A component part of the monastery is the valuable collection of artworks called the Kairos Collection, which in terms of the richness and quality of its paintings, liturgical objects, furnishings and handicrafts tells of the long history of the monastery and life within it. The Collection has valuable stone archaeological finds from a period stretching from Hellenism to the Middle Ages, a collection of sacred pictures, votive donations of citizens and devotional objects of girls of high families who entered the monastery. The collection takes its name from the relief of Kairos from the third century BC, that is, of the Greek god of the fortunate moment, a copy of an original by Lysippus. In Christianity, too, the concept of Kairos has a highly symbolic meaning. For He who changes the course and quality of time is Jesus Christ, for whom the nuns live and to whom they testify in the space and time allotted them. From this example of the contact and coexistence of cultures it is possible to understand the life of this religious community and the values on which it is founded. The sisters adopt the beautiful and the valuable they find in the society and culture that forms it, seeing everything in the light of Jesus Christ, and announcing his coming.
The origins and history of the collection
In the first half of the twentieth century, at the prompting of Dr Ljubo Karaman and Dr Cvito Fisković, out of concern for the cultural and sacred heritage, the idea was born to exhibit and restore valuable works of art owned by the monastery. It was planned that one room in the monastery with selected artworks should be accessible to visitors, which would certainly make possible the further renovation and maintenance of the remarkable inventory. However, World War II and the post-war conditions, which were particularly hard upon the monastery, put back the opening of the collection for some better time. In 1960, again at the urging of Dr Fisković, director of the Conservation Institute of Dalmatia, and with the consent of the governors of the monastery and the bishop’s ordinariate in Split, the foundations were laid for the opening of the collection. Still, because of works on the renovation of the monastery itself, which has the priority, as being of vital importance for the life of the nuns, this enterprise was not fulfilled until 1970. The first collection along the lines of the ideas of the late nineteen-thirties was set up in a ground-floor room of the northern wing of the monastery.
After the restoration of the Church, the Benedictine nuns encouraged the expansion of the collection to almost the whole of the northern wing, and the renovated collection was opened in September 1990 according to the design of Split conservators Vanja Kovačić and Radoslav Bužančić.
Archaeological excavations of the courtyard in concert with a thoroughgoing renovation of this part of the monastery were carried out in 2009, and the new stone finds were added to the display in a space on the ground floor, somewhat bigger and newly conceived. The opening of this third display of the collection was celebrated in 2008, on the eve of the Feast of St Benedict, and marking the 945th anniversary of the founding of the monastery.
The inventory and display of the collection
Conceptually, the display is divided into two thematic sets: one is archaeological, with the remains of Ancient stone sculpting, and the other is art-historical, with numerous works from the monastery inventory: icons, sculptures, liturgical vestments, manuscripts and objects of the fine crafts.
A prominent space in the collection is claimed by the relief of Kairos, the elusive deity of the fortunate moment that dates back to the third century BC. Also in the collection is a Romanesque icon of Virgin and Child from the late 13th century, painted with the Crucifix and the Dead Christ by Paolo Veneziano in the fourteenth century, an altar polyptych in relief and a statue of Virgin and Child of the 15th century.
Late Baroque painting is represented with a series of paintings of the saints of the eighteenth century, a cycle of oval portraits of Saint Nicolo Grassi standing out. Also here are silver liturgical objects from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. For centuries, the making of lace and the art of embroidery have been cultivated in the monastery, as shown by the silver implements and the many preserved patterns. Prominent among music books are antiphonies from the fourteenth century and choral masses and Croatian songbooks from the eighteenth. The book called Vrtal [The Garden] by Petar Lucić, the oldest anthology of Croatian lyrics, from the second half of the fifteenth century, was discovered in the monastery. The library contains several manuscripts in Croatian from the eighteenth century as well as Croatian books printed in Venice.
On show in the confined antechamber of the Kairos Collection is a small lapidarium.
It can be said that the museum collection of the Monastery of St Nicholas is a kind of cross-section through the complex artistic treasury of Trogir. Its beginning is marked by a Greek epigraph, and the sacred monuments are marked by the powerful stamp of St John of Trogir, the founder of this Benedictine monastery and the patron saint of the city of Trogir.