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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

St James
(c. 1450), sandstone (polychromed), 108 x 40 x 26 cm

NG P 19, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

The saint stands frontally, in an accentuated S-curve stance, wearing a cloak with arched folds that break towards the bottom; he wears the typical pilgrim’s hat with the scallop shell, the emblem of St James.

The sculpture was created at the so-called Ljubljana sculpture workshop, which was active in central Slovenia from around 1445 to 1465/70. Formally, it retained the characteristics of the International Soft Style, but its masters were certainly also familiar with contemporary northern Italian, specifically Venetian, sculptural production, as evidenced by the accentuated physicality of the figures and the move away from the emphasis on beautiful facial expression.

During its first decade of activity, the Ljubljana sculpture workshop was linked to the Bistra Charterhouse and to Bishop Martin of Pićan (d. 1456), who occasionally resided there and in Ljubljana. In its second period, its activities were geographically concentrated on the estate of the Cistercian monastery at Stična. Nearly 30 sculptures have survived to the present day, mostly made of sandstone (from a quarry near Moravče owned by the Bistra Charterhouse since the beginning of the 15th century). Since contemporary archival documents from Ljubljana report on a family of artists that passed down their skills through three generations, it is thought that the Ljubljana sculpture workshop was initially led by Master Janez (documented in 1444, 1453 and 1462) and was taken over around 1460 by his son Gregor, who brought more energy and Venetian freshness to the stylistic expression.

Provenance: succursal Church of St James, Strahomer
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.