Art is an international language, and it barely needs any words. At the same time, it’s a way to show off a country’s art history and everything they underwent. Slovenia’s art history offers a beautiful look into their culture, and their masterpieces talk about the Slovene identity.
Slovenia has centuries upon centuries of art history, with masterpieces going as far back as the 18th century. Slovenia’s art history does not stop at paintings and sculptures too. Much of Slovenian art is enshrined within their strides in architecture and print.
Art speaks of the culture and identity of a group of people. Here’s everything you need to know about Slovenia’s Art history and masterpieces.
Slovenia’s Literary Art History
The oldest example of art in Slovenia goes back to 970 AD, which was written literature. It can be found in the so-called Freising Manuscripts (Brižinski Spomeniki), which talked about sin and penance and instructions for general confession.
Oral poetry was among the first pieces of art throughout centuries from the region. There are seminal works such as the Lepa Vida (Fair Vida), which was a story of melancholia and nostalgia. Many local artists flourished throughout the Middle Ages, but the first book in Slovene came about during the Reformation.
The first Slovene book was a catechism published by Primož Trubar in 1550. Jurij Dalmatin, a Slovene minister and translator, worked on a complete translation of the Bible in 1584.
The most notable piece of publication came in the late 17th century. This was The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (1689) by Janez Vajkard Valvasor (1641–93). It was published in both Latin and German, containing an ambitious account of Slovenia. Most modern knowledge of Slovenian history, geography, culture, and folklore before the 17th century comes from this book.
The entire history of Slovenia’s art after the 17th century comes back from Austrian Archduchess Maria Theresa’s time. At the time, she wanted to produce a highly literate public that can understand the value of culture and the arts.
Maria Theresa did so by pushing several educational reforms, helping her people learn valuable skills geared towards art and culture. Everything started with Slovene literature from the late 18th to early 19th century.
During this time, many literary geniuses showed off their skills, creating the first masterpieces of the country. The most exemplary of these was the work of Slovenia’s national poet, France Prešeren, who lived between 1800 – 1849.
There are also pioneers and luminaries of the modern school of literature in the country. Among them were the novelist and playwright Ivan Cankar. There’s also the poet Oton Župančič, who was a part of the wave of talents around this time.
After them, there came a long list of politically influential writers who changed the Slovenian landscape. They broke ground for many modern masters who lived during the different wars that Slovenia end up into.
Among the key figures between World Wars I and II, Prežihov Voranc was a pioneer in the social realist writing style. There was also Srečko Kosovel, who was a poet who fought back against forced Italianization areas of Slovenia annexed by Italy.
Kosovel was particularly noteworthy due to his political leanings. He was an expressionist who used avant-garde constructivist forms and satire. He also pushed international socialism and a dadaist by form.
Poet Edvard Kocbek was also a prominent figure during and after World War II. He was among the first people to have identified as an antifascist or Antifa. Even then, he suffered at the hands of former comrades who had to do their duty as conscripts.
Slovenia’s Musical Art History
Much like anywhere in Central and Eastern Europe, music, especially classical music, is a vital piece of Slovenia’s art history. Slovenes’ pride in the country’s musical accomplishments rest on Beethoven’s performance in Ljubljana.
At the time, the great Ludwig van Beethoven conducted the first performance of his Sixth Pastoral Symphony for the Philharmonic Society in Ljubljana – now known as the Slovene Philharmonic Orchestra.
Jakob Petelin Kranjski, known as Jakob Petelin Gallus-Carniolus or Jacob Handl, was among Slovenia’s renowned Renaissance composers. Gallus was careful to push a musical style that represented the Counter-Reformation in Bohemia.
With Gallus’ music, he mixed polyphonic styles from the High Renaissance Franco-Flemish School and Venetian School style. What came out from his music offered secularity, which was both sacred and prolific. He has as many as 500 works attributed to him and maybe more unknown.
Some of the most notable Slovene pioneers are romantic composers from the 19th century. These include Anton Foerster, Benjamin Ipavec, and Fran Gerbič. Many of these pioneers incorporate traditional Slovene musical elements, expressing a method to their perception of nationalism.
Among the many additional elements they did, a good chunk of them was for multiple choirs with independent parts. Around the second half of the 20th century, traditional music became a crucial part of Slovene music.
Slavko and Vilko Avsenik are among the more popular musicians globally. Their unique accordion-dominated folk music became the blueprint for modern Slovene bands to come.
Even then, among Slovenia’s most celebrated composers is, arguably, Hugo Wolf. He was active in the latter half of the 19th century, born in Slovenj Gradec. His expressive art songs known as lieder are still celebrated today.
There are many Slovene contemporary classical composers whose works are famous beyond Slovenia. Artists like Vinko Globokar, Marjan Kozina, Primož Ramovš, and Lojze Lebič are among a few examples in Slovenia.
Aldo Kumar is famous for his film compositions as much as his theatrical works. Bernarda Fink and Marjana Lipovšek are some of the most beloved by opera buffs worldwide. Milko Lazar is another name well known among the modern masters.
Slovenia’s Paintings and Visual Art History
When we talk about Slovenia’s art history, people immediately go back to visual arts. There are more than three dozen permanent art museums and galleries in Slovenia. The role of visual arts in Slovene society is priceless, and its value in the national price is invaluable.
Romanesque fine art is generally rare in Slovenia. Due to much illiteracy and several annexations from neighboring nations, only a few art pieces survived this time. Many of the art pieces only survived in illuminated manuscripts too.
Much of the early visual art in Slovenia comes from religious paintings like dozens of frescoes in churches and monasteries throughout the country. Many of these date from as early as the 12th and 13th centuries. This became commonplace as only churches were rich enough to become patrons of art.
The most dominant type of art before more contemporary art pieces came, however, are Gothic paintings and sculptures. There are many excellent works at Ptujska Gora in Majšperk, which included the carved altar in the Church of the Virgin Mary.
There is also gothic art in Bohinj, which include the frescoes in the Church of St John the Baptist and Hrastovlje in Koper, depicting the Dance of Death in a wall painting at the Church of the Holy Trinity.
Masters like Fortunat Bergant was a master of baroque painting who paved the way for other masters of their time. Bergant was famous for painting Stations of the Cross in the church at Stična Abbey in Ivančna Gorica.
By the 19th century, among the most important painters consisted of mostly Impressionist masters. Among them, Rihard Jakopič was among the best. His works were reminiscent of the works of Van Gogh, including the beautiful Sunny Hillside (1903).
Ivan Grohar was considered among the leading figures of Slovene impressionism. His peers, like Rihard Jakopič, Matej Sternen, and Matija Jama, pushed the fin de siecle period to the limits. His landscapes and portraits were famous across the continent.
Among his many works, Grohar’s The Sower (1907) is part of the 5c euro coin. His other noteworthy works include Brna (1899), Srce Jezusovo (1900), and Pod Koprivnikom (1902). There’s also Rafolško polje (1903), Pomlad (1903), and Macesen (1904).
By the 20th century, Božidar Jakac and his expressionist school with brothers France and Tone Kralj created a distinctively Slovenian flavor to the Germanic school of art. Impressionism and expressionism became the central techniques of eventual artists.
Slovene visual arts became famous among international art fans. 20th-century Impressionist painters such as Anton Ažbe, Grohar, Jama, Sternen, and Jakopič became the central figures in it.
From the 1980s and onward, postmodernist painting has become mainstream art across Slovenia. Artists’ cooperative Irwin was a part of the wider multimedia group Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK), who dominated the landscape. Among them, Tadej Pogačar and Marina Gržinič were the most notable names.
Slovenia’s Sculptural Art History
In the last decades of the 19th century, Slovenia produced a fresh generation of academics. These academically educated sculptors introduced themselves to the current artistic meta in Slovenia. They then worked towards pushing entirely new criteria for sculptural creations in the country.
The sculptural scene of the 19th century in Slovenia came from the slow death of Baroque. The craft carving tradition also had to die for a while. Among the pioneers, the master Alojz Gangl established academic realism. Gangl introduced new design principles for several public monuments, portraits, and genre sculptures.
The realistic orientation interspersed with sculptural design and received its inspiration from naturalism. Rodin and Art Nouveau also added into the Slovenian style, which made the sculptures of the first decades of the 20th century go in several directions.
It is possible to see several areas and styles that show the revitalization of Slovenian sculpture. Gangl is considered the pioneer of the restoration movement in Slovenian sculpture.
From 1885 and 1888, he studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and created the first national public monument. He dedicated this monument to Valentin Vodnik, and among his most important sculptural decorations is the then Provincial Theater.
This specific time period in Slovenia produced some of the most celebrated works of art in the country. Fran Šukljet, an artist who supported Gangl during his studies, and Josip Stritar had portraits that are typical examples of realistic portrait sculpture.
Much of their styles owe much to Baroque principles. Among these, the statue of Humoresque was an example of Gangl’s fleeting, picturesque impression. Alojzij Repič eventually brought this academic realism to new heights.
Repič represented academic realism through a portrait of Jurij Šubic (1908), one of the many depictions of Slovenian artists created by this sculptor. Another important sculptor of this time was Ivan Zajec.
Zajec kept his work in Vienna after studying at the Vienna Academy. Among his most famous works, the France Prešeren monument was his opus.
Slovenia’s Theater Art History
Slovene theater only received worldwide recognition around the late 20th century. Even then, Slovenian theater started from as far back as the late 18th century.
In 1789, Anton Tomaž Linhart translated Die Feldmühle (“The Country Mill”). The story came from Joseph Richter, which was a well-known German comedy. Linhart localized it as the Slovenian Županova Micka (“Micka, the Mayor’s Daughter”).
By around 1867, the Slovene Dramatic Society was established in Ljubljana. The capital stayed as the focus of Slovene theatre. Even then, there was a growth of professional theatres throughout the country.
Across Slovenia, many types of theaters came out due to of the sudden influx of talent in the country. Puppet theatres and youth theatres became more common in smaller towns. As a result, a small but very influential film industry came from Slovenia after World War 2.
After World War 2, Slovenia established the National Theatre Museum of Slovenia in 1952. It came under the aegis of the Slovene National Theatre in Ljubljana to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Provincial Theatre in Ljubljana.
The museum had Janko Traven, known for his collector’s spirit for various material from the early periods of Slovene theatrical history. The museum lived under the patronage of private donors and then continued collecting more.
Dušan Moravec, Janko Traven’s successor, started to organize the materials more systematically. The magazine also began issuing publications, from the Letopis to The Repertoire of Slovene Theatres. These marked the 100th anniversary of the Ljubljana Drama Society.
By 1978, the Theatre Museum unified with the Film Museum, creating the National Theatre and Film Museum.
Even then, the unification didn’t last, as the institution divided into two in 1996. They became the National Theatre Museum of Slovenia and the Slovenian Cinematheque. By 2014, the Slovenian Theatre Institute came as the successor of the National Theatre Museum of Slovenia.
Slovenia’s Architectural Art History
Architecture as a visual art plays a special role in what is now Slovenia’s cultural heritage. While Ljubljana has always been beautiful, much of Slovenia’s architecture boomed during the reconstruction that followed the 1895 Ljubljana earthquake.
A good number of the local districts were rebuilt in the Vienna Secession style. Around this time, electricity came as a public utility in 1898. The rebuilding ran between 1896 and 1910. People refer to this period as the “revival of Ljubljana,” and that goes beyond simply rebuilding the city.
The revival is called as is due to the many architectural changes during this period. Even now, the city still has many of the infrastructures building from this period. It helped with urban administration, health, education, and tourism within the city. Mayor Ivan Hribar led the rebuilding efforts.
Among those of particular renown, Jože Plečnik leads Slovenian architecture. He is among the most regarded masters of architecture and most beloved of all time. Many of his most impressive works are on the banks of the Ljubljanica River.
Among his best-known works of art is the National and University Library in Ljubljana. He also built the Ljubljana Central Market, together with the Three Bridges.
Finding Slovenia’s Masterpieces
Slovenia’s long and colorful art history makes it one of the best places to visit. If you’re someone who appreciates art, their many masterpieces can astound you. Even then, which ones should you look out for?
There are a number of masterpieces that come from Slovenia, depending on the type of art you want to appreciate. It also varies according to your taste, but we have a list of some of the best.
Where Are Slovenia’s Architectural Masterpieces?
Slovenes have their utmost pride in Slovenian architecture. Slovenia has some of the most prolific architects of the past couple of centuries. Many of their creations stood the test of time, which is now wonder for many of us.
Among these masterpieces, The luxuriously painted house in Slovenian national colors on Miklošičeva ulica No. 8, the former Zadružna gospodarska banka, is one of Ljubljana’s most famous buildings.
Vurnik’s house, in the period of Yugoslavia, was the HQ for the Social Accounting Service. It will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2021. Famed architect Ivan Vurnik built the house and is a pearl of the late secession. It is among the most beautiful examples of national style architecture, especially for the establishment of which Vurnik sought.
Jože Plečnik was regarded as the greatest Slovenian architect. His works are neither hard to find or appreciate. They are marvels of architecture and showed the beauty of the architectural style of his time. His skills were a reflection of the Slovene spirit.
In 1921, at the invitation of his colleague Ivan Vurnik, Jože Plečnik returned to Ljubljana. In Slovenia’s capital, he remained until his death with interruptions due to work in Prague and where he left his biggest mark.
In the 1920s and 1930s, he transformed the image of Ljubljana, designed bridges, and designed the banks of the Ljubljanica, The Ljubljana Central Market, different monuments, squares, and parks, the Žale cemetery, and the National University Library.
The eventual generation of Slovene architects produced Edvard Ravnikar. Ravnikar was a student of Jože Plečnik and was a professor at the Ljubljana School of Architecture. The famed architect promoted Scandinavian architectural styles in Slovenia.
Ravnikar enjoyed Finnish achievements in architecture. His styles come from his teachers and admired techniques by architects such as Alvar Aalto. Among his most notable creations, many of them are in Ljubljana. These include the Republic Square, Cankar Hall, Maximarket department store, and the Museum of Modern Art.
Where Are Slovenia’s Visual Masterpieces?
If you visit Slovenia, there are many masterpieces available at different museums. Depending on the genre and style that you enjoy, you can find many creations from the National Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
At the National Gallery, you can find several favorites. Ivana Kobilca was among the first female masters of art in Slovenia. Kobilca was well-known for her artistic independence – around a time when women were second-class citizens of society.
Kobilca had artistic autonomy, and enormous artistic skill, making her a key figure in the national art of Slovenia. Her works include realist creations like A Dutchwoman, Woman Drinking Coffee, and Summer. She is at the top of Slovene artwork and known for her unbelievable skills.
Another master of the time was Ferdo Vessel, who worked in between the end of Romanticism and the start of Realism. Vesel’s artwork has influences torn between realistic and impressionistic style. He also engaged in landscaping, portraiture, and folklore genre.
Vessel is among the lesser celebrated painters of Slovenia, but a master nonetheless. His masterpieces include Blind Man’s Buff, Women Ironing, Head of an Old Man with White Hair, and Boy With Fur Cap.
Another master was Rihard Jakopič, who was among the most famous Expressionists in Slovenian art. Jakopič deserves a special place in the pantheon of Slovenian artists. He was not only an artist but also integrated his skills into a broader social context.
Jakopič erected the first public art gallery in 1909 in Tivoli Park in Ljubljana. He collaborated with Sternen, and later on his own, creating a painting school. Jakopič also founded the National Gallery of Slovenia, patron of the “spring of Novo Mesto.”
His works have permanent exhibitions in the Gallery, including Sunny Hill, Birches, and Lamplight. His creations also include the beautiful Trnovo and Winter Landscape.
Where Are Slovenia’s Sculptural Masterpieces?
As we noted, Slovenia has one of the biggest crops of master sculptors. Many artifacts come from as far back as the Middle Ages and go up to at least the early 20th century. Apart from contemporary sculptures, many of these collections are also available at the National Gallery.
Ivan Zajec’s sculpture is most numerous in the collection of the National Gallery. Even then, there’s only a selection from his extremely extensive oeuvre is on display in the permanent collection.
Zajec combines different styles and experimentations in many genres. His sculptures also show the influences he took from Italy, Munich, and Paris. The Frightened Satyr statue was created in the neo-baroque academic style. There is also a monumental statue of Adam and Eve or Exile from Paradise (1896) from the Viennese period, which testifies to the Italian Renaissance’s influences.
Gangl, on the other hand, has his work connected to many public works. What few masterpieces he has, focused on portraits and busts using bronze as his primary medium. His Genius of the Theatre and bust of Josip Stritar are must-see works.
The most important artistic personality of this initial generation of Slovene sculptors is certainly Franc Berneker, who was also a student of the Vienna Academy. He is the author of probably the most beautiful public monument in Ljubljana, the statue of Primož Trubar along Prešernova cesta.
Most of his works in the permanent collection were created in the Viennese period. The best example of his works includes a lovely portrait of two girls in marble – Zdenka Vidic and Mira Ban, which he created around 1907.
A female portrait or the so-called Woman’s Head, from 1909, is a bust in the family-style. His precise, simplified forms and the characteristic rough treatment of the lower part of the statue creates contrast and tension. With the perfect modeling of the head, this makes a less worldly view of beauty from the sculptor’s eyes.
The bronze statue Portrait of a Girl is one of Berneker’s most beautiful works and stylistically also draws on family patterns.
For baroque sculpture, Jožef Straub’s epic plague pillar in Maribor is a must-see. The work of Francesco Robba in Ljubljana, like the Carniolan Rivers fountain now in the National Gallery, is another gorgeous masterpiece.
After the war, sculptors Alojzij Gangl, Franc Berneker, Jakob Savinšek, and Lojze Dolinar dominated the art scene when art was being used as a great tool of communication and propaganda. The last two, in particular, would create ‘masterpieces’ of socialist realism under Tito without losing their credibility or (sometimes) their artistic sensibilities.
Slovenia’s art history combines the old and young. It is both old, going back as far as the creation of the first outposts, and new, with some of the best Slovene masters creating their oeuvre over the past century.
Slovenia’s masterpieces are evidence of a sophisticated civilization, looking back to its roots and taking pride in its national identity. Whatever future lies ahead, every Slovene knows that art is something innate within all of them.
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