Occupying the villa he had built in 1939 and later deeded to the Croatian people, the permanent collection of Ivan Meštrović’s work seems exceptionally well-suited to its location. The large house of buff limestone is fronted by eight Doric columns. Beds of fragrant rosemary and lavender grow beside the steps up from the terraced lawn, where statues of heroic proportion stand, inviting views from every angle. One female figure has a Zuniga-esque ampleness to it. As I contemplated Meštrović’s work further, I was struck by its similarities to that of Mexican artists I admire, although they were largely atheist and Meštrović was clearly a man of profound, but certainly not saccharine, faith. The verandah affords a serene view of the Adriatic.
Inside, the house is simple and neoclassical, ideal for displaying Maštrović’s sculptures. Many are larger than life – not exactly monumental, but big in the way that adults appear big to children. Carved from single tree trunks (probably walnut), Adam and Eve gaze stolidly over one room. In another, the “Roman Pieta” conveys oversized suffering in white plaster. An agonized larger-than-life bronze Job cries to heaven in a style reminiscent of Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais.”
Meštrović’s work here ranges from serene and graceful to tormented, along with a couple of examples of the sort of Arte Moderne reliefs at the Raĉić Family Mausoleum in Cavtat. With decades of his work on display, I could see the development of the artist’s style and his approach. Unlike some sculptors, he sketched and planned his works carefully, rather than “letting the stone tell him what it wanted to be.”
Except for some small portraits, the sole painting in the house was Meštrović’s 1945 “Last Supper” – a shocking treatment of the subject in oil on wood. Here, the Apostles look outraged, glaring at one another in suspicion, as if Christ had just said, “One of you will betray me.” One, looking young and somewhat effeminate, clings to Jesus’s chest as if swooning. It certainly isn’t an inspiring depiction of the scene.
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