Mineral_Exploitation_and_Artistic_Produc

Mineral_Exploitation_and_Artistic_Produc - MAXIMILIAN...

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MAXIMILIAN HARTMUTH Mineral Exploitation and Artistic Production in the Balkans after 1250 Less than a decade after Austria–Hungary occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878, the Hungarian writer, ethnographer, and parliamentarian János Asbóth toured the territories and recorded his impressions. Visiting Sarajevo’s bazaar, he mar- velled at the metalwork available (fig. 1); in fact, as he later wrote, he must have seen several ‘masterpieces’ there. However, he also noted, with some unhappi- ness, that one craft at which Bosnians traditionally excelled, namely the embel- lishment of weapons through damascening, i.e. the art of inlaying different metals into one another, had declined dramatically in the recent past. This was, as he explained, because in modern Bosnia weapons were generally no longer displayed in public (Asbóth 1888: 170). What he was probably too diplomatic to add was that the practice of parading through Bosnia’s town centres with richly decorated weapons had ceased following a ban by the new authorities. Having only recently defeated armed resistance against their occupation of the country, Austro-Hungarian policymakers were less than enthusiastic about the public display of privately owned arms. And since ornamented weapons could no longer be paraded, the demand for them seems to have fallen off to such an extent that the arts related to them died out almost completely. When around the year 1900 the authorities wished to revive the damascening of weapons (as part of a plan to develop local export industries), officials managed to track down just one remaining master of the craft, the elderly Mustafa Letić of Foča, who had already abandoned it in favour of another line of work. Having been made a lucrative offer, which he accepted reluctantly, Letić then began to train youngsters in damascening at the government’s Arts and Crafts School (fig. 2) in the provincial capital Sarajevo (Zurunić 1901: 512). This anecdote occurs at the end of a long history of connections between mineral exploitation and artistic production in the western Balkans. The aim of this paper is to track and trace these connections – on various levels – from the 13th century, when the exploitation of Balkan mines began in earnest, through
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98 | MAXIMILIAN HARTMUTH Fig. 1. ‘Objecte der Metallindustrie’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina around the turn of the 20th century. Drawing by Hugo Charlemont. (Source: Zurunić 1901: 511) Fig. 2. Students working on objects in the Austro-Hungarian Arts and Crafts School (‘Kunstgewerbliches Atelier der Regierung’) in Sarajevo. Drawing by Emerich von Révész. (Source: Zurunić 1901: 513)
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MINERAL EXPLOITATION AND ARTISTIC PRODUCTION IN THE BALKANS | 99 the 16th and 17th centuries, when mining in the region declined as a result of the influx of cheap American silver and other factors, to the 19th century, when new patterns of production and consumption emerged. I shall start with thoughts on the general role of the mines in the social and artistic development of the region
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  • Summer '14
  • Ottoman Empire, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Balkans, Produc t ion

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