The Early Medieval relief from Malo Čajno nearby Visoko with great Nespina kaznac’s added inscription


Ante Milošević


This text deals with circumstances of the finding as well as with the art and iconographic characteristics of an interesting relief accidentally dug out in 1947, north-east from Visoko, in Central Bosnia. Field examination that followed afterwards determined that the relief once was a part of itinerary and interior decoration of a smaller building. Supposedly, this was a medieval tomb construction based on the fact that in a nearby environment there were several other unornamented tombstones as well as after the Cyrillic inscription which was probably carved on the relief afterwards. The afore mentioned inscription was, more frequently than the relief itself, an object of interest for researchers because it mentions two historical personalities, Nespina kaznac the Great and his kaznac sister Bjeloka. Naïve nature of the carving is a highly stressed feature of the relief (210 cm long, 106 cm high  and 7-10 cm thick) which is especially noticeable on the displayed human form. Its body, apart from the protective
belt wrapped around right arm and sharp tipped shoes, has no other clothing items displayed. The body is placed in a semi-profile while the head is shown en face. Its hands are of uneven length with its fists displayed on external sides so one gets an impression of a hunter with two left hands. This form of naïve display of human figure is the characteristic of the
early medieval period. Similarly, on a miniature from 9th century showing the transport of relics, a front porter in the scene has an awkward display of ”two right hands” of uneven length. Generally, this primitive stone-carving method of the relief from Visoko can also be recognized on the relief displaying Palm Sunday from Venice, on the marble panel from San Saba church in Rome and on the relief from Žrnovnica in Dalmatia. All of these examples we used to compare with, originate from 8th century.
Due to its looks and contents of the carved motif including hunting scene, the relief from Malo Čajno was frequently identified with similar motifs on stećci. However, it is different from stećci, not only in its details but also in its complete artistic creation. The human form and the animals, displayed next to it, are carved with numerous details that do not exist on similar
displays on stećci. Hairy animals have their big grinned teeth stressed, dogs have leather collars and the hunter has a head with a precise display of hair and beard, facial details and a hairy neck. The entire composition is not as rigid as it is the case on stećci but rather very dynamic. The hunter is standing aside with his spear high up in the air, expecting an attack
from the boar surrounded by three dogs. The wild beast already overpowered and threw under its feet one of the dogs, the another dog is charging energetically,while the third one is running away looking back to prevent being grabbed by the boar from the back. There is also some perspective in the whole performance because the running dog, carved in the second
plain above the hunter’s hands, is a bit smaller than the others. J. Kovačević is the only one who discussed art, iconography
and chronology of this relief. According to his opinion, this relief is created under the influence of the early Romanesque art of the western Europe, particularly following the monuments from eastern Adriatic coast where stylistically very similar reliefs,
in the way they display the human form, can be found. This implicitly suggests the dating of this relief into 11th century. He also stated that the medieval panel from Malo Čajno is a chronological link between Late Antique displays and those that will numerously show up afterwards on late medieval stećci. Through the interpretation of iconographic content of the relief,
he assumed that this is a very frequent ancient mythological and narrative motif whose interpretatio christiana lies in the early Christian and afterwards in the early Romanesque art. Symbolically, the hunter killing a boar is actually killing the devil or evil spirit which, according to gospels of Luke and Matthew, Christ forced into a body of a pig, staying there until
its disappearance through submerging in water. After J. Kovačević there were no more texts addressing this relief with more attention. In the past literature, it was the most frequently mentioned topic in the papers dealing with the art of the Bosnian Medieval tombstones and stećci. Afterwards, M. Wenzel mentioned it first and later it was used several times
by Š. Bešlagić who found the standpoint for his opinion in the hunting scene and the shape of the spear that hunter holds in his hands. According to my opinion the stone panel with hunting scene relief from the vicinity of Visoko, due
to its complexity in art form and the specific carving processing, cannot be linked to a single similar ornament on medieval and Late Medieval Bosnian tombstones. Those who tried to make a connection warn us that among numerous hunting displays on
stećci, deer hunting scenes are prevalent, while boar hunting scenes are displayed eleven times. In that process dual analogies are stated because in all those reliefs from the Late Medieval period, the animals were carved in a schematic way which makes a boar recognizable only with a lot of imagination. However, on a stećak from Donja Zgošća near Kakanj, which is
rather impressive by its dimensions and ornaments,one hunting scene can be interpreted precisely like that, making it, in my opinion, a single such display made on stećci. The second indicator that was used to equalize the scene from the relief nearby Visoko with displays on stećci is a large spear that the hunter is holding in his hands. It is presumably a hunting spear that was in use during 14th and 15th century in Bosnia. Several similar spears were displayed on tombstones as well, but those items were significantly different from the one carved on our relief. It truly resembles the Early Medieval, Frankish spear with wings that was used inthe second half of the 8th and throughout the 9th century. Several pieces of weapons like that were found in Dalmatian outback, in Hercegovina and in southwestern Bosnia. Its shape and function are clearly indicated by tiny images in Carolingian church book sand reliefs from Europe of the period. Of special importance  for our issue is an analogy to the relief from Žrnovnica nearby Split showing a horseman attacking a bear with almost identical spear. Until recently this monument was considered as an early Romanesque stone-carving, but thanks to further detailed art andiconographic analysis it was shown that it belongs to pre-Romanesque period; most likely second half of the 8th century. The displayed heads of the animals, the head of the boar especially, being very robust with semi-open jaws with long sharp teeth, could be used for chronological dating of the relief from Malo Čajno. Thanks to such outlook, in comparison to  their bodies, they mostly resemble the augmented animal heads carved on the specimen of the early medieval stone furniture found in churches in cities in Dalmatia, Istria and northern Italy. The very motif of boar hunting, as previously noted, is taken from the repertoire of the ancient art. The sarcophagus with mythological theme of Meleager hunting a Calydonian boar from Solin (today in Archeological museum in Split) is one of the best displays of such a motif from prestigious Attic workshops. Several items from the Late Antiquity exemplify the use of this motif also in the early Christian period as previously mentioned by J. Kovačević.
A relief with a narrative display of boar hunting from the portico of a cathedral in Civita Castellana is a very good early medieval analogy to the scene on the relief from vicinity of Visoko. On the monument from Lazio, the hunt is taking place in the forest and horsemen and infantry are participating. The boar surrounded by dogs is being attacked by one horseman with a spear with a small wings, the other one with a spear in his hand and a horn in his mouth is pursuingit, while two more infantry men, equipped in a similar fashion, are also taking part in the hunt. Those infantrymen are very similar to the hunter from Visoko
including the presence of the naïve carving. Their legs are presented in profile, while torso and the heads areen face. Apart from that, they are carved in a similar fashion to the hunter from the relief in Bosnia withtheir thick triangular beards and long hair which in broad highlights is combed towards scalp. Display of perspective in superposition is also an interesting art
analogy which is present on both of the monuments. The relief from Cività Castellana is considered to beLangobardian legacy and is usually dated back to 8th century.The relief with the added Nespina kaznac’s inscription is specific for its carving method which is dominated by the use of serrated tools. Their use is not common in the Medieval Period and especially not on  tombstones from the Late Medieval period including stećci, where there are no traces of it as well, as far as I know. On the other hand, such final processing of the stone surface is common in Roman period so we can assume that its use on our monument should be understood as antique and late antique tradition. Such carving technique was also applied to some other monuments in the area of today’s Bosnia. It involves bear head protomes which used to be arrangedin a sequence ornamenting the outer wall of  apse of a palace within curtis in Breza, but also ram’s or moufflon’s head probably as a part of a capital from the same site. Clear marks of the serrated chisel and hammer indicate that these monuments should assumedly
be placed into approximately the same period. The building in Breza is differently dated and functionally explained. In my opinion it is not an old Christian church but a palace within early medieval land property. Almost all fragments that used to decorate the interior and exterior of the building in Breza are not the characteristic of the Christian iconography.
This is especially reflected in the displays of animals like bear, moufflon or ram which would be more acceptable for more secular buildings like a palace or hunting lodge as a part of nobility residence of the Early Middle Ages. Earlier in the text we have tried to show that according to its artistic qualities and carving procedures the relief from Malo Čajno is very
similar to the sculptures from Breza. Therefore, if we add its contents (narrative boar hunting scene) to those indicators, an assumption that it used to be a part of the same ambience does not seem too daring. Such an opinion is more justified if we know that those two localities are only few kilometers apart. Hence, I consider the relief with boar hunting scene from Malo
Čajno to be carved in the Early Middle Ages, roughly in the second half of the 8th century. I assume that it was once a part of ambience decoration in the interior of the palace or hunting lodge in Breza. Afterwards, in the following centuries of the Medieval Period, it was taken from there to the new position in Malo Čajno. At that moment it also got its new, funeral function
which is shown through successively carved Cyrillic  inscription originating from 12th or 13th century. Such re-use of some early medieval monument was not uncommon because in medieval Bosnia, similar thing happened to the famous Kulin ban’s panel
which was found nearby, in Biskupići. 


How to Cite
Milošević, A. (2022). The Early Medieval relief from Malo Čajno nearby Visoko with great Nespina kaznac’s added inscription. Godišnjak Centra Za balkanološka Ispitivanja, (41), 187–200.