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Art in Slovenia

Biedermeier and Romanticism

Henrika Langus

(Ljubljana, 1836−1876)

The Liberation of St Peter
(after 1856), oil, canvas, 63,5 x 53,5 cm
signed lower right: H Langus. / pinxit.

NG S 3107, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
The New Testament recalls that Peter the Apostle was thrown into prison in Jerusalem on the order of King Herod. On the night before he was to be paraded before the people, Peter was awoken by an angel, who miraculously freed him of his shackles and rescued him from imprisonment. In contrast with older Renaissance and Baroque depictions of the same motif, in which the active role of the divine messenger and the apostle’s traditional elderly, awakening face are emphasized, here the foreground is dominated by a close-up of the apostolic champion. The saint holds a book to his chest and is turning back to his left, towards the ethereal figure of the angel. Their eyes do not meet and their arms are painted with special attention to detail. The extremely elegant appendages of both Peter and the angel, with slender fingers, and with the apostle’s left hand posed just so, match the details of Henrika Langus’s studies of human hands. This is the reason why the painting, first assumed to have been produced by Matevž Langus, is now attributed to his niece, adoptee, and even student. Henrika Langus inherited from her uncle a painting style that centered on extremely precise drawing.

Biedermeier and Romanticism
Heavily censored public life between the Congress of Vienna and the Spring of Nations in 1848, weakened Church patronage, and the ascending middle class marked the era when life focused on the privacy of the family circle, individual dignity and the sense of belonging; this is expressed in the Central European art as the style of Biedermeier which coexisted with a Romantic view of nature. 

Portraiture was the genre of painting that saw its heyday in this era. Matevž Langus, Jožef Tominc, Mihael Stroj and Anton Karinger established themselves as individually formed portraitists who demonstrated their self-confidence as artists also through their self-portraits. The painters initially relied on formal characteristics of Neoclassicism. Stroj’s late portraits and particularly those by Karinger abandoned the Biedermeier manner and adopted a more realistic approach. 

Interest in landscape first appeared as the background of portraits; towards the mid-century first autonomous city vedute emerged. The Biedermaier landscape is idyllic, descriptive, and furnished with staffage figures. Painters were attracted by tourist destinations and locations that were related to homeland identity: Mt. Triglav, Lake Bohinj, Bled. Anton Karinger and Marko Pernhart established themselves as explicit landscapists. The latter became famous for his multi-part panoramas from mountain peaks. 

Still lifes became an attractive decoration of a middle-class home, and they also found favour with amateur women painters, one of whom was Countess Maria Auersperg Attems.