Thursday, 13 February 2014

Old Masters in Zagreb: A morning at the Strossmayer

A stag party in Zagreb was a great opportunity to see one of Europe's less known museums. When I visited the Strossmayer Gallery on a Sunday morning (it's only open mornings) I was the only visitor. The museum was founded by Bishop Strossmayer, an outspoken opponent of the doctrine of papal infallibility, a Panslavist who funded schools and a university from diocesan funds. He is famous for a heretical speech against papal infallibility, but it's almost certainly a fake. Unfortunately some of his pictures are not what they seem either. Many are over-attributed, including a copy that is identified as an El Greco and several Italian attributions that seemed suspect to me. The picture above features Saints Augustine and Benedict, which they give to Giovanni Bellini. It isn't by him, but it's a high-quality studio work that may well have had some intervention by the master himself. It reminds me of the Madonna and Child with Saints in Birmingham, which is similarly high-quality but generally excluded from the canon. Ironically some of the pictures identified as studio works are actually rather good - a Holy Family tondo from Filippino Lippi's studio, and a Madonna and Child from Credi's.
Picture: Musée Jacqumart-André
Probably the best-known picture at the Strossmayer is Fra Angelico's Stigmatisation of St Francis and Death of St Peter Martyr (above), which is really excellent. They also have some high quality copies including one of Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, which they attribute to Sassoferrato and one of Dürer's Madonna and Child with St Anne, which they say is 'attributed to Dürer'. Most museums would prefer to show a second rate original rather than a first rate copy, which is a shame. Copying used to be highly-regarded and many are excellent. They are often quite cheap at auction. A partial copy of Titian's Three Ages of Man was in a particularly finely carved gilt frame; it must have been considered an original when framed, or at least intended to be sold as an original. Many of the pictures at the Strossmayer are well-framed, which made me wonder if he was being sold expensive duds. 
Master painter of Virgo inter virgines: The Holy Trinity
Picture: Strossmayer Gallery
The other highlight is this large altarpiece is by the Master of the Virgo inter Virgines - an unusual and wonderful thing.

The collection focuses on Italian paintings, with a scattering of German and Early Netherlandish pictures, a handful of French and some Dutch. This weak landscape is given to Ruisdael, which is surely wrong. My first thought was Cornelius Vroom; the foliage in particular is quite reminiscent. But I'm not now sure it's by him either. 

Zagreb is well worth a trip. There are several other galleries, and the Museum of Broken Relationships (ideal for a stag weekend) - which is actually better than it sounds, though rather sad. The photo is the caption from a frisbee (a 'stupid' frisbee); the object itself was inexplicably on loan to another museum!


  1. If you are keen on misattributed pictures and bad studio copies, you should have gone to the other major museum in Zagreb, The Mimara. But speaking of the Bellini; no less an authority on Venetian painting than Peter Humfrey called that picture a genuine Bellini. But this was in the Giovanni Bellini catalogue for the Bellini Quirinale exhibition in Rome in 2009 which was curated by Mauro Luco and had loads of studio pictures promoted to genuine status. The two panels in Zagreb looked much closer to what you would expect to be by the master’s hand before they were ‘expertly restored’ for that occasion. (Wonderful how much our eyes love patina). Moreover during the restoration they found that the bottom 15 cm or so of the St Benedict’s panel was a latter addition. As I remember them, St Benedict was by far the better of the two and possibly is an actual Bellini. I also remember a little Moroni in the adjacent from which was rather nice.

    1. Thank you - delighted to hear from some one else who's been to the Strossmayer. Interesting on Bellini, and I defer to Peter Humfrey. I did think them good, but I thought similar to other good school pictures that are generally rejected. There was indeed a fine Moroni portrait, and another odd picture that they attributed to Moroni that I was unsure of. I do regret not getting to the Mimara, but time was short and I was committed to other (less cultural) activities. The leaflet in my hotel said that the Mimara had Raphaels and Rembrandts, but it was illustrated with a minor Dutch portrait ... so I was already suspicious! I'd love to get there another time, and perhaps see more of Croatia.

  2. Oh it’s not only Raphael and Rembrandt, they also have a Titian, Veronese, Giorgione, Rubens, a few Van Dycks, Goya, El Greco, Velasquez... you name it they have it. The catalogue reads like a who’s who of western art. The only one they don’t have is Leonardo, but give it time....

    Earlier on you mentioned Nichols book on Titian. Have you read it? I am still waiting on my copy

  3. Can't believe they don't have a Leonardo. They're everywhere!

    I read the Titian book and will review soon. It's interesting, trying to locate Titian in a specific local context rather than as the global genius he became, but I thought often too speculative. Comes upon the classic Titian problem of not enough historic evidence.