Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Croatian Literary Baroque

Bartol Kašić (1575-1650)
On my island of olive growers and fisherman I feel as far away from the baroque as is possible. The landscape is dotted with tiny café latte tinted stone chapels, perfectly contrasted with the pine green forests and iron rich soil. These appear to have sprung out of the earth, so sympathetic are they with their natural, yet cultivated surroundings. Human in scale and spiritual in content, they are reminders of a simple, aesthetic and pure faith. This seems to be what the architects of the baroque were trying to bulldoze in their efforts to appeal to the emotions and senses of the wavering congregations. Revision here is quite entertaining, and what follows is a fleshing out of the notes that I'm working through - it is inevitable that an art style which I really don't like has produced so many posts!
Always necessarily cautious of labels, the class was reminded that this period known as baroque emerged from about 1600 onwards. It is often thought of as an artistic style that used exaggerated motion and elaborate detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, and music. As I have mentioned before, the popularity and success of this style was encouraged by the Catholic Church after the Council of Trent. They stressed that the arts should communicate religious themes directly and emotionally. The movement was essentially Italian, and quickly spread all over the Catholic world, with regional differences and interpretations being incorporated.

There were secular uses for the ornate and dramatic decorations which is why it was also embraced by non-Catholic countries. The architecture and design of theatres, opera houses, grand country houses and gardens in the UK were heavily influenced by baroque fashions, but generally, religious architecture was more sensitive to protestant restraint. Sir Christopher Wren was one of the most well-known proponents of the English Baroque, and he combined classical proportions with continental drama without the overwhelming taste for gold angels and migraine inducing twiddly bits. [So sue me for hating it so much] London’s St Paul’s Cathedral remains one of the most beautiful examples of this style done to perfection. These palatial monuments to power, religion, and absolutism according to some, simultaneously produced a new sense both of human insignificance and of the unsuspected complexity and infinitude of the natural world.

So familiar everyone is with European and British Baroque, what was going on in Croatia? It went largely unaffected by the Protestant Reformation, although Matija Vlačić Ilirik of Istria was a controversial figure, at various times closely connected with Luther and Melanchon. To ensure utter obedience and avoid any hint of dissension, the great Counter Reformation and Catholic educators, the Jesuits opened many educational establishments here during the 17th century. The Catholic Church had an ulterior motive by taking a great interest here; they recognised Croatia and the southern Slavic countries' tactical importance in uniting against the Turks.

The Jesuits advocated the Latin language but, in the same time, they emphasised the importance of vernacular. They managed this with the help of books and language reforms. As we have seen, from the earliest time the church has been politically and controversially involved in influencing the alphabet and language of the mass in this region. Although Croatia has instinctively looked to the Western Catholic church, the tendency of the educated elite to remain focused on their nationalistic Slavic linguistic roots is marked. During the 16th century, many young men from Croatia were trained by the Jesuit school in Rome. One of these was Marin Temparica who was most influential in standardising the Croatian language.

This standard was transmitted over the entire country due to writers from different parts exchanging experiences and collaborating. Croatia developed many literary regional circles; Dalmatian-Dubrovnik, Kajkavian, Slavonian and Ozalj circle. Although Dubrovnik remained the strongest literary centre, where the greatest Croatian baroque writer, Ivan Gundulic was active, the northern parts of the country were becoming more influential. The  main literary types that develop in Croatia in this period are lyrical and epic poetry, and drama. This reflects a wider European interest in classicism. The first representative of Baroque poetry was Ivan Bunić Vučić with his love songs, remains of Petrarchism, and linking love poems with courtly rhetoric. Epic- the tradition of baroque epic was founded by Gundulić and his work Osman - was followed by several other poets. Finally drama where Dubrovnik takes the lead. Major plays are tragicomedy and most of them were written by Gundulic and Palmotić, based on Italian baroque opera librettos with mythological or quasi-historical topics.
Ivan Gundulić

Ivan Gundulić was the most prominent Croatian Baroque poet from the Republic of Ragusa. His work embodies central characteristics of Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation: religious fervor, insistence on "vanity of this world" and zeal in opposition to infidels. Gundulić's major works—the epic poem Osman, the pastoral play Dubravka, and the religious poem Tears of the Prodigal Son (based on the Parable of the Prodigal Son) are examples of Baroque stylistic richness and, frequently, rhetorical excess.

Gundulić's most influential work is Osman, where he presents the contrasts between Christianity and Islam, Europe and the Turks, West and East, and what he viewed as freedom and slavery. Osman had 20 cantos, but the 14th and the 15th were never found, although they were reconstructed in the 19th century by Petar Ignjat Sorkočević-Crijević (1749–1826), a direct descendant of  Gundulić (his maternal grandmother Nikoleta Gundulić was Šišmundo Gundulić's daughter). Modern studies of his work have been dominated by a contemporary reappraisal of is poetry; firstly from an aesthetic sensibility which compares unfavourably with Torquato Tasso, and secondly his impact in the final standardisation of the Croatian language which was overwhelming. By presenting the contrast of struggle between Christianity and Islam, Gundulić continued Marko Marulić's glorification of the fights against the invading Ottoman Turks. Besides magnifying Slavdom and the battles against the conquerors, Gundulić described the life of the Ottoman sultan Osman II. Gundulić constantly reminds the reader of the wheel of fortune and how the world is transient.

“The wheel of fortune, goes round and round
It never stops, it seems bound.
Who’s been up, now falls down by
Who was down, now flying high.”

But it is notable that that sultan is present sympathetically, with dignity and respect; and the hero isn't Croatian but a Polish king emphasising Slavic brotherhood.
Bartul Kašić
As ever, there is a tragic story regarding Croatia. Bartul Kašić was Jesuit clergyman and grammarian during the Counter-Reformation. As a gifted and industrious pupil, he was sent to further studies in Rome in 1593, where he joined the Society of Jesus in 1595. He started teaching Croatian in the Illyric Academy in Rome, which awakened his interest in the Croatian language. Since the Jesuits took care of the Christians in the Ottoman Empire and tried to teach in the local language, they needed an adequate textbook for working among the Croats. So Kašić wrote and published Institutionum linguae illyricae libri duo  - The Structure of the Croatian Language in Two Books - in Rome in 1604. It was the first Croatian grammar. Perhaps I should get a copy...
Although he published several works of religious and instructive content and purpose, it is the translation of the bible which is most important and distressing. 1622, Kašić started translating the New Testament into the local Slavic vernacular . He submitted the entire translation in Rome in 1633 to obtain the approval for printing, but he encountered difficulties because some Croatians were against translations in that vernacular. The translation was eventually forbidden. Considering translations of the Bible to local languages had a crucial role in the creation of the standard languages of many peoples, the ban on Kašić's translation has been described by Josip Lisac as "the greatest catastrophe in the history of Croatian language". The preserved manuscripts were used to publish the translation, with detailed expert notes, in 2000.

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