From the extensive oeuvre of the Neoclassical painter Franc Kavčič/Francesco Caucig (Gorizia 1755 – Vienna 1828), an artist of Slovenian birth and a long-time professor at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna, the present exhibition shows and its catalogue examines those of his works that draw on Greek and Roman myths, Homer's and related tales, classical stories and ancient history. Exhibited are four oil paintings, two oil paintings in reproduction, thirty-seven compositional designs in the technique of washed pen-drawing, eighteen studies (heads, parts of body and limbs, different items), drawn in graphite, white chalk or charcoal and used as preparatory works and aids in the execution of the idea in oil. The motifs which used to be very attractive—e.g. Demetrius Poliorcetes with the Flautist Lamia and Her Friend Demo—or stories which were particularly interesting and edifying—e.g. Phocion, His Wife and a Rich Lady of Ionia—were reproduced in graphic medium. The exhibition presents three examples of this kind.
From 1808 onwards Caucig was director of the painting department of the Vienna porcelain factory. Several of his paintings and other designs were translated onto porcelain bowls, plates and similar items. Thus, two examples of such porcelain tablets are presently shown in reproduction, one with the motif of the Athenian statesman Phocion and the other with a scene from the life of a successful warrior and pleasure-seeker, Demetrius Poliorcetes.
Old works of art came into being through the process beginning with an idea and continuing via the design to the final execution. Bigger or smaller study drawings—sketches and designs—helped to reach the goal: an oil painting. Caucig’s talent, diligence and luck that he was materially and spiritually supported by count Philipp Cobenzl and was sent by him to improve his skills in the then leading European art centres—from Vienna to Bologna, Rome and finally to Venice—all these facts helped to the formation of a master whom the present time continues to discover and values ever more highly.
Caucig lived in the time of the Enlightenment and in the circle of educated persons, both in Rome and Vienna. He never forgot the impressions he had got in Rome and he later incorporated them in his works: the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, the temple of Sibyl in the Tivoli, physiognomies and postures of classical statues. He followed the rules of the reorganized Vienna academy, which had been formulated by Anton von Maron, the brother-in-law of the Neoclassical painter Raphael Mengs: required were the knowledge of how to draw, mastery of proportions, accurate capturing and distribution of space with suitable arrangement of figures in it, persuasive rendering of facial expressions and gestures of the protagonists, proper depiction of draperies, hair-style and various items, and communication of moral messages about the beautiful, the truthful and the noble. As it was recommended, Caucig modelled his work on the Old Masters, Raphael, Guido Reni, Guercino, Correggio and others, and on the works of the French painters of 17th century classicism, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Gellé, called Lorrain.
Buyers of Caucig’s works and those who commissioned them were from among the princes, counts, merchants and other middle-class art lovers. The sources of his depictions were classical Greek and Roman authors, from Homer to the youngest among them, Diogenes Laertius. At least fifteen texts by ancient authors were used as literary sources for the works presently exhibited. The probate inventory of the painter’s library bears evidence that he himself owned many of the famous literary works and some of them in very old editions. Caucig’s scenes convey delight, tragic love, fidelity, impiety and arrogance, respectfulness, heroism, punished impudence, etc.
Neoclassical artists were aware of how significant was the training of drawing skills, which had been recognized from the Renaissance onwards. At that time Michelangelo recommended to his student Antonio Mini: “Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and don’t waste time!” Caucig’s drawings—including those showing Italian and Austrian vedute, drawings after antique works of art and after the Old Masters, particularly Raphael—exceed the number of 2000. His works with antique motifs present episodes from ancient history, art, philosophy, literature and politics, which we know, have forgotten or have never known. Antiquity seems to be invincible. It continues to live through its own or later —older or more recent—literature; for centuries it has been present in music, ballet, in modern times also in film and on television. The farther it is, the closer it comes. It is close to us also thanks to several poems by France Prešeren (1800–1849), in which he refers to classical stories (Apelles, Venus, Orpheus, Cupid, etc.), which Caucig, a senior contemporary of Prešeren, also depicted.
Author of the exhibition
Heads of the project
Ksenija Rozman, Alenka Simončič
Graphic design of catalogue and promotional leaflets
Julija Zornik Strle
Lenders to the exhibition
Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien, Kupferstrichkabinett
Fondazione Palazzo Coronini Cronberg ONLUS, Gorizia
Keresztény Múzeum, Esztergom (exhibited in reproduction)
Narodna galerija, Ljubljana
Narodni muzej Slovenije
Neue Galerie Graz am Universalmuseum Joanneum
Twinight Collection, New York (exhibited in reproduction)
Project supported by
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia
25 November 2010 – 13 February 2011
National Gallery of Slovenia