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Art in Slovenia


Franz Joseph I
(mid–19th cent.), porcelain, 57 x 34 x 33 cm
Inscription on porcelain pedestal: Franz Jos. I.

NG P 549, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
This porcelain portrait bust of Emperor Franz Joseph I is based on models from antiquity, both in pose and in the subject’s attire, which is similar to a Roman toga, fastened by a brooch on the shoulder. The work deviates from other contemporary imperial portraits, particularly paintings, in which the sitter is usually portrayed wearing dress uniform adorned by numerous decorations. 
Franz Joseph I was born on 18 August 1830 and replaced his sick uncle Ferdinand I on the throne at the age of just eighteen. In 1854 he married Elisabeth, Duchess in Bavaria (known as Sissi). Their marriage, which was only apparently a romantically ideal one, produced three daughters and a son – Crown Prince Rudolf, the heir apparent to the Austrian throne. Rudolf died in tragic circumstances at the age of 31. Nine years later, Empress Sissi was assassinated by a deranged anarchist. The Emperor died on 21 November 1916. 
The verdicts of historians regarding Franz Joseph I and his reign vary considerably, depending on the point of view from which they judge the 68-year reign of an emperor who was, without a doubt, the most popular Habsburg alongside Empress Maria Theresa. He was a patriarch who, through his own personal prestige, united the imperial-royal state, with its population of 50 million, into a colourful community of eleven nations. He was a majestic figure who personified the idea of the eternal monarchy, in which he ruled as its first official, administering his vast empire with scrupulous care. Franz Joseph I was a monarch who not only reigned but ruled. His reign was marked by technical and cultural advances throughout the empire (see Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830–1916), the Last Patriarch of Monarchic Europe; on the Centenary of the Emperor’s Death, Revelations, National Gallery, 2016).

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.