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Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 6 May – 2 June 2021

Revelations: Kessel

Eloquent Majolica Jug – About the Commission and the Painting by Peter van Kessel

A still life by the Dutch painter Peter van Kessel (Antwerp, 1630/1640 – Ratzeburg, 1668), owned by the National Museum of Slovenia, has been in the National Gallery of Slovenia since 1989 as a temporary deposit and on display in its permanent collection. The painting depicts a table with food, various vegetables and dead birds.

An important element in the picture proves to be a majolica jug with a "hidden coat of arms". This has so far most likely been overlooked due to darkened pigments. It shows the arms of the influential Croatian noble family Zrinski (Zriny), who, due to the role in the anti-Habsburg conspiracy, which included Ban Peter Zrinski (1621–1671), Franz Christoph Frankopan (Frangipani) (1643–1671), Styrian nobleman Hans Erasmus Count Reinstein and Tattenbach (1631–1671), and Hungarian magnate Ferenc III Nádasdy (1623–1671), came to an infamous end.

There is not much information about the painter Kessel. He is said to be native of Antwerp (1630/40?), worked in Würzburg (1658), Bamberg (1658), Gdańsk, Lübeck (1668), and died in Ratzeburg (1668). During his professional career he painted, among other things, a stilllife for the Danish king (1665), and before that (1662) also four paintings for the Herberstein family in Graz, now in the Regional Museum Maribor. The commission for the mentioned still life from the Zrinski family, who had regular contacts with Graz, could also have been made at that particular time.

Two brothers, Nicholas VII (1620–1664) and Peter Zrinski come into consideration as possible clients. Both were politically influential individuals and had enviable military careers and a great sense of art. This was reflected in the luxurious furnishings of the family residences, the rich library and their and their literary activities in poetry.

Still lifes are not just a randomly depicted arrangement of objects, but often conceal a deeper, symbolic meaning. Thus, the elements in Kessel's painting could also be associated with the luxurious noble life of the Zrinski family. The lined table not only shows a rich meal, but with cheese and majolica it also indicates a lucrative economic activity in Zrinskis’ territories, wine- and cheese-making, which provided the family with economic power and social status.

Katra Meke

Translated by
Alenka Klemenc

6 May–2 June 2021
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana