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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

(1400−1410), sandstone (polychromed), 83 x 88 x 35 cm

Inv. No. ZD P 20150272

The Madonna sits on a low throne, holding the dead body of her son in her lap. The body of Christ is positioned slightly diagonally and his head is turned half to the right. The long body presses down heavily on Mary’s knees, which can no longer support the weight and have dropped slightly.

Parallels to this iconographic type can be found in the Beautiful Pietà from the Cathedral of St Wenceslaus in Olomouc, created between 1390 and 1400 (part of the collection of Canon Křivák in the Olomouc Archdiocesan Museum permanent collection). Many of the details are virtually identical: the left hand of the youthful Mary rests on her chest, while her right hand gently supports the back of her son’s head; Christ’s arms lay crossed in his lap, the crown of thorns is shaped identically, the waves of the hair and the symmetrical curls of the beard are very similarly, the eyelids are almost shut, the mouth is slightly open; other shared features are the slightly elongated finger – one of the middle three – on the hands of both figures, and the design of the drapery, including the sickle-shaped fold. The obvious difference, however, is in Mary’s facial expression: the Olomouc mother is looking sorrowfully at her dead son, whereas in this case Mary is gazing melancholically into the distance off to her right. This is typical of the next stage of development of the Beautiful Pietàs, where Mary is presented not as a grieving mother, but as the Church offering the body of Christ to the faithful for worship.

The Pietà in the collection of Canon Křivák originates from a Prague workshop, as demonstrated by petrographic analysis, where sculptures of this type were produced for domestic and foreign buyers. Evidence for this can be found in the Pietà from the Seeon Monastery in Upper Bavaria (kept at the Bavarian National Museum in Munich), which is very similar in style to the one in Olomouc. The latter is considered to be one of the first sculptures of its kind to depict Mary as a young girl, in contrast to most Pietàs of the time, which continued the tradition of Peter Parler’s
workshop and depicted the Mother of God in her actual age.

On this basis we can assume that the Pietà from Stare Gore was carved by a master trained in the same Prague workshop as the author of the Olomouc Pietà and that it was created about a decade later, which is suggested by the dignified expression of the youthful Mary. It is possible that the author of the Pietà from Stare Gore was also one of the leading masters of the sculpture workshop operating at Ptujska Gora.

Provenance: pilgrimage Church of Mother of God, Stare Gore nad Podsredo

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.