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The renaissance villas on Dalmatian coast: Tvrdalj of the poet Hektorović in Stari Grad on the island of Hvar / Joško Belamarić

There is documentary evidence that at one time, in the surroundings of Dubrovnik, there stood around three hundred of Renaissance summer residences. This represents a cultural phenomenon of European importance, as Croatian art historians have been trying to show over the last four decades, from the pioneer studies by Cvito Fisković to Nada Grujić’s newest synthesis of the subject. The author adds some fresh evidence to foster the ideas of Nada Grujić on the architecture of the Renaissance villas at Cavtat which were built to animate “that way of life which from the point of view of the 15th and 16th centuries seemed closest to the antique” .To this purpose the Republic, after having reacquired it, divided the area of the ancient Epidaurum into 25 plots ,distributing them among the aristocratic families of Dubrovnik on the model of the ancient parcelling applied for example in 1296 on the northern suburb of Dubrovnik – Prijeko – and, after 1370, on the western quarters of Ston. Yet, while in the older examples rows of houses were erected on such plots, this time noble villas appeared inside high curtain walls; this – according to the typology of Renaissance residential architecture- was a specific derivation from the Roman domus. The Cavtat villas are unique – as a planned settlement of Renaissance summer residences intentionally rebuilt on the site of the ruined classical city back to which Dubrovnik traces its origin. In the rest of Dalmatia the majority of residential-agricultural complexes included also protective and defensive functions. These were numerous castra and castelli in the surroundings of Split, Trogir, Šibenik and Zadar, mentioned as early as the 14th and 15th centuries in numerous documents of the Republic. To illustrate better this aspect of Renaissance country life ,determined by the depressive historical reality of the 15th and 16th centuries, with the Turkish power on the neck that about that time definitely overcast the chain of ancient Dalmatian towns which, from 1420 on, recognized the Venetian sovereignty, after Ladislas of Naples sold them for 100.000 ducats, author describes an authentic example of the kind, in order to explain the architectural consequences, as well as the notional premisses, which distinguish them from the contemporary villas of Dubrovnik. He describes Tvrdalj, a fortified summer residence of the eminent Renaissance Croatian poet Petar Hektorović, at Stari Grad on the island of Hvar. Indeed, it would be possible to interpret Tvrdalj as a literary work expressed in the medium of architecture. Tvrdalj is not only the poet’s lifework, it is also one of the most intriguing projects in the history of Croatian architecture as well as an utterly original example in the European Renaissance architecture of villas, in the same way in which Hektorović’s Fishing and Fishermen’s Conversation (Ribanje i ribarsko prigovaranje), as acomplex ecloga piscatoria, transcends the rigid framework of that literaryspecies.* It is a poem-epistle in which Hektorović in three parts depicts to Nečujam on the Island of Šolta, the village in which Marko Marulić, the most significant Croatian poet and a model for Hektorović, had earlier found shelter. Tvrdalj in fact combines these two architectural types- a fort and a villa-into a specifically designed fortified Renaissance villa with some unusual characteristics of a convent. In its central part, beneath the crenelated terrace, in a small room that is enclosed by all sides, although linked to the tower with the dovecot, lived a hermit- “pinzocchera” -a Franciscan woman of the Third Order (“a nun living in the outside world with a vow of chastity”). Within the complex there were edifices whose function was described by the inscriptions: PRO ITINERANTIBVS and PRO PAUPERIBVS. The rooms in the building which was called revelin were reserved for the poet’s male and female servants and welcomed the poor. The fish pond holds a place for washing clothes open for the whole town. The entire complex had several dozens of inscriptions of which more than twenty have survived – mostly written in a moralising tone. The style, the graphic quality, and the spirit of the inscriptions seem to have developed in a similar way as the poet himself, and as the building of Tvrdalj advanced. However, some of the texts were created according to the same concept. The inscriptions in Tvrdalj belong to several parallel planes, partly overlapping creating a central core focused on eschatological matters related to the last things. A number of inscriptions directly identify houses of the complex, and specifically wells and water. The sea- the water- the rainwater, these are topics Hektorović is obsessed with. The associations are biblical, but also Horatian and Ovidian. Of special importance are inscriptions which tell us that the poet was occupied by contemporary scholastic explications of the dogma of the Immaculate conception. He was active in the current immaculatistic theological disputation and in those inscriptions he criticizes the “maculatists”, mainly the Dominicans (who lived in his immediate vicinity).Finally, there is a series of inscriptions, both Latin and Croatian, expressing thoughts of direct warning of the last things and last moments, of the very Last Judgement. Hence, the image of Tvrdalj as a picturesque Renaissance site of relaxation changes essentially after we have noticed, at each turn on our way, with each new glance, the warnings and morals. Where did Hektorović get the idea to adorn the entire complex, both the inside and the outside, with so many inscriptions making them literally the sole architectural decoration, where his coat of arms can be found nowhere but on the stone table which was once set aside in the garden? Where did he get the idea of transforming the architecture into a place for memorizing moralistic warnings? It is a suggestive hypothesis that the poet’s Tvrdalj represents a materialized example of ideal space meeting the standards of the Renaissance mnemonic theory and praxis, according to which the speaker learns to remember the sequence of paragraphs of his speech, as well as whole groups of sentences, according to rules for artificial, trained memorizing – by placing specific words or sentences in specific imaginary space. Anyhow, we do not know of a Renaissance ambiance so extensively and so densely crowded with written messages, invectives, maxims. In the very center of the complex of Tvrdalj, beneath the fortified terrace (which we have recently freed from the 19th century additions), in a small room there lived a hermit nun Lucija, the daughter of Hektorović’s mason Stjepan Ključeta. On the ground-story of that building, adjoining the central tower, on the very axis of the entire complex, beneath Lucija’s little chamber, chickens were kept. Petar’s ideas that so clearly unfold from his will, from his epistles, from the Ribanje and from the very architecture that crowns his complete work, may undergo various interpretations. But, if we look closely into the heart of Tvrdalj, a suggestive story is revealed: alongside the gardens full of luxuriant and rare plants (the poet Naljesković from Dubrovnik sends him cypresses ,oleanders … ) lies a fishpond with grey mullets that presumably were not eaten , but intended to please the eye, and regarded as one of the symbolic attributes of the entire complex. On the ground-story was the henhouse, on the second story Lucija, in the tower the sparrow-roost and the dovecot. Thus the complete structure of God’s world is represented, ranging from plants, from creatures that swim, those that walk, to those that fly. All this lies behind the facade of the fortified building, which bears a monumental inscription, truly the focal one, the largest and longest by its letters, the main dedication of the entire complex:
To the Creator of All.
Peter himself must have felt completely assimilated to that inscription , since he was the one who reclaimed Tvrdalj from the sea and marsh. An inscription from the facade (which is now lost, but was still seen by Ljubić) reads: OPVS IN MARI TOTVM (The whole edifice is in the sea). The cove with the little harbor was filled up less than 100 years ago. Yet, Petar had already done “such an exhausting work to drain the littoral”, to erect walls on the coast, to reclaim land from marshes, to replace the reed with the oleander. Hektorović obviously saw himself as a specific archetype of the Creator himself. This is not an exaggeration. In the center of the western wall of the fishpond, the basic attributes of the Creator (two pairs of compasses, Fortuna’s wheel, the Sun and the Moon) are carved out in relief. It is that same Creator who is mentioned in the well-known sequence of syntagms as Deus geometres, Deus artifex or opifex, aedificator or architectus, fabricator. Below the relief, Hektorović identifies himself with the inscription: CONNVENTIBUSVIRTVTE ET GENIO F(ECIT). (Built with common approval of Virtue and Genius).Through the metaphor of God as artist and the World as a work of art, through medieval platonism, through Augustine and Boethius( Hektorović’s favourite writers) we come to the poet’s time and to his principles. In medieval iconography the representations of Deus-artifex, the creator and appointer of the life`s vertical axis that we have discovered in the centre of Tvrdalj, disappear in the 15th century, but continue to be present in the literary tradition of the Renaissance and Baroque. This whole interpretation of Tvrdalj may seem too literary. In the rusticated walls of the unfinished small fortress in the south-west corner of the complex, in the architectural ascetism of the fishpond, in the combination of Gothic and Renaissance shapes, we may perhaps search for mannerist elements, since we are already in the time of the Council of Trent, right in the first half of the 16th century. But, in many ways Tvrdalj stands out. It is a pure literary concept materialized in space. Tvrdalj, built to the poet’s own design is Cistercian by its ascetic tone, without grotesqueries, festoons , or any kind of decorations. In the ground plan and elevation there are no traces of all’antica forms of that period. In this space which is more picturesque than beautiful, which is concentrated and compartmentalized in a Gothic manner, in an essentially didactic and inelegant ambiance, in a sort of sub divo classroom, scenic surprises of Italian gardens are inconceivable. The whole system of Hektorović’s thoughts is condensed in the inscription on his stone table (the only one in Italian): FEDE E REA LTÀ, o QVANTOEBELLA (Faith and reality, how beautiful they are). That inscription completes the linguistic triangle of Croatian Renaissance Humanism in a fitting way: inscriptions in Croatian are found in the exterior of Tvrdalj, intended for the poet’s milieu; the above-mentioned Italian inscription is carved into the table in the garden where the poet together with his friends enjoyed summer refreshments; the Latin ones are present in the entire complex. Tvrdalj as we see it is a complete setting. With all reason Petar says that Tvrdalj has “adopted” him.

Abstract: Belamarić, J. The renaissance villas on Dalmatian coast: Tvrdalj of the poet Hektorović in Stari Grad on the island of Hvar. // Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji 34, 1(1994), 189-192.