This paper is focused on the formation and the iconography of the Virgin Mary as the patron and the protectress of Croatia and Croatian historical lands in the Early Modern Period. There are few examples dated in 16th and 18th century whose inscriptions refer to the Virgin Mary as the Croatian »patron« and »advocate«. The paper will also take into account the comparative example and possible visual template – Hungarian Magyarok Nagyasszonya (Great Lady of the Hungarians).
Throughout the history, Christians held a special devotion to Virgin Mary. Her role as the »protectress«, »advocate«, »Queen of Heaven« grew stronger in times of poverty and plague, long-lasting Ottoman wars in 16th and 17th century and the advance of Protestantism, but was also confirmed in the later period when those difficult times had passed.
Regarding the historians, the first Hungarian king Stephen I gave the Virgin Mary royal insignia (the Holy Crown) and attributed her protection of the state. That act made her elevate from the religious figure to the Hungarian national icon, the patroness of the nation and all the people. She became identical with Hungary and even more powerful than the king. We can say that Magyarok Nagyasszonya is not exclusively a Hungarian patron because the Croatians and Hungarians have shared the same rulers for more than 800 years. Repeating her iconography, a wall painting of Virgin Mary with the Holy Crown, holding the sceptre in one and baby Jesus with an orb in the other hand, once stood in the Collegium Illyricum et Hungaricum in Bologna around 1700, a place where Croatian and Hungarian clerics and nobles received the highest education from 1553 to 1781. This unsaved wall painting had as inscription Beatissima Maria, patrona Ungariae et Illyrici and it seems it was the first time that Mary was entitled as the patron of Croatian territory as well. The Virgin Mary, as well as the complete iconographic program depicted in the refectory room, had a specific political background. Commissioned by the rector of the Collegium, the archbishop of Zagreb and the Croatian secular and ecclesiastical nobility, the accentuation on the »Illyrian« and »Croatian« territory served for the power holders as propaganda of the Croatian sovereignty and independence under the Crown of St. Stephen. The displeasure of the Croatian elite had just started to grow and, along with the few significant literary works, this painted program tells the story of the creation of one nation.
The same iconographical pattern can still be seen on the one of the lateral altars in Zagreb cathedral. Virgin Mary (Advocata Croatiae et Hungariae), dated most likely in the 16th century, could possibly be one of the first paintings with the mentioned title. Like in Bologna, the title sends a clear political message of the unity and equality of Croatia and Hungary, and the motif of the half moon under her feet indicates her role in defending Christian faith and the people. Another image of Virgin Mary (graphic with the title Advocata Croatiae Fidelissima Mater Sanctissima Virgo Remetensis) dated in 1702 – and probably evolved from the hymn Salve Regina in which the part »advocata nostra« was changed into »advocata Croatiae« – declares her the protectress of the whole nation. Attributing her the title of »advocate«, Croatians put their deepest hope in Mary’s protection in the difficult times of constant danger and insecurity but also severe political disturbances.
Bibliography: J. Barlè, Remete: povijesni podaci o samostanu, crkvi i župi, Zagreb 1914; Id, Biskup zagrebački grof Mirko Esterhazy, Zagreb 1908; L. Kontler, A history of Hungary, Millenium in Central Europe, New York 2002; D. Premerl, Bolonjske slike hrvatske povijesti: Politička ikonografija zidnih slika u Ilirsko-ugarskom kolegiju u Bolonji, Zagreb 2014; E. Tóth, The Holy Crown and the Coronation Insignia, in: I. Zsombori et al. (ed.), A Thousand Years of Christianity in Hungary: Hungariae Christianae Millenium. Budapest 2001.
Petra Batelja, M.A., graduated in Art History and Portuguese language and literature in 2013 at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb. In 2014 she started a PhD in History with the thesis concerning noble family Oršić and their historical and cultural importance in early modern period. She is currently employed in the Institute of Art History in Zagreb as a doctoral student and research assistant on the project »Visual Arts and Communication of Power in the Early Modern Period (1450–1800): Historical Croatian Regions at the Crossroads of Central Europe and the Mediterranean« (led by Milan Pelc, PhD), focused on the noble families, the questions of relation of power holders (such as the Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Monarchy) towards visual arts, cultural transfers and channels between the cultural centers and the Croatian historical land. For the past few years her interest has also been the iconography of the »Madona della Misericordia« in Croatia which resulted in co-authored book (The Mother of God Protectress Amongst Croats: Theological and Art History Approach, Zagreb 2013).
To the program.