In the “Orlando – Symbol of Freedom” exhibition, Dubrovnik Museums are making their contribution to the celebration of the “Orlando Year”, in commemoration of the 6th anniversary of the erection of the Orlando Column in Dubrovnik. The exhibition is also the continuation of the annual central exhibition and publication projects of the institution, meant for the branding of Dubrovnik on the basis of its cultural and historical heritage.
The exhibition and the accompanying project are dedicated to what is beyond doubt the best-known late medieval public monument of a secular nature on the Croatian coast. The intention is to raise the level of awareness of its role in the history and present-day of Dubrovnik, in particular pointing up the manifold symbolisms and use values of the column, and the motivation behind its origination.
Put up in 1419 in the central city square, with its form and location, it is a permanent witness to the political maturity of the young Dubrovnik state, as well as of its wisdom in selecting the right side at the historical turning point of the Croatian Middle Ages. The figure of the young warrior was a visible and proud emblem of its belonging to the Kingdom of Hungary Croatia, part of the Holy Roman Empire, into the union of which Dubrovnik entered with the Treaty of Zadar in 1358 after the victory of Louis I Angevin over the Venetian Republic. The Treaty of Višegrad, signed in 1358, gave Dubrovnik a privileged position and total autonomy, under the suzerainty, and protection, of the king of Hungary-Croatia, which underlay the surge in the prosperity of the Dubrovnik Republic in the centuries to come, making it an important international factor. The figure of Orlando and the royal crown over the figure of St Blaise above the Pile Gate are two lasting symbols of the regal presence in this city of the utmost importance for Croatian history and culture.
The Orlando Column is without a doubt one of the many specific features of Dubrovnik. It is a fact that no civic statue of the type appears anywhere else in the Mediterranean, and it is very rare outside the historical borders of Germany, that is, the territory of the Holy Roman Empire. In the High Middle Ages, in the area of the Empire, statues were put up to the celebrated Frankish hero as symbols of imperial power and the autonomy of cities, promoting the cult of Charlemagne and his Roland, symbol of the defence of Christian Europe against the heretic.
The erection of the Orlando Column at the given historical moment is connected, then, with the sojourn of the king of Hungary-Croatia, who was also the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund of Luxembourg, in Dubrovnik at the end of 1396, after the defeat of the Christian army at Nicopolis. Sigismund showed his gratitude in this way to Dubrovnik for the hospitality extended to him and for its political loyalty on the threshold of the civil war that subsequently, at the end of the 14th and the early 15th century, flared up in the Kingdom of Croatia, confirming the Višegrad privileges, and it is not surprising that his name is mentioned on a metal plate with an inscription found in the foundations of the Dubrovnik column.
On the other hand, by putting up the Orlando Column while the Venetian occupation of Dalmatian cities – which included the symbols of the Venetian Republic being forced upon them – was in full swing, Dubrovnik let it be known to all and sundry, particularly to its former ruler, that it was under the suzerainty and protection of the king of Hungary-Croatia, the powerful Holy Roman Emperor, and that it enjoyed a privileged position and full autonomy.
It is also worth accentuating that the citizens of Dubrovnik had adopted the legend of the knight of Charlemagne, who had left such a deep trace in the culture of the whole of Europe in the eponymous Chanson de Roland, even before the column was erected. It can be found very early on in the works of Dubrovnik chroniclers, who took over the Italian version of the story, in which Roland became Orlando, adapting it to Dubrovnik historical conditions, incorporating it into Dubrovnik state symbolism.
Although today we focus on the symbolic value of Dubrovnik’s Orlando, which tells of the free and royal city, and in particular of Dubrovnik as part of Western European Christendom, this monument has had during the course of history other, more prosaic, roles, as did similar examples in Europe. It also served as a pillory as well as for the proclamation of government decisions and the announcement of solemnities. Commerce went on all around it, as shown by the unit of measure of the Dubrovnik cubit (about 51 cm) carved into its base.
In the modern period, Orlando became a part of the city’s cults, from the Feast of St Blaise to the act of declaring the Dubrovnik Summer Festival open.
The Dubrovnik Orlando was made by the sculptor Bonino di Jacopo of Milan.
A catalogue of the exhibition is available in the museum shop.
Vinicije B. Lupis
Texts written and material selected by
Dr Zdenka Janeković Römer
Dr Ilija Mitić
Dr Vinicije B. Lupis
Academician Igor Fisković
Dr Morana Čale
Dr Ennio Stipčević
Catalogue entries by
Dr Zdenka Janeković Römer (Z. J. R.)
Dr Vinicije B. Lupis (V. B. L.)
Academician Igor Fisković (I. F.)
Ingrid Pavličević (I. P.)
Dr Morana Čale (M. Č.)
Dr Ennio Stipčević (E. S.)
Dino Lokas (D. L.)
Adaptation of captions
Marketing, promotion and public relations
Julijana Antić Brautović
Restoration and conservation works
Državni arhiv u Dubrovniku
Dubrovačke knjižnice, Znanstvena knjižnica Dubrovnik
Samostan male braće, Dubrovnik
Arhiv Hrvatske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti, Zagreb
Turistička zajednica grada Dubrovnika
Zračna luka Dubrovnik
The exhibition and the catalogue have been produced with financial support from the City of Dubrovnik and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia.