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Permanent Collection


Joannes Almenak

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

The Card Players II
(3rd qr. 17th cent.), oil, canvas, 145 x 268 cm

NG S 3049, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
This hitherto unknown work by Almanach was discovered only recently. Mauro Natale has reliably attributed it to Almanach. It is very closely linked to the Cheerful Company at Table (The Card Players I, Cat. No. 94) which has been in the possession of the National Gallery since 1937. Here too we see card players sitting at a table and being served wine. They are playing the Italian game of trappola (German: Trapolier or Trappulier), a game which originated in Venice but which was very popular in Central Europe in the 17th century. The suits on the long cards are the Italian ones: Spade, Denari, Coppe and Bastoni (swords, money, cups and rods). On the table we see two Denari, while the person on the right is showing us a card with two Spade, between which is a coat of arms with red and white fields. This could be the trade mark of the maker of the playing cards, but we cannot exclude the possibility that it is the coat of arms of the person holding the card. On the table in front of this person, who is watching the viewer, is a piece of tobacco rolled into the shape of a rope – a motif which we already know from the table of The Card Players I. As on that painting, which was bought many years ago, on this new acquisition too the faces of the figures are very realistic and they are certainly portraits. The figure on the right side is smoking a pipe and is probably the same person as the one we find on the right side of A Cheerful Company at Table. It is not impossible that this too is Almanach’s self-portrait. The Card Players II is closely linked with Caravaggio’s northern followers. Although it is almost impossible to date Almanach’s work with any certainty, it would appear likely that this picture was painted towards the end of the artist’s sojourn in Rome.

Provenance: The Hungarian prince and art lover Ferenc II Rákóczi (1676–1735) probably acquired the painting in Rome; later (1715) it was the property of Count Ferdinand Dagobert Aspremont, who was married to Rákóczi’s sister Julianna, then it was in the possession of the Zaleski family; for about a hundred years it was in Vienna; it was on sale at the Dorotheum in Vienna at the auctions on 14–15 November 1990, No. 27, and 7–8 November 1991, No. 199; private collection, Germany; Galerie Fischer Auktionen AG, Lucerne, from 1994 onwards; purchased by the Narodna galerija, Ljubljana, 28 December 1995.
Exhibition: 1996, Ljubljana, No. 2.
Lit.: Auktion, 1990, No. 27 (French school, 17C); Auktion, 1991, No. 199 (French school, 17C, was once thought to be by Michiel Sweerts, according to an expertise by Professor Franz Balke of 2 April 1966, or by Gerard van Honthorst); Rozman 1996, pass., Fig. 1, 3, 4, p. 2 and on the cover; Menaše 1996, p. 28; Zeri and Rozman 1997, p. 146, Cat. No. 95 and Col. Pl. XXXI (painted in Carniola around the same time as the Cheerful Company at Table); Garas 1997, pp. 54–55, Fig. 22; 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.