Bela Čikoš Sesija, Pietà, 1897

Bela Čikoš Sesija
Pietà, 1897
oil on canvas
155.5 x 100cm

Bela Čikoš Sesija (1864 – 1931) was one of the leading representatives of Symbolism in Croatia. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna with Julius Berger and Leopold Karl Müller, and in Munich where he specialised under Wilhelm von Lindenschmit. He stayed in Italy on two occasions, where he studied classical heritage in order to be able to realize Isidor Kršnjavi’s decorative program for the building of the Department of Religious Affairs and Education. In April 1892, he travelled to Venice, Padua and Florence, while on his second trip he stayed in the environs of Naples during 1893/94, when he painted landscape studies in plein-air, in the tradition of the European Grand Tourists. Having returned to Zagreb, he collaborated with the painter Vlaho Bukovac, which is evidenced by his painting titled Bukovac in the Act of Painting Gundulić Contemplating Osman, 1894. He then attended the German painter Carl von Marr’s school in Munich. He returned to Zagreb in 1895, where he stayed and painted for the remainder of his life. Čikoš’s educational role in Croatian art is significant, since he started working as a professor at the College of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb in 1907, which transformed into the Academy of Fine Arts in 1921.

Pietà from 1897, is a characteristic work of Symbolism from the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. In his depiction of the religious theme, Čikoš intelligently uses the modern, “photographic” frame that cuts through the vertical composition in the middle of Christ’s torso, thus emphasizing the act of lamentation. It is further accentuated with a dramatic, contrasting illumination that leaves the protagonists’ faces only indicated in the shadows while the symbol of Christ’s martyrdom, the crown of thorns, in the lower left corner, is depicted on an ascetic background of the stone cube upon which Christ’s body is laid, in incandescent light.

Text: Ivana Rončević  Elezović, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

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