Like any city that has been around for about two millennia, Belgrade is filled with fantastic stories of people and places that have made it what it is . Unfortunately, due to its turbulent past, frequent destructions and mass migrations, many of these stories are precariously close to perishing. In the time when even the most beautiful old house can fall prey to a sledgehammer or a “modernisation” and when politics can change histories of our predecessors, it is especially important to try to remember and appreciate.
That is why, though this series I want to tell stories about lesser known people and places, some of which are disappearing in front of our eyes. The focus will be more on the tangible and (relatively) easily accessible: buildings, ornaments and objects, less on simple history. The only criteria for inclusion is that it managed to astonish me.
I decided to write in English so that even visitors to our fair city can learn from it, however to make the text flow, I will assume prior knowledge of Serbian history, but will try to link with additional explanatory material. I am also very grateful for any pointers and corrections, as I mostly work with easily available information.
If you find this interesting, please do like the blog, share the posts or notify me if you would like to use the material.
I decided to start the series with Dragutin Inkiostri Medenjak (1866-1942), a Split-born, Italian-Serb who can be considered the first interior designer in Serbia. In his works he combined the national motifs from the Balkans and the budding art-nouveau style to create magical spaces and objects. His work was very modern for his time and managed to wed the elegance of turn-of-century Western Europe with lively Balkan folk art. His work also was helped by the fact that Serbian government and society in early 20th century were trying toto affirm their position among European nations by attempting to create a national style based on medieval and folk art.
His works in Belgrade, the city in which he produced the most, include majestic murals depicting Faith, Enlightenment, History and Art in the old Ministry of Education (current Dom Vukove Zadužbine) and wonderful interiors of recently restored Jovan Cvijić’s house in Kopitareva Gradina. Less well known are his murals in the hallway of the house of Dimitrije Živadinović, a merchant, in Gračanička. There, besides allegories and art-nouveau patterns, he also included landscapes of Venice and Dubrovnik.
His design work was the helped by his penchant for collecting traditional handicrafts and itinerant lifestyle, which took him to Florence and all around the Balkans, working primarily as a photographer and portrait artist. Through his eventful life, he was apparently a bit of a bad boy bohemian, which ultimately led to him dying in poverty and being spurned by the Karađorđević Court when they rejected a gift he sent them in 1920s. Inkiostri Medenjak is honoured by Belgrade’s Museum of Applied Art, as they named one of the exhibition rooms in his honour. There you can also see one of the chairs he designed for ministry of Education as well as two drawings of stylised herons.