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"In secret I am a Wend"


Andrej Lenarčič

Proletarska 9, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; E-mail: andrej.lenarcic@siol.com



In our subconsciousness ripens a fruit that must be born. (Herman Haller)[1]


A man, especially an artist, is cast between his memory and fantasy. The infinity and vagueness of the fantasy volume, of forms and time, is drawn from boundless depths of recollection that penetrates into the richness of perception from an exactly determined transitory place and time, of exactly defined shapes and structures. As it is clear that scooping from the past, the same as the perception of the future, is to a certain degree surrendered to circumstances of the moment. It is not possible to deny, that in a human being ancient patterns exist that we can foreshadow. And it is just as clear, that these patterns and structures find their way through the artist's creative power more easily, who in his boundless imaginative ecstasy throws his nets into the ponds of amassed possibilities so much deeper and wider, consciously or subconsciously. There is no doubt, that the greatest Slovenian servant of high art - of architecture, master Plečnik, was reaching to the infinity and was scooping from the ancient past.

Naturally his pond of amassed possibilities was our Slovenian antiquity. In it he was born, from it he grew. Luckily the machinery of formal education did not paralyse him. His senses for his noble sensitivity stayed untouched. He showed his extraordinary gift from the beginning. He recounted how St. Jacob's church in Ljubljana consumed him, where he attended mass with his mother. Local masters such as Contieri, Mislej, Robba and others left the greatest sculptural achievements of their workshops in these Venetian surroundings.

When he was sent to school in the hope that he will follow in the steps of his older brothers, he wasted his time observing others; specifically how people around him dressed.[2] There was no other way but his father's carpenter workshop, measures, proportions, drawings, hard work, until from this amorphous mass a realized vision evolved. The young apprentice carpenter stepped into a world of illustrating forms and proportions so confidently that the city mayor enabled him to get a professional training in Graz. In Ljubljana's apprentice school he showed exceptional skills with his drawings and plans. He described it like this: "At the exhibition my drawings were much appreciated and they drew them to the attention of the then mayor, Hribar. He said that I had to develop further, that I have to continue my education and he organized a scholarship for me to enable me to go to a college in Graz that was a technical school. To put it frankly, I am a product of Kaiser Janez".[3,4]

It would be absolutely inappropriate to state that this young protégée was neglecting his schooling in Graz. He had surely succeeded beyond his set requirements so greatly that he was accepted to the famous Wagner's Vienna Academy without hesitation, after he appeared at its doorsteps with his school certificates that were exclusively the product of his own spirit and hands - and he possessed nothing formal that would assure him of acceptance... Obviously he was full of harmonious moves from the antiquity and creative energy that was based on his exceptional diligence, perseverance, knowledge of the trade and skilled handwork.

Hard work and additional private studies [5] catapulted him to the top of the then artistic Vienna. His successful final schooling with Wagner earned him a scholarship to travel to Italy and France - a dream for anyone who had chosen architecture as an occupation. Nevertheless, when he returned from his travels, no way could he return to his master - his teacher. [6] He started his own path of creativity. Even though he was twice chosen to replace the great Wagner, the heir to the throne, Ferdinand, would not confirm him, because he openly proclaimed his Slovenian national identity. With the help of his friends he left Vienna and continued his career in Prague.

Plečnik's work in Prague is well known. In any case we can say that he reached unusual heights and that a radiant future was awaiting him. Also here he similarly made an incomprehensible move, as earlier in Vienna: when the remainder of his homeland became a part of the Kingdom of the Southern Slavs, he left Prague and returned home, to share his talents and to create a specific Slovenian tradition in the field of architecture and urbanism. He established and directed his own famous school at the Technical Faculty of Ljubljana University and throughout his homeland he created even greater works, as before in Prague and Vienna.

In connection with young Plečnik it is possible to deliberate about many particularities. Above all, his professional and artistic ways were unusual. They led far from the ordinary, let us say, from the prescribed, well-tested ways. Simultaneously he expressed exceptional Slovenian national confidence and he always, at every opportunity, defended his Slovenian nationality. It is well known that with his brother Janez, who at the same time studied medicine in Vienna, they were prepared to destroy a coffee-house, without hesitation, if anyone dared to insult their Slovenian nationality. The negative relation of the Court towards the nationalistically conscious young architect was as logical as was his move to Slavic Prague, when he lost his battle with them. Exceptional is the parting with his teacher Wagner, after his travel in Italy and after encountering the architecture and art of Venice, Wends, Etruscans and Rome. This was contrary to logic, as it seems, that he rejected assured success without an obvious reason and surrendered to the very difficult times and the uncertain future, even for the architects in Vienna. The last incomprehensible decision was his return to his homeland from the very architectural Parnassus of Prague. In the letter to his former students he wrote: "My bones weigh me down to the graves of our fathers - if I am allowed to express myself in this way - the love for the remaining inch of our land is dictating: Get up, carry home to share your age, your peace." [7]

After we explore, at first glance, the unusual characteristics of Plečnik's ways, we subsequently have to discover, that despite all, they were quite proper: In different ways he developed all his innate talents to their fullness, he reached exceptional professional knowledge, he conquered wide palettes of trade skills, reached extreme popularity and international respect, and finally placed everything on the altar of his homeland. For all this he certainly had his reasons, for he was a totally balanced and disciplined character. To unravel the rarities, some already mentioned, one must know the special gift that Plečnik possessed. His students liked to tell how he reminded them that the different shapes and profiles needed to be carefully observed and also touched and especially sketched again and again. In them he wanted to awake and develop a gift that he possessed in abundance and was aware of it and it characterized him in many ways: An accurate sense for the shapes, measures and proportions. For this reason there was hardly ever a tape measure on his table. He sketched all his intuitions freehand in appropriate scale, changing and filling, demanding from his students to transfer the chosen sketch in the exact detail of the final project. Of course there is no need to stress that each of his sketches or a copy in the nature totally corresponded to the actual conditions and dimensions. This gift can be compared to the absolute musical ear of the musical artist, as the one that possesses this gift can always and at once detect a volume of the tone without the help of the instrument. This total and absolute musical ear allows him a sovereign movement in the world of sounds and music; he can pinpoint the composers by their work, the way the composition was being created and all other details in the world of music.

Likewise, Plečnik who had such an exceptionally developed awareness for forms, measures and proportions, moved independently in the world of creativity, architecture, urbanism, sculpture, and painting. Put simply, he was creatively literate; he possessed an absolute talent for these things. He could notice, comprehend and determine a subject that was unreachable and hidden to the eyes of ordinary people, even if educated. With ease he grasped the 'genius loci', determined the skilfulness of the author, his graphic vocabulary and also difficulties and awkwardness. Especially easily he was able to determine the relationships, sense of styles, the art of fixed spheres and epochs. Therefore it is possible to understand the emotions when he met with Venetian, Etruscan and Roman architecture. From the technocratic perfectionist world of the Viennese fumbling secession and 'jugendstil', from the northern self-centred, technically skilled and utilitarian morose "dead branch", he stepped into the splendour of the petulant play of harmony of shapes and proportions of the North-Adriatic sub-alpine world; through it echoed his familiar St. Jacob and his Slovenian soul of architect Maček begun to sing. [8]. He found his own genius; within himself he discovered his treasure. He discovered that this is his world that he carried within himself. How could he ever return to the previous, narrow and confined Viennese secessionist environment?

Plečnik's teacher, Wagner, could only shrug his shoulders, when he read the letters from his travel. He was convinced that the man is going mad. [9]. Plečnik was naturally not going mad. Not at all. He only discovered, what he carried within himself all this time, that which carried him into the world of art, what he was able to detect from his genuine talent - he discovered his roots, the roots of his nation. The soul of the old Veneti was revealed to him. From now on he knew for sure, what he only sensed and debated with his friend architect Janez Jager, a well-known researcher of the Etruscan-Venetian remains [10]. Now he could write to him in a letter: "For some years now I held a secret: Etruscans were Slavs. My soul compels me to this conclusion. All my volition is related to their image and forms" [11].

When we read this Plečnik confession today and we become totally aware of his special gift, we are convinced that he did not err, that he accurately and totally comprehended the characteristics of Venetian spirit, the artistic genius of Veneti, it is then totally reliable - similarly as a gifted musical expert recognizes the composer after the first chord is struck, a contradiction is not possible - that he followed the manifestation of this genius among the Etruscans, Romans, Venetians and naturally especially his own condensed Venetian homeland, Slovenia. During his activities in Prague he additionally familiarized himself with Etruscan metal moulding. This further confirmed his convictions.

Today still, with the opposing obsession by some apparently respected individuals hiding behind the screen of science, but without any sense for the achievements of the human mind, clearly explains the surprising Plečnik's accent on "secrecy". Also in those times his nation was plagued by obscured adverse forces, that could be confronted only by a strong character and even then only tactically and with appropriate means.

Plečnik was obviously bound to his discovery. In the given circumstances he was fulfilling this commitment in his own effective way: with his life and work and not with fruitless persuasion of the converted. He tackled his work at the foundation. Therefore he left the brilliant career of the Czech court, that is why he exposed himself to the political manoeuvrings and scheming of »Dolina Šentflorjanska«. That is why he decided to offer his peace and his old age to his homeland. He wanted to awaken its own, for centuries disregarded and denied feelings for the art, that is ours, Slovenian, Venetic, no matter what anybody, whenever and whatever called it. The master was awakening it, exposing it from hiding behind foreign manners, styles foreign to Slovenes; he was planning and building in his spirit.

Those that are attaching labels "Classic" or "Greek" to his artwork are wrong. The achievements of the Classics were copied and repeated to absurdity by the untalented rich and nations without genuine tradition and their own spirituality. Enough and too much of those turgid temples of human creation, of misery in the metropolis, of different ideals and other values, especially of those being counted and weighed. Plečnik's creativity is standing fully on our own mould that was preserved from antique until modern times in the national heritage, but especially in the Etruscan remains and in the architecture of the regions of North Italy. That is why Plečnik's architecture is full of these specialties: in construction, in the columns, the balustrades, decorations and vases, house details, it is pure and moderate - yes, it is aesthetic! At Žale, Ljubljana's burial place, he created an Etruscan tumulus. [12] The facade of the National and University Library in Ljubljana is bubbling with the same spirit. [13] Naturally he arranged his own domicile in the same way. Those that see Firenze in 'Hradčanske terase' and Venice in 'Tromostovje' are not quite right. Rather it is the opposite. However the same spirit, the same creative thought is present in a similar manner but at a different time and in a different place.

That the spirit of Veneti, and the Venetic art relates to Slovenes, confirms the fact that the Plečnik works in Slovenian surroundings act harmoniously, especially as he was - as the only one of them - chosen and accepted by the general Slovenian public as their own. Neither before nor after did an architect achieve this. The so-called architects and artists lifted themselves to unreachable heights, to their own sterile orbits. Plečnik based the art where it always belonged: into life, among the people and for the people. He could do this only because he was naturally richly gifted, well versed, educated and qualified, virtuous and dedicated to his mission, but especially also because his art belonged to the nation, hidden deeply and unrecognised in the spiritual memory of the people. Plečnik was awakening this spirit. He was returning the identity to the nation, the historical memory and self-affirmation.

Plečnik returned the Venetian homeland to Slovenes. He did not give nor did he intend to return to them the Venetian names. Why should he? With what array of names did others call these people during the times of history? However, he uncovered for them their Venetian substance, their Venetian essence, and the Slovenian national genius. Specifically this is his greatness, the greatness of his life's work that is admired today - without really knowing why - by the rest of the world!



1.        Herman Haller (*Bern 24. 12. 1880, †Zürich 23. 11. 1950), sculptor. From: Herman Haller (1880-1950) in: Fischer, Schöpferische Leistung, Thalwill-Zürich 1946, p. 75.

2.        Vinko Lenarčič: Spomini na Plečnika (Memories of Plečnik), Accordia, Ljubljana 1998, p. 13.

3.        Janez Habsburg (1782-1859). In 1813 he was expelled from politics by his brother the emperor Franc I. Thereafter he dedicated himself to the work for Štajerska region and among other duties to the trade school in Graz. In 1848 the Frankfurt parliament elected him as a state administrator, therefore a title "Kaiser". From: B. Vacha, Habsburžani, Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana 1994, pp. 338-399.

4.        V. Lenarčič, o.c. page 13.

5.        He was the best instructor for technical high school subjects: geometry, mathematics, static etc. (V. Lenarčič, personal communication)

6.        V. Lenarčič, o.c., p. 22.

7.        V. Lenarčič, o.c., p. 24.

8.        He signed himself as "Maček jun.", in respect and admiration towards the creator of the Ljubljana's Magistrate.

9.        M. Mušič: Jože Plečnik, Partizanska knjiga, Ljubljana 1986, p. 50.

10.     Janez Jager (*Bistra near Vrhnika 16. May 1871, †Minneapolis, Minn. USA 13 October 1959).

11.     M. Mušič, o.c., p. 110.

12.     Tumulus - elevation raised over the tomb or sepulchral chamber.

13.     A conscientious person is dismayed to see the "work" of experts that massacred Plečnik's work and then profess that they had restored it. (Replaced confini at St. Florian Church, the fence at the former Pletenina on Zaloška Road, replaced candelabras on Žale, repainted chapels there, etc.)

(Translation into English: J. Gerden)



Plečnik je imel izjemno razvit čut za obliko in sorazmerja. Na študijskem potovanju po Italiji, kjer se je spoznal s kulturo Etruščanov in Venetov ter arhitekturo Benetk in Firenz, je s pomočjo svojega čuta nezmotljivo uvidel, da smo Slovenci dediči znamenite etruščansko-venetske civilizacije. Odkril je, zakaj mu je bil slavni ljubljanski arhitekt Maček od nekdaj tako ljub, da se je včasih celo podpisoval »Maček ml.«; razumel je, zakaj so se v slovenskem okolju tako imenitno znašli Robba in mnogi drugi beneški - zelo verjetno večinoma Slovenci po rodu - kiparji, arhitekti in gradbeniki, zakaj je ljudstvo odklanjalo germansko gotiko, razumel je, zakaj ga ni premamila severnjaška, v začaranem krogu umetelnosti in utilitarizma čemeča »gluha loza«, zakaj mu je postal njegov dunajski ambient tako ozek in zamejen.

Tudi mi moremo na ta način razumeti Plečnikovo silno energijo in voljo, da med rojaki obudi Slovencem lasten čut za lepoto, za obliko. Trdno je bil prepričan, da smo Slovenci dediči znamenitih Venetov. Ker o tem tudi v tistih časih ni bilo modro javno govoriti, je le zaupno pisal prijatelju arhitektu Janezu Jagru, ki se je ukvarjal z raziskovanjem venetskega porekla Slovencev. Zapisal je: »...Že od let sem zastopam skrivno: Etrurci so bili Sloveni. Vse moje hotenje je sorodno njim predstavam in formam...« Kar je bilo njemu razvidno že po sami naravi stvari, je ostalo mnogim, zlasti poklicanim, povsem zakrito.

Plečnikovo življenjsko delo je pred nami. Krasi slovensko zemljo in od blizu in daleč ga prihajajo občudovat. Z njim je umestil Slovence, slovensko arhitekturo in umetnost oblikovanja v sam vrh dosežkov človeštva. Postavil je trden temelj slovenske identitete na enem najbolj zahtevnih torišč človekovega uma. To je resnično »arhitektura za novo demokracijo«, ki je vsa naša, vsa venetska.

To je sam povedal.

Torej je to tudi hotel.