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 ?).