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Art in Slovenia


Moritz Michael Daffinger

(Lichtental, 1790 − Vienna, 1849)

Cecrops' Daughters Discover Erichtonius
(after 1808), porcelain, 32,7 x 41,6 x 3 cm
signed: Daffinger; inscribed back: Les filles de Cecrops / D'apres le Dessein de Mons: Caucig, / Professeur de l'Academie / I. R. des arts a'Vienne.

NG S 3475, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

The depicted motif is rarely seen in visual arts. It presents one of the earliest myths about the city of Athens. When the goddess Athena went to Pallene in Achaea to find rocks to fortify the Athenian Acropolis, she entrusted a basket to the three daughters of Cecrops, the first king of Athens, and warned them not to open it. The scene on the plate shows the moment when the daughters – Aglaurus, Herse and Pandrosus – open the basket despite the warning, only to find inside a beautiful boy, Erichthonius, who has snakes instead of legs. This story was recounted by several ancient authors, and the motif depicted here is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses(2.562–565), where the news of the three daughters’ disobedience is brought to Athena by a crow, which can be seen perched on the branch of a tree.

The author of this work, the Austrian miniaturist painter Moritz Michael Daffinger, transferred a now-lost painting by Franc Kavčič (1755–1828) onto the plate, and the scene shows all the characteristics of Kavčič’s style. In 1808, Kavčič became Head and Supervisor of the Painting Department of the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory, the second oldest in Europe after the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory. Moritz Michael was the son of porcelain painter Johann Leopold Daffinger; he was taken on as an apprentice at the porcelain manufactory at the age of eleven. He later studied at the Vienna Fine Arts Academy, where Kavčič was appointed Director of the Painting and Sculpture School in 1820.

acquisition, 2014

Franc Kavčič/Caucig was an important representative of European Neo-classicist painting. Even though he depicted stories from Greco-Roman antiquity, his ethical message is fully contemporary and mirrors the time of great social changes. 

In the 1780s, Kavčič was trained in Rome where he drew also at the French Academy at the time of the second sojourn of Jacques Louis David in the Eternal City, and when Angelika Kauffmann occupied the former residence of Anton Raphael Mengs. After more than twenty years of professorship at the Vienna art academy, Kavčič was appointed director of its painting and sculpture school. He also led the painting department of the Viennese porcelain factory, and towards the end of his life he became an honorary member of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. Several of his compositions thus appeared on the products of the imperial porcelain works. 

His paintings are characteristic for their compositional monumentality and clarity, impeccable modelling by means of sharp drawing, thin polished paintlayers, underlined role of female protagonists in his scenes, and academic reserve. He relied for his motifs on the rich treasury of classical history and mythology as well as biblical stories. The Old-Testament Judgement of Solomon as a narrative of the ruler’s wisdom was thus a very suitable subject matter for the prestigious commission from Emperor Francis I. As to literary sources, Kavčič was inspired by the Idylls of Salomon Gessner. The painter’s landscapes are of the Arcadian type, they are ideal and thoughtfully composed in accord with classical rules and his travel memories. They contain architectural vestiges of the glorious past and are animated by means of tiny pastoral scenes. 

The painting output by Kavčič had some influence on his numerous Viennese students in the first half of the 19th century, while in the history of art he also left trace by taking part in the intense polemics with the members of the Brotherhood of St Luke, when he defended the then already conservative ideas.