Vanessa Redgrave
Stane Sever


  Franz Goldenstein
F.K. Zajec
Unknown artist
19th century
Ivan Zajec
  Unknown artist
around 1900
Anton Čeh
Anton Koželj
Miha Maleš
  Hinko Smrekar
Unknown artist
the first half of the 20th century  
Elko Justin
Marjan Šorli
Janez Vidic
  France Mihelič
Božidar Jakac
Maksim Gaspari
Božidar Jakac
  Vladimir Štoviček
Stane Dremelj
Pavel Pirih
early 1950s
Milan Batista
  Franc Anžel
Ive Šubic
Drago Tršar
early 1980s
Borut Pečar
  Tomaž Kržišnik
Marjan Belec
Rudolf Španzel
Vladimir Lakovič
  Andrej Dolinar
Miha Kač
Stane Kolman
Unfortunately there is not a single depiction of the poet France Prešeren that we can be certain was created during his lifetime. From the testimonies of his relatives and some of his other contemporaries, we can establish that the poet avoided having his portrait done. His friend Franc Potočnik tried in vain to use the last opportunity during the night of February 8th for the real image of Prešeren's face to be preserved, by writing a letter to painter Matevž Langus, begging him to travel to Kranj forthwith and paint the poor poet on the catafalque. Sadly Langus, who was renowned in Ljubljana as the best Slovene painter, did not grant Potočnik's request. The widely lamented fact that Slovenes did not have a single portrait of their most prominent poet created during his lifetime was probably the main reason why, in 1850, the Ljubljana painter Franz Kurz Goldenstein attempted to paint Prešeren's portrait without actually being commissioned. Even though the artist painted the face of his friend according to memory a year after the poet's death and four years after they had last met, the painting is of exceptional value to Slovenes, as it is the only known painting which throws light on what Prešeren's real physical appearance was. Over the next one hundred and fifty years, many painters and sculptors attempted to capture the poet's image in artistic form. At first, they depicted him according to memory or according to testimonies, even using photographs of his relatives. Later, when all Prešeren's contemporaries were dead, the poet was depicted in an imaginary way, based on the artists' interpretation of Prešeren's poetry. The great variety of the depictions now in existence represents a fascinating insight into the historical development of our perception of Prešeren's poetic person.

Sadly, Goldenstein's painting of France Prešeren, bought by Franc Potočnik soon after it was completed, and from 1851 to around 1869 entrusted to the care of Janez Bleiweis, did not really become known to the wider Slovene public until 1900, when the then owner of the portrait, Franc Levec, published it for the first time in a Prešeren album, with Potočnik's letter added, proving its authenticity. In particular, when Bleiweis was taking care of it, it was accessible to only a few chosen viewers. Among them was the sculptor Franc Ksaver Zajec, who made the first bust of Prešeren. Zajec was then a well-known and tested portraitist, but he had not known the poet personally. The larger than life bust in plaster was created for one of the live backgrounds at a staging of Krst pri Savici (Baptism at the Savica) at the Ljubljana provincial theatre on 2nd December 1865.

The publisher Otto Wagner and editor Fran Levstik looked for a painting of Prešeren in vain, when in 1866 they were preparing the first posthumous edition of Prešeren's Poems for Klasje. An unknown amateur painter produced a portrait with the help of a photograph of Prešeren's sister Katra and oral descriptions from acquaintances of the poet, and partly modelled on the cousin Anton Svetina. This portrait, known as Wagner's, served as a model for many later painters and this was the image Slovenes had of Prešeren right up till 1900, when Levec published Goldenstein's portrait.

Among the later portraits from the 19th century, it is worth mentioning at least the full length statuettes of the poet, which were serially produced in late 1870 by Franc Ksaver Zajec; the portraits created by Franc Pustavrh (before 1876), Josef MukaŢovski, Ignac Figner (1879), Tomaž HrnciŢ (1891) and in particular, Prešeren's bust in Carrara marble by the sculptor Alojzij Gangl (1895).

The number of Prešeren's portraits grew particularly at the end of the 19th century, when Slovenes were preparing for the celebration of the centenary of the poet's birth. His image started appearing on national greetings cards and, from 1896 onwards also on postcards. An important incentive for sculptors was also the proposals for a central monument to the poet in Ljubljana. The call for submissions was answered by six reputable sculptors, and the draft sculpture created by Ivan Zajec won the award. The monument was unveiled on 10th September 1905. Since 1900, the painters Ivan Grohar and Ivan Vavpotič, the sculptor Alojzij Repič as well as some unknown artists have created portraits of Prešeren which are worthy of mention; they can be found in the Town Hall in Ljubljana, the Study Library in Novo mesto, the Kaprol Inn in Sodražica, and elsewhere. These were followed by the depictions created by Alojzij Šubic (1902), Saša Šantl (1905), Maksim Gaspari (1905, 1907), Anton Čeh (1908), Anton Sever (1909), Anton Koželj (1912), Lojze Dolinar (1914) and others. In the period between the two World Wars, Prešeren iconography was added to by Maksim Gaspari, Božidar Jakac, Hinko Smrekar, Elko Justin, Ivan Vavpotič, Ivan Čargo, Nikolaj Pirnat, France Gorše, Viktor Cotič, Ksenija Prunkova, Rajko Šubic, Stane Dremelj, and others. During this period, artists were encouraged particularly by France Kidrič, who in 1935 prepared an extensive book on Prešeren, as well as a Prešeren album, and Miha Maleš, who was in 1940 the initiator of the illustrated edition of Prešeren's poems.

Production of portraits of the poet did not cease completely during the Second World War (Avgust Černigoj, Hinko Smrekar, Janez Vidic, Stane Dremelj, France Mihelič). After the war, Jakac, Gaspari and Dremelj were joined by, among others, Čoro Škodlar, Boris Kalin, Frančišek Smerdu, Vladimir Štoviček, and after the sixties also Milan Batista, Franc Anžel, Ive Šubic, Tomaž Kržišnik, Tone Demšar, Drago Tršar, Borut Pečar, Vladimir Lakovič, Albin Ambrožič, Rudolf Španzel, Pavel Pirih, Marjan Belec, Andrej Dolinar, Stane Kolman, and many others.

A complete list of all the artists who have in the last one hundred and fifty years in one way or another depicted our greatest poet France Prešeren will probably not be drawn up for quite some time. But the fact that Prešeren's poetic person remains mysteriously challenging and constantly invites new portraits from new generations of Slovene artists is very encouraging.

  Janez Mušič

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