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Art in Slovenia


Franc Kavčič/Caucig

(Gorizia, 1755 – Vienna, 1828)

Socrates with a Disciple and Diotima (?)
(before 1810), oil, canvas, 121,5 x 173,5 cm

NG S 3333, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
In the shade of a danse tree Socrates is seated, talking with a disciple. A self - confident lady has joined the discussion. She and Socrates are evidently engaged in a heated debate, while the young man is somewhat restrained in wonderor in shy contradiction to the learned lady. A half - unrolled inscribed scroll lies on Socrates' knee. In the distance, a town is visible in the centre, with a domed central building at its outskirts. The lady came from the town or from the temple in a chariot, accompanied by two companions who are now patiently waiting for her and passing their time with a chat

Preservation: The painting has been streched on a new frame, cleaned and retouched. Chalk ground.
Restored: 2005, Kemal Selmanović, Ljubljana
Provenance: Before 1810: painted for Palais Auersperg in Vienna; 1953: the painting in the Kaiser Saal was bought, together with the palace, by consul Alfred Weiss. After his death the palace was sold in 1987; 2005: the National Gallery of Slovenia bought the painting from a private art collector of Vienna.
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; Boeckh 1825, p. 328; Kukuljević 1858, p. 153; Palais Auersperg c. 1957, p. 23 ( just general references in all bibliographical items ).

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.