The model of the Vidovdan Temple (1912), the National Museum Kruševac
Ivan Meštrović (1883‒1962)
The Vidovdan Temple is an unique architectural and sculptural entity for which sculptor Ivan Meštrović designed a model in a ratio of 1:50. The complex was supposed to be 100 meters high and 250 meters long. It was conceived as a memorial mausoleum, not a religious object, in celebration of the heroes of the Battle of Kosovo, but also of all the others who fought for the freedom of the South Slavic people. The author’s wish was for the temple to be located on Gazimestan between the rivers Lab and Sitnica, where the Battle of Kosovo took place.
The model was created in Rome in 1912, although the idea was much older. It was first exhibited in Belgrade on the eve of the First Balkan War (1912), and then at the XI Biennale in Venice (1914). It gained major international success at the Great War Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (1915). The exhibition was organized by the Yugoslav Committee to draw attention of the British public and highlight the common cultural heritage of the South Slavic people. Meštrović himself was a member of the Yugoslav Committee, which signed the Corfu Declaration with the Serbian government in 1917, which envisioned the creation of Yugoslav State. Compliments to Meštrović’s idea and the propaganda potential of the Temple came from both the West and the East.
After a series of exhibitions in America in the 1930s, the model vanished until 1969, when it was found in New York and returned to Belgrade, damaged. After restoration at the National Museum, it was donated to Kruševac in 1971 on the occasion of celebration of six centuries since the city had been founded, and it has been exhibited in the National Museum in Kruševac since.
The poetics of the temple stem from the motif of Kosovo epic, growing into an universal and timeless symbol of centuries-old national suffering and resurrection. The temple is a combination of elements of Egyptian, Greek and Roman pagan temples. More than 100 sculpture motifs were to be found in the temple, including a five-meter-high statue of Marko Kraljević, which particularly encountered criticism from art historians. Today, these sculptures are scattered around the world. The National Museum in Belgrade houses the Widows, Srđa Zlopogleđa, Miloš Obilić and caryatids (at the entrance to the atrium), which were to adorn the entrance to the central dome of the Temple, representing mothers, sisters and widows of fallen Kosovo warriors, while Banović Strahinja’s torso is part of the Tate Gallery fund in London.
Meštrović was aware of the magnitude of his project and the fact that the construction of the Temple would take years and would be completed by generations of Yugoslavs. Interestingly, Meštrović’s project simultaneously promoted two seemingly incompatible ideas: Serbianness and Yugoslavdom. As such, the project was marked as pro-Yugoslav at the time of the Kingdom of Serbia, and after the Second World War as pro-Serbian.
According to some estimates after the Second World War, building of the Vidovdan Temple would cost more than 300 million dollars. If it had been executed, it would have been one of the most significant European Secession monumental buildings, and would have surpassed all others by its artistic value.