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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

Johannes de Laybaco

(d. after 1459)

Ornamentation with Supposed Self Portrait
(1459), tempera, canvas, 119 x 100,5 cm

NG S 1687, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

The painting belongs to the triangular vault section of the short Gothic presbytery with a ribbed vault. The entire section is covered with an artful combination of fleshy vegetation, dominated by acanthus leaves. One of the curved acanthus leaves features a monochrome painting of a man’s face with deep eye wrinkles and a slightly closed left eye – in all likelihood a concealed self portrait of the painter.

The presbytery and the triumphal arch wall were painted according to the iconographic scheme of the so-called Carniolan presbytery, which was typical for central Slovenia from around 1420
to around 1535/1540. Johannes de Laybaco, the author of the acanthus leaf mask in Kamni vrh, was originally from Carinthia. He settled in the area around 1440 through the support of the Abbot of Viktring, Oswald Gradenegg, and quickly adapted to the demands and expectations of the clients on the southern side of the Karavanke. Not long after his arrival, he also became a burgher of Ljubljana.

The wall paintings in Kamni vrh, dated 1459, are his last known work. Both the style and execution of the frescoes reveal the skilful hand of a painted who remained faithful to the late International Soft Style throughout his career. The painted figures in Kamni vrh differ from the earlier ones in the slightly more expressive characterisation of the faces.

Kamni vrh pri Ambrusu, succursal 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.