“Built only for the prince and the peasant”: Carl Schmitt in Korčula

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The Chapel, 1929, gum Arabic print.
This small church sits off cathedral square in the center of the town of Korčula in Dalmatia (the coastal region of present-day Croatia). The print was rendered from sketches made three years prior during Schmitt’s second visit there.

Carl Schmitt was overwhelmed by the beauty of Dalmatia from the time he first set foot there in January, 1914.  His visit was purely serendipitous.  Sailing through the Adriatic on its way to Italy, his ship stopped briefly in Split and Schmitt disembarked to explore the ancient city.  He heard the ship whistle the “all aboard,” but, enchanted by the people and the scenery, he decided to remain. When he returned to the port, the ship was gone, and thus began Schmitt’s first sojourn in Croatia.

Chapel - Korcula - contemporary photograph - CROPPED

Schmitt made the most of his stay, sketching peasants, army officers, musicians, and others he met on the streets and in the cafes of the city.  As he described it to Catholic activist and writer Peter Maurin, in Dalmatia “People still combine cult, that is to say liturgy, with culture, that is to say literature, with cultivation, that is to say agriculture.”

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Schmitt’s constant sketching and his association with some newfound friends of a revolutionary stripe attracted the attention of local authorities. In the politically charged days before the ourbreak of the Great War, they took him for a spy and after a brief interrogation, let him go. He decided to go on to Italy as planned, but always pined for Dalmatia.

The brief sojourn in the city made a deep impression on the artist, and Schmitt even considered settling there with his family after a subsequent visit to the region 1926. The sketches he made of the island of Korčula off the Dalmatian coast during this later trip formed the basis of a series of prints published in the February 1929 issue of Scribners Magazine. In the article Schmitt described his attraction to the picturesque town in almost rhapsodic terms:

“Korčula is a town of 3,000 people on an island of the same name. It is on the regular steamboat route between Split and Dubrovnik. Since I was first in Dalmatia fourteen of the principal cities of the mainland have lost their character of peasant homeliness and something fine is gone out of their hospitality. But not so Korčula.

house in Korcula - CSF24004 and photo

House in Korčula, 1926 (pastel on paper, 17 x 13 in.) and a contemporary photograph of the same house.
The photo was sent to me by Sani Sardelić, curator of Korčula Town Museum, which is publishing a booklet on Carl Schmitt’s visit to the the town in 1926.  The father-in-law of the book’s author hosted Schmitt in this house during his stay there almost 90 years ago.

“I could write at length of the health (and consequent beauty) of the imaginations and bodies of the people of Korčula, due, I think, in part to a providential weakness in modern banking ability and in part to a beneficent sun. But the city, the buildings, the boats, and the indescribable water of the Adriatic are also a part of the picture. The city rises out of this clean blue water of carved white glowing stone and climaxes in the cathedral which was begun in the thirteenth century. There are no automobiles here. The limestone-paved streets rising steep to the cathedral are built only for the prince and the peasant, one on foot, the other on a donkey. For this is the story of Korčula.”

Schmitt would return to his beloved Dalmatia only once more, this time with his wife for a second honeymoon in 1934, shortly after their tenth child’s second birthday. For him, the region embodied his ideal of becoming a true “peasant,” one whose role is to “intuitively envision, act, create.” He longed to form a firm “base of culture and religion” for his family by “a long memory and experience of [a] place.” For him, such a place is “where body and soul become one.”  Silvermine would fulfill that role for him and his family in the years ahead, but for Schmitt, Europe would always remain “an island of the Fine Arts; the locus of the full liberation of the imagination.”

Carl Schmitt - Building a Boat (Croatia) - CSF43002 - from Scribners magazine

Building a Boat, 1929, gum arabic print.
“With Korčula in the background—a white city shimmering in the subtropical sun.”

Reprinted from the July 2014 issue of  Vision, the CSF e-newsletter.  To subscribe or read past issues, click here.

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