The mural by Slavko Pengov
Along the walls of the lobby of the Great Hall runs a large fresco (67.4 m long and 1.4 m wide) painted by Slavko Pengov in 1958 and 1959, depicting the history of the Slovene nation from the era of the migration of nations to the period following the Second World War.
Slavko Pengov was indeed the best choice for this task – he was the most renowned Slovenian fresco painter of the 1950s and his interpretation of the Slovenian socialist regime is expressed in monumental murals in Vila Bled, the Belgrade palace of the Central Committee of the Communist League of Yugoslavia, the Ljubljana Faculty of Mining, and the town hall of Nova Gorica.
His monumental mural depicts the enthronement of Carantanian dukes, the Turkish invasions and peasant risings, the figures of Trubar, Valvazor, Zois, Prešeren and Cankar, the revolutionary year 1848 and the Slovene political movements that designed the programme of 'United Slovenia', the workers' movements in the late 19th century, the First World War and the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and the Second World War, from the national liberation war to liberation, and the creation of socialist Yugoslavia and homeland reconstruction.
The first wall: from Antiquity to the Middle Ages
The first scene of the fresco presents the era of the migration of nations. The ruins of the Roman city of Emona, which was situated on the site of the current Ljubljana, battles, and a horse rider who is destroying a Roman temple, give an impression of the time when the Romans had to flee from the people migrating to Italy across what came to be Slovene territory. After the Huns and Lombards, the territory of current Slovenia, Austrian Carinthia, and also north of this territory was populated by Slovenes.
The mural depicts a group of men, women, and children. A man is driving posts into the ground, a sign that they will settle this land. In the shelter of the settlement, wise men are meeting in council under a linden tree. In the background, a farmer is reaping wheat, symbolising the beginnings of cultivation by the ancestors of the modern Slovenes.
The Slovenes did not settle the country alone, but in a tribal alliance with the Avars. In 623, the Alpine Slovenes freed themselves of Avar domination and joined forces with western Slav tribes in Bohemia and Moravia to found a new, independent Slav tribal league led by ‘King’ Samo. The Slovene polity of Carantania represented a special unit within this league.
The mural portrays this period of history in a scene showing the Carantanian people electing their duke in a meadow called Gosposvetsko Polje. This ritual, which was preserved far into the Middle Ages, long after Carantania had lost its independence, represents a unique political and administrative document in European history.
Even after Samo's death, the Carantanian Slovenes lived in peace and developed independently until around 745. After coming under fresh attack from the Avars, the Carantanian Duke Borut was forced to ask the Bavarians for help; they came, defeated the Avars, and reinforced the Carantanians, but subjugated them as vassals to their kings. They then took hostages to Bavaria, one of whom was Borut's son, Gorazd, whom his father requested be converted to Christianity. Nevertheless, Carantania continued to exist as an independent Slovene duchy in the Frankish state. The scene on the wall depicts the defeat of the Avars, the Bavarians taking hostages, and the arrival of Bavarian missionaries in the country.
The second wall: from the Middle Ages to the 19th century
The Carantanians were dissatisfied with Bavarian rule. Ljudevit Posavski started a rebellion in approximately 819, but it was put down with fatal consequences for the Carantanian Slovenes. Carantania became an ordinary county of the Frankish state, and Frankish feudal lords replaced the local ones. The mural depicts a Frankish king granting feudal estates to his vassals; Ljudevit Posavski lies defeated at his feet. A margrave haughtily accepts taxes from peasants. Many centuries will pass before Slovene independence.
The next scene shows Hungarian riders, who invaded Slovene land in the early 10th century and occupied a large portion of it. Troubled times followed when a new enemy, the Ottomans, appeared at the Slovene borders. By 1508, the Ottomans had killed and enslaved around 200,000 people from the sparsely-populated Slovene lands, a terrible toll in blood.
Turkish invasions, inadequate defence of the Slovene lands, new military taxes, and other feudal burdens led to strong resistance among Slovene peasants. A struggle "for the old law" was born. In 1515, peasants in the Dolenjska region rebelled, and the unrest spread to Lower Styria. The feudal troops defeated the rebels and made them pay with their blood. After the rebellion, conditions grew even worse for the peasants. In 1573, a major Croatian and Slovene peasant revolt broke out, but was suppressed. The mural depicts peasants gathering to form “alliances”, their uprising, the struggle against the imperial troops and the cruel revenge taken on the captured rebels. The leader of the uprising, Matija Gubec, was crowned with a white-hot crown of steel in Zagreb; Ilija Gregorič was beheaded, and many other peasant rebels were put to death.
In the next scene, the mural depicts the growth of Slovene towns in the 16th century. Crafts and trade flourished and the first industrial workshops appeared. Material advances were accompanied by the development of culture, linked partly to the influence of humanism and still more with the Reformation. The mural shows Primož Trubar (1508-1586) holding his Abecedarium (1550), the first book printed in Slovene. Trubar was the leading light of the Slovene Protestant movement, as he wrote almost two-thirds of the approximately fifty books published by Slovene Protestant writers. Although Protestantism did not become widespread in Slovenia for a variety of reasons, it did create the Slovene literary language, laid strong foundations for Slovene literature, and marked out the direction which it would follow until the second half of the 18th century.
The image of Janez Vajkard Valvasor (1641-1693) on horseback conjures up the 17th century and the work of the man himself, who travelled throughout the Slovene lands researching his celebrated volume The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (Nuremberg, 1689). He collected geographical, historical, and ethnological information about the Slovene lands into fifteen volumes, which are of inestimable value to Slovene scholarship.
The next group in the mural shows representatives of the Enlightenment, as French Enlightenment ideas were adopted in the latter 18th century by some Slovene thinkers. The wealthy Žiga Zois (1747-1819), son of an Italian father and Slovene mother, polyglot, and owner of a vast library and collection of minerals, attracted a circle of progressive individuals and won them over to the cause of national awakening. The ‘Zois Circle’ included Anton Tomaž Linhart (1756-1795), who later became a dramatist and historian, and Valentin Vodnik (1758-1819), a poet who welcomed the arrival of the French and the creation of the Illyrian Provinces (1809-1813), in which he saw an opportunity for the free development of Slovene national consciousness.
The depiction of Matevž Langus (1792-1855), a painter and portrait artist, establishes a link with the next scene, which depicts the ‘Prešeren Circle’. In the centre, stands the majestic figure of the outstanding Slovene poet, France Prešeren (1800-1849), with two friends at his side: the Slavicist and Prešeren’s mentor, Matija Čop (1797-1835), and patron of the arts and collector of ethnographic material, Andrej Smole (1800-1840). With Prešeren, Slovene artistic creativity reached its peak, and his perception of the future of Slovene culture and national development provided powerful encouragement to progressive political thought among Slovenes. Somewhat to one side stands Janez Bleiweis (1808-1881), a conservative who, in keeping with the Metternich regime, opposed progressive political development.
The revolutionary year of 1848 is represented by the Austrian coat-of-arms and the Vienna parliament. Progressive elements among Slovenes at the time drafted a Programme for a United Slovenia, designed to accelerate the social and national development of the Slovene people, but the conservatives prevailed and nothing changed. Nevertheless, the introduction of constitutional order in Austria stimulated Slovene political activity. The ‘Young Slovenes’ movement was led for a time by Fran Levstik (1831-1887), a writer and ideologue of Slovene liberalism, but also a strict and objective critic. He is shown in the fresco standing next to a cart carrying ‘Young Slovenes’ to their ‘tabori’, popular gatherings which were also attended in great numbers by Slovene peasants.
The third wall: from the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century
At the end of the 19th century, rapid industrialisation and the development of mining swelled the Slovene proletariat. Slovene workers celebrated Labour Day for the first time in 1890, and in 1893 publication began of the first labour journal Delavec (Worker). The first scene on the third wall depicts a worker and the celebration of Labour Day on 1 May. A flag-bearer represents the founding of the Yugoslav Social Democratic Party in 1896.
The next scene depicts labour and student demonstrations in Ljubljana in 1902. The writer Ivan Cankar (1876-1918) stands in the foreground, pointing to the masses with his right hand. The flag bears the motto: "The people will write their own destiny" (from the drama Hlapci (Serfs), 1910). Cankar, a leading writer and one of the original Slovene moderns, was a member of the Social Democratic Party, which saw the only solution for the Yugoslav nations in a fully independent state organised along the lines of a federation and a republic.
A scene from the First World War follows. After the defeat of Austria in 1918, the Yugoslav nations united to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, but the new state formation did not bring freedom to the oppressed masses. Between 1936 and 1938, Slovenia experienced a series of demonstrations and strikes.
The fourth wall: the 20th century
The last wall of the mural is dedicated to the Second World War and the national liberation struggle. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia soon fell apart following attacks by the fascist armies. While some inhabitants welcomed the occupation, the Liberation Front, founded on 27 April 1941, united all patriots prepared to resist the German and Italian aggressors. 22 June 1941 marked the beginning of the resistance uprising in Slovenia. The scene depicts Germans deporting Slovenes from the country and Italian fascists sending them to prison camps.
The violence could not stop the national liberation struggle. Fighters are depicted resisting the heavily-armed occupiers with their bare hands. The scene also depicts the Conference of Delegates of the Slovene Nation in Kočevje, which took place between 1 and 3 October 1943, and was the first instance of independent Slovene representation of the national liberation struggle until liberation in 1945, and scenes from the immediate post-war period, when the liberation from the occupying forces led to great enthusiasm and enabled the renewal of the homeland.
Vovk, M. (2012): Art at the People's Assembly. (PDF 19.5 MB)
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