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Beehive Art in Slovenia - an unexpected insight in 19th century agricultural practice

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

To conclude our coverage of wheat sowing, we would like to present a very special exhibit from the Slovene Ethnographic Museum (SEM) that provides interesting insights into the agricultural practices of rural Slovenia in the late 19th century: a painted front panel of a beehive from 1897, representing work on a field.

Painted Beehive panel from 1897, showing various agricultural tasks, including sowing. Copyright: SEM

Barbara Sosič of the SEM explains the special value of painted panels as follows: "painted beehive panels were common on a special type of beehive called `kranjič´ – an elongated, rectangular hive of various sizes, made from linden or poplar wood. Prosperous farmers, the rural gentry and presbyteries asked simple, mostly self-thought artists to make oil paintings on front panels of beehives which were then put in apiaries. The main purpose of these paintings was to help beekeepers to distinguish the beehives and also to symbolically place the beehives under the protection of the depicted saints.

Painted beehive panels are a folk art genre and the only artistic genre that features numerous secular figurative motifs and moralistic and satirical themes. During the period they were popular, that is from the mid-18th century to the First World War, over 50,000 panels were painted.

The images are mainly figurative and include over 600 different themes; a good half are religious, showing scenes from the Old and New Testament and images of Saints. Among the secular motifs the following stands out: animals in human roles, scenes ridiculing women’s weaknesses and relations between the sexes, or that of tailors and shoemakers, scenes in inns, military and exotic images, etc.

The genre developed its own painting style and it is also the richest European collection of paintings with figurative motifs produced by lower social classes. The paintings are precious testimony to the cultural needs, world views, and creative power of the rural population."

The above mentioned beehive panel stands out as it is depicting a full agricultural cycle from plowing to sowing of the field crop (e.g. wheat). It is interesting to observe that both the ploughing as well as the harrowing was done by the use of draft cattle - a very common practice in Slovenia up the first half of the 20th century.

Two teenagers ploughing a field, 1950s. Copyright: SEM Photo Archive.

The sowing itself is depicted as broadcasting using a relatively large basket made out of organic material.


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