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Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 3 Dec 2020 – 3 Feb 2021

Revelations, December 2020

The Nativity Scene by sculptor Liza Hribar

The legacy of Christmas nativity scenes (or cribs) connects the religious and artistic elements with ethnological traditions, while modern crib-making showcases great creative range both in manufacturing the necessary items and arranging the scenes. Through history, crib typology formed that ranges from traditional country cribs in corner home altars (bogkov kot) and burgher cribs on a chest of drawers to diverse modern solutions. Several Slovenian artists in the 20thcentury made nativity scenes; among them was Liza Hribar, an academically-trained sculptor who became one of the rare and also the most productive and excellent crib-makers in patinated or coloured baked clay. Besides producing traditional sets with many figures, she introduced unique design solutions into the crib-making.

Liza Hribar was born in 1913 in Klagenfurt (Celovec) to a family steeped in visual arts, since her mother Elza Obereigner – Kastl was also a sculptor and particularly a noted miniature painter. Liza spent her childhood and youth in Ljubljana, where she was educated in visual arts at the art school of the Probuda society; between 1931 and 1935, she studied sculpture and graduated at the Vienna Academy for Women (Wiener Frauen-Akademie). After study travels across Europe, she set up her studio at her home in Prečna Street in Ljubljana, and exhibited her works also in the Jakopič Pavilion. She mostly made figures and portraits in clay, wood and bronze, and also collaborated on goldsmith pieces by architect Jože Plečnik. The family was connected to well-known cultural workers of the Ljubljana burgher circles and there she met her future husband Zoran Hribar – when married, she gave up her maiden name Lizelot Obereigner and presented herself only as Liza Hribar. Following the Second World War, the Hribars were sentenced at the Nagode Trial, which resulted in complete artistic isolation of the sculptor. She dedicated herself to small-scale sculpture in baked clay for the Ljubljana store Dom (Home) and to commissions for the Church and private patrons. Occasionally she made book illustrations; among others, she decorated the collection of poems for children by her friend Lili Novy. Sculptor Liza Hribar died in 1996 and one year later the image of her Nativity Scene from Kropa decorated a post stamp, which went around Slovenia and the world.

After the war, Hribar worked with ethnologists and helped establish Dom, a homemaking and arts-and-crafts company, where she later on also sold her products. She made decorative small sculptural items in patinated baked clay (buttons, brooches, pendants, city coat of arms, zodiac signs, putti – amoretti, book supports, candlesticks, wall and shelf lamps), and glass objects (glasses, vases, jugs). Additionally, she focused on religious art (nativity scenes, Stations of the Cross, Crucifixes, Mary-and-Jesus groups, saints, angels) in baked clay, wood and bronze and furnished multiple churches and chapels. She made her first church nativity scene in 1947 for the succursal church of St Mary in Kropa on the initiative of the locals and Jože Bertoncelj, a known artisan blacksmith. Later on, she made a series of large-scale church nativity scenes besides numerous smaller family cribs, and also developed a new crib type, where the entire Christmas event is presented in one whole. For her scenes, Hribar also made sketches, which are notably abstract and expressive in their unfinished state. The artist also reproduced some of her unique cribs; these casts offered people quality nativity figures for home decoration.

The exhibition showcases a family crib by Liza Hribar from a private collection, where it has been set up at Christmastide to this day. The nativity scene is made of a classical selection of figures, to which the sculptor added a simplified architectural backdrop – the stable in Bethlehem. In this way, Hribar defined an overall concept not just of the individual figures but also of the set-up as a whole. The artist was in favour of baked clay figures with simple patina varnish, but clients preferred painted cribs that reminded them of the rich and colourful Slovenian tradition of nativity scenes. In her sculpture, Hribar maintained a realist style, but with modern stylization and individual characterisation of the figures that connected a psychological state of tenderness with suffering. By her own telling, she made cribs with passion, devotion and piety, since she believed the scenes were to bring warmth to families and their homes. This remains the central message of Christmas celebrations to this day.

  • The Nativity Scene by sculptor Liza Hribar (video, Slovene)
    The Nativity Scene by sculptor Liza Hribar (video, Slovene)
  • The Nativity Scene by sculptor Liza Hribar - online lecture by dr. Andrej Doblehar (video, Slovene)
    The Nativity Scene by sculptor Liza Hribar - online lecture by dr. Andrej Doblehar (video, Slovene)

Andrej Doblehar

3 December 2020 – 3 February 2021
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana