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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

The Nativity (Mary Adoring the Child)
(1453), tempera, canvas, 185 x 145 cm

NG S 1620, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

The wall painting, which represents half of the former scene of the Nativity of Jesus, is presented in situ on the east wall of the north side nave of the Crngrob pilgrimage church. 

On the left, St Joseph is seated on a stool; he is cooking a pottage, which has boiled over, as he is focusing his attention on Mary, who is kneeling and praying to the Child. The background depicts an ox and a donkey in a barn built of hewn timber. Part of an angel with an open songbook in his hands can also be seen in the upper right edge of the damaged painting. 

The same hand also painted the Adoration of the Magi and several paintings of saints in the Crngrob church, including the half-length painting of St Wolfgang, below which is an inscription indicating the year of the painting (1453) and the painter’s name (Bolfgangus). The frescoist inscribed these valuable details below the image of his patron saint.

The work of Master Bolfgang represents one of the high points of late Gothic wall painting in Slovenia. Following his first study trip to the Upper Rhine around 1450, the master introduced several stylistic, symbolic and formal innovations to his home region; these are also reflected in the Crngrob Nativity: the first is the sense of realism, especially in depicting the effect of gravity on the draperies; the second is exemplified by the inclusion of Joseph – the step-father of Jesus – as nutritor domini; and the third can be seen in the posture of Mary and the fashionably and elegantly modelled drapery – both drawing on the engravings of Master E. S., created between 1440 and 1450.

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.