Zagreb's showpiece Mimara Museum boasts archaeological artifacts, art objects and an impressive collection of Old Masters all donated by mystery man Ante Topic Mimara, a private collector and close friend of Marshal Josip Broz Tito. If the collection seems impressive, the vast neoclassical building in which it is housed seems even more so.
Unfortunately the grandiosity of the setting belies the collection it contains which is highly controversial, like its donor, Ante Topic Mimara.
There are several versions of Ante Topic Mimara's early years. Was he really born Mirko Maratovic and did he assume the identity (Don Draper-style) of a soldier he killed in 1918 called Ante Topic? Or, was he the son of a poor farmer who served in WWI and was taken to Rome as a POW where he studied portrait painting and art restoration?
What is clear is that he spent the years leading up to WWII in Germany and began collecting art. From where? Hard to say. It is rumored that he acquired artworks confiscated from Jews fleeing Hitler's Germany which he denied. Certainly he was in a position to profit from the confusion surrounding the outbreak of war and acquired much art at bargain basement prices.
At the conclusion of the war, Mimara somehow became a representative of the Yugoslav government seeking to "restore" works to Yugoslavia that had been seized by the Nazis. Authorities in charge of returning art to their rightful owners were duped into releasing 166 art objects to Mimara's custody some of which ended up in Belgrade, if they were found at all. It is now conceded that France, Italy, Czechoslovakia and other countries had valid claims to the art and that Mimara was "The Master Swindler of Yugoslavia".
The collection that Mimara bequeathed to the museum with a great deal of fanfare contained a number of paintings with attributions that are ambitious, to say the least. In the words of noted art historian, Brian Sewell (Croatia: Aspects of Art, Architecture and Cultural Heritage)
It is excessive to assume that every painting in Mimara's collection has in some sense been falsified, but the informed visitor's response is too often disrupted, even overwhelmed, by his attributions, often to the greatest painters in the history of art. . . The only reasonable approach is to ignore the labels, the signatures and the catalogue. . .and to treat the remaining pictures as unattributed, though not unattributable, and make our own suggestions.
Most of the paintings originally attributed to Old Masters have now been downgraded to "school of" and have some artistic interest but hardly enough to justify the grandiose setting. His collection of early antiquities is dubious but there is some fine glasswork and ivories.
Mr Sewell suggests that the museum be closed and the few valuable works transferred to the Strossmayer Gallery of Masters.
Opening hours October-June
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 10.00 - 17.00
Thursday 10.00 - 19.00
Sunday 10.00 - 14.00
Opening hours July-September
Tuesday - Friday 10.00 - 19.00
Saturday 10.00 - 17.00
Sunday 10.00 - 14.00
Tram: 12, 13, 14, 17
Tram Stop: Marshall Tito Square
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