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Permanent Collection

1600–1700

Frans Francken II

(Antwerp, 1581–1642)

Madonna and Child Served by Two Angels
(c. 1620), oil, panel, 47,2 x 56,3 cm

NG S 811, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
This is a painting in two parts. The central one, which is painted in several colours, represents the Virgin Mary and the Child in a landscape; they are being served by angels, one of whom is offering a platter of fruit. Around this central scene is an illusory frame in grisaille technique with various scenes which show (clockwise) The Adoration of the Shepherds, The Magi before Herod, The Adoration of the Magi and The Flight into Egypt. In the four corners of the illusory frame are painted prints representing the four evangelists, who are identified by their names and the appropriate symbolic attributes: clockwise, beginning from the top left, are John, Luke, Mark and Matthew. The motif of the central scene is characteristic of the art of the Counter-Reformation and is connected with the story of the flight into Egypt.

The style of this painting is typical of Frans II Francken and his workshop and can be dated to around 1620.

Other paintings by Frans II Francken, which with greater or smaller variants feature a similar frame in grisaille technique, are known. One of these versions, with the Madonna and Child in a Landscape in the centre, was in the collection of Erik Alport, oil on wood, 41.9 x 53.3 cm, which was sold at auction at Christie’s in London on 21 July 1972, No. 116, as a work by Frans II Francken and Jan van Kessel; another version, also the Madonna and Child in a Landscape, oil on wood, 51 x 63.5 cm, was on sale in London in 1980; a third, Allegory of Charles V’s Renunciation of the Throne, oil on wood, 55.2 x 43.2 cm and with scenes from the life of Christ on the frame, was also sold in London, Chaucer Fine Arts Inc., 24 Nov. to 23. Dec. 1983, Cat. No. 2. Such versions show that assistants and collaborators worked on them, but these were not the same people as those who helped to produce our picture.

Restored: 1960, ZSV, Ljubljana.
Provenance: Janez Hradecky (?); Narodni muzej, Ljubljana, until 1934 (Inv. No. 2954; van Balen); Narodna galerija, Ljubljana, old Inv. No. 106 (18C).
Exhibitions: 1960, Ljubljana, No. 100; 1983, Ljubljana, No. 88.
Lit.: Vodnik 1931, p. 106 (German, 16C; text F. Stele); Cevc 1960, p. 39, Cat. No. 100, Fig. 47 (attribution by H. Gerson of The Hague); Zeri [& Rozman] 1983, pp. 158–159, Cat. No. 88, Fig. 86.

From Mannerism to Baroque

Although imported early-Baroque works prevailed in this period and those by itinerant artists, the 17th century paved the way for the future. The political circumstances in the region were relatively stabilized in spite of the Thirty Year War and the patronage gradually grew stronger. The arrival of the Jesuits in Ljubljana, the activity of the polymath Johann Weichard Valvasor, particularly his graphic workshop at Bogenšperk/Wagensperg Castle, and the foundation of the Academia operosorum at the end of the century were the key events of the time. 

Characteristic of sculptural production on the Slovenian territory in the 17th century were the so-called “golden altars”. As a rule, these were gilded and polychrome carved wooden retables with rich ornamentation, first with crustaceous patterns which turned into vine and grapes that covered architectural framework until the achantus foliage took over and obliterated architectural structure completely. The making of golden altars included several branches of fine arts: prints, carving, gilding, painting. Religious painting of the first half of the century still contains Mannerist elements; in the second half also secular motifs became more numerous, particularly genre scenes and aristocratic portraits. The artworks mainly echo northern early-Baroque influences. 

Noteworthy among the newcomers who settled in Carniola with their workshops were the painter and gilder Hans Georg Geiger von Geigerfeld in the mid-century, who had moved to Carniola from the region of the Central Alps, and the Fleming Almanach in the third quarter of the 17th century, known only by his nickname, who worked here only for a few years. The extraordinary productivity and skills of the latter are evidenced by his rare surviving works, mentions in Valvasor’s books, and aristocratic probate inventories.