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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

Marx Reichlich, workshop

(near Brixen, c. 1460 − Salzburg, after 1520)

The Knillenberg Tryptich
1511, tempera, wood, 119 x 168,5 cm
signed left and right on throne: MR (monogram)

NG S 1295, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
The triptych comprises only the main body of the altar, without the predella and the top part. The central panel represents Saint Ann and Mary with the Child sitting on a stone or ivory throne; kneeling below are the small figures of a husband (Andreas Knillenberg?) and a wife (Katharina von Köstlan/Castellone?) in burgher dress, beside them are two saints interceding for them: beside the man is a youthful saint with a sword and a shallow dish in his hand, next to the wife a bearded saint in pilgrim's dress and with a staff; they are not iconographically defined (Rasmo suggests that the latter is Saint Colman or Saint Judoc). Beside the portraits of the donors are four coats of arms, the two in the middle are those of the Knillenberg and Köstlan (Kestlan) families, the one on the right is that of the Kirchmayr von Regen family, while the one on the left has not yet been identified. The names of the donors are also confirmed by the inscription on the slanting lower part of the frame: (Andreas Kn)uylenberger cum Catherina de Castelleon uxore hoc opus fecerunt fieri 1511. The composition is strictly geometric, while the figures are conceived as statues in a cabinet beneath a canopy of rib arches with small tendrils, which partly conceal the top of the throne. At the apex of the throne, as a constituent part of it, are painted statues of the Virgin Mary and the Angel of the Annunciation, beneath them is the double monogram M.R. The inner (festive) side of the left wing features a standing figure of Saint Catherine with a sword in her hand and a wheel at her feet, while the right wing shows Saint Barbara with a sword and a chalice. The surfaces above the two saints are decorated with arches composed of garlands and tendrils with angel heads as keystones. Similar tendril fillings are also at the saints’ feet. On the outer (workday) side of the left wing is a picture of Saint Sebastian with an arrow, on the right wing is Saint Christopher carrying Jesus across the water. Above the saints are arches of Gothic acanthus and the spandrels are filled with branches which are reminiscent of laurel. While Saint Sebastian is set like a statue on a pedestal decorated with palmettes, Saint Christopher is standing in water, so that we seem to be viewing the former from below (his soles are level with the edge of the pedestal or even disappear behind it, which recalls Mantegna-like solutions), while Saint Christopher is seen “from above”, so that his insteps are visible. Here the painter wavered between the new Renaissance and the old Gothic principles. There is a similar hybridity in other details. In the case of Saint Ann and Mary we have the Central European composition of Saint Ann “Selbdritt”, which arose in the second half of the 15th century (also with the collaboration of Dutch art), while all the figures are plastically conceived (under the influence of Michael Pacher) with no expressive realism such as we meet as late as 1506 on the altar of Saint Stephen and Saint James. The postures and the faces bear the stamp of emphasised beauty and the atmosphere is conveyed in a chiaroscuro in which even muted tones become more intensive. Saint Sebastian still epitomises the late Gothic formula, but combined with a certain Renaissance monumentality. The figure of Saint Christopher is inspired by Italian models; the saint no longer toils beneath Christ's weight, but turns his head towards the Child, his left arm resting on his hip – this is a posture which is very Italian, in the North it was an exception. The garlands and the putti at the top of the throne and the angels' heads in the garland arches on the wings are also Italianate. Rasmo dated the altarpiece to the year 1513, but the last number on the inscription can by no means be read as a three, but as a one; however, it is true that the last two ones are damaged at the top and that their form is different from the first one (the thousand). We can therefore broaden Rasmo's assertion, that with this altarpiece (which means by the year 1511) Reichlich had already achieved a style in which “northern dynamism is subdued by contact with the reflective equilibrium, which he had acquired in the Italian Renaissance atmosphere". This gives the Ljubljana triptych a very important place in Reichlich’s artistic development, despite the fact that its compositions do not come to life in wider, more spacious concepts.

Provenance: The altar was originally probably in Obermaiss (Maia Bassa near Meran/Merano), where the client Andreas Knillberg acquired property in 1513. In the 18th century it was replaced by a new altar. At some time it came into the collection of Hans Kometer at mansion Puchenstein near Dravograd. Purchased by the Narodni muzej at auction (old Inv. No. 3696) and transferred to the Narodna galerija in 1934 (old Inv. No. 104).
Exhibitions: 1960, Ljubljana, No. 62; 1983, Ljubljana, No. 54; 1995, Ljubljana, No. 199.
Lit.: Stele 1935, pp. 45, 47 (suggests provenance from Puchenstein Castle near Sp. Dravograd); Rasmo 1954, pp. 136–138, Fig. 1–3; Rasmo 1955, pp. 246–251, Fig. 61–63; Cevc 1960, p. 30, Cat. No. 62, Fig. 32–33; Stele 1969, p. 248; Rasmo 1969, p. 193; Oberhammer 1970, pp. 376, 383; Rasmo 1980b, p. 85; Rasmo 1980a; Zeri [& Rozman] 1983, pp. 135–137, Cat. No. 54, Fig. VI, 54, 54a (text E. Cevc); Egg 1985, p. 433; Madesbacher 1994, pp. 119–123; Gotik 1995, pp. 343–344, Cat. and Fig. No. 199 (text T. Vignjević).
Note: On the frame of the central panel an inscription at the bottom: (Andreas Kn)uylenberger cum Catherina de Castelleon uxore hoc opus fecerunt fieri 1511.

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.