38 x 23 inches (96.52 x 58.42 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Russell G. Ashbaugh, Jr.
Although this combination of sculpture and architecture, called the “Kosovo Temple,” was never completed, its partial existence catapulted the artist to European fame, for he exhibited it in art museums across the continent. In 1915 London’s Victoria and Albert Museum held a major exhibition of Meštrovi´c’s work, which acted as a catalyst for the promotion of the new nation of Yugoslavia. Sadly, Yugoslavia has now ceased to exist as it was originally conceived, but Meštrovi´c’s vision, powerfully presented in his sculpture, contributed significantly to its creation in 1918.
Meštrovi´c may have carved The Ashbaugh Madonna while living as an exile in London during World War I. For this rendering of a beloved figure type, he used a single block of wood, as the medieval masters had done. The Madonna presents her child frontally to the people, and the baby raises his hands in the ancient position of prayer. Meštrovi´c combined a medieval subject and sculptural style with the decorative details of his contemporaries, the Vienna Secessionists, rounding off all sharp angles into curvilinear patterns that focus on a serene and otherworldly sense of grandeur.
Mother, dating from 1926, is a version of a portrait Meštrovi´c first made in 1908 or 1909. The figure wears the traditional dress of a nineteenth-century Croatian peasant and sits with hands clasped, perhaps in prayer. The shallow, symmetrical relief carving of drapery on her shoulders and arms is similar to that used in the robes of the Madonna. By dressing her in idealized clothing like the Virgin, Meštrovi´c ingeniously showed his respect for his mother. He simultaneously stressed her humanity through the naturalism of her face and hands.