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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

Johannes de Laybaco

(d. after 1459)

Luxuria (Virgin and the Devil)
1443, mixed media, 125,5 x 111,5 cm

NG S 1245, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

The exterior north wall of the small parish church was once adorned with an iconographically interesting painting entitled Luxuria, alternately known as the Virgin and the Devil or the Killer of Infants. The painting had deteriorated beyond recognition decades ago; in 1992, the remaining coloured fragments were taken down and the original was replaced in situ with a reproduction based on Makuc’s gallery copy. 

Depicted is a personification of one of the vices – impurity or lust – in the image of a beautiful naked young woman standing on top of a dead infant, holding her right hand to her head, a horrified expression on her face. Two snakes wrap themselves around her arms: one has bitten into the sinner’s breast, the other is about to pounce from the other side. In the bottom right corner is a Hellmouth in the form of a dragon’s head with open jaws; a long red tongue extends from it, twisting itself around the woman’s right leg, ready to pull her into its maw at any moment. At the top of the dragon’s upper jaw sits a green devil, which has wrapped a chain around the waist of the lascivious woman, a chain which he will presently pull to hasten the eternal damnation of the sinner. Older sources report that the year 1443 was inscribed at the upper edge of the painting.

 All the paintings in the parish church in Visoko are the work of Johannes de Laybaco. The triumphal arch on the nave side is framed by a band with an inscription indicating that the painting was completed on the vigil of St Matthew (i.e. 20 September) 1443 by the hand of Johannes, a burgher of Ljubljana and son of Master Friedrich, a painter from Villach. The self-assured artist also depicted himself in the votive painting on the church façade: he can be recognised by the coat of arms of painters (three white shields emblazoned on a red field).  

Johannes de Laybaco is one of the best documented figures of Medieval art in Slovenia; he developed his own distinctive, lyrical version of the International Soft Style.

Visoko below Kurešček, succursal Church of St Nicholas

Copy of a wall painting (Vladimir Makuc, 1956; tempera, gouache / paper on hardboard, 125.5 x 111.5 cm)

From the High Middle Ages to the Renaissance
In the High Middle Ages religious art prevailed that spread through the Slovenian lands first from monasteries and then from major regional centres, particularly, Gorizia, Villach and Ljubljana. Gothic art persisted even after the dawn of the Renaissance, but in the 16th century artistic production almost came to a standstill due to Turkish invasions, peasant uprisings and Protestantism which was averse to the fine arts. 

The leading position in Gothic painting belongs to frescoes. The collection presents a few examples of original fragments and several copies which illustrate the most frequent motifs, such as St Christopher, St George, the Procession and the Adoration of the Magi, etc., and a few special motifs, such as Sunday Christ and the Dance of Death. Along with numerous masters with provisional names we also know several artists by name and their idiosyncratic oeuvres, e.g. Johannes Aquila, Johannes de Laybaco, Master Bolfgang. Their production was part of the contemporary art scene in the sub-Alpine space, where from old times onwards stylistic influences of northern and southern countries had been intertwined. 

Numerous medieval sculpture workshops supplied reliefs and statues to churches for their altars. Crucified Christ, Madonna and Child, and Pietà rank among the characteristic religious motifs. The earliest sculptural pieces still demonstrate Romanesque vestiges, but the main body of exhibits are stylistically determined by the Gothic style which in some areas of Carniola, Styria and Carinthia lasted deep into the 16th century. The zenith of Gothic sculpture in Slovenia is represented by the works of the Ptujska gora sculpture workshop represented by The Beautiful Madona and the Pietà from Podsreda. To the period of the so-called late Gothic baroque style around 1500 belong the Virgin with ChildSt Catherine and St Magdalene from Avče, and the extraordinarily expressive Christ Crucified from Dramlje. Renaissance sculpture is represented by plaster casts of the Bishop Ravbar epitaph and two reliefs of St Andrew’s altar from Gornji Grad by Oswald Kittel.