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The painter of frescoes in St. John's church at Nova Ves – Lerchinger or Archer?

As early as 1899 Janko Barle wrote a booklet entitled Župa sv. Ivana u Novoj Vesi (St. John's Parish at Nova Ves) which was published as part of the series on the history of parishes and churches in Zagreb (Povijest župa i crkava zagrebačkih). At the end of the 19th century sources were still available to the author that were subsequently lost. These were probably notes made by the priest Mija Sinković, who, after having become the parish priest at St. John the Baptist's at Nova Ves in Zagreb, undertook the construction of a new church for which he also provided completely new furnishings. However, Barle failed to quote his source, although he copied a piece of information from it: that among the masters and craftsmen who were engaged in the building and furnishing of the church, there were also »the painters Lerchinger and Antun Archer«. On the basis of this information, the frescoes in the Holy Cross chapel in the parish church of St. John at Nova Ves were attributed, more or less convincingly, in both Slovenian and Croatian scholarly literature throughout the next century to one of the most outstanding Slovenian fresco painters of the late Baroque, Jožef Anton Lerchinger (ca. 1720–1787 or after), while the name of the Zagreb painter Antun Archer was put in the shade. Barle's quotation from the lost source seemed so impressive that it misled even good experts on Lerchinger's oeuvre to attribute the frescoes at Nova Ves to his brush, although the analysis of their formal qualities did not corroborate such a verdict at all. Therefore, a question was raised as to the existence of another Lerchinger, but the attribution to Jožef Anton Lerchinger prevailed. Formal stylistic characteristics of the frescoes featuring the motif of the Apostolic Creed (1787) in the Holy Cross chapel and scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist (1792) in the sanctuary support the thesis that they are entirely by the hand of another master, most probably the quoted Antun Archer, and that the lost note about Lerchinger's activity in the church at Nova Ves refers to the wall paintings in the chapel of the Mother of Sorrows. The work of the fresco painter Antun Archer, who lived in Zagreb in the second half of the 18th century (he died in 1807), is hardly known. Besides several data that can be found in registers, the painter's estate inventory, which lists in great detail all his belongings at the time of his death, survives.

With respect to quality, Archer's painting is inferior to Lerchinger's; several faults can be observed in his anatomical knowledge and generally in his painting skill which was obviously modelled on graphic prints. Nevertheless, his work is not to be neglected. The characteristic typology and morphology of his Zagreb paintings support the attribution of the frescoes in the pilgrimage church of the Three Magi at Komin and individual wall paintings in the parish church of St. Nicholas at Hrašćina to the same master. Traces of his »handwriting« can also be found on the marginal parts of several frescoes by Lerchinger – on the one, for example, above the organ loft in the pilgrimage church at Trški Vrh. This could support the assumption that Archer was one of Lerchinger's collaborators and assistants who were, beyond doubt, indispensable for the implementation of the master's enormous output.