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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

St Roch
(c. 1525), lime wood (polychromed), 50,5 x 23 x 14 cm

NG P 71, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

St Roch, from Montpellier, venerated as the protector against pestilence, is dressed in a pilgrim’s habit and wears the typical hat with St James’s scallop shell. His hair, moustache and beard are densely curled and neatly groomed; his beard is cut straight across. He wears a belted tunic, the folds of which follow the weight of the material from the waist down. The cloak is made of heavy fabric: it forms arched folds across the front, while the tail hangs out away from the left side of the saint’s body. St Roch is pointing with his left hand to the infected wound on his left thigh. 

The carver was well acquainted with the Northern Renaissance fashion trends, as shown by the clipped beard in the style of Cranach. The drapery exhibits a dual character: the tunic is faithfully depicted, while the cloak is modelled rather clumsily; however, the hanging flap at the side again suggests a Northern-trained hand. Given that we know that the Pilgrimage Church of St Peter above Begunje was consecrated in 1523, we can assume that a smaller altarpiece, which incorporated this statue, was also created at around the same time.

Provenance: pilgrimage Church of St Peter above Begunje

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.