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Art in Slovenia


Anton Dietrich

(Vienna, 1799−1872)

Franz I of Austria
1824, marble, 76 x 38 x 27,5 cm
signed and dated right: A. Dietrich fecit 1824

NG P 542, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Francis I of Austria (1768–1835) was the last Holy Roman Emperor (as Francis II) and the first Emperor of Austria. The bust dates from 1824 and was probably sculpted to commemorate the Congress of the Holy Alliance which took place in Ljubljana and 1821 and for a time transformed Ljubljana into the epicentre of European politics. 
The Viennese sculptor Anton Dietrich depicted Francis accurately and realistically, with prominent cheekbones and an expression that reflects his resolve and authority. He is crowned with a laurel wreath, like the emperors of ancient Rome. Such wreaths were at first only worn on occasion by Julius Caesar and Octavian, but later they became the symbol of all emperors. Laurel wreaths have long been symbolically connected with triumph and the greatness and power of emperors.

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.