In the 14th and 15th centuries, plague and wars gave Death a central role in art; the Danse Macabre is an important subject in medieval iconography. Recently I got to visit one spectacular example in Slovenia.
|The innocent Child pulled from his crib, the Beggar with his prayer beads, the Loyal Soldier... death will take us all.
In the middle of our recent visit to Bulgaria, the Maestro was summoned to Klagenfurt, Austria to discuss a new commission. A side trip within a side trip, our host Gerhard Lehner, tossed us into his van and drove us to nearby Solvenia to see the marvelous Totentanz of the little church at Hrastovlje, on the Istrian peninsula.
|The Banker offers his bag of money and Death laughs. The Doctor's medicine is likewise useless.
Cerkev Svete Trojice (Holy Trinity Church) dates from 12th century and is built in a unique Romanesque style. The now-famous frescoes were painted by Johannes de Castua and his atelier and completed in 1490.
|Beautiful interior of the Cerkev Svete Trojice, Hrastovlje, Slovenia
|The Monk, the Bishop, even the Cardinal... we all have to go sometime.
For a nominal fee photography without flash is allowed. It never hurts to ask!
The docent inside the church told us that owing to the plague in the 16th century, the walls were "covered in white sheets" (whitewash) and the entire town was burned and for a time, abandoned. Centuries later, after WWII, the whitewash was removed and the frescoes, discovered to be in very good condition, were cleaned and restored.
On the ceilings and elsewhere in the church, colorful frescoes with scenes from the Bible; the months of the year; portraits of saints; faux marbre columns with simple trompe l'oeil capitols; and stenciled borders embellish every available surface.
But most people come to see the Mrtvaški ples, the astonishing rendition of the Dance of Death.
|Here is the Queen and the King, all of us are equal in the end.
|The Pope, at the front of the parade, the grave is waiting and Death welcomes all.
|15th century graffiti in Glagolitsa
Graffiti scratched into the walls was also preserved, some of which makes disparaging remarks about the King. An inscription crediting the artist: "Hoc opus fierit fecit Tomic Vrchovich de… magister Johannes de Castua pinxit" is repeated in latin and in the old Slavic Glagolitsa.
|The procession of the Magi on horseback- this mural shows clear influence from Italian artist Uccello
Though the church interior is early Gothic in its design, the influence of Renaissance Italy is apparent in the murals.
Here is a short video tour of the church (in Slovenian, I think) via YouTube:
Our day continued in a big loop through Koper, Trieste, and Aquileia, a day from which I am still recovering!
all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, June 2011
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