Trakošcan Castle in northern Croatia, former home of the Drašković family and now a state museum.
I try to be modern, I really do. My appreciation for contemporary, minimalist design is true. But then I Google "Croatian castles" just for kicks and stumble upon precisely my definition of the perfect museum: a beautifully maintained 13th-century fortress that grew into a 16th-century castle that then transformed (thanks to an artistic heir) into a 19th-century ode to the Romantic style... a castle that survived - though not unscathed - the Second World War only to be abandoned, necessarily, by the family after offering some 350 years of glorious shelter. And it's perched, Neuschwanstein-like, on a pristine forested hilltop overlooking a lake. There are pleasure gardens, to boot. The furniture is old and complex, probably estate-made. The curatorship has been delicate and humble. No donor or director makes exorbitant demands. There's been a perfectly natural hodge-podge, cram-it-all-in quality to the displays; displays that interpret everyday life so much more closely than any meticulously arranged period room could do.
And actually... there is a modern spirit to it. Although the furnishings are ornate, there's an overwhelming sense of restraint. Some of this comes from the sheer formality and rigidity of the pieces, but it also comes from the high-contrast palette in places like the knight's room and the library, where one finds no color, but plain white walls and dark furniture. Others, like the reading room and bedroom, evoke simplicity through a neutral and low-contrast palette of polished woods. There's a clean easiness to it. There are, certainly, the more ornate rooms with bolder colors and a heavier hand, but it's simple, old rooms like the library that I most adore. Quiet in color and largely unadorned, amply illuminated by natural light. A place of knowledge and respite. Modernity, in the antique fashion.
The Knights' Room, located in the castle's western tower. Although the castle began as a fortress, this particular knights' room is part of the 19th-century renovation, and is meant to evoke a sentimental romance for the medieval era. The room has a vaulted ceiling and is decorated with 15th to 17th-century arms and armor, military portraits and flags.
In the library, as throughout the majority of the house, one finds furnishings in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. The collection includes some 1,500 volumes of fiction and encyclopaedic works, primarily of French and German origin, dating from the mid-18th through 19th centuries. The painting is an 18th-century tempera-on-canvas and depicts a hunt scene, alluding to the fact that the library was very much - even in an aristocratic, educated and artistic household - a man's domain.
The reading room displays a fire surround, table and chairs in the Gothic Revival style, and connects to a prayer room. The small oil painting is by an unknown artist, but shows Trakošcan in the 1840's, shortly before it's redecoration.
The master bedroom, features an Italian Renaissance-style fruit wood suite with massive barley twist decoration.
But time and, well, modernity, will march up even the remotest of Croatian mountains and transform old ways of thinking into new. Not that anyone would begrudge an historic site for deepening it's research and broadening it's displays, mind you. The changes currently underway at the castle -- renovations to the exterior as well as interiors, and a attempt by descendants to reclaim ownership -- will only add to it's importance. The new galleries they've installed are beautifully done and they highlight the furnishings as never before. It's just the inevitable shift, albeit an understandable one, away from that intangible essence of home.
Renaissance Revival gallery
Figural paintings gallery
For more information, visit www.trakoscan.hr and www.mdc.hr