altLying just soutwest of Trg maršala Tita on Rooseveltov trg is the most prestigious – and – controversial – museum in the area, the mimara Museum (Muzej Mimara; www.mimara.hr). Housed in an elegant neo-Renaissance former high school, the museum is made up of the bequest of Ante Topic Mimara (1899-1987), a native of Dalmatia who grew rich abroad and presented his vast art collection to the nation. No one really knows how he amassed his wealth, how he came by so many prized objects, or indeed whether he was even the real Ante Topic Mimara – some maintain that he was an impostor who, in the chaos of a World War I battlefield, stole the identity tags of a fallen comrade. What's more, doubts have been raised about the attributions given to some of the paintings in Mimara's collection – many are labelled "workshop of . . ." or "school of. . , " in order to keep the art historians happy. Whatever the truth, Mimara's tastes were nothing if not eclectic. There's a bit of everything here, and the collection can easily take up a couple of hours' viewing time. On the ground floor are exhibits of ancient glassware from Egypt, Greece, Syria and the Roman Empire, together with later examples of glass from Venice and the rest of Europe. Close by are Persian carpets from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Among the far-eastern artefacts are Ming vases decorated with bendy-bodied dragons, and a monumental bronze Head of Buddha clad in the kind of exotic pimpled headgear that would send most twenty-first century trendsetters racing for the fashion boutiques. The first floor gets under way with a collection of European applied art, containing Carolingian reliquary boxes, an extraordinary thirteenth-century enamelled crucifix from Limoges bearing a skinny, bulbous-headed Jesus (room 16), and an exquisitely carved ivory English hunting horn from the 1300s (room 17). Next come several rooms of religious sculpture – among the finer pieces is a fifteenth-century Flemish Archangel Gabriel with beautifully rendered wing feathers (room 20). The second floor presents a chronological trot through the history of European painting, beginning with Byzantine icons and several outstanding renaissance altarpieces, most arresting of which is Bicci di Lorenzo's Virgin and Child (room 31), in which a rosy-cheeked infant enthusiastically sucks away at an aubergine-shaped breast. A lavishly decorated ceremonial hall (room 35) provides a suitable home for many of the collection's larger-format canvases – Rubens' Virgin with the Innocents is a riot of pink puppy fat, while the sitter for Rembrandt's Portrait of a Lady appears in the process of being suffocated by her enormous ruff. Among the nineteenth-century French paintings in the final room (no. 40), you'll find an effortlessly light Bather by Renoir, and a brace of small-format still fifes by Manes.
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