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Permanent Collection

Joannes Almenak - 1600–1700

(Antwerpen ?, ca 1640/45 – after 1684)

In the
past, the Flemish painter was only known by his sobriquet (Almanach, Almanah,
Almanak, Almenaco Belga). Then, in 2021/22, discovered archival sources made it
possible to connect the painter's identity to Joannes Almenak, who was born
between 1640–45 or shortly before, probably in Antwerp. The name of the painter
appears in the Viennese baptismal record dated 7 April 1679, where his name is
also mentioned for the first time. In this document, the painter Joannes
Almenak appears in the role of godfather together with the painter Frans de
Neve II. Due to their absence during the ceremony, the painters Gabriel Steger
and Elias Fürlich represented them. In early 1679, the painter was staying in
Vienna, and in the first half of the 1680s he was already in Carniola (now central
Slovenia), where he remained active for several years. It is not known when the
painter left our lands and where his path took him. This was very probably an artist who left his homeland to travel to Italy, perhaps Rome, and who stopped in Ljubljana on his way home. According to old sources he painted a portrait of Baron Johann Daniel Erberg and his wife Margarethe Dinzel von Angertburg in 1667 (1676?); three of his drawings which are signed – Bogenšperk/Wagensperg Castle, Ljubljana, A Young Seated Carniolan Peasant – and some others are kept in the Valvasor graphic collection in Zagreb. In his Die Ehre des Hertzogthums Krain [The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola] (Vol. XI, pp. 566, 577, 692), which was published in Ljubljana and Nuremberg in 1689, Valvasor mentions Almanach as a “famous painter”, Janez Gregor Dolničar/Thalnitscher calls him “Almenaco Belga” around 1715. A number of frescoes in Bokalce (Stroblhoff) Castle and in Iški Turn (Turnigg), as well as frescoes in Soteska (Einödt) Castle, which no longer exist today, were attributed to the painter, and perhaps he also painted some of the frescoes in the demolished Prince’s (Auersperg) Palace in Ljubljana. He painted Saint Francis Serafin for the refectory in the Franciscan monastery in Ljubljana (a picture which we do not know). In the inventories of castle collections in Carniola various motifs – portraits, battles, still lifes, genre paintings, animal paintings, mythological and religious scenes and landscapes – are attributed to Almanach. The collection of Marx Anton of Polhov gradec (Billichgrätz), who died in Ljubljana in 1731, included 23 paintings, all of which were said to be by Almanach; similarly, 20 paintings in the inventory of the collection of Franz Sigismund Englshaus of Studenec near Ig (Brunn) were attributed to Almanach in 1739. Of all these paintings only two from the Billichgrätz collection have been securely identified: The Card Players I (A Cheerful Company at Table) in the National Gallery in Ljubljana and A Young Man with a Turkey. The Saint Colomanus in the parish church in Mekinje near Kamnik and various pictures in private ownership are also attributed to Almanach, while the works from the castles at Črni potok, Dol (Lustthal) and Ostri vrh (Osterberg) have not yet been found. In his book Die Kunstzustände Krains (Graz, 1884, p. 43) Eduard Strahl mentions that Almanach was a welcome guest in the castles of the Barons Erberg at Ostri vrh, in Dol and in Stara Loka (Altlack). Strahl bases this on a manuscript written by Baron Josef Kalasanz Erberg and is probably referring to Versuch eines Entwurfes zu einer Literatur-Geschichte für Krain, 1825. The paintings A Peasant Family and Cowherd and Cowgirl come from the castle at Stara Loka. Almanach’s work reveals a strong artistic personality which was first formed in Flanders, almost certainly in Antwerp in the circles of Theodore Rombouts and Wouter Pietersz Crabeth I. At the time when Crabeth was in Rome with other Flemish painters he was nicknamed Almanack; however, since he died as early as 1644 he cannot have been identical with our painter, who must have been closely connected with him, either as a relative or a pupil.

Lit.: Vir: Janez Gregor Dolničar: Annales Urbis Labacensis, Ljubljana ok. 1715, p. 130, Semeniška knjižnica, Ljubljana, manuscript 11. Johan Weichard Valvasor: Die Ehre des Hertzogthums Crain, XI, Laybach Nürnberg 1689, pp. 566, 577, 692; Josef Kalasanz Erberg: Versuch eines Entwurfes zu einer Literatur-Geschichte für Krain, 1825 (Milena Uršič: Jožef Kalasanc Erberg in njegov poskus osnutka za literarno zgodovino Kranjske, Slovenska akademija znanosti in umetnosti, 28/6, Ljubljana 1975, pp. 149, 151, 211); Zeri [& Rozman], 1983, pp. 75-78, figg. 90-92; Zeri & Rozman, 1989, pp. 15, 20-22, 23, 54-57, 61, figg. 32, 34-43; Cevc, J. W. Valvasor kot mentor slikarjev, 1989, pp. 192, 193, 195, 202, 203, fig. on pp. 195-199; Ksenija Rozman: Slikar Almanach: Odkupljena slika Kvartopirci II, Ljubljana 1996 [ex. cat.]; Almanach and Painting in the Second Half of the 17th Century in Carniola, Editors Barbara Murovec, Matej Klemenčič, Mateja Breščak, Ljubljana 2006 [ex. cat.]; Uroš Lubej, Slikar Joannes Almenak (Antwerpen ?, ok. 1640/45–po 1684), Zbornik za umetnostno zgodovino, n. v. LVII–LVIII, 2022–2021, p. 181–196.
From Mannerism to Baroque
Although imported early-Baroque works prevailed in this period and those by itinerant artists, the 17th century paved the way for the future. The political circumstances in the region were relatively stabilized in spite of the Thirty Year War and the patronage gradually grew stronger. The arrival of the Jesuits in Ljubljana, the activity of the polymath Johann Weichard Valvasor, particularly his graphic workshop at Bogenšperk/Wagensperg Castle, and the foundation of the Academia operosorum at the end of the century were the key events of the time. 

Characteristic of sculptural production on the Slovenian territory in the 17th century were the so-called “golden altars”. As a rule, these were gilded and polychrome carved wooden retables with rich ornamentation, first with crustaceous patterns which turned into vine and grapes that covered architectural framework until the achantus foliage took over and obliterated architectural structure completely. The making of golden altars included several branches of fine arts: prints, carving, gilding, painting. Religious painting of the first half of the century still contains Mannerist elements; in the second half also secular motifs became more numerous, particularly genre scenes and aristocratic portraits. The artworks mainly echo northern early-Baroque influences. 

Noteworthy among the newcomers who settled in Carniola with their workshops were the painter and gilder Hans Georg Geiger von Geigerfeld in the mid-century, who had moved to Carniola from the region of the Central Alps, and the Fleming Almanach in the third quarter of the 17th century, known only by his nickname, who worked here only for a few years. The extraordinary productivity and skills of the latter are evidenced by his rare surviving works, mentions in Valvasor’s books, and aristocratic probate inventories.