Matevž Langus, whose 230th birthday will be celebrated on 9 September
this year, has repeatedly painted the image of St George. He included the city
patron on a fresco in the dome of the Ljubljana Cathedral. He leaned on the
Baroque illusionist proposal of Giulio Quaglio. Two more altar paintings in oil
have been preserved, pointing to two sources from which Langus drew
inspiration. The painter relied on an older Baroque template when he painted St
George in his fight with the dragon for the main altar of the parish church in
Šturje near Ajdovščina. He copied the influential work of Martino Altomonte
from the Ljubljana Church of the Teutonic Knights, which represents St George
on horseback in a dramatic skirmish with the dragon.
Six years younger Langus' painting of St George from the collection of
the National Gallery relies to a large extent on a painting by his contemporary
Philipp Veit (1793–1877). The Berlin master, who is considered one of the key
painters of the Nazarene movement, painted St George during his work in
Frankfurt in 1833, for the altar on the northern side chapel of the church of
St George in Bensheim. Veit's pencil drawing has been preserved, and the motif
was transferred to copperplate by Jiří Döbler (1788–1845) in 1837. Veit’s St
George is one of those Frankfurt paintings that contemporaries praised as simple, beautiful and pious. Veit's
version of George's triumphal-contemplative presentation shows the echoes of
Raphael's Renaissance art, while also drawing attention to another divine source for Nazarene German
painters, namely Albrecht Dürer.
Langus's painting of St George is much bigger than Veit's. Langus fully
summed up the saint’s posture, with his right leg raised next to the dragon,
leaning on a spear with a banner. Also, the gentle youthful face, George's
armour, outerwear, headgear, sabre and shield are carefully summarized
according to the German model. In the composition, the painter kept the king’s
daughter in prayer on the right, and added an angelic escort on highlighted
clouds above. He changed and expanded the rocky landscape, adding a line of
earth to the foreground and a silhouette of the castle in the background.
Although the colour deviates from the pattern - the most striking change is
George's vibrant red dress - we can also recognize a characteristic Nazarene
colour palette in Langus' painting. Veit’s composition and the characteristic
colour are reinterpreted with slightly melancholic mood accents, which reflect
Langus' knowledge and use of modern Nazarene patterns.
In Langus's sketchbook we also find a sketch for a picture, most likely
drawn according to an extant print. The size and shape of Langus' painting
testify that it was an altarpiece. When purchasing the painting in 1988, the
National Gallery was unable to obtain more accurate information on provenance.
A tangible trace of the former owners of the painting was hidden in the notes
of France Stele, who in 1929 recorded seeing the Langus' painting of St George,
signed and dated 1854 in Wilsonia, Grimščice near Bled. Here, the painting was
still in the art collection of dr. Ivan Švegel in 1950. The connection between
the creation of the painting and the diplomat and politician, Baron Josef
Schwegel (1836–1914), who bought the Grimščice Manor in 1859 and was born in
Zgornje Gorje, where a new altar for the parish church of St George was made in
1853 and 1854, remains a tempting assumption.
Author: Kristina Preininger
Presentation, set to be today on Thursday, April 7, 2022, at 6 pm is canceled. New date is yet to be determined.