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Art in Slovenia


Franc Kavčič/Caucig

(Gorizia, 1755 – Vienna, 1828)

Ideal Landscape with a Bridge and Amphitheatre
before 1810, oil, canvas, 121,5 x 178 cm

NG S 3342, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
This idyllic landscape is viewed from a slightly raised position. The eye slides across the bridge into the distance. On the left, the painting is framed with high, massive rocks and on the right with an antique amphitheatre, hills and the cloudy sky. The heroic atmosphere is enhanced by the mighty rocks and the high bridge below them, resting upon semicircular arches. This bridge and a lower one in the centre of the painting are enlivened by miniature human figures. Theatricality is achieved by the bright and dark - clouded sky on the right and an archeological memento of the times past, the antique amphitheatre. Also a pastoral scene is not missing: a shepard is whiling away the time by playing a flute and his lady companion is sitting in the company of a sheep and enjoying the serene atmosphere. Small cattle are grazing or resting in shade. The figures are tiny, while Nature is mighty: peace, solitude and contentment pervade the scene; the amphitheatre is part of the archeological landscape that bears witness to the long bygone time, and the eye slides from the happy solitude to the distance that is sunken in the warm Mediterranean light. Slim cypresses rise to the sky, and the forms of the buildings in the background likewise hint that this is a southern landscape. A significant protagonist in this composite landscape is the lonely deciduous tree in the foreground, under which the two shepards are resting, and next to it there is an old, dying tree- trunk against which the shepard is leaning. The living and the passing, the present and the past, the mighty and the simple - this is the message of this painting that belongs to the bulk of Arcadian, idyllic, heroic and pastoral landscapes painted by the masters who were trained at the end of the 18th century in Rome.

Preservation: The simple original strecher survives. Thin chalk ground, tinted reddish grey.
Restored: 2007, Kemal Selmanović, Ljubljana
Provenance: Before 1810: painted for Palais Auersperg in Vienna; 1953: the painting in the Idomeneo Saal was bought, together with the palace, by consul Alfred Weiss. After his death the palace was sold in 1987; several owners followed; 2006: a private art collector of Vienna sold the painting; in the same year it was donated by the new owner to the National Gallery of Slovenia, in memory of the parents Ivan and Lidija Rozman.
Exhibition: Franc Kavčič/Caucig; Paintings for Palais Auersperg in Vienna; National Gallery of Ljubljana, 24 October 2007 - 10 February 2008
Lit. Annalen 1810, p. 359 ( several scenes from Gessner's Idylls and after Athenaeus in the palace of prince Auersperg in Vienna ); Boeckh 1825, p. 328 ( twelve paintings, part landscapes part histories); Kukuljević 1858, p. 153 ( various paintings showing the " environs " and historical scenes ); Palais Auersperg, c. 1957, p. 23 ( Red Marble Hall, overdoors showing heroic landscapes, latter half 18th c. ); Rozman 1978, p. 61

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.