In the area of modern Croatia, significant traces of prehistoric times have been preserved (Neanderthal human remains in Krapina, the remnants of the Vučedol culture from the 3rd century BC) as have sites (Vis, Hvar, Osijek, Vinkovci, Sisak) and monuments of the Greco-Roman civilisation (the arena and the Arch of the Sergii in Pula/1st–2nd century/, Diocletian’s Palace in Split/4th century/, the Salona settlement in Solin/2nd–7th century/, the Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč/6th century/). The creativity of local people has placed the Croatian architectural and artistic heritage on an equal footing with those in the rest of the world.
The Pre-Romanesque period (second half of the 8th century to the end of the 10th century). Influenced by the late Classical period, Western European and Byzantine cultural spheres, small Pre-Romanesque churches with different ground plans began to spring up; the most widely distributed types being a central type of structure with vaulted roofs or small cupolas, followed by churches of a longitudinal shape, although several larger churches were also built (Knin, Biograd na Moru and Solin), which have been linked to Croatian rulers and other high-ranking officials. In terms of carved decorations on stone liturgical furnishings, rich motifs of interlace or wattle with Christian symbols became prominent between the 9th and 11th centuries, while the names of Croatian rulers were recorded on many altar screens (Višeslav, Trpimir, Branimir, Mutimir, Držislav). Weapons and jewellery discovered in graves were at first of Carolingian, i.e. Byzantine provenance, but gradually local master craftsmen imprinted their own characteristics on them.
The Romanesque Period (11th to mid-13th century). Romanesque regional variations were expressed in different degrees of development in individual areas (where building and renovation work was carried out intensively on town walls and fortifications, churches, lodges and mansions in Dalmatia and Istria, and to a lesser extent in the northern regions), but also in the diversity of the prevailing external influences (Lombardy, Apulia, Venice, Byzantium), or the stronger presence of local Classical and Pre-Romanesque heritage. From the second half of the 11th century onwards, triple-naved Romanesque basilicas with apses began to appear in architecture, and almost all the early Christian cathedrals were extended (Krk, Rab, Zadar, Dubrovnik), as were monastery churches (St Krševan/Chrysogonus/in Zadar, 1175). Bell towers are among some of the most monumental creations of Romanesque architecture. Early Romanesque sculpture reintroduced the human figure in the 11th century (the figure of a Croatian ruler from the baptistery in Split; the altar screen tablets from the Church of St Nediljica/Domenica/in Zadar); while from the early 13th century on, a great feeling for plasticity developed, as seen in the wooden doors of Split Cathedral, made by Andrija Buvina, and the magnificent Radovan’s portal of Trogir Cathedral. Split Cathedral (13th century) also houses the oldest surviving example of a wooden choir stall in the world. Only fragments of wall paintings have survived (Ston, Srima, Zadar, Peroj, Dubrovnik). Illuminated miniatures in codexes were produced in the scriptoria of Dalmatia (Osor, Zadar, Šibenik, Split) and in Zagreb. A prominent place within Romanesque art was held by the goldsmiths’ craft (crosses, reliquaries, mobile altars, crucifixes, etc.).
The Gothic Period (13th to late 15th century). The Gothic period began in Croatia in the 13th century, and its typical, simple elements prevailed until the 16th century (St Mary's Church in Lepoglava and St Mark’s Church in Zagreb). In Dalmatia, from the later 15th century on, churches were built in the Venetian style, along with town halls, cloisters, city lodges and mansions. The most important master of the Gothic-Renaissance style was the builder and sculptor Juraj Dalmatinac, who trained in Venice and worked in Italy (Ancona) and the towns of Dalmatia. As Istrian painting made contact with northern trends, it reached its zenith in the frescoes which can be seen in Pazin, Butoniga and Beram (Vincent of Kastav, late 15th century). A distinctive expression of folk creativity from medieval times are stećci, tombstones made between the 13th and the 16th century (Cista Provo, the Neretva valley, Konavle).
The Renaissance (mid-15th to 16th century). Croatia was the first European country to adopt the influences of the Italian Renaissance. The Italian sculptor and builder Nicholas of Florence brought the early Renaissance style to full maturity in the Chapel of the Blessed John of Trogir in the Cathedral of Trogir, in which he was assisted by Andrija Aleši. The same chapel shows St John the Evangelist and St Thomas, a work by Ivan Duknović, who mostly worked in Italy (the sarcophagus with the likeness of Pope Paul II from 1473 in the crypt of the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome) and in the court of Matthias Corvinus in Hungary. While aristocratic summer residences were being built in the Dubrovnik Republic in a particular style which was unique even in European terms, many fortifications were being built in northwest Croatia, from Čakovec to Senj, to form a line of defence against the Ottomans. Here, the castle-fortress Veliki Tabor (1505) stands out, along with the ideal Renaissance fortress town of Karlovac (1579).
Art achieved high Renaissance maturity in the works of Nikola Božidarević at the beginning of the 16th century. At that time, many Croatian artists, nicknamed the Schiavoni, were working in Italy, among whom Juraj Ćulinović, Andrija Medulić and Julije Klović (already during his lifetime called the Michelangelo of Miniatures), the sculptor Franjo Vranjanin, creator of fine marble busts, and the architect Lucijan Vranjanin were among the most famous.
The Baroque period (17th and 18th centuries). The Croatian Baroque style predominated in ecclesiastical architecture (the churches of St Katharine in Zagreb, St Mary of the Snows in Belec, St Mary of Jerusalem in Trški Vrh, St Vitus in Rijeka, St Blaise in Dubrovnik) and public buildings (the Vojković–Oršić–Rauch mansion in Zagreb, the Patačić mansion in Varaždin, the castles in Gornja Bedekovčina and Daruvar, the Eltz manor-house in Vukovar). The baroque architectural entities in Varaždin and Dubrovnik, the Tvrđa fortress in Osijek and the Upper Town in Zagreb are of particular interest. The illusionist frescoes and stucco decorations, altars and sculptures were mostly the work of foreign masters (Ivan Krstitelj Ranger, Francesco Robba, Franc and Krištof Andrej Jelovšek, Anton Lerchinger), but also of some native artists (Tripo Kokolja) and Federiko Benković, who did work in Italy, Austria and Germany.
From the Neoclassical to the Modern period (late 18th to late 19th century). The main commissioners of Neoclassical architectural buildings were the nobility (the Pejačević castles in Retfala, 1801, and Virovitica, 1804), the Church (Maksimir Park in Zagreb, St Theresa’s Church in Suhopolje, 1807–16) and the military authorities. In the first half of the 19th century, the needs of the citizen class were met by the intimate, modest Biedermeier style, while utensils and ornaments were imported or produced in Croatian glassmaking studios, earthenware and furniture workshops. Biedermeier painting arrived in the 1830s, mostly produced by foreign travelling artists, but Vjekoslav Karas headed the independent Croatian version of the trend. Historical themes prevailed in painting in the second half of the 19th century (Ferdo Quiquerez, Oton Iveković, Mato Celestin Medović), as showcased in the luxurious Golden Hall in Zagreb’s Upper Town (today part of the Croatian Institute of History); architecture also showed preference for historical styles which were applied to build representative public buildings and palaces (the Neo-Romanesque cathedral in Đakovo, 1866–82; the Crafts School and the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb, 1891; the Croatian national theatres in Osijek, Varaždin, Rijeka and Zagreb; the urbanisation of Zagreb’s Lower Town). At the end of the 19th century, architecture for the tourist industry began to develop rapidly on the Kvarner coastline (Hotel Imperijal in Opatija, 1885) and in Dalmatia, as did industrial architecture (the Hartera paper mill, Rijeka). The Secessionist style was applied to typical buildings in Zagreb, Osijek (a string of palaces on European Avenue) and Split, as well as in the early sculptures of Ivan Meštrović.
Modernism, Postmodernism, Contemporary Art (20th and 21st centuries)
Architecture. The ideas of modernism, creativefreedom and the right to individual artistic expression in architecture were advocated by Viktor Kovačić, while functionalism was represented by Drago Ibler and Stjepan Planić, the leading proponents of the Zagreb school of architecture between the two world wars which also included Juraj Denzler, Mladen Kauzlarić, Juraj Neidhardt, Josip Pičman and Ivan Zemljak (the school in the neighbourhood of Jordanovac, 1935). At the same time, Zlatibor Lukšić, Helen Baldasar, Emil Ciciliani and Josip Kodl (Hotel Ambasador, 1937) advocated avant-garde ideas in Split.
During the period of intensive post-war construction, Croatian architecture embraced the so-called International Style. Large-scale and planned construction of districts was carried out in the major cities (Novi Zagreb, Split I and II) and, besides residential buildings (those designed by Drago Galić in Vukovarska Street and by Ivo Vitić in Laginjina Street in Zagreb), several representative public buildings were built, on which many architects – such as Vladimir Turina (the Maksimir stadium, 1946–62), Kazimir Ostrogović (the Zagreb City Hall, 1956–58), Vjenceslav Richter (the Yugoslav exhibition pavilions in Brussels /1958/ and Milan /1964/), Radovan Nikšić and Ninoslav Kučan (today’s Public Open University in Zagreb with highly aestheticised interiors by Bernardo Bernardi, 1961) and Slavko Jelinek (the Zagrepčanka Business Tower, 1976) – developed their styles. The rise in the tourist industry in the mid-1960s was accompanied by a rapid construction of touristic buildings, highly accomplished in terms of their design and integration with the environment, which is particularly discernible in the Solaris hotel complex near Šibenik (1968) by Boris Magaš, who also designed the Hajduk stadium in Split (1979).
Postmodern tendencies can be discerned in the work of Nikola Filipović as well as in the work of the team comprising Zvonimir Krznarić, Davor Mance and Marijan Hržić, the designers of the Crematorium and the new building for the National University Library in Zagreb, designed in cooperation with Velimir Neidhardt, the co-designer, with Branko Kincl, of the new Zagreb airport (2017). Valuable works have been designed by Dinko Kovačić in Split and Nikola Bašić in Zadar, with the latter paying special attention to architectural and sculptural interventions in space (the Sea Organ, 2005).
In recent times, interesting museum buildings have also been built (Igor Franić, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, 2009; Goran Rako, the Vučedol Culture Museum in Vukovar, 2015). The turn of the century saw the coming of age of a generation that continues to foster a diversity of architectural expressions (Milan Šosterič, the Music Academy in Zagreb, 2014); the team comprising Idis Turato and Saša Randić as well as architects and designers gathered together in architectural studios, such as ‘3LHD’ (Saša Begović, Tanja Grozdanić Begović, Marko Dabrović, Silvije Novak) and ‘STUDIO UP’ (Toma Plejić and Lea Pelivan) have been successful in various areas of architecture, particularly those related to tourism and sport, and their work, just like the work of the already internationally recognised architects Vinko Penezić, Krešimir Rogina and Hrvoje Njirić, has also been noticed outside Croatia.
Painting. The arrival of Vlaho Bukovac, who had studied in Paris, in Zagreb in 1893 had a definitive significance in painting; his open colourism was adopted by several younger artists (the Zagreb School of Colour), who formed the painters’ wing of the Croatian Modern period. Among them were Oton Iveković, who coupled historical themes with an impressionistic approach, Robert Auer and Bela Čikoš-Sesija, who were inspired by the Secession, Menci Klement Crnčić, the founder of modern Croatian graphics, and, in Split, Emanuel Vidović, who first turned to Italian Divisionism and then Expressionism. In 1903, Čikoš-Sesija and Crnčić founded a school which grew, in 1921, into an academy (today’s Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb). In contrast to this desire for ‘pure painting’, artists inspired by the Secession and gathered around the Medulić group (founded in 1908 in Split) and the sculptor Ivan Meštrović – such as Mirko Rački and Tomislav Krizman – searched for a national visual expression in the motives of folk legends and heroic myths.
Croatian architects and visual artists regularly participate in the Venice Biennale, the Kassel Documenta and other important international cultural events. One of these artists was Vlaho Bukovac, who first exhibited at the Venice Biennale as early as 1897.
Josip Račić, Miroslav Kraljević, Vladimir Becić and Oskar Herman, members of the so-called Munich Circle, brought novelties to Croatian painting from their studies, while the progressive thread (from Cézannism through Expressionism and Neo-Realism to Neoclassicism) was maintained by the artists who exhibited at the Spring Salon (1916–28), at first mainly its founders, Ljubo Babić and Zlatko Šulentić, and later, with their inclination for Cubism and Post-Cubism, Prague-educated members of the Group of Four, among whom Vilko Gecan, Milivoj Uzelac and especially Marino Tartaglia and Milan Steiner were most prominent. The architect and painter Josip Seissel (whose pseudonym was Jo Klek) painted the first abstract painting in 1922, while a distinctive style was developed by Antun Motika, who brightened colour to the outermost limit, and Ignjat Job, who developed a strong, gestural and colouristic expressionism. Members of the left-oriented group Zemlja (1929–35) – Leo Junek, Marijan Detoni, Vilim Svečnjak – dealt with social topics; the main ideologue was Krsto Hegedušić, promoter of Naive art, particularly the Hlebine School, which in the mid-20th century attracted international acclaim, particularly for the works of Ivan Generalić, Ivan Rabuzin and Ivan Lacković Croata.
The post-war period of socialist realism was left behind as early as the end of the 1940s and links were re-established with European and American avant-garde trends (lyrical abstraction, Art Informel and abstract expressionism). The first to follow them were Edo Murtić and Ferdinand Kulmer, while Ivo Gattin, Đuro Seder and Marijan Jevšovar further expanded and radicalised them. A distinctive abstract style was developed by Albert Kinert, Ordan Petlevski, Oton Gliha, Eugen Kokot and many others.
Exponents of figurative post-Surrealist, fantastic or metaphysical painting were Miljenko Stančić, Vasilije Josip Jordan, Nives Kavurić-Kurtović, Slavko Kopač and Josip Vaništa, while Ljubo Ivančić superbly interlinked expressionist figuration with Art Informel. In the 1970s, the Biafra group (Zlatko Kauzlarić-Atač) brought engaged figuration, Zlatko Keser leaned towards expressive figuration, Jadranka Fatur followed the photorealistic trends, while nova slika/New Painting/(Nina Ivančić, Zvjezdana Fio, Željko Kipke) brought about a new approach to painting. Contributions to the postmodern diversity of the late 20th century were also made by Zlatan Vrkljan, Zoltan Novak and many others. Croatian painters continue to use figurative style today, from the conceptual approach (Lovro Artuković) to expressionist or Pop Art inspirations (Ivica Malčić, Robert Šimrak, Tomislav Buntak), often reflecting contemporary reality and its cultural codes.
The EXAT 51 group was active starting in the early 1950s and drawing on the tenets of the Bauhaus and constructivism; it moved in the direction of geometric abstraction, especially in the works of its champions Vlado Kristl and Ivan Picelj. Julije Knifer was close to them, faithful to his sole preoccupation – the meander. After the experience of the EXAT 51 group, there followed the New Tendencies international artistic movement; one of the artists who was prominent at its memorable exhibitions was Miroslav Šutej, who (like Ante Kuduz) developed op-art visual expression, playing with boundaries between painting, graphics and sculpture; this encouraged artists to turn to ambiance art (Ljerka Šibenik, Edita Schubert) and the exploration of the medium of painting within the framework of primary and analytical processes (Boris Demur, Dubravka Rakoci, Goran Petercol).
Members of the protoconceptual group Gorgona (Marijan Jevšovar, Julije Knifer, Đuro Seder, Josip Vaništa, Ivan Kožarić, Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos), with their unconventional visual art activities in the early 1960s, and Tomislav Gotovac, with his performances and his exploration of various media, film in particular, paved the way for generations of conceptual artists who, from the late 1960s, within the framework of new artistic practice, experimented with untraditional artistic methods and materials, and the new media (Goran Trbuljak, Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis; Vladimir Dodig Trokut; in the 1970s, the Group of Six Artists: Željko Jerman, Boris Demur, Mladen Stilinović, Sven Stilinović, Vlado Martek, Fedor Vučemilović). Today’s contemporary art has continued to explore experiment, performance (Slaven Tolj, Siniša Labrović, Igor Grubić), ambiance art (Mirjana Vodopija, Viktor Popović, Ivana Franke), transmedia expression (David Maljković, Damir Očko, Zlatko Kopljar), often with a pronounced social engagement (Andrea Kulunčić, Renata Poljak).
Sculpture. The realistic sculptures of Ivan Rendić heralded the development of modern Croatian sculpture, which was continued through the work of Robert Frangeš-Mihanović, Rudolf Valdec and the impressionist inspiration of Branislav Dešković in portraying animals, to the great sculptor Ivan Meštrović, the creator of many sculptures in marble, bronze and wood, and of architectural-sculptural monuments in varying stylistic modes (from the Secession through Rodinism, the Neoclassical, Gothic and Renaissance to Bourdelle and Maillé’s concepts of shape), and Frano Kršinić, who, inspired by the Classical and Mediterranean traditions, was a model to many generations of artists. Working at the same time were Antun Augustinčić and Vanja Radauš, sculptors of psychologically motivated realism and socially oriented aspirations.
The bearers of a new spirit after 1950 were Kosta Angeli Radovani and the abstract sculptors Vojin Bakić, Dušan Džamonja and Ivan Kožarić, the author of a huge, heterogeneous opus. Within the framework of the New Tendencies international movement, former members of the EXAT 51 group, inspired by constructivist ideas, created the first lumino kinetic pieces in the 1960s (Aleksandar Srnec) and so-called systemic plastics (Vjenceslav Richter). Ksenija Kantoci, Branko Ružić and Šime Vulaš developed their work, mostly in wood, on the edges of abstraction and figuration. The works of Vasko Lipovac, Zvonimir Lončarić and Marija Ujević-Galetović veered towards elements of pop-art. In the early 1970s, drawing on Radauš’s and Valerije Michieli’s works, members of the Biafra group (Stjepan Gračan, Ratko Petrić, Miro Vuco) created radical, expressive and socially engaged sculptures. The next generation, leaning on postmodern trends and tradition, seeks new expressions in free abstract forms and ludic associations (Peruško Bogdanić and Dalibor Stosić, Matko Mijić). Contemporary Croatian sculptors make use of a wide range of media and materials (Siniša Majkus) and, with their objects, installations and ambiance, often comment on contemporary life and society (Ines Krasić, Kristian Kožul, Ivan Fijolić, Alem Korkut).