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Art in Slovenia


Franc Kavčič/Caucig

(Gorizia, 1755 – Vienna, 1828)

Semiramis Fed by the Doves
(before 1810), oil, canvas, 103 x 164 cm

NG S 3356, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Not far away from the Syrian Ascalon, there is a large and deep lake swarming with fish. On its shore there was a place sacred to the Syrian goddess Derceto, who had the upper portion of a woman and the lower part of her body was that of fish. The goddess of love, Aphrodite, bore a grudge against her and in revenge made Derceto fall in love with a hadsome priest in her own temple. A daughter was born from their relationship, of whom Derceto was ashamed. So she exposed her baby, did away with her father, threw herself into the lake and turned into a fish. In the place where the baby was exposed doves had their nests and they brought up the girl. Some of them would warm her with their wings, others would bring milk in their beaks. When the child was one year old and needed more food, the doves would steal bits of cheese from the nearby shepards. The latter were curious about this and before long they found the reason. They discovered the little babe, who was of great beauty, and took her to the chief of the royal herds who was childless. He gave her the name Semiramis, which means in Syrian the " doves ".

Preservation: Flaxen canvas, chalk ground.
Restored: 2006, Kemal Selmanović, Ljubljana
Provenance: Before 1810: painted for Palais Auersperg in Vienna; 1953: the painting in the Kronprinz Rudolf Saal was bought, together with the palace, by consul Alfred Weiss. After his death in 1974, the palace was sold in 1987.
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 8 twelve paintings, part landscapes part histories ); Kukuljević 1858, p. 153 (various paintings showing the " environs " and historical scenes ); Palais Auersperg, c. 1957, p. 23 ( Green Hall, overdoors showing mythological scenes are good works by an Italian painter of the end of 18th c. ). Rozman 1978, p. 152.

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.