Art in Croatia and slavonia
Art in Croatia and slavonia
The architecture in the interior of Croatia differs from that on the seaboard, where it has been strongly influenced by Italv. The houses are of stone and have pleasant gardens. Here the vine flourishes. In the villages near and on the River Save the facades f 51and gates of the wooden cottages are carved ; the others, both in Croatia and throughout Slavonia, bear little trace of adornment.
This is said to be the women’s fault ! but it is in any case a pardonable one, arising from a natural desire to be mistress of her own home. But the custom is an interesting one, and many of the beautiful pieces of embroidery here reproduced were executed by the maidens of these communities ; for the young girls are set to work at the loom and with the needle while the older women are in the fields. Here it is a woman’s birthright to do the hard labour,
the men choosing the lighter employments. This is a residual legacy dating from those times when the women did all the hard work while the men were forced to go to war. A sagruda, as these social communities are called, consists of a number of families ranging from six to ten or even twelve, who work together for their mutual benefit. Each male member as he arrives at manhood has equal rights as son. The female members of the community share in these rights insomuch as they enjoy those of their husbands.
The chief man, or supan, is chosen by common consent. His wife, the supana, is the chief among the women.
The “family” house (No. 8io) consists of a main building containing the common rooms, a number of single dwellings for the young married people and separate blocks for the unmarried men and women. Early marriages are encouraged, so that when the men leave for enforced military service their wives are there to do their work. The farm
buildings and outhouses occupy two sides of the quadrangle, the dwelling a third side, while the fourth is fenced in, with the exception of the gateway. The great common-room does service for many offices—a living-room by day, work-room in the evening, and bed-room by night, for the older couples rest here. A number of beds are arranged along the wall, under these are kept the children’s beds, which are drawn out when occasion requires. A long
oak table, covered with a hand-woven cloth, occupies the window side, and on either side of this are high-backed wooden benches for the men of the community. The women and children have their place near the tiled stove, which, however, is never used except in winter. A crucifix, holy pictures, a few painted chests, and perhaps
a cupboard or two, complete the furniture of the common-room.
To that wise woman, Queen Maria Theresa, the introduction of the silk-worm was due, and for a long period silk-weaving flourished till it became neglected and now only lingers in some few parts. Some of the embroideries here reproduced will serve to show how expert these peasants are in the use of the needle. But even before the needle came into use there was nothing these peasant-women could not weave on their looms, no manipulation so difficult but that they could master it. In no country, except perhaps Sweden, can they boast of such traditions in weaving as in Croatia. The reason is not far to seek if the geographical position of the country be taken into consideration. Both Croatia and Slavonia lie on the threshold of the Orient, and the latter country has been mainly influenced by Byzantine culture, the former by that of the western countries. For centuries Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines came one after the other bringing in their train mercenaries of all nations, Coptics, Egyptians, Persians, Albanians, and even, it is said, Germans. No doubt some of these remained in the country, which they saw was good, and taught their ancient art of weaving.
And in this way the craft has been handed down to this day, thanks to the exertions of Herr Berger, who rescued it from oblivion some thirty years ago, though all attempts to introduce modern looms have been energetically opposed. The weaving of carpets was at one time an important office in every household, for carpets had many and distinctive uses. They served as wall-hangings, to be taken down on Sundays and holy days for use in the church, or as shawls in winter to combat against the bitter winds and drifting snows. Men of high honour were shrouded in them; indeed, it was the greatest sign of respect which could be offered them. Then some of the designs are of peculiar interest, bearing a strong resemblance to that of the textiles found by Graf on the mummies in El-Faijum in the eighties of last century.
The Croatians and Slavonians still keep to the peasant dress. It is always interesting and in good taste and of the women’s own spinning. But by far the most beautiful and most interesting is that worn by the women. The Croatian women on Sunday wear white garments, and it is a pleasing sight to see both old and young in their snowy garb of soft hand-woven material. In other places white and red are the favoured colours. They wear but one garment and an embroidered apron. Through these the outline of their fine figures is suggested ; often the garment is looped up above the knee. There is unconscious dignity in all their movements.
The opanken, as the leather shoes are called (No. 803), adds another charm, while an enormous amount ot thought and time is spent on the dressing of the hair, especially by the young girls. Indeed, it is no uncommon sight to come upon a number of village maidens seated one behind the other each busily employed in braiding a companion’s
hair. This is also done in some parts of Croatia. In this country also the women wear but a single garment ; but it is of a far heavier material than that worn in the sister country. The women of Slavonia are more lavish in their designs, which are essentially Byzantine in feeling, and prefer gold thread as a means of expressing this. They
have a fine feeling for harmony of colour ; and this may also be said of the Croatian women. In both countries caps have their place.
They are the sign of honour due to the state of womanhood: a cap is placed with some ceremony on the bride’s tresses when she returns from church. Another point of interest is the handkerchief, which is always hand-woven and embroidered. It is the bride’s gift to the bridegroom, it then does duty for an invitation to the wedding,
for the ” best-man ” carries it round the village tied to a stick adorned with gay ribbons. He is accompanied by a youth carrying a flagon of wine and the people at whose houses they stop are thus invited to the feast. As a rule the whole village is asked.
The Croates and Slavonians still retain their ancient customs and ceremonies, and it is indeed a fascinating sight to behold them in their festal attire, when old and young are assembled to enjoy life in their own manner. Youth joins hands in the slow rhythmical dance, the kolo, which consists of a few stately steps, first to the right, then to the left, to the long swirling sounds of the Dudelsack, which is somewhat distracting to those unaccustomed to its fearsome tones. White and blue are affected for mourning. The hired women perform the weeping and wailing ; the peasant wife buries her grief in her heart.
Both the Croatians and Slavonians are proud races and beautiful. The former people are taller and even finer built than the latter. Their art, like that of other peasants, is a spontaneous one, arising out of man’s first idea for ornament, a desire to bring something bright into their lives, a natural longing to possess comely homes
and comely dress. It is something their very own which they cherish as such. Only those in true sympathy with the peasant can rightly measure it.
A. S. Levetus.