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Permanent Collection


High Altar, Church of St George, Ortnek
(1640−1645), wood,

Miklova hiša Gallery
In the seventeenth century the chapel dedicated to St George at Ortnek Castle was (together with its furnishings) a complete work of art, a rich scenic space, a jewel above the hamlet of Ortnek. As far as we can tell from surviving topographical records, the chapel was richly furnished, with three carved altars and a pulpit dating from the mid-seventeenth century.

We can conclude from surviving photographic documentation that the complete altar, including the missing figure of St Michael from the top, was around seven metres high. The altar architecture is sufficiently clear in compositional terms. The predella is flat, with column bases growing out from the altar table. The altarpiece has no wings (and thus no wing niches) and no baldachin. Instead, the lateral sections (from the outside in) are filled by an additional pilaster and column on either side. The most important part of the altar is the central niche containing the painting St George Slaying the Dragon. The main niche is flanked by a pair of straight columns with Corinthian capitals. Above the columns, at the height of the spandrels, two full-length angel figures act as caryatids supporting the triangular attic, while curtailed wings extend above the pilasters on either side. Alongside the angelic caryatids, the spandrels contain winged heads of cherubs, while between them the central niche is topped by a coat of arms that is no longer legible. The attic consists of two parts. Above the architrave is a triangular pediment with the seated figure of an angel in the centre. Two angels kneel in front of shallow columns above the pediment on either side. Between them, in the spandrels of the pediment, are more winged heads of cherubs. Two angelic figures stand atop a second architrave. Between them, a painting of God the Father is fringed by massive decoration in the auricular style. The central niche of the high altar contains the painting St George Slaying the Dragon by Hans Georg Geiger von Geigerfeld, which is today one of the key works in the National Gallery’s permanent collection.

In 1953 it was agreed that the deteriorating furnishings of the Ortnek chapel needed saving. The following year they were transported to the Dolenjska Museum in Novo Mesto, where they remained untouched until 1999. That year, the restoration of the altar began in the restoration workshop of the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana. The restoration was completed in 2001.

Thanks to the altar’s powerful upward movement, the polychromation and, above all, the paintings, to which Geigerfeld added the date 1641, we are able to date the altar to the fourth decade of the seventeenth century or, even more precisely, to the period 1640–1645. It is possible that a workshop of skilled polychromists and wood carvers lies behind the name Hans Georg Geiger von Geigerfeld.

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.