Stone Bust Collection from Museum of Međimurje in Čakovec
Museum of Međimurje in Čakovec stores a collection of around twenty stone busts that represent Croatian and Hungarian political, religious and economic dignitaries from the second half of the seventeenth century, when Čakovec was ruled by the Zrinski Family. The collection represents a rare example of sculptural gallery of illustrious men (It. uomini illustri) in the cultural heritage of continental Croatia. So far several issues concerning the collection’s commission have been touched upon, such as the identity of the portrayed, collection’s date of origin, its commissioner and original location.
The majority of busts in the collection have been modelled upon engraved portraits executed by Augsburg engraver Elias Widemann, which were published in the series Icones Illustrium Heroum Hungariae (Vienna, 1652). Several busts stand out as the portraits of most eminent dignitaries, the busts of Croatian viceroys Nikola VII and Petar Zrinski IV, Archbishop of Esztergom György Lippay, and Hungarian Palatines Pál Pálffy and Ferenc Wesselényi (the last bust has not been preserved, but its appearance has been documented). All of the named dignitaries, except Pál Pálffy, shared similar political and military views, and they participated in the anti-Habsburg movement of Croatian and Hungarian magnates against the centralist and absolutist policy of the Vienna Court. The collection also holds the busts of Fran Krsto Frankopan II, who also participated in the anti-Habsburg movement, and Adam Zrinski, son of Nikola VII, which were modelled on contemporary engravings and oil paintings.
The pivotal point of the issue of collection’s commission and its cultural and historical interpretation is the question of its date of origin and commissioner. One of the aggravating circumstances to solving the problem is the fact that no archival documents recording the details of collection’s commission have been found so far. Some researcher have dated the collection on the basis of secondary historical sources and the busts’ similarity with Widemann’s engraved portraits into the seventh decade of the eighteenth century, a period during which Nikola VII and Petar Zrinski IV resided in Čakovec. In this context, the collection can be interpreted as Nikola and Petar’s commission of a portrait gallery of their contemporaries, with whom the two brothers shared familial, friendly, political or other ties. Other researchers believe that the bust were executed in the early 1820’s for László Festetics’ (unimplemented) project for renovating the Čakovec palace, using the plans for reconstructing the main and courtyard façade, on which the busts are shown as architectural decoration, as their main argument. They interpret the collection as one in the series of Festetics’ commissions, with which the Hungarian nobleman promoted the cult of the Zrinski Family. Without precise archival documents or records, one cannot give a definite answer to the question of collection’s date of origin. However, regardless of whether the collection was executed in the seventeenth or nineteenth century, it represents a medium of self-presentation and political affiliation of its commissioners.
The lack of archival documents also complicates the question of busts’ original location. So far, researchers have formed two opinions. Some believe the busts used to decorate the façade of the Zrinski Palace, as it is shown on the aforementioned plans for reconstructing the main and courtyard façade. However, in literary descriptions and visual images of the Zrinski Palace dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth century, there is no proof that the façade was ever decorated with stone busts. Other researchers claim the busts could have been placed in Nikola Zrinski VII’s cultivated garden, the so-called Giardino, which was located near the Čakovec fort.