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Permanent Collection

1600–1700

Pietro Liberi

(Padua, 1605 – Venice, 1687)

Gyges and Nisia in the Night of Murder of Her Husband Candaules (?)
oil, canvas, 114,5 x 145 cm

NG S 2098, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Despite intensive research it has not been possible to determine the subject of this painting. We see a king wildly rushing to the right, a woman holding him back, a little Negro boy holding a torch has turned towards the king in fear. The curtain, which is open at the top, shows that the scene is taking place in a sort of alcove and that it is related to an interrupted lovers’ tryst.

A suggestion that what we have here is the nocturnal attack of Sixtus Tarquinius, the son of the Roman king Tarquinius Superbus, on Lucretia does not fit with the stance of the female figure, since it would appear that she is trying to hold the king back, not repulse his advances. The same objection can be made to another suggestion, namely that this is Thais persuading Alexander to burn Persepolis – on this painting the woman, as we have said, is holding the king back. Stylistically and typologically this painting is in conformity with the prolific work of Pietro Liberi in his mature period; it may have been painted with help from the artist’s workshop. For the present there is no possibility of even an approximate dating, since Liberi’s work underwent only minor changes in his mature period.
*
The subject of this painting may well be Myrrha discovered by her father, King Cinyras. The story, as told by Ovid (Metamorphoses, X, 469-475), is that Myrrha fell in love with Cinyras and determined to sleep with him. Eventually, using a false indentity and under cover of complete darkness, she succeeded in her aim, not once but several times. Cinyras was eager to see his new lover, so brought in a light, and thus saw both his crime and his daughter; and, speechless with sorrow, snatched his bright sword from its hanging sheath...’ (Myrrha then fled into the night, and at her own request was transformed by the gods into a myrrh tree; in this arboreal state she gave birth to Adonis, her son by her father.)

Paul Taylor, Warburg Institute, University of London.

Preservation: This painting has been restored at least twice. A plaster retouching app. 4.5 cm long on the king’s beard. The canvas was badly damaged at the edges. The woman’s bare legs were overpainted with draperies.
Restored: 1990, Kemal Selmanović.
Provenance: The LBG 54 mark on the back of the canvas indicates that the picture comes from the collection of the Landesbildergalerie in Graz, although it could not be found in the old inventories in Graz. Together with other works it was transferred to the spa at Rogaška Slatina in 1903. The first Director of the Narodna galerija, Ivan Zorman, was able to acquire it, together with other works, for the Narodna galerija. In the memorandum of the transfer of the works, dated 28 April 1932, the painting is listed as King Attacking a Negro holding a Torch, a Woman calming him down, 17th century, Venetian manner. On 11 October 1945 it was lent to the Izvršni odbor OF Slovenije [Executive Committee of the Liberation Front of Slovenia]. At some time in the past the painting was hung in a corridor of Marshal Tito’s residence in Brdo Castle near Kranj. In 1986 the Government of Slovenia entrusted all paintings and sculptures from this building to the Narodna galerija. These included the present painting which had already belonged to the Narodna galerija.
Exhibition: 1993, Ljubljana, No. 18.
Lit: Zeri and Rozman 1993, p. 138, Cat. No. 18, Fig. III and 14.
Note: The canvas was relined and LBG 54 was printed on it in black ink.

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.