Oton Ivekovic (1869-1939) stands as one of the most popular turn-of-the-century Croatian painters alongside of great artists such as Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922), Ferdo Quiquerez (1845-1892) and Ivan Tisov (1870-1928). Interestingly, he was also a noted illustrator, set and costume designer, a magazine editor and war reporter during The Great War. But importantly, he is best remembered as a painter of historical compositions, in which most of his training in academic realism was carried out in the art academies of Vienna and Zagreb between the years 1886 and 1890. His wonderful paintings of important turning points of Croatian history are interestingly still today celebrated as symbols of Croatia’s patriotic spirit.
One of his most popular works is this cliff top landscape historical painting, which depicts one of the most important events in Croatian history, a romanticised, if not patriotic view, of the arrival of the Croats in Illyricum (Dalmatia), during the early seventh century. It is here, probably a lot like in this oil painting by Oton Ivekovic, in places along the Adriatic Sea that the first Croats built their homes and later their places of worship.
As to why the Croats arrived is somewhat of a mystery. Some scholars say they first arrived as raiders alongside of the Avars, while others say they arrived as migrants from their original homeland White Croatia (an area surrounding the region of lesser Poland and western Ukraine) looking to cultivate the rich soils of the Dalmatian coast. But there is another interesting story that places the Croats as guests of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. In the tenth century account of Emperor Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperio, he states that the Croats were invited into the area by Emperor Heraclius (610-641) to expel the raiding and murderous Avars. Having once defeated the Avars the Croats were subsequently rewarded and settled by order of Heraclius into these lands. The reliability of this story is doubted (with a number of different version of events about the Croats) but as someone with a Croatian background, I would surely love to be linked to Heraclius’ story, in particular because of my enthusiasm for Byzantine history.
The Arrival of Croats to the Adriatic Sea is a wonderful example of Croatian historicist art from the late 19th and early 20th century. It is also in some sense a stirring image that helped establish and revive the romantic notion of nationhood and the memory of the old medieval Croatian kingdom. It is said that reproductions of historical works like this one, and many others, created by Oton Ivekovic (1869-1939), would have been proudly displayed in many proud Croatian urban middle class homes during his lifetime. Even today, Ivekovic’s history paintings in the form of postcards and reproductions are littered in places around the world in homes of proud Croatians. In the dinning room of my uncle’s house in far-flung Geelong, in Australia, a wonderful reproduction of Oton Ivekovic’s portrayal of Nikola Subic Zrinski at the Battle of Sziget, hangs as a reminder of ‘Croatian-ness’.