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Permanent Collection

1600–1700

Gillis van Valckenborch

(Antwerpen, c. 1570 – Frankfurt, 1622)

Fire in a Village
oil, canvas, 82 x 105 cm

NG S 816, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
On the first of these two paintings – which are pendants – we see fire and big clouds of smoke billowing out of the house in the middle, which is built of stone and wood. The fire has frightened a joyous company in the tavern in the foreground, interrupted a couple’s dance and scattered the drinkers who were sitting around a table. There is a sundial on the wall of the house on the right. On the second painting wildly flickering flames have forced the occupants of the houses to flee to safety half naked: on the right a farmer is trying to save his livestock from a stable. Other men are attempting to extinguish the fire with water and climbing a ladder; on the left we see a horse dragging a tub full of water.

It may be that these are scenes of some historical event, or that they have some moral import: fire as punishment for the sinners thronging the tavern. The tentative attribution of these paintings to Gillis van Valckenborch is based on the traditional record Valkenburg, with which the paintings were catalogued in the Landesbildergalerie in Graz, on the style, and also on the motif. The style of both pictures does in fact have considerable affinity with Gillis’ signed painting in Braunschweig, in particular in the presentation of the forms and in the brushwork, which interprets motifs and models of northern Mannerism, particularly evident in the second picture. Fires must have been one of Gillis’ favourite motifs, since the sources mention a large painting, the Burning of Troy, lost or destroyed today, which was also in Braunschweig until 1714.

Restored: 1983, Kemal Selmanović.
Provenance: Collection of the Counts of Attems in Graz (entail); LBG 52 and 96 (van Valkenburg: Nocturnal Fire, Dutch, 17C); Rogaška Slatina spa, 1903; Narodna galerija, Ljubljana, 1932, old Inv. Nos. 455 and 456 (17C paintings).
Exhibition: 1983, Ljubljana, Nos. 86 and 87.
Lit.: Zeri [& Rozman] 1983, pp. 157–158, Cat. Nos. 86 and 87, Fig. 87 and 88.

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.