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Permanent Collection


Joannes Almenak

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

The Card Players I
(3rd qr. 17th cent.), oil, canvas, 163 x 281 cm

NG S 628, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
This is undoubtedly the painting described in the inventory of the collection of Marx Anton of Billichgrätz, who died in Ljubljana in March 1731: “…exceptionally beautiful painting of oblong format, on which Almanach also depicted himself among the drinkers and card players” (see Jože Šorn, Nekaj gradiva za študij našega baroka [Some material for the study of our Baroque art], ZUZ, n. v. V–VI, 1959, p. 448). Among the card players, who are playing with cards with French suits (hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds) and the drinkers, the first figure on the right next to the girl, the man reaching for the wicker bottle, is in fact a self-portrait: this is confirmed by the position of his head, the direction in which the eyes are turned and the movement of his hands, the left hand with the pipe was in reality holding a palette; this is a motif we find on many self-portraits painted in front of a mirror. The style of our painting is based on memories of Caravaggio’s Flemish followers, the Antwerp Caravaggisti and in particular of Theodor Rombouts. But it is the strong realistic emphasis which extends to the grotesque and caricature, which gives the picture its final effect.

Attention should be drawn to the decorated earthenware jugs in the foreground; this is a detail worth remembering in the search for the Almanach still lifes which are mentioned in old sources. It is very likely that this is one of Almanach’s relatively early paintings from his time in Carniola; it is in any case older than the Peasant Family (Cat. No. 96).

* On exhibition in the old building of the National Gallery.

Restored: 1916, Prof. Viertelberger, Vienna; 1985, ZSV, Ljubljana.
Provenance: Marx Anton of Billichgrätz in Polhov gradec (Billichgrätz) Castle; in 1925 the painting was still owned by Dr. Müller-Dithenhof, Bokalce (Stroblhoff) Castle; Baroness Edith Müller-Dithenhof sold it to the Narodna galerija, Ljubljana, in 1937, old Inv. No. 728.
Exhibitions: 1925, Ljubljana, No. 6; 1968a Ljubljana, No. 1; 1968b Ljubljana, No. 54; 1971, Paris, No. 467; 1983, Ljubljana, No. 91; 1996, Ljubljana, No. 1.
Lit.: Müller-Dithenhof 1922, pp. 104–105 (Almanach ?); Mesesnel 1925a, p. 7 (Almanach ?); Mantuani 1925, p. 2; Mesesnel 1925b, p. 122, Fig. 29; Ložar 1925, p. 2; Vurnik 1928, p. 5; Polec 1930b, pp. 169–170; Stele 1938, Fig. 53, (end 17C; “One of the best quality pieces, which echoes Dutch portraiture, and a religious counterpart to the group portrait from Bokalce/Stroblhof Castle, is the painting of St. Colomanus at Mekinje, dating from the end of the 17th century”); F. Stele in: Stele-Možina 1957, p. 9; Menaše 1958, pp. 24, 59, 116 (North-Italian, end 17C); Šorn 1959, p. 448; Cevc 1960, pp. 4, 42–43, No. 113; Stele 1965, p. 200; Cevc 1966, p. 110, Fig. 79; Čopič 1966, p. 44; Cevc et al. 1968, pp. 44, 46, 143, No. 54, Fig. 52 (text E. Cevc and K. Rozman); L’art en Yougoslavie 1971, p. 471, Cat. No. 467 (between 1660 and 1670, text F. Stele); Menaše 1981, p. 118, Fig. 113; Zeri [& Rozman] 1983, pp. 161–162, Cat. No. 91, Fig. 90: Cevc 1989, p. 202, Fig. on p. 195; Rozman 1996, pp. 8–10 pass., Fig. 2; Garas 1997, p. 55, Fig. 23; Lubej 1997, pp. 44–45 (Harman Verelst ?).

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.