It’s Mother’s Day today and I pay special tribute to a most special mother to Croatians.
Eighty-three years ago, in 1932, Croatian world-renowned artist and sculptor Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962) created a marvelous sculpture through which he would interpret and symbolise the history of the Croatian people. Ivan Mestrovic’s sculpture of a mother, his mother, holding on her lap a stone tablet with “History of Croatians” engraved in the old Croatian script Glagoljica on its spine, has become a companion of Croats wherever they may go or wherever they are. She is the keeper of the Croatian identity; she is the keeper of the Croatian heritage. Ivan Mestrovic entrusted unto the mother the keeping and the nurturing of Croatian people’s heritage and the people had embraced that mother, as it is also a symbol of Homeland.
Through this sculpture Ivan Mestrovic presents the Croatian homeland as a humble, dignified and a strong woman to whom he entrusts the keeping of Croatians’ heritage, tradition and identity.
This mother that holds the History of Croatian people on her lap has become the sculpture of identity; Croatian identity. She has long ago impressed the symbol of her image and meaning on the minds of Croatian people; she is worn as a charm elegantly swaying from gold neck-chains; miniatures of her image are carefully crafted as keepsakes and adorn workplaces and homes alike; pictures of her are framed; her image imprinted on a page of the Croatian passport…
Made in 1932, Mestrovic’s original marble statue of History of Croatians was intended for the building of the first Museum of Croatian Sculptures in Knin. But, in 1934 the sculpture made in marble from the Island of Brac was taken to the Royal palace park at Dedinje in Belgrade in Serbia (Capital of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, headed by Serbian dynasty) for a temporary exhibition – it is still there today! The borrowed sculpture had not been returned. To the end of his life Mestrovic kept on writing letters to Belgrade asking that the marble statue of History of Croatians be returned to where it belongs, to its homeland (Croatia) and be placed in the Museum of Croatian Antiquities. Sadly, he was unsuccessful; the Serbian King who ignored the artist’s calls for the return of his work after the exhibition in Belgrade stole Mestrovic’s sculpture.
Serbia refused to return the sculpture that rightfully belongs to Croatia even after the fall of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, even after the fall of the subsequent communist Yugoslavia…even after it’s royal family has returned to live there after spending decades in exile…
For the occasion of 300th anniversary of the foundation of Zagreb University, Croatia, a bronze copy of the sculpture was made in 1970 and installed at the front entrance of the Faculty of Law where the office of the University Rector is also located. Although originally intended for the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments the sculpture has thus also become the protector of the University!
The story of the fate of the original marble sculpture, the fact that it was stolen by Serbian King and kept by Serbia when the Kingdom fell, illustrates clearly the poignant story of Croatian history: kept hostage, stolen, oppressed throughout centuries. But mother is a symbol of selfless love and that is what Croatia enjoys from the multitudes that had defended it from Serb aggression and freed it from communist oppression. The love will endure! Perhaps once the politicians and the international arbitrators finally get around to finalising the state succession of former Yugoslavia, Croatia will have a good chance of securing the rightful place for this sculpture; the place where it belongs – Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)