Menu Shopping cart
Your basket is empty.
Support us


Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 5 Jan. 2023 – 1 Feb. 2023

Revelations: Matej Sternen and the restoration of the Ceiling of Celje in 1926 and 1927

The Celje Ceiling is comprised of eleven paintings done with tempera on canvas, their total area amounting to almost 143 square metres. The ceiling is the only example of secular illusionistic painting in Slovenia from around the year 1600; its artist still remains unknown. The paintings were most probably commissioned by Count Johann Ambros von Thurn-Valsassina (1537–1621). The recent researches have confirmed that it is the only extant ceiling of its sort preserved in situ within a broader European cultural space. It was discovered by chance under a newer canvas plafond during the renovation of the hall in the Old Counts’ Palace of Celje (the present-day Celje Regional Museum) in 1926. In 1929, Dr. France Stele published the first comprehensive, stylistically in-depth study on the Celje Ceiling and dated it in the beginning of the 17th century. He identified earlier reproductive prints that had served as models for the motifs of individual paintings and defined them in terms of contents and iconography. As to the motifs, the ceiling is composed of a central field with illusionistic architectural structure opening a view into the open sky, which is flanked with the scenes of the four seasons along the longitudinal sides. Along each of the two shorter sides, one scene of the Battle Between Aeneas’ Trojans and the Latin People features, and in the corner fields there are The Four Disgracers: Icarus, Ixion, Phaeton and Tantalus.

The exact date of the finding of the Celje Ceiling is unknown, but by means of surviving documents it is possible to reconstruct approximately the events from May 1926 to November 1927, when the restored ceiling was returned to its place.

 In a letter of May 19, 1926, the Celje City Administrative Body asked conservator France Stele to come and see the Old Counts’ Palace and give “necessary guidance for its reconstruction”. Stele examined the hall in the Palace on June 2, 1926, and in a letter to the City Administrative Body he subsequently gave the guidelines for the restoration, advising them to remove “the lower-lying plafond that conceals the old plafond in the jury hall”. Furthermore, he suggested that the “precious paintings” be given for restoration to the “academy trained painter and restorer Mat. Sternen”.  Sternen wrote down the analysis of their state of preservation on July 3, 1926, from which we can learn, e.g., that the roof leaked at some time in the past, that the paintings were very dirty and stained by smoke, that the canvas was mouldered away and fell off at places so that years ago it had to be “underlaid with another canvas”. He made a sketch of the ceiling and marked the position of the motifs, proposed a way to restore the paintings and assessed the cost of the restoration at 50,000 Dinars. The photographs taken before the restoration show the factual state of preservation perfectly.

On July 19, 1926, a nineteen-member commission was summoned to Celje to do an “on-site commission inspection”, and they accepted Sternen’s offer at the regular public meeting on July 21, approving the amount of 60,000 Dinars for the restoration. Ivan Zorman, the then manager of the National Gallery, also expressed his positive opinion about the restoration proposal.

The painted ceiling canvases began to be disassembled and taken to the Celje Hall on November 29, 1926; a note of December 2 reports that the disassembling and the transfer to the Celje Hall were concluded. Sternen commenced the restoration in the winter of 1926 and finished it in the autumn of 1927. 

The wooden decorative and load-bearing construction that joined the painted canvases and provided a proper form and support to them also had to be restored and conserved. Engaged for this work was the artisan artist and gilder of Celje Miloš Hohnjec.

When the project was coming to an end, France Stele and architect Jože Plečnik gave a positive professional evaluation about the work performed and made suggestions for a proper arrangement of the hall. Matej Sternen and Miloš Hohnjec both finished their work by October 25, 1927, when the hall in the Old Counts’ Palace was ready to receive the paintings back to the ceiling.

The Celje Ceiling is one of the rare majestic monuments in Slovenia on which Sternen’s restoration-conservation interventions survive until today. Almost a hundred years ago, they followed the key points of modern restoration-conservation doctrine and they have continued to serve their purpose to the present day – preservation and the overall presentation of the monument.

Gabrijela Kovačič, Celje Regional Museum

Presented: Thursday, 5 January 2023, 6 p.m

5 January – 1 February 2023
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana