Artibus et Historiae no. 85 (XLIII)

2022, ISSN 0391-9064

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ZBIGNIEW MICHALCZYK - The Triumph of Saint Benedict at the National Museum in Poznań. Between Paul Troger and Jan Bogumił Plersch (pp. 363–384)

A Baroque oil sketch depicting the Apotheosis of Saint Benedict is kept in the National Museum in Poznań as a long-term loan of the Poznań Society of the Friends of Learning (Poznańskie Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Nauk, PTPN). The painting is not signed but bears a – probably later (?) – inscription on the stretcher which names as its maker Jan Bogumił Plersch (1732–1817), a painter active in Warsaw and one of court artists to King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski. The painting comes from the collection of Edward Rastawiecki (1804–1874), an author of the first biographical dictionary of Polish painters, published in 1850–1857. Although it is not known how and when the painting came into his possession, Rastawiecki must have acquired it between 1851 and 1857, as it is only in the third volume of his dictionary, which includes amendments to the previously published life of Plersch, that the canvas was mentioned.

The composition of the painting is almost identical with that of the fresco executed in 1739 by Paul Troger (1698–1762) in the ceremonial hall of the prelature of the Benedictine Abbey in Melk, but two other sketches in oil on canvas related to the Melk fresco are its direct analogies: a modello executed by Troger, surviving in Melk Abbey, and an oil sketch that hitherto has been ascribed to Troger, held in the Landesmuseum Niederösterreich at Sankt Pölten. Yet, an analysis has revealed that the last-mentioned work is more likely a workshop-made ricordo, executed by one of the associates of the most eminent Austrian painter of the late Baroque period. The painting held in the National Museum in Poznań exhibits a far better workmanship and should undoubtedly be considered as a work executed in Troger’s closest circle. Although the question of Plersch’s authorship remains open, it does seem quite likely, especially considering the fact that the Polish painter had studied in the Academy of Vienna between 1750 and 1754, and the practice of executing copies of the masters’ oil sketches by their pupils was firmly established in the Habsburg countries. Some similarities in the treatment of brushstrokes can be seen in the few surviving oil sketches by Plersch from his later period (especially the Apotheosis of Poland, a sketch for his not surviving plafond in the Primate’s Palace in Warsaw, c. 1784, National Museum in Poznań).

If we assume that the Apotheosis of Saint Benedict, discussed in the present paper, was indeed painted by Plersch, it would mean that he had been trained in Vienna under Troger, and the painting was executed between 1750 and 1754 (probably closer to the latter date). What is absolutely sure, however, is the fact that the painting under discussion in the collection of the National Museum in Poznań should be studied within the context of the functioning of Troger’s studio.

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