until the Renaissance and baroque.
The art of the period of the independent Croatian state, from the first known princes in the 9th century to the death of the last king of the national dynasty in 1093, i. e. the formation of the Hungarian Croatian kingdom at the start of the 12th century (1102), may be considered, in view of its historical continuity, as a single whole, although within this period, from the mid 11th century, the Pre Romanesque evolved into the early Romanesque, a qualitatively new phase.
When considering the stone carving, it should be noted, in the first place, that the earliest dated examples of plaitwork from the 9th century are already fully developed and "mature" in their own way. Whereas in Istria we find a number of transitional forms (Pula, Bale, Dvigrad and elsewhere), in Dalmatia there are only a few fragments tentatively dated to the 7th or 8th century, mainly because they show inconsistencies in applying the rules of plaitwork ornamentation. They include the arch with a flattened ovoid pattern in Split and the sarcophagus of Archbishop Ivan of Split, on which the pattern of interwoven lilies is only partly linearised   formerly considered an example of the early phase of plaitwork but perhaps simply left unfinished. Other stone carving previously regarded as showing "transitional forms" of the 7th and 8th centuries (the portal of St Lawrence"s, Zadar) are now thought to be very late examples of plaitwork from the 11th century, when this ornamentation was being replaced by the new artistic idiom of the Romanesque   the human figure and figural composition   and some classical motifs were again adopted.

Several monuments from the latter half of the 11th century in interesting fashion combine the Pre Romanesque with contemporary early Romanesque trends. Of the church of SS Peter and Moses at Solin, an architectural example of this synthesis, only the foundation walls remain, unfortunately, but the Croatian artistic heritage has contributed several outstanding sculptural works to the European treasury of 11th century art, recording the highly significant"moment when the flat Pre Romanesque concept of abstract geometrical ornamentation was evolving into the new Romanesque quality with the re introduction of the human image and figural compositions. The most important are two slabs of the stone altar screen from the demolished church of St Domenica in Zadar and the plaque with the figure of a Croatian king enthroned (now in the Split baptistry but assumed, from its subject matter, to come from Zvonimir"s coronation church at Solin).
The Zadar altar closure slabs with relief scenes of the boyhood of Christ still demonstrate the consistent application of both fundamental principles of the ornamental style: a single means of artistic expression, parallel lines, is used to delineate flatly the human figure, drapery, architecture and ornamentation, and the entire surf ace is evenly covered, according to the dictates of horror vacui. But while "horror of a vacuum" is one of the features of all primitive, "early" phases in the visual arts, on the Zadar reliefs we should regard it also as consistent with the mature composition: an empty area on the plaque"s surface might appear to us as space, thereby weakening the firmness of the whole and destroying the unity of expression.

Subjects from the Gospels are depicted on the two Zadar relief plaques in a compositional scheme familiar to us from antiquity on the so called arcaded sarcophagus, and frequent also in the early medieval sculpture of Europe, known as the "man under the arcade" motif. It appears, for instance, on the architrave of the portal of St Genis de Fontaine, one of the first examples of early Romanesque monumental sculpture in France.

 


Unlike the antique reliefs where the arcading suggests actual architecture and depth, on the Zadar altar closure slabs the columns and arches are only a flat band, while the capital is indicated by a single transverse line. The uniformity of the treatment of form is such that, shown a separate detail of a Zadar relief, we should be unable to tell whether it was part of a column, a garment or the hair of a female figure.
Today, when we are no longer concerned only with the first impression of a work of art   in this case with its primitiveness, i. e. naivety of expression   but search for a hidden structure and meaning, when we refrain from imposing our own artistic and aesthetic values on what we are viewing, as was once the case, and try to discover and evaluate the qualities of its own idiom in each work and stylistic period, we are bound to ask ourselves: is not the formal identity of the architecture and garments in the Zadar reliefs the same   mutatis mutandis   as that we discovered long ago in the relationship of the folds of drapery in archaic Greek female sculpture and the fluting of Doric columns?
On the stone relief from the Split baptistry, in contrast, the figures, although realised in the same flat, linear manner, by means of parallel lines (folds of cloth, hair, beards), are independent of the smooth background the empty surface. Together with the higher relief, this gives a more third dimensional impression. Following the usual early medieval scheme of iconographic perspective (which is applied and reappears in all "primitive" art, in all "naives" from Mesopotamia and Egyptian reliefs to contemporary peasant art and children"s drawings), the monumentality of this composition is ensured by employing size to denote importance. The rigid hierarchic social scale is directly expressed by the size of the figures: an enormous King is seated on a throne with a smaller Courtier standing beside him, while below them the tiny Subject kneels in submission.
We have mostly spoken of art in the Dalmatian region in this period because of its quantity and in view of the value of surviving monuments in the Roman towns and in the nuclear region of the early medieval Croatian state. The fate of northern Croatia differed considerably. Here some cities of antiquity vanished without a trace, and even today the area of the main city of the Roman province of Pannonia, Siscia (now Sisak), has still not been thoroughly investigated by archaeologists. More detailed study has been made of Aquae Iasae, the Roman spa with hot springs, now Varaždinske Toplice; the wealth of finds only goes to show how further archaeological excavations could modify our present conception of antiquity, and even of the Pre Romanesque period, in these regions.

In northern Croatia, the sites of Roman towns were often abandoned, since they had been chosen on the basis of quite different possibilities as regards fortification and a higher level of organisation of defence, while the medieval settlements or burgs were located on naturally strategic sites that were easily defensible. A typical example is the relationship of  the abandoned Roman town of Andautonia (now the village of Šcitarjevo) on the river Sava, and the medieval Gradac and Kaptol  the future Zagreb – on nearby hills below Mt. Sljeme. The first historically recorded prince of Pannonia, Ljudevit, chose Sisak as his stronghold in his struggle with the Franks (Patriarch Fortunatus of Grado sent him craftsmen in 822), but no early medieval buildings have survived here either. The whole Pre Romanesque period in the north has left only a few fragments of plaitwork carving (Lobor, Sisak). Sisak"s role as the main town of the region was taken over in the middle ages by Gradec and Kaptol, later combined in the city of Zagreb. But the bishopric of Zagreb was established only at the dawn of the Romanesque, in 1090, when Croatian culture on the Adriatic, after three centuries of history, was at the peak of its first phase of development, and the Croatian maritime state at the end of its independence.

 



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