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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

St George
(c.1450), lime wood (remains of polychrome), 82,5 x 60 x 24 cm

NG P 22, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

The saint stands triumphantly on the vanquished dragon, which is lying on its back, writhing in its death throes. Saint George is clad in mid-15th century knightly armour, from beneath which the long hanging split sleeves typical of the period cascade in undulating folds; he has thrust his (lost) spear into the beast’s snout ruthlessly, with both hands, so that the spearhead protrudes from the back of the dragon’s head. The scene symbolises how faith, embodied by St George, conquers evil in the form of the dragon.


In terms of iconography, the figural group is still couched in the tradition of the International Soft Style in which the emphasis on the beauty of expression is growing weaker, while a more pronounced tectonic stylisation and deliberately realistic features are coming to the fore. Emilijan Cevc points to possible influences of the carving workshops in South Tyrol or the Carnic Alps, while also comparing this sculpture with several contemporaneous carved works from the Upper Carniola region; the workshop from which this group of sculptures originated is thought to have been based in Kranj or Škofja Loka.

Provenance: Gabrska gora above Litija, Chapel of St George

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.