Beehive panels

Slovenian folk-art phenomenon

The beehive panel paintings are a unique Slovenian phenomenon and an important form of folk-art. Numerous sources indicate that bee-keeping was known to Slavic nations. In Slovenia the beginnings of a domestic industry started in the thirteenth century and has been an integral part of Slovenian agriculture since the 16th century. Three products of bee-keeping were: honey, wax, and mead.  

Originally bees were kept in hollow logs or in woven baskets but the entire hive was damaged when the honeycomb was removed. By the eighteenth century, the kranjic hive was developed; the wooden bee-house (čebelnjak) incorporated removable boxes that resembled a chest of drawers, thus creating individual hives. The kranjic hives have panels (panjske končnice) above the entrance of the bee-hive.

The panels were painted and decorated with wide-ranging figurative motifs and images, religious and secular, by folk-artists. The medium was oil paints. Over 600 motifs have been discovered from the preserved collection of 3,000 panels.

The beekeepers acquired the painted bee panels through several means: by purchasing them at fairs or from peddlers, ordering them from painters or travelling painters who went from house to house offering their services.

The classical period of the beehive panels endured from 1820 to 1880; the art form of the beehive panel died by 1918. With the introduction of a larger hive by Anton Žnidaršič at the end of the nineteenth century, the art form died out. The content of the illustrations became trivial. The panels spread throughout Slovenia and Koroška, except for the southern regions of Dolenjska and Bela Krajina.

The oldest panels dated from mid-18th century were painted in a simple folk style during the time of the Baroque. The oldest known bee-hive front board is dated 1758 and depicts the Madonna with Child. Among the religious subjects depicted on the panels are: events from the Old and New Testaments (creation of the world, the garden of Eden, Joseph, Job, John the Baptist, Mary, Jesus Christ) images of the saints, especially patron saints; amongst them St. Florijan, St. Anthony, St. Barbara, St. Agnes, St. Hubert, St. Lucy.

The secular subject matter was inspired by everyday life, folktales, festivities, and historical events. The subjects included the depiction of animal and hunting motifs, various professions, aspects of society and the human condition. The scenes covered a gamut of content and were expressed also with humour, caricature, satirical comment and social criticism.There is the devil grinding a woman's tongue, a world "turned up side down"; of a huntsman's funeral where the animals are the pall-bearers (the social meaning is the reversal of the master slave relationship).

The largest exhibit of beehive panels is located at the Museum of Apiculture    at Linhartov trg 1, Thurn Manor in Radovljica, Slovenia.

Bibliography

Fallon, Steve, Slovenian Lonely Planet travel survival kit, LP Publications Ltd, Melbourne,1995
Cevc, Dr. Emlijan, and Gnilšak, Ida, Pripovedi s panjev, Apiculture Museum, Radovljica,1992
Museum of Apiculture, Radovljica. http://www.muzeji-radovljica.si/burger/v_cebelarski_m/ENGUvod.html