Back on Luža, a Gothic arch leads off the northeastern corner of the square to the twisting lane which first passes the entrance to the Old Port (Stara luka) -nowadays given over to pleasure boats, and the ferries which run across to the island of Lokrum, just offshore - before reaching the Dominican monastery. Begun in 1301, the construction of the monastery was very much a communal endeavour: due to its position hard up against the fortifications, the city authorities provided the Dominicans with extra funds, and ordered the citizenry to contribute labour. The monastery is approached by a grand stairway with a stone balustrade whose columns have been partly mortared in, an ugly modification carried out by the monks themselves in response to the loafers who stood at the bottom of the staircase to ogle the bare ankles of women on their way to church. At the top of the steps a doorway leads through to a fifteenth-century Gothic Renaissance cloister, filled with palms and orange trees.
The attached museum has some outstanding examples of sixteenth-century religious art from Dubrovnik, including three canvases by Nikola Božidarević, the leading figure of the period, who managed to combine Byzantine solemnity with the humanism of the Italian Renaissance. Immediately on the right as you enter, Božidarević's triptych with its central Madonna and Child is famous for its depiction of Dubrovnik prior to the earthquake of 1667, when both Franciscan and Dominican monasteries sported soaring Gothic spires. On the panel to the left, St Blaise holds a model of the city, while, on the right, St Dominic (accompanied by St Augustine) brandishes a model of the medieval cathedral. Nearby, Božidarević's Annunciation of 1513, conunissioned by shipowner Marko Kolendić, contains more local detail in one of its lower panels, showing one of the donor's argosies lying off the port of Lopud. The most Italianate of Božidarević's works is the Virgin and Child altarpiece, also of 1513, ordered by the Dordić family (the bearded donor kneels at the feet of St Martin in the lower right-hand corner) – note the concerted attempt at some serious landscape painting in the background.
Much more statically Byzantine in style is the largest work on display, a polyptych of 1448 in dazzling gold-leaf by Lovro Dobričević Marinov, the most illustrious of Božidarević's predecessors. It shows Christ's Baptism in the River Jordan, flanked from left to right by SS Michael, Nicholas, Blaise and Stephen – the last was put to death by stoning, hence the stylized rock shapes which the artist has rather awkwardly placed on his head and shoulders. Alongside a fine but rather statuesque St Nicholas (1512) by Mihajlo Hamzić, there's a smaller, much simpler, but rather more gripping Martyrdom of St Vincent by Frano Matkov, in which the saint is roasted on a bed of hot coals. Cabinets full of precious silver follow, including the cross of the Serbian king, Stefan Uroš II Milutin (1282-1321), inscribed with archaic Cyrillic lettering, and a reliquary which claims to contain the skull of King Stephen I of Hungary (975-1038).
The Baroque paintings in the next-door room are afairly second-rate, save for Titian's St Blaise and St Mary Magdalene – Blaise holds the inevitable model of Dubrovnik while sinister storm clouds gather in the background. The youth holding a fish on the right of the canvas is St Tobias, here accompanied by the donor, Ragusan noble Damjan Puci6, kneeling in prayer.
After all fine art, the adjoining monastery church is a bit of a disappointment. The best artworks area fine pastel St Dominic, by the nineteenth-century Cavtat artist Vlaho Bukovac, and a dramatic Veneto-Byzantine crucifix, attributed to the fourteenth-century Paolo Veneziano, which hangs over the main altar.
Right beside the main monastery entrance, an unassuming doorway leads to the Rosary Church (Rozarijo), formerly belonging to the Dominicans and nowadays sporadically used as an art gallery. The intimate Renaissance interior, divided by arcades topped by angels' heads, is definitely worth a peek.
Where to go