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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

Giovanni Francesco da Rimini

(Rimini, c. 1420 − Bologna, before 1470)

Madonna with Christ Child Blessing, (The Hoče Madonna)
(c. 1465), tempera, wood, 89 x 71,7 cm

NG S 1294, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
This Madonna was originally certainly a full-length figure; she was very probably part of a larger composition, perhaps a triptych or polyptych, but we have no knowledge of other panels of the same size which could be connected with this one in a stylistic comparison. It is very likely that the panel was sawn off at the bottom in the 17th century and reduced to its present size, so that it could be used as an independent devotional picture. The name Madonna Liber: /della febris, which is written in clumsy italic letters on the gold background at the top on both sides, is undoubtedly the title of this picture and perhaps also of the church where it was worshipped. We do not know where such a Madonna could have been, but there are good reasons for locating it in Bologna or its environs in Emilia. The first of these reasons is the style, which is characteristic of Giovanni Francesco da Rimini in his Bolognese period; comparisons indicate great similarities with the Virgin and Child with two Angels in the National Gallery in London, which is signed and dated 1461 and was thus painted at a time for which we have proof that the painter lived in Bologna. The second reason is the wonderful frame, which was made specially for this painting and whose profile and decoration are characteristic of Bologna in the first half of the 17th century. In the middle part it has alternating hexagonal and oval openings, which have the function of small reliquaries. At the bottom the frame is supported on a sort of another frame of horizontal format, which has two openings for relics in the shape of six-pointed stars, surrounded by a rich plant decoration. The other three openings in the lower part are filled with small pictures. The central picture on copper shows Saint Luke Painting the Virgin Mary; this is a work dating from the beginning of the 17th century, but its geographical origin is still an open question. Both lateral openings are filled with figures painted in oil on copper: that on the left shows Saint Clare, that on the right Saint Francis of Assisi holding a book with the inscription: Vera S / Francisci / Effigies. We know numerous almost identical examples of such small pictures on copper from the turn from the 16th to the 17th century; they were mass-produced, probably in Assisi, for pilgrims who visited the famous Franciscan church. Numerous examples of such pictures are kept in the Museo Francescano dei Frati Minori Cappuccini in Rome (cf. L’immagine di S. Francesco nella Controriforma, catalogue of an exhibition in the Calcografia Nazionale, Rome 1982–1983, p. 256, Fig.).

On the left edge of the Madonna’s throne the inscription C.T.F. 1471, whose meaning has not been deciphered, is written in crude strokes of the brush.

Provenance: Chapel in Hompoš Castle near Hoče in Styria (Pohorski dvor), which was the property of the Pallavicini family; Giovanni Antonio Fibbia Pallavicini donated the picture to the parish church in Hoče in 1911; in 1926 it was purchased by the Narodni muzej in Ljubljana, Inv. No. 3548; in 1934 it came to the Narodna galerija in Ljubljana, old Inv. No. 103.
Exhibitions: 1960, Ljubljana, No. 2; 1983, Ljubljana, No. 2; 1995, Ljubljana, No. 183.
Lit: Stele 1926, p. 173; Stele 1927, pp. 1–19, Fig. 1–3; Vodnik 1931, p. 106, Fig. on p. 107 (text F. Stele); Stele 1938, Fig. 16; Stele 1940, p. 34, Fig. 42; Mikuž 1941, p. 172; Cevc 1960, p. 17, Cat. No. 2, Fig. 1; Conti 1981, p. 44, Fig. 63 (he refers to the painting as Madonna delle febbre and considers it a part of a polyptych which was sawn off at the bottom in the first half of the 17th century and adapted to fit the reliquary frame); Zeri [& Rozman] 1983, pp. 100–101, Cat. No. 2, Fig. I and 1; Menaše 1994, pp. 154, 312, Fig. 98; De Marchi 1995, pp. 317–318, Fig. 183.

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.