The Old Masters Collection
01 March 2016 - 31 December 2016
In terms of size and quality of its holdings, the Old Masters Collection of the Rovinj Heritage Museum belongs among the richest collections of the kind in Croatia. At its core is a part of a varied collection of Baron Georg von Hütterott's family, the former owners of the island of St. Andrew (Red Island) near Rovinj where they used to reside. Moreover, the inventory of city churches no longer in use was transferred to the Museum storeroom to avoid the threat of major damage and merged into a single collection. Thus, the Collection was increased with objects from the art and religious inventory coming from Rovinj's desacralised private and city churches. The collection comprises the works of predominantly Italian masters created from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. Renaissance is represented by two works from Giovanni Bellini's and Bonifacio de Pitati's circle ("The Adoration of the Magi"), while the most notable representatives of Baroque are Marco Ricci ("The Road to Emmaus"), Antonio Zanchi, Girolamo Romanino, Nicola Grassi, the circle of Guido Reni, the circle of Bernardo Strozzi and others. A special place in the collection is occupied by Central European portraits (G. F. Waldmüller - "Portrait of Ludwig of Bavaria" and the collection of polychrome wooden sculpture (the Late Gothic "Pietà").
Most works of art belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Hütterott family and were kept at their home on the island of St. Andrew near Rovinj. The family disappeared during the last days of World War II - the last members, mother and daughter, tragically passed away. Most of their property (valuable artworks and other) was stolen and pillaged. Sadly, in the aftermath of World War II, local authorities did not have an ear for preserving the island and its property, or else, they did not have time due to political drama of the period. Since the city of Rovinj did not have a museum institution at the time, the artworks were deposited in museums in Pula, Rijeka, Poreč and Zagreb and later returned. However, the artworks transferred to Slovenia, like those taken to the Maritime Museum of Piran, were never returned. The most valuable pieces of furniture, Persian rugs and other valuables ended up at the official residences or consulates of the former Yugoslavia where their traces disappear.
The present Old Masters Collection was created completely by chance. Its creation was not a result of the passion of art collecting or investments into art and culture, nor was it an outcome of scholarly inquiry. The artworks had no owner! The actual creation of the collection sprang from the need to preserve the priceless collection found at the count's island residence. The only motivating reason was the awareness of possible ruin, scattering and alienation of invaluable works of past masters. The artworks themselves are one of the reasons behind the founding of the Museum in Rovinj more than fifty years ago (1954) aimed at collecting and preserving Rovinj's cultural heritage. The collected artworks were stored at the Museum and they constitute the very core of the Collection of Old Masters. In conformity with the 1956 plan for the museums in Istria developed by the District Council for Education and Culture, the Museum of Rovinj was to become the art gallery and gallery centre for the entire Istria. The reasons were twofold; firstly, there was the said vast collection of artworks from Red Island. Secondly, there were numerous actively engaged artists that formed a group, founded an artist's colony and initiated the foundation of the Museum. Under the 1956 plan, Pazin was designated the regional ethnographic centre, while Pula was to become the archeological centre.
The collection currently holds 228 paintings and sculptures. Its quality and size earned it a respectable place in the Region of Istria. The permanent exhibition showcases a selection that mostly consists of paintings, with some wooden polychrome sculptures. The display redesigned in 2005 is presented in five museum rooms on the second floor. The most valuable paintings have been restored, and their beauty proudly showcases the collection. The paintings exhibited in the first four rooms belong to the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, mostly works by Venetian authors. Due to space restrictions, it was not possible to present the works chronologically or thematically. The sixteenth-century religious theme opens the first entrance room. The following three rooms are related to the Old and New Testaments, ancient mythology and history. The last one houses the Hütterott family portraits from the nineteenth century and the antependium dating from the early eighteenth century. Most works were created by artists that are little known, though future expert efforts will probably result in new attributions, possibly to well-known masters. The collection of Rovinj's museum is an open research area seeing that it was unknown and poorly accessible to scholars over the past decades.
The new display was accompanied by the catalogue of exhibits, the first catalogue of the Collection of Old Masters penned by Višnja Bralić, Zoraida Demori Staničić and Nina Kudiš Burić. The catalogue meticulously and competently presents the 28 exhibited paintings, with basic information about each painting and earlier relevant judgements, along with the style and the period of their creation. The second part of the catalogue contains a text written by restorer Pavle Lerotić, a skilled and thorough description of the state of the collection and its restoration. The last pages of the catalogue provide an exhaustive bibliography.