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Exhibitions and Projects
7 December 2017–4 February 2018

Revelations, December 2017

Gloria in excelsis Deo

Pre-Christmastide, or Advent, is the time of preparations for Christmas joy, which in the past centuries was pervaded by in-depth experience of the Gospel story of the birth of Jesus. The Nativity scenes in the Slovenian lands were first set up in the 17th century in monasteries or convents, particularly those of the city-related religious orders, such as the Jesuits or the Franciscans and the Poor Clares or the Ursulines. From the city-monastery milieu they spread to the countryside. So the story was presented to the medieval common people only in frescoes and carved wooden altars, of which only a few examples have been preserved in our country.

A complex insight into the spirituality of the Late Middle Ages is lavishly offered by the fresco of the Adoration of the Magi in St. Nicholas’ chapel of ease at Mače near Preddvor.  What harmony between the legend of the grey-bearded Saint Nicholas bringing gifts to children, with his feast day on the 6th of December, and the Three Magi bringing gifts to the newborn Jesus and paying homage to Him!

The so-called Master of Mače frescoed in 1467 the entire inner surface of the north wall with splendid scenes of the Procession and Adoration of the Magi, as described in the Gospel according to Matthew. The Mače Gospel story is supposed to be one of the most beautiful illustrations of the Magi story in the Slovene lands. Because a window was built into the wall in the Baroque period, the large scene was split in two, and the right-hand half is presented here, featuring the Adoration of the Magi. The three “kings” of different age have arrived with their retinue and the oldest has just knelt down before the newly born Infant seated in His mother’s arms; behind the Holy Virgin we can see the traditional genre figure of Saint Joseph who is taking off his hat before the splendid royal procession. The crown of the first, grey-bearded man is held by his page, because the old king has taken it off before the King of Heaven. He is handing a golden gift to the Infant, and exotic presents are also held by the remaining two kings. The courtiers in the company are genuine contemporaries of young men of the Renaissance courts. The Bethlehem episode takes place in front of a small wooden stable or stall typical of the Alpine regions, with the indispensable donkey and ox inside it. The background closes with a wide panoramic view of a phantasy depiction of Jerusalem where the holy travellers started their way to Bethlehem, led reliably by the six-pointed star, which finally stopped above the small stable.

The frescoes of 1467 in the chapel of ease above the village of Mače are the only work attributed to the anonymous painter with the provisional name of Master of Mače. He comes from the workshop of Master Bolfgangus, best known for his fresco of the Nativity from 1453 in the church at Crngrob and frescoes in the church at Mirna in the region of Dolenjska (former Lower Carniola) from 1463–65. The similarity between the two painters is so great that one might even think of a single person; however, this only demonstrates the artistic origin of Master of Mače. In the works by both of the two anonymous painters idealism, inherited from the style of International Gothic of the early 15th century and manifest in the beauty of the depicted faces and in elegant gestures, is combined with contemporary realism which was brought to the Slovenian lands from northern countries and is evident in the two painters’ works mainly in logical presentation of the painted decoration. Hence, these frescoes, with their glorious splendour and beautifying idealism represent one of the peaks in the quality of Late Gothic wall paintings in Slovenia. The frescoes of Mače are also important because of their stylistic origins in the late 15thcentury in central Carniola.

Ferdinand Šerbelj

Translated by
Alenka Klemenc

7 December 2017–4 February 2018
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana