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  • Mutual Illuminations:Articulating National Legacies in the Balkans and Eastern Europe around the Turn of the Nineteenth Century
  • Jelena Milojković-Djurić


The desire for closer collaboration among the neighboring Balkan peoples was the guiding idea for the organization of the First Yugoslav Fine Arts Exhibit in 1904. This event brought together an imposing number of ninety-six participants from Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria. The Exhibit took place in Belgrade and presented 458 paintings and sculptures. Most notably, this event strengthened cultural ties among the participating artists and public at large by ushering a renewed interest in respective national legacies. The Exhibit coincided with the First Congress of Yugoslav Youth marking the centennial of the First Serbian uprising. More than a hundred representatives from neighboring Slavic countries attended the Congress. All these manifestations of good will and alliance took place in Belgrade from 2-8 September 1904. The First Yugoslav Exhibit was opened by the venerable monarch King Petar I Karadordević.1

In this paper I will present the exceptional role played by the painter Paja Jovanović and the composer Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac in promoting established national accomplishments. Comparisons will be drawn to the related notable achievements by a number of Czech, Hungarian and Ukrainian artists and composers.

In the Serbian section of the First Yugoslav Exhibit, the paintings of Paja Jovanović (1859-1957) received most praise from several art critics. The young painter Nadežda Petrović declared that the canvases of Jovanović represented the crown of Serbian pictorial art. She particularly praised Jovanović's Proclamation of Dušan's Law Codex.2 Jovanović had portrayed this historic event taking place in front of a church, accentuating the importance [End Page 191] of the proclamation of this historic achievement upholding the rule of law. Jovanović envisaged this event as an impressive sunlit image of the young Emperor Dušan with his consort during the very announcement of the proclamation amidst the splendid pageantry of the emerging empire. The painting was showcased at the World Exhibit in Paris in 1900 and was accepted with great acclaim by critics and the public at large. Jovanović was awarded by the highest French authorities the distinguished title of an "Officier d'Academie."

In the field of music, the composer Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac (1856-1914) stands out as the leading musical personality. Mokranjac's compositions based on folk idiom helped to establish the national style in Serbian music. His choral compositions were featured in programs highlighting many patriotic events in the turbulent years before World War I. Mokranjac was often invited to conduct concert programs that would invariably include one of his famous choral works, Rukoveti [Handfuls] based on national folk melodies. The musical form of Rukoveti consisted of choral cycles with a selection of folk songs arranged for a mixed choir. With the skill of a fine composer and dramatist, Mokranjac made an excellent choice of the musical material arranging the songs and at times adding his own choral or instrumental interludes to provide contrasts in mood and musical expression. Mokranjac recognized the inherent modal characteristics of the folk tunes and his harmonization of melodies was often based on modal idioms. As a connoisseur of folk music, Mokranjac included ethnically different regions of the former Yugoslavia. In his fifteen Rukoveti and Primorski napevi [Songs from the Coastal Region], Mokranjac used ninety folk songs from Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Croatia.3

Mokranjac did not limit his activities to one professional area alone although his compositional output was remarkable. He also distinguished himself as a choral conductor: under his baton the Belgrade Singers' Society gave many concert appearances at home and abroad, reaching its artistic peak. As a collector of spiritual and secular folk songs, Mokranjac pointed out to future generations the importance of this rich musical tradition. In addition, he was the founder, the administrator, and the teacher at the Serbian Music School Mokranjac in 1899. His intention was to raise the Serbian Music School to the level of a music conservatory. In 1906 Mokranjac was elected a corresponding member of the Royal Serbian Academy of Science. This [End Page 192] nomination presented an important acknowledgement of his numerous contributions. Composers were...


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