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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

St Margaret
(1453), tempera, canvas, 83 x 60 cm

NG S 1437, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

In 1453, Master Bolfgang painted the entire eastern bay of the north nave of the Crngrob pilgrimage church. In addition to two scenes (Nativity of Jesus, Adoration of the Magi), the triangular vault sections are adorned with depictions of saints. Among them is a group of four full-figure saints with crowns, set against a neutral blue background: on the far left, St Dorothea, in a slight bow, extends her right hand towards a child offering her a basket of flowers; next to her is St Catherine, holding the torture wheel with her right hand; then St Barbara with a tower in her left hand; and finally St Margaret with a dragon at her feet. The virgins are dressed in simple, monochrome garments, with the exception of St Margaret, who wears a lavish cloak with stencilled ornaments combining palmettes, stylised pomegranates and pairs of birds with outstretched wings.

The surface of the painting is quite deteriorated and details are poorly visible. The best preserved of the figures is St Margaret, whose facial features, gracefully rendered in colour, and poised right hand holding the cloak that had slipped from her left shoulder possess a remarkable elegance. The drapery falls with gravity, following the style of realism in the Gothic art from the Upper Rhine, which Master Bolfgang encountered on his first study trip to the German lands.

Crngrob, pilgrimage Church of the Annunciation

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.