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Art in Slovenia

The Middle Ages and the 16th Century

Three Scenes from the Passion of Christ
(1380−1390), tempera, wood, 22,3 x 48 cm

NG S 1797, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Preserved in the original frame, which is carved and gilded. On the back of the panel is part of the original devotional inscription in Gothic majuscules on the gesso priming: O TU CHE TE TIEN IN TANTA ALTURA DE(...)MENTE UN POCO IN QUEST(...)/ MAI NI RE NI YNP(ER)ATORE NI PRI(N)CI(PE...) SUL MONDO (...)/CHOVE(...)NISE VEGNIR ATANT(...) RENASA CH(...)/ MORT (...).

From left to right the scenes show Christ Before Herod (Luke 23, 8–12), the Crucifixion and the Flagellation. It is interesting that symmetry of the composition was given precedence over the chronology of events, since logically the Crucifixion should be in third place, at the far right. Attention should also be drawn to the damage, scratches and cuts, on some of the figures, e.g. on the two men flaying Christ and on the cross on which the Saviour hangs; such damage is often found on older Italian paintings - some of the faithful wanted to punish the executioners and evil spirits, that is, the perpetrators and instruments of the suffering of holy persons. However, despite this, the original function of the picture is not quite clear. It would appear to have come down to us preserved in its entirety and does not seem to be a predella. No similar examples of Venetian painting from the 14th century are known to us. The style of the panel painting is, however, characteristically Venetian and manifests the formal repertoire of the local tradition, which was influenced by the painting schools of the neighbouring centres, such as Padua and Verona. Many details, especially in the central scene, are very close to the work of Jacobello di Bonomo who created an altarpiece in 1375, which is now lost, for the Church of San Michele in Vicenza, and the large signed and dated (1385) polyptych in the town hall in Sant’Arcangelo in Romagna. A number of works display similarities with this polyptych; we should perhaps date our painting to the artist’s period before 1385. However we must be very careful in the attribution of this painting to Jacobello di Bonomo, in view of the uncertainty in which the development of the painter’s artistic personality is still shrouded and of the present stage of the research on this period in Venetian painting, which is still very problematic.

Restored: 1974.
Provenance: Unknown. FCC, 1945; France Stele Art History Institute, SAZU, Ljubljana. The panel was brought to the Institute by Professor Stele; entrusted to the Narodna galerija in 1974.
Exhibitions: 1976, Ljubljana, No. 38; 1983, Ljubljana, No. 1; 1995, Ljubljana, No. 181.
Lit.: Cevc and Rozman 1976, pp. 54–56, Cat. and Fig. No. 38 (Venetian, mid-14C or somewhat later – attribution and dating tentative, text A. Cevc and K. Prijatelj); Zeri [& Rozman] 1983, p. 99, Cat. No. 1, Fig. 2; De Marchi 1995, pp. 314–315, Cat. No. and Fig. 181 (as Marco di Paolo Veneziano – Master of the Polyptych of San Silvestro); De Marchi 1996, pp. 241–256, Fig. 13 (Marco di Paolo Veneziano).

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.