First AHAS 5angl

Blaženka FIRST

The translation of saintly figures from Flemish Mannerist prints into 17th century painting in Slovenia

It was a generally accepted practice in 16th and 17th century European painting (and later as well) to take graphic prints as a model, and Slovenian territory was no exception to this. In the ideologically zealous, demanding and ticklish period of Counter Reformation, religious painting was particularly committed to questions of how to represent certain religious themes to staisfy the demands of the Church for correct and theologically unimpeachable visual interpretations. The time of the Catholic renewal was certainly one of the more problematic and awkward periods in the history of the Western Church; all segments of life were controlled by the Inquisition. To avoid risking the dangers of improper choice in commissioning paintings for altars, the patrons who were not quite certain about the issue often wanted the artists to repeat what had already been familiar and accepted in the repertory of religious motifs. Suggestions of how to represent sacred themes in a proper way were spread through European art of the second half of the 16th century by graphic prints made after contemporary paintings furnished with a proper "certificate". Such prints were collected by patrons who could thus always propose them to painters who, in turn, also collected them and found models and inspiration in them, for these prints were mostly first-class products of European graphic art. Mannerist religious engravings of the post-Trent time successfully promoted the propagandistic and educational message of the Counter Reformation Church, since the perspicuity and dramatic quality of a graphic print could perfectly perform this task.
The paper presents some paintings modelled on Flemish graphic prints and made for the churches on a geographically limited area of Gorenjsko (north-western Slovenia). St. Ursula (1616) from Srednje Bitnje near Kranj was executed by a painter who signed his work with the letters G. B. F. (Georg Buechreitter Fecit?). He modelled his work on a print done after Pietro Candido's painting in the Jesuit church of St. Michael in Munich (1588), engraved by the Flemish artist Jan Sadeler I, then working as court engraver in Munich. The painting of Sts. Sebastian and Roch was made by an anonymous painter in the mid-17th century for St. Peter's church in Radovljica. The scene combines two figures taken from different sources: St. Sebastian is modelled on the saint that was engraved by Ægidius Sadeler after a painting by Camillo Procaccini. There are two antependiums, one in Pevno near Škofja Loka, featuring St. Ursula (by a painter from the Jamšek workshop, 1661), and another in Žirovnica, depicting St. Martin (anonymous); the former was modelled on an etching by Cornelius Galle I, made after the drawing by David Teniers I, while the latter copies an engraving by Crispijn de Passe I, made after Maarten de Vos. As the youngest, the painting of St. Margaret from Groblje should be mentioned, which, however, goes beyond the time limit of this paper (it was painted in the first half of the 18th century), but it still echoes Mannerist iconographic models. The anonymous painter used the engraving by Hieronym Wierix as his model, which, in turn, had been engraved after a painting by Jan Stradan.
The creation of all the above works depended on Flemish reproductive prints. Flemish devotional art complied with the ideas ordered by the clergy (which were Spanish there, owing to the Spanish rule over the country), the Jesuits in particular. As the strongest support to the pope and political Catholicism, this religious order was particularly committed to the fight against the reformists. Thus, Flemish representations of the commissioned themes were for the most part created under the Jesuit ideological control, and in correspondence with the stylistic wavering between the North and the South. Artists adopted elements of Italian art on their study journeys and absorbed them into their understanding of fine arts, so Italian influence was spread to Antwerp painting- and graphic workshops. Through the high quality of their abundant production, and also through their leading role at many European courts, Flemish masters left their imprint on the Mannerist style of the entire Europe, and also contributed to the spiritual revival of the Counter Reformation Church.
Seventeenth century painting in Slovenia followed European post-Trent examples of the highest quality, while the level of the execution was skulful here or awkward there, literal or freely modified. The discussed paintings are rather pleasing works that could satisfy the taste of both, a simple believer and a more choosy and educated patron.