Menu Shopping cart
Your basket is empty.
Support us


Permanent Collection


Fortunat Bergant

(Mekinje, Kamnik, 1721 − Ljubljana, 1769)

The Fowler
(1761), oil, canvas, 74 x 57 cm

NG S 3524

The Fowler and Man with a Pretzel (NG S 3523), Bergant’s only known and extant genre paintings, were part of the legacy which the wealthy merchant Gašper Kanduč (1768–1852) left to his niece Katarina Hudovernik upon his and his wife’s death. They remained in the possession of the Hudovernik family until 1945. In 2016 the National Gallery acquired the works from the descendants of a private individual in whose keeping they had remained after the war. The identity of the person who originally commissioned them remains unknown, although it was probably someone from the circle of Bergant’s noble patrons in Ljubljana or the wider Carniola region.

Man with a Pretzel and The Fowler are distinguished by their marked realism and insightful character, as a result of which they stand out in Bergant’s oeuvre. They are also remarkable as genre figures in the broader context of early modern genre painting in Slovenia.

The image of the bird in the cage in The Fowler is somewhat generalised. In terms of the colour of its plumage, it is close to specimens of the finch family (the chaffinch and the female bullfinch), which were popular prey for bird trappers in Carniola. The fowler has a bundle of limesticks tucked under his arm and a circular metal whistle hangs from his buttonhole on a string that is long enough to allow him to put it to his lips. Bird calls of this kind, which trappers used to imitate the call of their prey, were also used by the fowlers of Trnovo, who were known for trapping pipits.

The two genre images allow multiple layers of iconological interpretation that do not offer an unambiguous answer. Lev Menaše defined them as personifications of hearing and taste which, he suggests, once formed part of a series of depictions of the five senses that has not survived. In his opinion, their stylistic and typological models may be sought among the genre figures of the “Bamboccianti” group of artists in Rome and the followers of Ribera. Jure Mikuž identified rebuses with an erotic note in the works, the typological starting points and iconographic context of which can be found both in the Dutch and Flemish painting and printmaking of the early modern age and in literary tradition.

The Fowler can also be understood in the context of the iconography of love and eroticism, in that it can be indirectly linked to images of the lovesick vogelaar(the Dutch word for fowler or bird catcher) in northern countries, whose attribute – a bird in a cage – alludes to the fact of being trapped in love.

In contrast to the vulgarity of Man with a Pretzel, The Fowlerproduces a serious and restrained effect and also addresses the viewer through the physical “otherness” of its subject. Both this and the typological and semantic contrasts and use of caricature are humorous elements that were common in early modern genre painting.

We may assume that Bergant’s pictures, as comic genre figures, thoroughly amused his noble client and the elite company of which he formed part.

Possible models and influences could also be sought both in the works of the Spanish or related Neapolitan school of the followers of Ribera, and in northern Italian painting. The defects apparent in the figure of The Fowler, such as his misaligned jaw and stunted growth, call to mind the works of the northern Italian genre painters Giacomo Ceruti (1698–1767) and Giacomo Francesco Cipper, also known as Il Todeschini (1664–1736). The clearest typological and substantive parallels are actually to be found among contemporary paintings from central Europe, including the works of Karl Jakob Unterhuber (1700–1752).

1700–1750: High Baroque
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.
1770–1800: The Decline of Baroque
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 Motifs and Dramatic Light
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.
OwnerBirth - death
Francesco Pittoni (Venice, ca 1654 − after 1724)
Martino Altomonte (Naples, 1657 – Vienna, 1745)
Anonymous -
Antonio Bellucci (Pieve di Soligo, 1654–1726)
Federiko Benković (Venice, 1677 – Gorizia, 1753)
Fortunat Bergant (Mekinje, Kamnik, 1721 − Ljubljana, 1769)
Domenico Brandi (Naples, 1683–1736)
Anton Cebej (Ajdovščina, 1722 – ?, after 1774)
Giambettino Cignaroli (Verona, 1706−1770)
Angelo Maria Crivelli (active 1st half 18. cent.)
Franz Ignaz Josef Flurer (Augsburg, 1688 – Graz, 1742)
Francesco Fontebasso (Venice, 1709−1769)
Eustachius Gabriel (Unterschwarzach, Bad Waldsee, 1722 − Ljubljana, 1772)
Nicola Grassi (Formeaso di Zuglio, 1682 − Venice, 1748)
Andrej Janez Herrlein (Kleinbarsdorf, 1738 – Ljubljana, 1817)
Jožef Holzinger (Maribor, 1735−1797)
Lovro Janša (Breznica, Radovljica, 1749 − Vienna, 1812)
Franc Jelovšek (Mengeš, 1700 – Ljubljana, 1764)
Veit Königer (Sexten, 1729 – Graz, 1792)
Leopold Layer (Kranj, 1752−1828)
Anton Jožef Lerhinger (Rogatec, c. 1720 − ?, after 1792)
Hubert Maurer (Röttgen, 1738 – Vienna, 1818)
Valentin Metzinger (Saint−Avold, 1699 − Ljubljana, 1759)
Martin van Meytens the Younger (Stockholm, 1695 – Vienna, 1770)
Antonio Paroli (Gorizia, 1688–1768)
Giuseppe Antonio Petrini (Carona above Lake Lugano, 1677−c. 1755/1759)
Mihael Pogačnik (active 1st half 18th cent.)
Frančišek Karel Remb (Radovljica, 1675 – Vienna, 1718)
Karl Ludwig Reuling (active 3rd qr. 18th cent.)
Martin Johann Schmidt (Grafenwörth, 1718 − Stein an der Donau, 1801)
Jožef Straub (Wiesensteig, 1712 − Maribor, 1756)
Paul Troger (Welsberg, 1698 – Vienna, 1762)
Michelangelo Unterberger (Cavalese, 1695−1758)
Januarius Zick (Munich, 1730 − Koblenz, 1797)
Giuseppe Zola (Brescia, 1672 – Ferrara, 1743)