Celestin Mato Medović
Bacchanal, 1893
oil on canvas
206.5x395 cm

Thanks to some of his more freely conceived works, Celestin Mato Medović (1857-1920) was a painter who, besides Vlaho Bukovac, paved the way for early Modernism. Since he came from a family of modest means, to be able to study painting he decided to get ordained. In 1880, he first travelled to Rome where he got acquainted with the Nazarene movement, and then to Florence where he adopted Narrative Realism, a manner of Academicism of the era. Medović returned to Dubrovnik in 1886 and painted sacral compositions. Thanks to historian, politician and writer Franjo Rački, Medović continued his education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich (1888-1893), where he was taught by Alexander Wagner, a painter of historical compositions. Upon his return to the town of Kuna and under the influence of symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin, he painted heavy and dark coloured landscapes. In 1895, he got acquainted in Zagreb with Bukovac’s variant of plein-air painting, which features the dissolution of strict academic forms and a light palette, later called the Colourful School of Zagreb. Due to a disagreement with Izidor Kršnjavi – the Minister of Education and Religion in the Károly Khuen-Héderváry administration who commissioned Medović to paint four historical compositions in the hall of the Department of Worship and Teaching – Medović lost his studio in Zagreb and returned to Kuna. There he painted his famous landscapes of Pelješac full of plein-air light, realistic portraits and still lifes.
Medović painted the Bacchanal, a composition of impressive dimensions, in the spirit of Munich’s decorative and historical Academicism. To compose the painting’s scene of pagan debauchery, the young monk Medović applied a linear perspective and structured the composition by toning down the colours. Bacchanal’s static characters do not possess the immediacy of the studies and compositions he drew and modelled in 1890 on life models. The pronounced descriptiveness of some parts of the painting – such as the floor mosaics or the marble columns decorated with garlands of flowers – was a pinnacle of technical perfection and reflects the taste of the time, thanks to which the painting won many awards and was exhibited across Europe.

Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković
Photo; Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

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