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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

Madonna and Child with a pear
(c. 1510), lime wood (remains of polychrome), 84 x 64 x 22 cm

NG P 56, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

The figural group with the seated Madonna holding a pear in her right hand and the Child balanced on her knees gives the impression of a high relief rather than a three-dimensional sculpture. With her left hand, she holds the Child, who is grabbing at her cloak with his left hand and reaching for the pear with his right. The whole is framed as a slightly convex equilateral triangle, the apex of which is Mary’s beautifully rendered head, with her long wavy hair falling diagonally onto her shoulders, continuing into the expanding and illogical arrangement of the drapery towards the ground; the folds are shaped very broadly and the ridges are strongly accentuated.


There are no parallels to this sculpture in the Slovenian patrimonium. Mary’s static, grounded appearance and the modelling of the drapery, as well as the lively nude Child, are reminiscent of similar depictions in the engravings of the South German Master E. S. (The Blessed Virgin of Einsiedeln, 1466, L. 81) from only a few decades earlier and the sculptures of Nikolaus Gerhaert van Leyden (e.g. The Virgin and Child with St Anne, before 1473, stone, height 64 cm, Deutsches Museum, Berlin), who died in 1473 in the relatively close Wiener Neustadt.

Provenance: Ljubljana, suburb of Šempeter (perhaps the parish Church of St Peter)

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.