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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

Procession of the Magi
(after 1320), fresco, 104 x 102 cm

NG S 1258, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

The Vrzdenec church is one of the most interesting medieval monuments in Slovenia; originally a Romanesque church (a typical window in the north wall of the nave has been preserved), a Gothic rib-vaulted single-bay sanctuary terminating in three sides of an octagon was added in the first half of the 15th century in the place of the earlier apse. The building was decorated with wall paintings from early on (shortly after 1320); a century later, these were painted over with new ones (Gorizia workshop, c. 1410/20), while the paintings in the sanctuary by Master Leonard date from early in the 16th century. There are also two wall paintings of St Christopher on the exterior of the nave: the earlier one, produced by the Gorizia workshop around 1410/20, is on the north-facing wall, while the one on the south-facing wall was painted around the middle of the 16th century. 

The earlier painting layer stretches in two bands along both longitudinal walls of the nave: the upper band shows scenes from the infancy of Jesus, while the lower one depicts the Passion; most of the scenes are preserved in fragmentary form.

The exhibit is a mirror image of a segment of the upper band of paintings on the north wall of the nave, in the section between the two Baroque pilasters; it is preserved as an impression of the paint layer on the back of the plaster layer, which formed the base layer for the painting from around 1410/20, and was subsequently removed. The plaster layer was removed by the decision of the Monuments Office (1925–1926) in order to present the older nave painting in full. 

The female figure (Anna the prophetess) on the right belongs to the adjacent scene (Presentation at the Temple ?); on her left and facing the opposite direction are two kings bearing gifts, which are part of the composition of the Procession of the Magi. All three figures are dressed in long, tight-fitting robes with long tapered sleeves. The drawing is distinct and subtle, while the plasticity of the bodies is weak; the space is defined with Gothic trefoil arches above the figures. – This layer of the wall painting in the Vrzdenec church was produced by a local painting workshop whose artists were working in the High Gothic linear style; its works can be found in several locations in the Gorenjska region. 

Vrzdenec near Horjul, succursal Church of St Cantianus

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.