A Girl Rescuing Aristomenes from Captivity
(c. 1801), oil, canvas, 71 x 95 cm
NG S 2444, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Pausanias, an author from Asia Minor who lived around the year 175, told the story of how the Cretans, who were allied to Sparta, captured Aristomenes of Messenia. They took him to a farmhouse where a girl and her mother lived. The day before the arrival of the prisoner the girl had dreamt that wolves had brought a lion without claws to their farm. The girl had stuck claws on him, so that he could tear the wolves apart. When Aristomenes was brought to the house the girl remembered her dream. She got the Cretans drunk, stole the dagger of the one who was sleeping the most soundly, cut Aristomenes’ bonds and liberated him.
Caucig’s depictions after literary and historical sources are difficult to identify, because he usually chose stories which are no longer known today. We do not know whether any other European painter depicted this scene. The French painter J.-J. François Le Barbier l’Aîné depicted another story about Aristomenes, also by Pausanias (IV 17, 1).
Caucig’s painting is first mentioned in 1801, which supports a dating around that year or ante quem. There are six studies for this painting in the Graphisches Kabinett of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna. They are in black and white chalk and depict the heads, hands, feet and postures of the individual figures (Inv. Nos. 1411, 1412, 1481, 1482, 1490 and 1499).
Their excellent state of preservation bears evidence to the quality of the technique. The artist has caught the psychology of the figures, emphasising their individual feelings, demonstrating his familiarity with the psychological and physiognomic texts of the Enlightenment.
Another example (128 x 170.2 cm), probably also by Caucig, was on sale at a Phillips auction in London on 6 Dec. 1994, No. 31, as the work of Nicolas André Monssiau.
Provenance: In 1801 the painting is mentioned by Hans Rudolph Füssli. It was still in Caucig’s residence in 1810. Then all trace of it was lost until 1988, when an anonymous owner sold it to the Dorotheum in Vienna as the work of an unknown painter. In the Dorotheum it was sold among the objects which were not auctioned and purchased by the antiquarians Oswald & Kalb GmbH of Vienna, who put it up for sale at the Christmas auction in the Dorotheum in 1989. It was purchased for the Narodna galerija on 6 Dec. 1989 with funds provided by the Kulturna skupnost Slovenije and the Gorenje Corporation of Velenje.
Exhibitions: 29 Oct. 1990–21 Jan. 1991, Ljubljana, Narodna galerija, no catalogue; 1993, Ljubljana, No. 70.
Lit.: Füssli 1801, p. 120; Annalen, 1810, p. 358; Boeckh 1825, p. 327; Heller 1830, p. 799; Kukuljević 1858, p. 152; Frimmel 1899, p. 199; Auktion 1989, Cat. No. 42, Fig. 38; Zeri and Rozman 1993, pp. 109, 186, Cat. No. 70, Fig. XI, 70.