Visual Arts


History of Conservation of Medieval Mural Paintings in Istria

© Željko Bistrović
Conservation Department in Pula, conservator – research assistant

[Source: http://heartofistria.org/fileadmin/.../Bistrovic_History_of_konservation_ENG.doc]

Medieval mural painting in Istria, apart from being historical and artistic material in itself, provides direct insight into history of restoration-conservation interventions and art-history historiography. During the course of time Istria was part of various different state formations what left its trace on considerations on the subject of Istrian artistic production and medieval mural painting, the main topic of this paper, as well. This specific local history of art history changed the perception of a phenomenon under study as well as interpretations of finds during the course of time. This specific art history was often imbued with ideologies: art historians, some of them more, some less, were partial in regards with certain theme. In most cases ideologies were connected with nationalistic enthusiasm. This paper deals with history of discovering of medieval mural painting and its restoration and conservation. It tries to give an objective, impartial evaluation of the development of art-historian interpretations as well as analyses and valorizations of this specific heritage. This and other articles by the same author, submitted to Istrian County, that is, the editorial board of the Annales scientific journal constitute a synthetic survey of the latest research of medieval mural paintings and are chronologically organized into unities: Romanesque, Gothic and sixteenth-century painting.

There is not so much literature treating the subject of art-historian historiography or history of conservation work in Istria, and if there is, it usually deals with archaeology, and usually covers the Antique period and early Middle Ages. I personally relied mostly on works by Brigitta Mader and Marjan Bradanović (Mader 2000, Bradanović 2001). Basic literature used in this article were various reports on conservation interventions published in numerous periodicals. Original documentation is scattered among different institutions in Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Italy, and this paper is the first survey of the complete bibliography on the subject.

Today Istria can take pride in a great number of sites with preserved medieval mural paintings. Some of the reasons which make Istria one of the regions with the largest number of murals are remoteness from Turkish ravages, being a province which has been left neglected for centuries, poverty which resulted in eventual small-scale renovations of churches and no grand-scale reconstructions, and last but not least, the high-quality properties of the material implemented as a result of the high-quality local limestone used for production of lime plaster. We also have to keep in mind the systematic conservation of these monuments. After the Trident Council a large part of murals was coated with lime or new layers of plaster. In that way the frescoes remained hidden from public for centuries, only to be revealed quite recently, starting from the early twentieth century, and restored. In this context the restoration of murals in St. Mary's Church in Božje Polje is a very interesting one. It belongs to the “prehistory” of restoration interventions in Istria. The painter who performed the intervention back in 1720 overpainted the entire surface of the sanctuary vault. The intervention is rather curious because the painter made a philological interpretation of the medieval forms wherever they were at least partially preserved, while painting in the maniera of its own time performing a “free” interpretation of the lost areas. The painter left his signature on the intrados but the signature was only partially preserved. The importance of this restoration intervention becomes clear when we put it in the context of its own time. We can draw a parallel between this intervention and overpainting of Gothic mural paintings in St. Blasius’ Church in Svetlovreč, taking place more than a century after the restoration of paintings in Božje Polje, in 1864 to be more precise. Because of its wrong interpretation, the restoration in Božje Polje even resulted in further inaccurate art-historian interpretations. However, acknowledging the historical and the cultural significance of this retouch, the same were mostly preserved during recent restoration interventions.

The beginnings of a systematic protection and discovery of localities with mural paintings are connected with the activity of the Central Commission for Heritage Protection (Zentral Kommission) in Istria under the management of Anton Gnirs, its head conservationist. This remarkable person, in many ways important for Istrian cultural history, is today wrongfully neglected.[1] He was born in Žatec, Bohemia, on January 18, 1873. He completed his secondary schooling in Chomutov, and graduated from a German university in Prague. In 1899 he came to Pula as a teacher of German language in the general-program secondary school.  He was curator of the Austro-Hungarian Antique collection in Pula.  Since 1901 engaged in archaeological research in south Istria, that is to say Pula and its surroundings. Publishes his observations and results of his study in the Mittheilungen der k.k. Central-Commission für Erforschung und Erhaltung der Kunst und historischen Denkmale (Paper of the Central Austro-Hungarian Commission for Research and Preservation of Cultural and Historical Monuments) published in Vienna. His most vigorous activity as a conservator begins after reorganization of the Zentral Kommission in 1911. In 1912 he was appointed art-historian conservator of the Austro-Hungarian Conservation Department for the Austrian Littoral with its headquarters in Pula. During World War I, in 1915, he moves to Ljubljana. After the war he went to Chomutov where he was buried on November 10, 1933. As head conservationist he was in charge of all monuments, did research on many archaeological localities (many of which can not be located today), was in charge of restorations of medieval and Renaissance architecture, organized activities regarding discovering and restoration of mural paintings and wooden sculpture, drew up an inventory and documentation of monumental heritage, and is also remembered as the author of the first and the still unequalled catalogue of Istrian bells. Until the beginning of his activity being in charge of monuments usually implied only taking care of the Classical Antiquity heritage and some outstanding monuments like, for instance, the Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica. He elevated the protection of cultural heritage to a higher level, which could cope with today’s standards.

The archive of the Zentral Kommission in Vienna owns a rich collection of documents on preservation of Istrian heritage containing documents on discovery of medieval mural paintings and conservation-restoration works carried out at the time of Gnirs’s activity in the Kommission. Brigita Mader did ample research on the said material and brings the preserved documentation on some of the sites with preserved examples of mural painting (Mader 2000). Part of the afore mentioned material has been published in the Mittheilungen der k.k. Central-Commission für Erforschung und Erhaltung der Kunst und historischen Denkmale edited in Vienna. According to the Mittheilungen there are eleven localities.[2] From the “Arhiva konzervatora za Istru“(Conservation Archives for Istria) ten more localities not mentioned in the Mittheilungen reports happened to be found.[3]

he Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula keeps the “Arhiv konzervatora za Istru“ (Conservation Archives for Istria), an archival collection of the material relating to the activities of the Zentral Kommission in Istria. The said material found its place in the Archives in restitution procedures after World War II. The material includes documentation created by Anton Gnirs and part of correspondence addressed to the department run by Gnirs at that time. The documents related to mural painting include the period between 1910 and 1914, which is until the beginning of World War I.[4] The material is kept in several filing folders classified according to years, a classification criterion established during the activity of the Soprintendenza; before that the material had been arranged for some time according to the topographic criterion. Several folders are kept in the Conservation Department in Rijeka.

From the Mittheilungen report and research of the said material we managed to learn that there were three conservationists working in Istria: Josef Balla, Gustav Lang and Hans Viertelberger. Josef Balla was working on the frescoes of St. Martin's Church in Beram and in St. Anthony's Church in Višnjan. Hans Viertelberger executed protection works on two sites in the Pula area, St. Flor in Pomer and St. Mary “dell Canetto“, also known as the Chapel of St. Mary “Formosa”. Gustav Lang carried out most protection interventions on frescoes working in Barban, Butoniga, Dvigrad, Savičenta and Žminj. We have never ventured into a critical analysis of these conservation interventions and their methodology. After recent repeated restoration of several of these mural paintings, it is possible to present a few remarks regarding the said restoration interventions.

The restoration interventions in the small cemetery church of St. Flor in Pomer are not clearly separated from the original paintings. The new layers of plaster cover the brims of original frescoes and the line separating the original paintings from the retouch is merely visible. The retouch is blurred and not clearly visible. The lacunas and lacking segments of the original scene were peopled by figures and figurative representations not existing in the original. It is interesting to note that the angel drawn by the restorer reminds us of the morphology of older, Romanesque angels in St. Foška’s Church near Peroj. The recent restoration carried out by Radovan Oštrić preserved these historical retouches, and they were evaluated and presented in the documentation on the works performed.

St. Anthony’s Church in Višnjan has mural paintings painted by Dominic from Udine’s workshop. The retouch painted over the original painting has altered them in such a degree that even Fučić was mislead during the attribution. The colouring of the retouch is much darker than the original one, while a layer of neutral colour was painted over the original paint imitating the marble-like effect in the area usually depicting painted curtains (velarium) so characteristic of Dominic’s workshop.

The distinctive trait of all restoration interventions carried out during Gnirs is the excessive painterly integration, that is to say, addition of scenes and interpretations of the lost areas. Some spots reveal application of cement mortar during the improvement of the original surface on which the fresco was painted. Of all the mentioned restoration interventions, the fresco cycle in St. Mary “na Škrilinah” near Beram is the best performed, probably due to the fact that the original murals were best preserved.

In the period preceding World War I, along with Anton Gnirs there was also Cornelio Budinich, the architect working on the discovery of Istrian mural paintings whose activity deserves further study. There are records of his correspondence with Gnirs showing that the two collaborated in some way. He discovered the mural paintings in the church of the Holy Cross near Butoniga.

In the interwar period Istria falls under the tutelage of the Soprintendenza regionale alle opere d'antichità e d'arte from Trieste. Although the activities of this Office included a large number of interventions on monuments across Istria, the work on preservation of the painterly heritage of the medieval Istria was still insufficient. The exact number of monuments restored in the years of the Italian rule is not clearly specified in literature.  In one of her article, Iva Perčić wrote: “…Until the Liberation only some thirty sites with mural paintings were known (underlined by the author), today we are talking of ninety-three of them…”[5] A great majority of sites well known during the Italian rule have been discovered and restored during Gnirs’ activity. Apart from frescoes in the Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica restored in one comprehensive conservation intervention (frescoes on the inside of the front façade of the basilica, in the northern apse and the sacristy), only the fresco cycle in the sanctuary of St. Nicholas’ Church in Pazin, the ones in the nave of St. Mary's Church in Oprtalj and St. Vincent's Church in Savičenta have been restored during the Soprintendenza. The parish priest Luka Kirac discovered fresco paintings in the small church of St. Nicholas in Rakotule back in 1925, but judging by later photographs from the photo-archives of the photograph Nenad Gattin they were not restored by the Soprintendenza.

In evaluation of these interventions we can observe that great attention was dedicated to painterly integration. This is best seen on mural paintings in St. Nicholas’ Church in Pazin. All the missing scenes, which is almost half of the complete fresco cycle, were added by painting. At the moment, I have no knowledge of any preserved documentation recording this intervention, due to the fact that no such records exist in the archives of Soprintendenza in Trieste. In the list of bibliography of his article on the fresco cycle in St. Nicholas’ Church, Branko Fučić mentions an article by A. Leiss, Restauri al Duomo di Pisino, Piccolo di Trieste, August 11, 1927. Due to the fact that the said article by Leiss is often quoted and accepted at its face value, I have to point out that I checked the information and discovered that there is no such article, treating the subject of restoration of those frescoes, in the specified edition. Unfortunately, I did not manage to get to the bottom of it and to find out if and in which edition of the paper this article has been published.

Mural paintings in St. Vincent’s Church in Savičenta were restored by the Italian restorer Botter in 1925. The aforementioned mural paintings in St. Mary’s Church at the foot of Oprtalj are interesting because they represent one of the earliest examples of the restoration technique of coating the lost areas with a layer of plaster whose surface is slightly recessed respect to the layer of the original fresco, today a standard restoration procedure which clearly marks the restoration intervention and makes it recognizable at first sight, making a clear distinction between the original and the reconstructed area.

The end of World War II saw research and restoration of mural paintings going into full swing. Many frescoes were being documented, photographed and copied. In the post-war period, until the 1966 many sites had their roofs and statics of the walls improved with the aim of preservation of frescoes.[6] According to literature on the subject, the said improvements were carried out on eighteen smaller churches, while thirteen localities underwent restoration of their mural paintings, a total of twenty-six sites with mural paintings.[7] More information on these interventions can be found in the documentation once kept in the Conservation Department in Rijeka, especially in the so called “yellow folders” relating to preservation works. These oldest documents in the meantime ended up in the Historical Archives in Rijeka (Povijesni arhiv u Rijeci), in Vodovodna Street depots. The material is not available to researchers.[8] At that time part of restoration works on mural paintings was probably carried out by the Federal Institute and Restoration Workshops of the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences (Savezni institut i restauratorske radionice JAZU) within the Strossmayer Gallery in collaboration with the Conservation department in Rijeka. The number of registration acts issued, that is to say, the number of monuments entered into the register of landmarks, is indicative of the prevailing enthusiasm during the first half of the 1960s. In the period between 1961 and 1965 twenty-nine churches with mural paintings have been given a landmark status. At that time the Slovene restorer Viktor Snoj was in charge of restoration works in Istria. He performed restorations in the church of St. George in Lovran, St. Elysium in Draguć, St. Mary “na Placu” in Graćišće, St. Nicholas in Rakotule and the basilica in Poreč. He still makes an ample use of retouch in the total reconstruction of the system of bordures. One of the distinctive traits of his work is that he signed all the restorations that he carried out, which was of great help in attribution of restoration works due to scarce documentation. He is the author of the appealing essay Istarske freske, sjaj kristala (Snoj, 1994).

When we talk about discovering and conservation of frescoes during 1950s and 1960s we have to single out two persons. Branko Fučić played a decisive role in discovering, presentation and publishing of Istrian mural painting. Apart from his major scientific contribution he is particularly responsible for raising the public perception and making the public aware of this specific cultural heritage. His syntagm “Istarske freske” (“Istrian frescoes”) is one of the trademarks of Istrian identity. He personally discovered a number of localities with mural paintings among which St. Michael’s Church in Pićan, St. Jerome’s Church in Hum and many others. He is the author of a large number of articles on remains of frescoes which have disappeared since then making the said articles the only testimony of this painting. The crowning feature of his work is the still unmatched monograph Istarske freske. Also important is his monograph on Vincent from Kastav and the mural painting of St. Mary “na Škrilinah” near Beram. His first-rate knowledge of iconography shows a connoisseur who was able to make a number of interpretations possible out of a single tinniest detail and translate them into a thrilling and engrossing reading matter by means of an exceptional literary talent. His scientific articles have literary and aesthetic value. The simplicity with which he observed important issues and the pithiness of his stylistic and iconographic studies put him side by side with the greatest names of Croatian art history next to Ljubo Karaman, Cvito Fisković and Radovan Ivančević. Fučić paved the way for all the subsequent studies on the subject. Iva Perčić, a today scarcely known conservator, head of the Conservation Department in Rijeka during 1960s, is the next most important person in the story of conservation of frescoes. She left a significant number of professional reports on restoration interventions published in specialized periodicals. Her doctoral dissertation on iconography of Istrian frescoes and two scientific papers on frescoes in St. Jacob's Church in Barban and the chapel of the Silić estate near Završje are also part of her professional scientific work. Her compilation of a register of mural paintings resulted in the exhibition of Istrian frescoes presented in Rijeka, Zagreb and Beograd. A large number of restoration interventions on mural paintings carried out during her activity in the Conservation Institute reveals a diligent and self-sacrificing person. Without her work the frescoes would now be in much worse condition.

Apart from restoration and conservation interventions, documentation and research of frescoes have also been conducted. In the after-war period part of research work, collection and analysis of the material were also photographing and copying (production of replicas) of frescoes. Production of replicas of Istrian frescoes started already in 1950 conducted by the Glyptotheque of the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences (Gliptoteka JAZU) in collaboration with the Adriatic Institute (Jadranski institut) and Conservation Institute in Rijeka (Konzervatorski zavod u Rijeci). The Istrian Hall of the Glyptotheque was inaugurated on October 7, 1954, with the exhibition Istra kroz vjekove (Istria through Centuries). Many artists were involved in making reproductions of the frescoes: I. Auer, Bruno Bulić, Ivo Kalina, Hajrudin Kujunžić, Željko Hegedušić, B. Dogan, Eugen Kokot, Galliano Zanko and many others. The replicas had their scientific and propagandistic purpose and were often integral part of various exhibitions. In 1964 the already mentioned exhibition of Istrian medieval painting was held in Zagreb and Belgrade and was inaugurated in Pula in 1968 as permanent exhibition, organized by Iva Perčić. Even today, the catalogue of the exhibition and Fučić's monograph stand as the only significant comprehensive outlines of Istrian mural painting. The exhibition of mural painting in Istria was held in 1972 in the Slovene Cultural Centre in Trieste consisting of twenty-eight fresco replicas made by Hajrudin Kujundžić and Galliano Zanko. The replicas were exhibited in Graz, Austria, in 1970. Galliano Zanko's replicas are of the most outstanding quality. Earlier reproductions were painted on panels and canvases, while Galliano executed them in fresco technique, even simulating the recesses in the plaster and damages of the surface. The year 1974 saw the celebration marking five hundred years of mural paintings in the small church of St. Mary “na Škrilinah” near Beram. This year saw a symposium on the subject of this small church followed by publication of proceedings. Unfortunately, the monograph on this church as one of the trade marks of Istrian identity was published only in 1992. In order to commemorate the celebration of the five-hundredth anniversary held on July 15, 1974, the exhibition of Zanko’s replicas of Istrian frescoes was held in the church of the Holy Trinity in Kastav. Apart from the replicas one of the exhibits was a plaster cast (maquette) of the church of St. Mary “na Škrilinah” modelled by Boris Sakač and Gabrijel Medved, restorers of the Glyptotheque, and painted by Eugen Kokot.

Today, replicas of these frescoes are scattered between various places (Archaeological Museum of Istria, Glyptotheque of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Pula airport, permanent exhibition in the small church of St. Germanus on Brijuni Islands, University Library in Rijeka, etc.)

The 1950s saw the beginning of photo and architectural documentations, as well as technological documentation of monuments. Ana Deanović was one of the key figures in the above mentioned activities. She has been working as conservationist in the Conservation Institute in Zagreb from 1943 until 1961. Since 1951 she has been putting her efforts in the establishment and coordination of the Restoration Department of the Conservation Institute with the belonging technological department and technological samples collection. Within the framework of the conservation activity of the Department, among other things, she formed and trained teams of qualified professionals whose task is conservation of mural paintings. She elaborated the system of organization of interventions-related documentation, of the appropriate file system and the actual restoration work performed in collaboration with chemists and physicists. Apart from that she has also developed methods of technological documentation of monuments. She collaborated with a number of scientists, among others with Biserka Kojić-Prodić from the Ruđer Bošković Institute in Zagreb on pigment analyses.

The activity of the Conservation Institute of Croatia (Restauratorski zavod Hrvatske - RZH) marks the period between 1966 and 1986. The Institute was primarily engaged in restoration of immovable cultural goods and was autonomous until its merging with the Institute for the Conservation of Objects of Art (Zavod za restauriranje umjetnina) into the Croatian Conservation Institute (Hrvatski restauratorski zavod – HRZ). The Institute for the Conservation of Objects of Art was an integral part of the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences (JAZU) until the 1980s and the beginning of its autonomous activity. Its primary activity was restoration of movable cultural goods. Therefore, this division affected the concept of the Croatian Conservation Institute's archives. The documentation related to restoration/conservation works on mural paintings is today safe-kept in the Croatian Conservation Institute's archives in Ilica.[9] The restoration works of the Conservation Institute of Croatia on Istrian mural paintings consisted of and were mostly directed towards small-scale interventions, various measuring and drawing up of surveys and of estimates of conservation-restoration works which were not carried out. Apart from that, three relocations of frescoes were carried out (in the building of the Confraternity of the Holy Cross in Buje, the chapel of the Silić estate near Završje and St. Sophia's Church in Dvigrad). 

The large-scale restoration works were carried out in the period after the foundation of the Croatian Conservation Institute. Here mention should be made of the restorer Egidio Budicin. He carried out restoration works in the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Plomin, St. Matthias’ Church in Slunj, St. Helen’s Church in Oprtalj, chapel “dei Prottetori“ (of the Patrons) in St. Pelagius’ Church in Novigrad and the Town Hall of Rovinj. Apart from restoration he also conducted soundings which brought to light the existence of new sites with mural paintings, carried out cleaning tests and documenting. Today, he works as a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. At the moment we can find him conducting restoration/conservation works in the small church of St. Silvester in Oprtalj. Before the foundation of the Conservation Department in Pula, Radovan Oštrić, restorer-conservationist, has been working in the Conservation Department in Rijeka. He carried out many different restoration interventions on a number of churches during the years of his activity. He restored the churches of St. Roch in Roč, St. Flor in Pomer, St. Mary of Snow in Maružini and St. George “the Old” in Plomin. He carried out numerous other smaller preventive interventions and research works. The archives of the Conservation Department in Pula keep all the documentation on executed interventions.

The Conservation Department in Pula, which has begun its autonomous activity in 2001, gives special attention to conservation and restoration of mural paintings in Istria. An integral register of mural painting in Istria has been drawn up, including complete information on past conservation-restoration interventions. Systematic research and documentation have been promoted. A register of priorities has been drawn up, with the description of the condition of mural paintings, a list of damages in need of repair, and conservation guidelines. Until now this Department has conducted restoration of murals in the following churches: St. Foška in Batvači near Peroj, St. Martin in Sv. Lovreč, St. Agata near Kanfanar, St. Barnaba in Vižinada, Blessed Virgin Mary in Božje polje near Vižinada (complete works being carried out by the restoration studio of Renzo Lizzi from Artegna near Udine), St. Mary of Snow near Maružini, the Holy Spirit in Bale, St. Flor in Pomer (Radovan Oštrić). Many fragments of frescoes have been preserved, like the ones in St. George's Church in Plomin. Restorations of mural paintings in St. Stephen’s Church in Peroj, St. Jacob’s Church in Bačva, St. Anthony’s Church in Višnjan, the All Saints’ Church in Gradinje and many others have begun. The Croatian Conservation Institute has finished restoration of mural paintings in St. Helen’s Church near Oprtalj and is bringing to a close the works in St. Matthias’ Church in Slum while two years ago it had begun the restoration works in St. Anthony’s Church in Barban. The present head of the Department of Mural Painting of the Croatian Conservation Institute is Ivan Srša, and among the restorers of this Department special mention should be made of Josip Brekalo who is professionally mostly committed to work in Istria.

At this point, we should touch on the problem of documentation and archival material on frescoes. Apart from the aforementioned material, the most important documentation is kept in the Conservation Department in Rijeka. Throughout its activity the Conservation Department in Rijeka created a substantial documentation relating to the material of our interest which is kept in the photograph and drawings archives. The old photographic documentation is of utmost importance being an outstanding source of determining the condition of mural paintings. Unfortunately, the division, that is the inauguration of the Conservation Department in Pula, resulted in postponement of the digitalization of the Istria-related material. It needs systematic copying, that is digitalization. The photographic collection of Nenad Gattin, a renowned photograph and art historian, author of photographs in Fučić’s monograph, is very significant. The material relating to frescoes can be found in the Institute of Art History also. Jagoda Meder, head of the Department for the Protection of Movable Cultural Goods of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, is in charge of the mural paintings catalogue.

In any discussion treating the subject of documentation mention should be made of scientific texts on Istrian frescoes of art-historian nature. Although Croatia has three independent Art History Departments, the references of Croatian art historians on Istrian frescoes are rather modest. Without Fučić’s written work, the remainder of published articles on the subject of frescoes would be very inadequate. Istrian fresco painting was the central theme of various exhibitions and was interpreted in the exhibition catalogues (Igor Fisković, Romaničko slikarstvo u Hrvatskoj…). Srećko Greblo wrote an article on the fresco painted by Albert from Constanze in Plomin in 1990s. There are many master’s theses on Istrian frescoes. Rosana Ratkovčić has written an article on the church of the Holy Spirit in Bale. Sandra Grković has written an article on painted borders. For some time past the research and the works on frescoes are carried out by Ivan Matejčić who published the documentation on St. Barnaba’s Church in Vižinada and wrote the forthcoming material on the church of the Holy Spirit in Bale. He also provided us with comments for a better interpretation of mural paintings in St. Foška’s Church which have been partly published in the booklet on the said monument, and the unpublished ones on St. Martin’s Church in Sv. Lovreč. More recently Neva Pološki, restorer and conservator-restorer research assistant of the Croatian Conservation Institute, has been working on a study on historical retouching in Istria.

France Stelè, the renowned Slovene art historian, was an expert in Istrian painterly heritage. He wrote many scientific works on the said subject and laid the ground for further work with his book Umetnost v Primorju. He is also significant for having been Fučić's mentor. The greatest living personality of the Slovene art history engaged in research of Istrian mural painting is Janez Höfler. In today's Slovene bibliography the subject of Istrian painterly heritage is considered a regional phenomenon but the authors write about some of the phenomena whose importance far surpasses the regional boundaries such as, for example, the Colourful Master, the influence of Master Bolfgang's workshop on the workshop that executed the murals in the church of the Holy Trinity in Žminj or the iconography of the Dance of the Dead.

The Italian literature makes mention of the works which could be brought in connection with Venetian and North Italian influences only. The said literature is sometimes imbued in ideology, the most obvious example being Giulio Ghirardi’s book. In spite of the fact that his book abounds in numerous inaccurate and erroneous facts and many sweeping labelling regarding Yugoslav art historians (in this case only Fučić, to be more precise!), his book is nevertheless often quoted by Italian authors.

One of the facts connected with medieval mural painting is that during the course of time it became obsolete and unnecessary in the liturgical proceeding and the cult itself, so it was often removed. One of the commonest ways to “get rid” of frescoes was to paint them over. Today we have many works of art of whose existence art historians were not acquainted with in the past. New discoveries affected art-historian conceptions during the course of time. The more new sites discovered, the greater the possibility of modification of the presently valid and established interpretations. Istrian frescoes figure as an outstanding source considering their art-historical value and the interest of the scientific world they had managed to arouse. There are many ideological moments present in scientific works on the subject. After the Liberation of Istria great attention was dedicated to monuments of the Istrian country, villages, and peripheral regions, art of the Slavic territory and to the medieval phenomenon of Glagolitism. Yugoslav side resented the Italian and Soprintendenza's disregard of such monuments. Some of the accusations proved unfounded but some of them were entirely legitimate. The Fascist regime encouraged a sort of damnatio memoriae devastating the Glagolitic, that is to say, Slavic monuments.[10] Ideology seems to be present in every period of research of the heritage.

Historical restoration interventions within Istrian mural painting are numerous and methodologically different. They could function as an open-air school of its kind for next generations of future art-historians and restorers. It is important to stress the fact that by not being documented or being very poorly documented and therefore unnoticed as such, many restorations affected art-historical interpretations. Thorough research should establish without doubt who and when performed the restoration works and to what extent, a vital groundwork for all subsequent interventions. Present restoration problems caused by past inadequate restorations such as use of cement mortar or later lime-casein mortar injections and vinyl pigment-fixing.

The story of Istrian frescoes is not finished. There are yet many challenges ahead of us. Unification of documentation is one of the top-priorities. The documentation, the existing replicas of frescoes and the authentic frescoes which have been relocated till now or are known of from archaeological remains should be located in one place. That project could be realized in a future documentation centre whose most important activity would be research of the Istrian medieval mural painting. The Region of Istria expressed their involvement in foundation of such a centre. The promotion of Istrian frescoes has to be raised to a higher level by instituting a restoration team who would be in charge of preventive interventions, maintenance and restoration.


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  • Perčić, I. (1959): Konzervatorski radovi u Istri i Hrvatskom primorju od 1955-58. Zbornik zaštite spomenika kulture X. Beograd, 1959
  • Perčić, I., Nešković, J., Medić, M. (1960): Konzervatorski radovi na kapeli Sv. Križa u Butonigi. Zbornik zaštite spomenika kulture, Beograd, 1960
  • Perčić, I. (1962): Konzervatorski radovi na spomenicima u Istri i Hrvatskom primorju od 1959-61. Zbornik zaštite spomenika kulture, Beograd, 1962
  • Perčić, I. (1963): Zidno slikarstvo Istre (exhibition catalogue). Zagreb, 1963
  • Perčić, I. (1985): Legenda o martiriju Sv. Pelagija na freskama u stanciji Silić. Jadranski zbornik, 12, 1982-1985, Pula, 405–432.
  • Perčić, I. (1952): Novi nalaz srednjovjekovnih zidnih slikarija u Istri. Vijesti muzealaca i konzervatora, 1952,  no. 5-6. Zagreb.
  • Snoj, V. (1994): Istra – tirkizni sjaj kristala, Pula 1994, pp 29-93.
  • Stelè, F.  (1960) : Umetnost v Primorju. Ljubljana, Slovenska matica, 1960
  • Šonje, A. (1970): Prezentacija istarskih fresaka i turizam, Istarski mozaik, VIII/3-4, Pula 1970, pp 15-24.
  • *** (1953): Gliptoteka – Galerija kopija (rubrika). Materijal za Istarsku izložbu, Bulletin JAZU, I (1953), 1-2, Zagreb 1953
  • Mitheilungen: Mittheilungen der k.k. Central-Commission für Erforschung und Erhaltung der Kunst und historischen Denkmale (1910-1914)

[1] The most comprehensive work on Anton Gnirs and his activity as conservationist is the one written by Brigita Mader (Mader 2000). For important remarks on Gnirs' conservation activity see Marijan Bradanović's article (Bradanović 2001). Robert Matijašić's article in the Istrian Encyclopedia (Matijašić 2005) mentions only Gnirs' archaeological activity.

[2] Bačva, St. Jacob (Mittheilungen, 1913, p 16), Barban, St. Anthony the Abbot (Mittheilungen, 1913, p 162) Beram, St. Martin (Mittheilungen, 1909, p 548, Mittheilungen, 1910, pp 336 and 626, Mittheilungen, 1911, p 248), Beram, St. Mary “na Škrilinah” (Mittheilungen, 1909, p 300, Mittheilungen, 1912, p 184, Mittheilungen, 1914), Butoniga, the Holy Cross (Mittheilungen, 1909, p 548), Oprtalj, St. Roch (Mittheilungen, 1913, p 123), Pomer, St. Flor (Mittheilungen, 1911, p 248, Mittheilungen, 1912, p 52, Mittheilungen, 1914, p 123), Pula, St. Mary “Formosa” (Mittheilungen, 1912, p 52), Savičenta, St. Catherine (Mittheilungen, 1911, p 248, Mittheilungen, 1912, p 80, Mittheilungen, 1914), Višnjan, St. Anthony (Mittheilungen, 1912, p 284), Žminj, the Holy Trinity (Mittheilungen, 1911, p 404, Mittheilungen, 1913, p 58)

[3] Barban, St. Jacob; Draguć, St. Roch; Draguć, St. Elysium; Dvigrad, St. Mary of Lakuć; Dvigrad, St. Anthony; Lindar, St. Catherine; Peroj, St. Stephen; Savičenta, St. Vincent; Žminj, St. Anthony, and Vačinovići near Kršan, the small church of St. Martin (not existing any more).

[4] The author of these lines conducted a research and copied the material covering the period from 1910 until the second half of the 1913. The research needs to be finished. I want to express my gratitude to Kristina Mihovilić, the former head of the Archaeological Museum of Istria, who made the access to the said material possible.

[5] I. Perčić, Zaštita spomenika kulture …  Vjesnik muzealaca …, p 43: „… Dok je do oslobođenja bilo poznato oko 30-tak objekata sa zidnim slikarijama, danas se znade za 93…”

[6] Iva Perčić, Rad na čuvanju i zaštiti spomenika u Istri, Hrvatskom primorju i Gorskom kotaru, Riječka revija, I, no. 3 (Rijeka 1952); idem. Konzervatorski radovi u Istri i Hrvatskom primorju od 1949. do 1954. godine, Zbornik zaštite spomenika kulture, vol. VI-VII (Belgrade 1956); idem. Konzervatorski radovi u Istri i Hrvatskom primorju od 1955. do 1958. godine, Zbornik zaštite spomenika kulture, vol. X (Belgrade 1959); idem. Zaštita spomenika kulture u Istri nakon oslobođenja, Vjesnik muzealaca i konzervatora Hrvatske, XVII, nos. 4 and 5 (Zagreb 1968)

[7] Until 1968 St. Elysium's Church in Draguć, St. Vincent’s and St. Catherine’s Churches in Savičenta, St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s Churches in Dvigrad had their roofs improved; installation of dump-proofing has been carried out in St. Blaises's Church in Sutlovreč; SS. Peter and Paul’s Church in Vranja had its roof improved and murals preserved; between 1955 and 1958 St. Catherine's Church in Lindar had its cracked eastern wall and roof improved and reinforced; the chapel of St. Primus’ Church in Završje – roof improved; St. Martin’s Church in Beram – roof improved; St. Helen’s and St. Mary’s Churches in Oprtalj – roof improved, St. Mary’s Church – preservation of Klerigin's paintings; the church of the Holy Trinity in Labinci – roof improved, reinforcement of the walls and foundations; works on the church of the Holy Cross in Butoniga in 1951; the church of the Holy Trinity in Lovran – reinforcement of foundations and roof improvement (1951); St. George’s Church in Lovran – restoration of mural paintings (1952-1953); St. Nicholas’ Church in Pazin – roof improvement; St. Jerome’s Church in Hum – roof improvement; St. Mary’s Church in Gologorica – roof improvement; St. Vitus’ Church in Paz – preservation of mural paintings; chapels of St. Anthony’s and St. Jacob’s Churches in Barban – preservation of mural paintings; churches of St. Anthony and the Holy Trinity in Žminj – preservation of mural paintings; St. Quirinus’ Church in Jesenovik – roof and walls improvement; St. Roch’s Church in Draguć – architectural improvement and restoration of mural paintings; St. Nicholas’ Church in Rakotule – architectural improvement and restoration of mural paintings (1955-1958); St. Agatha’s Church near Kanfanar – roof improvement (1955-1958); the church of the Holy Spirit in Nova Vas – partial restoration of mural paintings (1955-1958); St. Michael’s Church in Pićan – reinforcement of foundations and walls, preservation of mural paintings (1955-1958); St. Michael’s Church in Kloštar near Lim – roof improvement (1955-1958); the chapel of St. Francis’ Church in Vodnjan – roof improvement (1955-1958).

[8] The index of the material handed over to the Archives can be found in the Conservation Department in Rijeka under the file number 612-08/05-01-02/489

[9] I am most grateful to Vesna Bujan, the head of the archive, who put the material at my disposal.

[10] After the Liberations some parts of Istria saw devastation of Italian monuments carried out with the same zest

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