Read, Write, Run, Roam

Zagreb’s Mimara, the Museum of Mystery


Greetings from Zagreb, readers! It’s my second visit to this lovely city, and a much warmer one. The kuvano vino stands are gone, the sun is shining, and despite the great weather, I hightailed it for the Mimara Museum this afternoon. Why would I spend part of a lovely day indoors?  Because the Mimara is no ordinary museum.  It’s full of famous masters, intrigue, and fake art.

That’s right, the impressive building shown here contains art that can’t quite be attributed—that’s lawyer-speak for “Nah, I don’t think so.” The museum has a charming way of explaining the forgeries/faux-pas: by stating that the painting is in the Flemish, French, etc., “school.”

In addition to the paintings, there are rooms and rooms of 14th century icons, Egyptian artifacts, Ming dynasty pottery, and Persian rugs. The collection is so vast, and eclectic, that I was left wondering how, and where, it was stored before donation.

The intrigue continues with the collector, a Croatian named Ante Topic Mimara, who was born near Split but lived most of his adult life abroad. The origin of his wealth remains a mystery. According to the museum, he was an art restorer who somehow generated vast wealth. But according to a Forbes Magazine article, it’s much more sinister than that:

[Mimara] was born illegitimate in the old Austro-Hungarian empire. By the time he died in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1986, age 88, he had changed names, identities, passports and home nationalities so many times he lost count…perhaps his greatest coup after the war was to get the Yugoslav authorities to appoint him as Marshall Topic with a grand uniform so he could go to the German authorities and reclaim art [that] never belonged to Yugoslavia in the first place….He got hundreds of pieces out, but instead of sending them all on, he kept a large percentage. In later years, he became a leading source of fakes on the market, which he commissioned people to make. What he couldn’t sell, he eventually persuaded the Yugoslav authorities to house in a special Museum in Zagreb with the condition that he be allowed to live permanently in a huge apartment at its top floor.

Even the donor’s identity had been questioned. One website has alleged that “Mimara was in reality Mirko Maratovic, born March 16, 1897, in Split, Croatia. During the 1920s, Maratovic operated under the name Count Mirko Pyelik-Inna…Presumably, Maratovic bought the papers of Ante Topic, after the real Topic died in a military hospital in Rome, and assumed his identity.”

The man. The myth. His mask.

Add to all this rooms filled with paintings “by” Degas, Renoir, Manet, and Velázquez, and it’s enough to make your head spin. I’ve heard that Mimara was unconcerned about the prospect that he had fake art-apparently it was enough that he liked it-but I haven’t found anything to prove it. In any event, it was intriguing enough to be my first stop in Zagreb, if not a long one. I figured if I was looking at reproductions or terribly renovated paintings, I should move on to more important things…like shoe shopping on Illica Street…

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