Faces and Blossoms of Art Nouveau in Serbia

From the curvy floral beauty of the Subotica’s Synagogue to the Morava-style inspired rosettes on Belgrade’s telegraph building, Art Nouveau architecture takes various shapes in present-day Serbia.

This diversity was in large part because this sensuous new style, originating in late 1800s France, was used as an artistic expression of national romanticism that gripped Europe those days. Back in early 1900s, north of the Sava and the Danube, resurgent Hungarian national sentiment infused the buildings in Subotica and Senta with local floral ethnic motifs, while in the tiny Kingdom of Serbia, national romantics like Branko Tanezević and Dragutin Inkiostiri-Medenjak (both born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire), translated Serbia’s traditional motifs into marvellous buildings. Other architects, like Milan Antonović and Nikola Nestorović brought the then-fashionable sinuous lines and natural motifs to the homes and businesses of their wealthy patrons, so they could show off their worldliness and keeping up with the trends in Paris, Munich and Vienna.

Unfortunately, this wonderful exuberance of Art Nouveau shapes was extinguished with the outbreak of World War I in 1914.  After the war, its intricate ornamentation and naturalism were eschewed in favour of machine-like modernism or hypertrophied in monumentalism which served to affirm new national identities. Nevertheless the playfulness of Art Nouveau still captures imagination and many of the buildings from the era remain beloved symbols of their neighbourhoods and cities. Many of them have recently been restored to their former glory and will hopefully inspire generations in centuries to come.

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