Menu Shopping cart
Your basket is empty.
Support us


Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

Nursing Madonna
(2nd half 15th cent.), tempera, wood, 38,5 x 36,6 cm

NG S 1845, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Despite its modest size, this painting is a characteristic example of the type of devotional painting which was widespread between the 14th and 17th centuries on the shores of the Adriatic (both on the Dalmatian and on the Italian side), on the Greek islands under the rule of the Venetian Republic and in a number of other littoral areas, the last remnants of the Byzantine empire. There were a number of centres where such devotional paintings, which combine Byzantine elements with the influences of Venetian painting, were produced: they were painted on Crete, where the names of some of the artists are known, and also in Venice and in southern Apulia. They were probably also painted in Dalmatian cities, in Istria and on Corfu. The problems which this art, which we usually call Venetian-Byzantine or Dalmatian, presents to art historians are still far from a solution. The classification and dating of a very large number of panels, which pose a whole series of questions, are still very uncertain. The Byzantine elements on our panel are the gold background, the highlights on the textiles, in particular on the clothing of the Child, and the treatment of the shadows, with a greenish colour base. To these characteristics of ancient origin have been added influences of Venetian painting in the composition, in the treatment of the draping of the clothing and in the motif of the Virgin’s hand. These Venetian influences suggest a dating of the panel around 1475 to 1500, which is also confirmed by the decoration of the halo, which was made free hand with indents of various sizes.

The picture combines the motif of the nursing Virgin with that of the Child taking the orb, the symbol of authority over the world, from his mother’s hands. The orb is divided into three parts: the lower one, which is twice as big as the other two, represents Asia, the upper left part represents Africa, and the right part Europe. This scheme originated from the classical Greek geographical ideas before the time of Ptolemy and we find it on the so-called Sallust maps which circulated all over Europe in the Middle Ages.

Restored: 1975.
Provenance: Unknown. FCC, 1945; Prof. Dr. France Stele received the painting from the FCC; in 1974 the France Stele Art History Institute presented the work to the Narodna galerija.
Exhibitions: 1976, Ljubljana, No. 39; 1983, Ljubljana, No. 3.
Lit: Cevc and Rozman 1976, p. 56, Cat. and Fig. No. 39 (text A. Cevc, Cretan-Venetian school, 16/17C); Zeri [& Rozman] 1983, pp. 101–102, Cat. and Fig. No. 3.

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.