The Celje Ceiling

The Celje Ceiling in the main chamber of the Old Counts’ Mansion is the central curiosity of our museum. It is the sole example of profane painting from the transitional period between the late Renaissance and Early Baroque.

Most of the researchers on the Celje Ceiling accept the thesis by dr. Stele that the author was invited to Celje or was an upper Italian traveller, who painted the ceiling at the beginning of the 17th c. The Northern Italian origins of the Thurn-Valsassina family – who commissioned the painting – the eclectic imitation of the Northern Italian painting style of Antonio Tempeste, and of the Bassano and Pelegrino Tibaldi workshops highlight the fact that the author was familiar with the Italian school of painting. Emiljan Cevc, PhD, is of the opinion that the Celje Ceiling painter was a northerner who – at the beginning of the 17th c. – enriched his work by following the Italian art of the late Renaissance and Mannerism. However, Ivan Stopar, PhD, attributes the authorship to the painter Almanach, thus shifting the dating of the Ceiling to the 1670s. The recent study by Daša Pahor, PhD, sets the possible dating to the 1620s, and places the author of the painting to the circle of painters who worked in the court of Rudolf II in Prague.

The ceiling with the size of 14.45 m x 9.87 m was painted with tempera colours onto a canvas. It is divided into 11 ceiling fields, separated by painted wooden beams and panellings. In the centre field, there are painted colonnades with 4 towers, through which the view opens into the sky in the form of a cross. Around it are balustrade railings with carpets hanging over them and behind them there are depictions of noblemen, courtiers, soldiers, and the supposed client Johann Ambrosius von Thurn, as well as the self-portrait of the painter and his assistant. Along the longer sides of the centre field are the figures of Jupiter and Neptune, standing on pedestals. The longer sides of the ceiling contain allegorical images of the four seasons with everyday chores and the shorter sides depict a battle of the war between the Latins and the Trojans. The corners are filled with four giants, known as The Four Disgracers of Heaven. The author of the Ceiling adapted most of the images according to previously painted graphics. The four seasons are adapted from the copper engravings of Jan and Rafael Sadeler. The two engravers imitated the paintings of Da Ponte-Bassano family. The depiction of the two battle scenes is taken from the copper engravings of Antonio Tempesta. The source material for the four giants are the copper engravings of Hendrik Goltzius, crafted from the paintings by Cornelius Cornelisz van Haarlem. The researchers have not yet determined the source of the central field with the illusionist perspective.

The playful elements of the Ceiling were created by contrasting the illusionist painted architecture – giving the impression of perspective expansion of space – with the illusion of enclosed space in the corners above the levitating bodies of giants. The painter, despite the eclectic iconographic selection, managed to create the Baroque-style inner movement by a deliberate arrangement of images.

On May 21, 2015, the Regional Museum of Celje opened the temporary exhibition titled The Celje Ceiling, a European Masterpiece. The contents of the exhibition with sources and literature are available at the Kamra website.

Mysteries of the Celje Ceiling – part of the radio show Sledi časa (Trail through Time) on the radio station Prvi program Radia Slovenije, 28/2/2016, interview with the custodian Gabrijela Kovačič, Art History graduate. The interview introduces the currently known facts about the painting to both the lay and expert audience.