Dick and Jane's Travels

A Travelblog (click on any picture to enlarge -- then click again to make it even bigger)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rector's Palace Dubrovnik, Croatia

Rector's Palace

Dubrovnik, Croatia

 Visited 16 and 17 October 2009
See this as a slide show by clicking here. See this as a web page by clicking here. (Double-click on any picture to enlarge it.)

Note: This presentation provides further pictures and commentary for our Dubrovnik overview.  It's best to see that presentation first by clicking here.

You may prefer to see these pages as a photo slide show which contains the same text but presents the pictures full screen size.  If so, click on the slides presentation at the right.

Prison or Palace?

This somewhat warped picture shows perhaps the most significant secular buildings on the Dalmatian coast -- the Rector's Palace. Architecture here is the inverse of history: the lower floor has a Renaissance loggia supporting beautiful Gothic windows above. The wide areas on each side of the loggia were once the base for towers -- both of which were damaged when the place suffered a fire and explosion 11 years after it was built -- to replace an earlier fortress destroyed by an ammunition explosion. Two major earthquakes also took their toll and the rebuilding of this once-Gothic building cleverly harmonizes Renaissance and Baroque elements as well. This should be called the Rector's Prison as whichever noble was serving the 30-day term could not leave the building except for official business. Each night the keys to the locked gates were brought here and turned over to him in a pompous ceremony. Despite earthquakes, fire, gunpowder explosions, and a variety of remodeling by several prominent architects, the Rector's palace maintains a harmonious exterior -- and a truly remarkable Renaissance atrium with baroque upgrades. The Rector and the Senate would sit on those stone seats to meet with supplicants. With the Cathedral (right), the Rector's Palace anchors the south end of a stubby street that leads at its north end... ...to the Sponza Palace (its arched loggia shows at the end of the street where it meets the main drag called the Stradun). Looking up, we see Mount Srd, Dubrovnik's protector from the harsh north winds (called the bura). Mount Srd (we don't need no stinkin' vowels) shows traces of the fort the French built when Napoleon's guys were invited in and wouldn't leave. In 1991, the Serbs shelled from up there and destroyed the cable car that used to take tourists to its summit, over 1300 feet high. Events have conspired to destroy this building as well; rebuilding has changed its exterior dramatically. The front (west) originally had towers that disappeared in a 1463 explosion. The facade then received its upper Gothic windows over a Renaissance loggia. The south end (we see a bit of it at the right) was restored after the 1520 earthquake in the Baroque style. Severely damaged, somehow this structure survived the 1667 earthquake that leveled nearly every other building within Dubrovnik's walls.

Channeling Dubrovnik

This map explains why a medieval city could sport such a wide street. It started as two towns: the Roman Ragusium (Ragusa) at bottom -- an island separated from the Slavic Dubrovnik. An extraordinary bit of 12th century civil engineering filled in the channel and left space for the long Placa (Stradun) and the wide expanse in front of the Rector's palace -- #3 on the above map. (Thanks to F. W. Carter for this map.)

The Loggia of mythic proportions

The fortress that once stood here was destroyed by a powder explosion in its armory. Fortunately at that time, the great Neapolitan civic builder Onofrio di Giordano della Cava was in Dubrovnik creating its water system and the two fountains that bear his name. The Senate commissioned Onofrio to replace the fortress with a towered two-story Gothic structure which was completed in 1452. Unfortunately, 11 years later, another explosion wiped out much of his efforts. (A few of his sculptural fragments have been incorporated into the building.) Note above each Renaissance arch, we see a double-mullioned Gothic window the Italians call a "bifora." Let's start our visit with an examination of the Renaissance loggia,which you might think could be the work of Michelozzo di Bartolomeo who was then 65 years old and the most popular architect in his native Florence. He was working in Dubrovnik at the time of the 1463 explosion as the chief engineer reconstructing the city's land walls. (Interchanges with Florence were frequent during the mid 1400s. Records from the 1460s show 28 Florentine craftsmen living here.) Michelozzo was asked to submit a design to repair the Rector's palace -- but the Senate rejected his Renaissance building proposal as being too modern for their conservative Gothic tastes. Michelozzo's sojourn here seems to have been greed-inspired. Dubrovnik put him on a salary 3 to 10 times what he was getting back in Florence. (His contract also stated that he was to do no manual labor.)  It's no surprise he'd propose a Renaissance building -- after all if it was good enough for the Medicis of Florence, it should be good enough for this place. Shortly after his rejection, he left Dubrovnik. A succession of builders finished the repair work including Salvi di Michele who carved this half-capital at the north edge of the loggia. Opposite that sculpture at the south end, we find another half-capital, this one by Pietro di Martino and his workshop. It depicts Apollo's servant Aesculapius, the father of medicine, shown here sitting an apothecary. (By the way, Dubrovnik during its golden age had free health care from salaried physicians.) From Milan, Martino lived here for 20 years starting in 1432. This is the only original sculpture to survive the explosion that damaged the Onofrio building in its original position on the building. (A few other fragments have been moved to the interior.) The myth of Aesculapius (whose symbol is typically the two snakes wound around his stave) has a remote connection to Dubrovnik in that the city's original name was Epidauros -- and Aesculapius originated from a town in Greece with the same name. That's a bit of a stretch, but the iconography of this building suggests Dubrovnik's place in history just as the carvings on cathedrals bathe their towns in the great flow of Christian myths. Here's the other side of the Pietro di Martino's original half-capital showing what appear to be merchants engaged in trade. As we see here, capitals crown the outer row of columns. The back wall supports capitals without columns as the vaults terminate there. Let's look at some of the 5 front capitols that face the street. Here we have angels with not only wings, but genitalia. Does this settle the debate as to which sex can claim angels? (Without this evidence, who would ever suggest that angels might be male.) These angels are into the Dalmatian Coast custom of nude beaches; they are supposed to be driving Adam and Eve out of paradise but seem more concerned with posing. There seem to be ample fig leaves, but in all the wrong places. The real power in Dubrovnik lay with the Senate -- 45 members elected from the nobility. Their executive branch was a subset of 11 called the Minor Council. One of these was the Rector -- who served for one month. Citizens treasured their independence and did not want to create tyrants. The inner wall of the loggia does not have columns but rather a strange set of reliefs that hold up the vaulting. From the upper floor rise the Gothic bifora (mullioned windows) with reliefs by Pavko Antojevic Bogicevic. These bifora were also on the southern side before being replaced by baroque windows after the 1520 earthquake. Although it suffered major damage, somehow the Rector's Palace survived the great 1667 earthquake which leveled nearly every building (but not the walls) in Dubrovnik.  (The lancet windows -- named after the lance tip which they resemble -- are characteristic of the bifora.)

The interior

Let's now go inside. Many of the rooms are now a museum but we'll spend the rest of these slides looking at a true masterpiece...

The Atrium

...the atrium of the Rector's Palace -- a Renaissance jewel with a baroque staircase added after the 1520 earthquake. Supposedly these stairs were used only once a month when the new Rector replaced the old. The ornamentation on the staircase contrasts with the simplicity of the stones in the small ashlar wall. Rain kept chasing us under the arches. Many of the rooms on the ground floor were used to dispense justice: as courts or prison cells. Dubrovnik strongly supported the rights of the individual -- but deemphasized the accomplishments of individual persons, fearing that adulation might lead to tyranny. Most positions of power like that of its Rector or commanders of its forts were restricted to one month terms to keep anyone from becoming too strong. In its 400 years of independence, Dubrovnik never erected a statue to a historic figure -- except here with this bronze of Miho Pracat. Pracat was a commoner (the lowest grade in the social hierarchy and forbidden from holding public office.) Yet he became rich through shipping, supported the Franciscans, and left huge amounts for charity. With the grand staircase used only for the monthly changing of the Rectors, daily movements must have been up and down this smaller of the atrium staircases. Both staircases are spectacular in their own way... ...including their hand rails. The 5 renaissance arches at the top of the atrium suggest the 5 similar arches in the entrance loggia on the western facade. These are double columned with Corinthian-like capitals. A small bell tower rises above this clock at the center of the upper level. Another view of the larger stairs This atrium is one of thirty venues used during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, held since 1949 to feature all of the performing arts. A few architectural details of the atrium: the capitals of the upper arches are much simpler than those on the western exterior. Some of the abstract iconography on the larger stairway could use a bit of restoration. Dubrovnik's coat-of-arms seems to have a crown at its top even though this aristocratic republic was about as anti-king as could be. Power was solely in the hands of the nobles who bred so well in their closed social class that by the 16th century they numbered nearly 1500 -- and controlled all of the land. Their upper crust formed an oligarchy which ran things. But they ruled well and even the commoners were prosperous and individual rights were king -- and therefore there was little civil unrest during its 400 years of independence. More stairway reliefs Let's take a closer look at the angel that hovers over the Gothic doorway that led to the Senate chamber. Beneath a Renaissance shell half-arch and standing on a Greek-inscribed base, this undocumented International Gothic angel sculpture appears to be the work of Pietro di Martino's school as well. Like his Lady Justice, she holds a long scroll, this one extolling moral virtues. Her placement above the entrance to the senate chamber reminds senators of their ties to the Roman Senate. (The scroll echoes some Ciceronian phraseology.) When this was carved, Dubrovnik was entering its Golden Age -- but comparisons with ancient Rome (even done by the Christian icon of an angel) would still be a bit on the pretentious side. Here's another sculptural fragment damaged by the explosion to the building and moved here afterwards. It's also by Pietro di Martino da Milano and his school who did the original exterior capitals. (This one was at the main doorway). It shows the Roman goddess of Justice seatedbetween two lions and holding a scroll with perhaps laws. No blindfold and scales here, but the words carved in her scroll affirm the rights of the individual. Go figure! Even the lion below seems a bit disgusted with this bronze. Thanks for visiting. See all of our Dubrovnik slides by clicking here -- or visit all of our travel pages by clicking here.

Please join us in the following slide show to give Dubrovnik's Rector's Palace the viewing it deserves by clicking here.


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