Lavric-Horvat AHAS 10angl


An Essay at Identification and Attribution of a Bishop's Portrait in the Collection of the National Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana. Is it a portrait of the Ljubljana bishop Ernest Amadeus Attems by Caspar Franz Sambach?

During the preliminary works for a planned exhibition of portraits of the bishops of Ljubljana, a painting in the collection of the National Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana that has been entered in the list of the museum items just as a portrait of a bishop aroused special attention. The present paper opens up the question of identification of the sitter and of attribution of the painting and suggests some possible answers.

Trying to identify the portrayed person without taking account of the concrete data about the painting, and trying to find him in the portrait gallery of the bishops of the former Holy Roman Empire, we discover a surprising resemblance to the count Johann Moritz Gustav von Manderscheid-Blankenheim (Blankenheim, 1676 – Prague, 1763), who, however, has not been known to have had any connections with the Slovenian lands. In the years 1722–1733 he headed the diocese in Wiener Neustadt, then he became the archbishop of Prague. His portrait, whose original whereabouts was in Wiener Neustadt but is now in St. Pölten, demonstrates such likeness to the facial features of the anonymous man in the Ljubljana painting that we could easily claim the two to be one and the same person. But the identification becomes problematic as soon as we begin to consider the provenance of the museum painting, which limits our deliberations to the area of the Ljubljana diocese.

The National Museum acquired the painting after World War II from the Federal Collecting Centre, but it had been confiscated from the lawyer and art historian Marijan Marolt of Vrhnika, who in turn had obtained it from the painter Simon Ogrin, likewise of Vrhnika. According to the information given by Marolt the painting had come from the Slovenian part of Carinthia, where, in fact, no major ecclesiastical centres existed in which it would be reasonable to expect a portrait of a bishop in the grand manner. However, Gornji Grad is situated nearby, where the residence of the bishops of Ljubljana was in the past, so it can be assumed that the museum painting might have come from there. Hence it makes sense to try to find the sitter among the archbishops of Ljubljana.

After a thorough analysis of the materials, a hypothesis seems to be conditionally plausible, that the portrayed man is Ernest Amadeus Attems, the eighteenth bishop of the Ljubljana diocese (1742–1757). The supposition is grounded on the comparison with the only portrait of Attems known before, kept in the Ljubljana archiepiscopal palace, but being greatly inferior in quality to the museum piece, which makes the comparison very difficult. The full-length image of the standing bishop in festive vestments, painted schematically and with irregularities in proportions and perspective, gives an impression of a stouter figure than the one in the museum painting and there are also obvious differences in the rendering of the two heads. It is true that both faces are modelled in a similar way, they are lean and surrounded by identical fashionable wigs, but problematic is the nose which is much longer in the diocesan portrait and, as it seems, viewed from a different angle, possibly in order to intensify the representative appearance of the head in relation to the unproportionally tall body. In spite of the discrepancies, it is not possible to ignore a certain similarity between the two portraits, and the identification is furhter supported by the clear-white fur mozzetta without the black spots, worn by Attems alone of all the bishops of Ljubljana.

Because the museum painting is neither signed nor dated and because archival documents are equally silent about it, only stylistic comparison remains available in searching for the artist. The painter Valentin Metzinger of Ljubljana, who is documented to have worked for Attems, cannot be taken into consideration in spite of some similar details; however, the comparison with the oeuvre of the painter Caspar Franz Sambach (1715-1795) is at hand. On the commission from Attems he frescoed the Festsaal in the bishops' residence at Gornji Grad in 1755 and depicted his idealized image on the ceiling (Acta 6). Although portraiture has proved to be rather an exception in the hitherto known Sambach's output and none of the few portraits is painted in oil (for this reason Waltraut Kuba-Hauk even believes that Sambach did not tackle this field at all), the manner of the execution of the figure and costume in his “portrait” of Bishop Attems in the Gornji Grad residence nevertheless reveals a certain relatedness to the museum painting; and the latter, with the slim figure of the bishop in monumentally spread out vestments, is also reminiscent of Sambach's figures of saints in the scenes of glorification (for example, St. Martin in Ernstbrunn, St. John Nepomuk in Székesfehérvár and several figures in Margarethen am Moos) and his allegories (for example in Sloup). Also characteristic of Sambach are the posture of the figure, the reddish colour tint over the painting and the details with strong red reflections.

The above-presented arguments in favour of both the identification of the sitter and the attribution of the painting are certainly not sufficient to prove unquestionably the proposed hypothesis. Therefore a definite answer still remains to be sought.