sketchbook drawing of the altarpiece Mary
Help of Christians by Michael Rottmayr from the church of the Teutonic Order
in Ljubljana, and the restored fragment of the original painting featuring St.
It was precisely three hundred years ago that the church of the Teutonic
Order in Ljubljana received three outstanding altarpieces on commission from
three Habsburg empresses, of whom the worthiest and the most devout was Empress
Eleanor (1655‒1720), Emperor Leopold I's widow. The paintings were executed in
Vienna by three notable Baroque masters. The high altar was furnished with the
work Mary Help of Christians by Michael Rottmayr (1654‒1730), the right-hand side altar with St. Elizabeth of Hungary Distributing Alms
to the Poor by the Flemish painter Anton Schoonjans (1655‒1726), and the
left-hand side altar with St. George
Slaying the Dragon, a work by Martino Altomonte (1657‒1745). The two side
altarpieces can still be seen in situtoday, whereas Rottmayr’s painting on the high altar was badly damaged by a
fire on 22 June 1857. Thanks to painter Pavel Künl (1817‒1871), the lower
right-hand corner of the painting survives, featuring St. Eleanor, the patron
saint of the empress who placed the commission. According to the notes by the
former owner of the fragment Edward von Strahl (1817–1884), Künl restored the
damaged parts of the head and the left arm of the figure.
It has been possible to guess at the original look of Rottmayr’s popular
miraculous image from the painter’s surviving sketch of 1715 (kept in a private
collection in north Italy) and from a variant of the motif by an anonymous
master which in the first half of the 19th century was kept in Zois
Mansion at Javornik (now housed in the Gornjesavski muzej Jesenice). In 2010 the
National Gallery of Slovenia acquired a sketchbook of Pavel Künl (NG G 6170) in
which a valuable document about the burnt painting is provided on one of the
On page 39v Künl made a drawing of the lower left-hand portion of the
Rottmayr altarpiece which he could still see in situ. He presented the left group of the plague-ridden: an old
man on crutches and a seated mother with a child in front of him, and in the
background, in delicate drawing, there are two figures bringing a sick person
on a stretcher. Also the architecture drawn behind the figures corresponds with
Rottmayr’s preparatory sketch. The figures and the scene are rendered in a very
delicate drawing, without shading and details, which suggests that it was made
after the fatal fire which, after all, did not ruin the painting to the state
Künl most likely made the drawing because of his sense as a restorer. Edward
von Strahl, who acquired the fragment with St. Eleanor for his art collection
in Stara Loka (Altenlack), employed Künl
as the keeper of his collection, and among the painter’s qualities as a
restorer he underlined his skilful stylistic adaptation to original works and restriction
solely to the most necessary painting interventions at damaged places. He
described Künl mainly as a master copyist, who as a painter tended to rely on
other classical examples.
Drawing and copying older works of art, Baroque ones in particular, continued
to be one of the key competences of a Vienna-academy-trained history painter as
late as the mid-19th century. Pavel Künl and other Slovene painters
of the first half and the middle of the 19th century who were active
as artists in Carniola after their training in Vienna relied on older models also
in their native environment, i.e. on certain key Baroque altarpieces in
Ljubljana churches. To the most frequently copied or compositionally varied examples
also belong the three above-mentioned altarpieces of the Teutonic Order church.
Presentation will take place on Thursday, 3 November, at 6 pm.
You are kindly invited to attend it.
On display in the rooms of the Gallery's permanent collection until 30 November.
3 November – 30 November 2016
National Gallery of Slovenia