Music & Ritual: Bridging Material & Living Cultures

Publications of the ICTM Study Group on Music Archaeology, Vol. 1

Representations of Dance on Late-Medieval Bosnian Gravestones

Zdravko Blažeković

On the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in the adjacent regions of Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia, have been accounted over three thousand funeral places with a total of some 70,000 gravestones, known as stećci. Until recently, the prevailing opinion was that the stećci were used by the followers of the Christian sect of Bogomils, a neo-Manichaean sect inspired by the teaching of Mani, a reformer and prophet born in Babylon in AD 216. Newer evidence however indicates that these casket-shaped stone tombs were used also by the Serbian Orthodox and Roman Catholics, and therefore should be seen as a regional cultural phenomenon. The stećci emerged in the early 13th century and were carved by the local stonemasons until the early 16th century with the utmost consistency and stability concerning their style and form. Stylistically they follow Romanesque models which inspired a variety of symbolic and mystical decorative elements, many of which remaining enigmatic. They can be classified into several categories according to their function, artistic features, and subject matter (the crescent moon and the sun, chivalrous tournaments and horsemen, hunting scenes, rosettes, vine leaves and grapes, processions of deer, a man with his right hand raised). About 130 examples represent dancers in different line formations consisting of up to twelve dancers, both male and female. Dancers sometimes hold in their hand branches or flowers, and wear masks over their faces. Frequent are tournament scenes combined with line of dancers, and also some scenes combine dancers with a deer. Considering that both visual and textual sources for medieval dances originating from this geographic area are extremely rare these representations are important testimonials about dance practices and its symbolism.

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