The era of High Baroque represents the second zenith of art in the Slovenian lands after the Gothic period. Supported by benevolent church and aristocratic patrons, art production flourished in a stable political environment and favourable economic situation. As the diocesan and administrative centre of the province, Ljubljana became the undisputable hub of art. As the new Baroque church replaced the old Gothic cathedral and the monastery basilica of the Knights of the Teutonic Order yielded its place to Domenico Rossi's architecture based on the centralized design, Ljubljana in a relatively short time changed its look from a Central European hamlet to a town of the Mediterranean character. Commercial advantages stimulated a rapid formation of a trilingual culture, where Slovenian, German and Italian languages were used indiscriminately.
The invited Italian artists started a golden age in all art fields and exerted influence on the development of local art production. The central place went to the Venetian sculptor Francesco Robba who produced both sacred and secular works; outstanding among them is his fountain of the Carniolan rivers as the identification symbol of the city of Ljubljana. Painting is represented in the Grand Hall by the monumental canvases of the immigrant Valentin Metzinger, the oldest in the group of four Ljubljana Baroque painters. The expressed religious emotion, dynamic composition, imaginary and celestial landscapes, and colour harmony in the works by Metzinger remained the standard of quality and a source of inspiration deep into the 19th century. His altar paintings often found place in the churches where fresco decoration was executed by Franc Jelovšek, who, in turn, built his style on the examples of Giulio Quaglio and contemporary Austrian fresco painting. Jelovšek made only a very few works in oil of which his Holy Family is the best and is the artist’s contribution to the Baroque veneration of the Mother of God.
In the Grand Hall, single representative works by several other Baroque painters active in Central Europe are also on display: Pieter Mulier, Giambettino Cignaroli and Martin van Meytens the Younger, while Franz Karl Remb grew up in Radovljica and made his career in Vienna and Graz.
The late-Baroque period favoured more etheric images of saints. Apostles in ecstasy, zealous Fathers of the Church, visons of saints, and Marian images in the first place were rendered with grace and ease. The paintings boast Rococo playfulness of colour and light. This manner is represented in the collection by the works of the Venetian Nicola Grassi and those by the Ljubljana painters Valentin Metzinger in his late phase and his successor Anton Cebej. The latter painter’s colouring and use of light evidence that he of all native Baroque masters depended most strongly on Venetian influences.
The lyrical, Rococo mood also pervades religious and mythological works by a painter from the Danube area, Martin Johann Schmidt, called Kremser Schmidt, who in the 1770s brought late-Baroque Austrian models to our country. Through the activity of the Layer painting workshop of Kranj his influence reached deep into the 19th century. Motifs became simpler but more narrative, tailored to the demands of popular devotion; the number of the depictions of the Way of the Cross grew steadily.
Outstanding among the late-Baroque portraits are those by Fortunat Bergant. His portraits of Carniolan nobility excel in penetrating depiction of individual characters, elegant postures and suggestive rendering of different materials.
Polychrome carved sculpture of the earlier part of the 18 century is represented by rather popular pieces of the Franciscan workshop, two wooden figurines belong to the productive carver Mihael Pogačnik and his workshop from Slovenske Konjice, and Jožef Straub of Graz, active in the Slovenian part of Styria, figures with two angels in the Grand Hall. Several figures of saints by the Maribor born Jožef Holzinger, trained by Straub, and by Veit Königer, demonstrate artistic excellence and belong to the Rococo style.
Baroque painting expressed the principles of the vehement Catholic Revival. A powerful expression or dramatic emotions can be observed in illusionistic visions and apotheoses of saints, which glorified the victorious Catholic Church, while full-length portraits in grand manner and historical scenes extolled famous historical personages.
The light-dark contrasts added a dramatic quality to Baroque motifs, underlined the volume of bodies and established spatial relationships. This sort of formal method, also called the chiaroscuro, was often required by the very content of the picture, since it hinted at semantic contradictions, such as day-night, good-bad, life-death, etc. We can identify mythological, biblical, or historical saviours, the carriers of light, in the pictures.
Baroque also elevated landscapes, genre scenes, battles, images of animals, and still lifes to autonomous motifs. Those decorative genres were intended mainly for the embellishment and display of private quarters and residences of the powerful or the merely wealthy. There were numerous Italian and northern painters who became specialists in specific themes. It is often possible to read concealed symbolic messages in still lifes and genre scenes which open up a view into the daily routine and spiritual horizons of our ancestors. Behind the scenes, the motifs of the five senses, the four seasons, etc. can be sensed, or a reminder of the transience and vanity of life.