Matija Murko visits Ivan Meštrović, the sculptor

Ivan Meštrović (1883–1962) is today praised as one of the greatest Croatian artists and an internationally recognised sculptor. He was born in Slavonia, grew up in Dalmatian, and then lived and worked around the world. From 1947 he was a Sculptor in Residence and Professor of Sculpture at Syracuse University and from 1955 a Sculptor in Residence at the University of Notre Dame. Some of you might know him from his two sculptures The Bowman and The Spearman from the Congress Plaza at the entrance to Grant Park in Chicago (pictures below). 

As you can see easily from the two statues, Meštrović’s style is unique, mixing Secession and Expressionism. For those who are interested in his art, I suggest you look at the special issue of Sculpture Journal (see link) devoted to the artist.

Immediately relevant for comparative literature and Matija Murko is Meštrović’s profound interest in folklore which informed his artistic production. Moreover, as a boy he learned to sing traditional Dalmatian folksongs, which became his regular habit. It comes as no surprise then, that he depicted the poet and priest Andrija Kačić Miošić playing on gusle:

One of the songs Meštrović knew by hearth was Hasanaginica. This poem is perhaps the best-known poem of the Dalmatian oral tradition, because it was published in 1774 by Alberto Fortis, later translated by Goethe as “Klaggesang von der edlen Frauen des Asan Aga” (1775), published in Herder’s collection Volkslieder (1778), and translated into English via Goethe by Walter Scott (1798). This poem and Matija Murko’s recording of a female singer who still knew the song will be the topic of one of our future posts. It should be mentioned, however, that Meštrović still remembered a version of the song unknown from other sources (see Milan Ćurčin and R. W. S.-W., “Goethe and Serbo-Croat Ballad Poetry”, The Slavonic and East European Review 11, no. 31 (1932): 126–134).

Due to Meštrović’s profound interest in Dalmatian oral tradition of which he knew “fifty or sixty” songs, Matija Murko visited him in Zagreb to conduct an interview in 1931 and in 1932. Here is a photo of them: Murko is sitting down, dressed in white, and Ivan Meštrović is beside him on his right.


The visit resulted in the publication of an article in 1933 (Matija Murko, “Kod Meštrovića I njegovih – Ivan Meštrović kao pjevač epsih narodnih pjesama”, Nova Evropa 26, no. 8 (1933): 345–350). As Murko reported, Meštrović learned Hasanaginica from his grandmother who was singing it to his younger brother. He described to him how he learnt the songs and why he believes folklore is for him so important. Murko concluded his report by describing how they visited their family mausoleum in Otavice, speculating about the influence of Meštrović’s cohabitation with “lyric and epic folksong” on his art. 

The story reveals how important it is to overcome disciplinary boundaries if we are to understand past scholarship, literature, and art. This is why our project seriously considers the transdisciplinary approach in studying comparative literature’s history. 

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