Introduction – Pogano, St. Peter, Bijela

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Allow me to start by quoting the initial statement from my paper at the CIHA last November, expanded somewhat by the thoughts I expressed in Bratislava in February 2007, and in Parma in September. I am not an expert on preservation or restoration. I am a research scholar, yet I strongly believe that the main goal of any research in art history is to make monuments better understood, better loved, and better protected. During his active lifetime an art historian is a keeper and interpreter of one of the most precious aspects of human creative heritage, to which he adds the care for the art of his own time. Art is a rare example of embodiment of spirit in inert matter, and thus art historians are well-positioned to enhance spiritual life of their communities. This, of course, also implies a heavy social and moral responsibility requiring a profound empathy for and love of art. To succeed art history must try to be art history, and not something else.

To be placed under protection a monument must be recognized. It has to be identified, studied, and declared worthy of protection. Also, it should be recognized as a part of a cultural landscape. How to protect monuments and monumental landscapes that have not been identified as such? How to protect the unknown? Not an idle question, as development and construction become synonyms for progress, and as art history, being a leisurely elitist activity prefers to study the well-known “great art” of the “great centers,” rather than risking changing accepted opinions on the basis of new discoveries. The Society of Croatian Art Historians spent an entire year in the late nineties debating how to make Zagreb a “river city,” although throughout its history the city has done its best to run away from the treacherous river. At the same time an apocalyptic and irreversible damage was done to one of the most valuable Croatian historical and cultural landscapes at the Zagreb Piedmont side. Not a single voice was raised to stop it. Croatian art historians refused to know that Zagreb has always been a piedmont city, and the unknown was not protected. Anyway, the accepted truth has always been that there is nothing worth studying and saving in Continental Croatia. Five years ago I launched a project “Romanesque Art between the Sava and the Drava Rivers and European Culture” to prove the opposite. Rather than 60 possible Romanesque sites today we have about 600 on record. Imagine the shock, the opposition even hatred, as the accepted picture of “Dalmatia only” had to change.

I will proceed by telling you a brief story of two field days, February 27 and 28, 2008, and then offer some conclusions.

The team consisted of myself, my research fellow, Vjekoslav Jukić, Milan Pezelj and Krešimir Karlo from the Office of Monuments Preservation, and Goran Jakovljević and Zoran Tokić form the City Museum in Bjelovar. Our goal was to identify a dozen sites in the Daruvar area, the least explored part of Slavonia.

1. Pogano St. Peter of medieval sources. It is up in the Papuk mountain above a deserted village of Gornji Borki, the end of the world. I never believed we could locate it but thanks to our scout, Mr. Tokić, who gathers information few days in advance we DID! A decent size medieval settlement, with traces of two towers, stone walls, possibly a fortified home and a church. A view? To the heart of Bosnia! So Pogano St. Peter has entered art history.

2. Bijela. The site of one of the most sumptuous medieval buildings in Slavonia, the Abbey of St. Margaret, substantial remains of which were still visible some 70 years ago. Today, a hill with huge moat and lots of traces in the ground. Actually an easy digging spot. It has been totally forgotten by scholarship, maybe I should even say, repressed. Rediscovering this famous abbey would be a project worthy of an all-European cooperation. And Pogano St. Peter is clearly visible!

3. Sirač, a castle (being slowly restored) on a steep hill. What is visible is late (maybe even Turkish), but there was obviously an entire settlement on the adjacent hill. I wonder if the Romanesque fragments migrated from a destroyed church to be used as building material in some much later renovation effort. That entire area behind the castle remains a big unknown. And Pogano St. Peter is clearly visible!

4.  Badljevina. The place our scout was directed to looks most unpromising. A large field repeatedly ploughed over by tractor. Yet, it is full of fragments from the neolythic on. And some smart local guy has piled some rocks at the edge, fragments of a medieval church, one bears a tiny spot of fresco! In the middle of the field a good soul has let standing a stretch of a medieval wall. And Pogano St. Peter is clearly visible!

5. Donja Obrijež – Pavlovina castle. The history records Pavlovina and Petrovina as castles built by powerful brothers Peter and Paul of the mighty Pukur family. At Pavlovina we find the central, rather compact hill and a tremendous moat. The position overlooking the Bijela river is fantastic, and, but for the forest, Pogano St. Peter would be clearly visible!

6. And now for the crown of the day, Petrovina. Our guide, Mr. Bedi of Croatian Hungarian community, a miller, takes a shovel, “because you may wish to have it along.” After some 20 minutes walking through marshy grounds, here we are. A hill with a moat (Petrovina is recorded as one of the biggest medieval castles in Slavonia), sloping fields around it. While I struggle with thorns exploring the central section, uproar of voices. When I rejoin the rest on the slope next to the hill, what do I see: a large, extremely finely carved fragment of a Gothic window!!! The fields, all multiply ploughed over, just brimming with fragments and shreds of pottery and glass. We have identified the Mausoleum of the Pukur family known to have stood within the castle, an important day for Croatian history and culture. And Pogano St. Peter is clearly visible!

I will describe just two events of February 28. In the morning Mr. Hudja, our long-time informant, a member of Croatian Czech community, takes us to an enormous deserted settlement near the village of Veliki Pašijan. Three elevations, five moats, a number of smaller moated units (one surely a church), fields, then more moats… 300-400 meters across? It has NO NAME.

In the evening we end our expedition at the hill, a true little Troy within the Daruvar saucer, where once stood (walls were still visible 100 years ago) the Paulinian monastery of St. Ladislas. A few traces of stone walls, lots of pottery shreds, but the location is unbelievable. Another totally forgotten first class monument. Another easy and sure dig! And Pogano St. Peter is clearly visible!

Now some conclusions. To protect the unknown and forgotten, it has to be made known, researched, and accepted by both the scholarly and general public. A monument is not a monument until a traveling Japanese takes its picture. From the first day we have to teach our students to do field research and  learn the language of artistic forms so that they can form their own conclusions. We have to take them out into the field, which is as relevant for prehistoric and for contemporary art. We have to teach them an art history that is all-inclusive, and makes no borders between high and low, urban and rural, courtly and folk, western and exotic. We have to teach them love and respect for the emanation of creative spirit. Then we have to tell them that there are no borders between European countries, and no borders between disciplines, and teach them how to find good associates to form teams, as team work is the only interdisciplinary work feasible.

You have noticed my refrain: And Pogano St. Peter is clearly visible! That little spot was in some period(s) past a place of considerable importance. It saw and was seen. It must have been part of some landscape scheme, probably both practical and mythical – possibly from prehistory well into the late middle ages. The fact that it stands between St. Peters Peak and the Pagan Peak, that some other surrounding places bear names such as Dubrava, Ivan’s Hollow, Wolf’s Place, Dragon’s Creek, may indicate a pre-Christian, Slavic, systematization of a mythical landscape, partly renamed after conversion to Christianity. I am awaiting final word by my cultural anthropologist. But whatever it may be, that landscape was structured and systematized around something. It is a big book which, if read carefully, could tell us many exciting things. It has to be protected, and, if changed, made more beautiful rather than debased. This I see as the most crucial of the current preservation tasks; and, as those landscapes may often go for hundreds of kilometers and cut across the (former) borders, this is where cooperation between the nations of Europe is of paramount importance.

 

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