Plečnik and Stelè: The Draughtsman and the Scholar
The exhibition, created in collaboration with the ZRC SAZU France Stele Institute of Art History, presents the close relationship between Dr. France Stelè and Jože Plečnik. From the extensive correspondence that Stelè preserved is clear that their relationship was both professional and a true friendship. During the construction of Plečnik’s projects in Ljubljana, Stele was the head conservator and the head of the Monument Office.
Collaborations between art historians and artists are quite frequent and not unknown in the Slovenian context either. However, it is rare that a cooperation such as this spans across as many different areas as was the case between art historian France Stelè and architect Jože Plečnik. We can say for certain that Plečnik’s Ljubljana, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2021, would have been much more modest without Stelè’s involvement, with some key monuments outright missing.
Despite personal relations between Plečnik and a good decade younger Stelè only developed after World War I, while they were both residing in Ljubljana, it was their time in Vienna that significantly influenced them and had a decisive impact on the development of art and science during the interwar period. Students of the Vienna School of Art History (alongside Stelè there were also Josip Mantuani, Izidor Cankar, and Vojeslav Molè) and those of Wagner’s architectural department at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (alongside Plečnik there were also Ivan Vurnik and Wagner’s collaborator, Max Fabiani), cultivated a tender relationship towards heritage and a vision on urban development that was crucial during the modernisation, formation of national identity, and the establishment of the city of Ljubljana according to the principles of Central European capitals.
France Stelè (1886–1972) studied art history in Vienna under the mentorship of the renowned professor Max Dvořák (1874–1921). In 1913, he was appointed as the provincial conservator for Carniola, but his work was soon after interrupted by the outbreak of World War I and deployment to the Eastern Front. Following his imprisonment in Russia and the subsequent release in 1919, he returned with proficiency in multiple languages and, once again, took charge of the Monuments Office, which was now responsible for the entire territory of Slovenia (with the exception of the Primorska region). Over the course of two decades, he successfully established a well-functioning preservation and conservation service based on modern conservation principles closely tied to research. His work Oris zgodovine umetnosti pri Slovencih [T/N: An Outline of History of Art in Slovenia: A Cultural-Historical Attempt] published in 1924 set the foundation for all following research in Slovenian art. In the decades after World War II, he educated generations of art historians who then worked in the Slovenian and broader Yugoslav context as a professor at the Faculty of Arts (from 1938). Simultaneously, he was also engaged in contemporary scientific humanities, as an associate of international institutes and experts’ associations. Therefore, he is considered one of the pioneers of Slovenian art history and one of the most prominent figures in Slovenian cultural life until the end of World War II.
Plečnik’s Ljubljana resulted from a close collaboration between Plečnik, Stelè, and Matko Prelovšek, who was the head of the Municipal Construction Office. Stelè also collaborated with Plečnik on the renovation of several cultural monuments, promoted and advocated for his works in the press, and contributed to two monumental publications on the architect’s works (Architectura Perennis, 1941; Napori [T/N: Efforts], 1955). On numerous occasions, he played a key role in mediating political tensions and pressures, as well as in managing the competition among architects and the practical constraints of their plans. The latter was particularly evident during the construction of the University Library (now NUK), where he realised that Ivan Vurnik’s alternative plan could provoke a reaction from the authorities in Belgrade that would potentially jeopardise not only the entire library project but the existence of the University of Ljubljana. We can observe similar actions taken by Stelè a few years later when Plečnik and his student Edvard Ravnikar disagreed on the project for the Museum of Modern Art. Preserved letters testify to how carefully Stelè navigated between the instruction of Izidor Cankar, the critical Plečnik, and the young Ravnikar, who, with his modern approach, competed for one of the most prestigious projects in global architectural circles – a museum of modern art.
Following the architect’s passing, during a time when Plečnik’s work was not valued, Stelè took it upon himself to preserve the memory of the architect and ensure a proper appreciation of Plečnik’s oeuvre. To achieve this, he wrote the book Arhitekt Jože Plečnik v Italiji 1898–1899 [T/N: Architect Jože Plečnik in Italy 1898–1899] (1967), in which he described how the young architect encountered architectural classics, which proved to be a crucial inspiration for his creative work. Stelè’s book holds a central place in the research of the architect’s life and is among the cornerstones for all following studies on Plečnik.
PLEČNIK AND STELÈ: The Draughtsman and the Scholar, temporary exhibition, 20. 10. 2023–28. 1. 2024
Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana, Plečnik House, represented by: Blaž Peršin, director
Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, represented by: dr. Oto Luthar, director
Authors of the exhibition: dr. Vesna Krmelj, dr. Franci Lazarini
Programme accompanying the exhibition in cooperation with Janko Rožič
Curator of the exhibition: Ana Porok
Production of the exhibition: Maja Kovač
Exhibited material: Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana, Plečnik Collection; Biblioteka SAZU / SAZU Library; ZRC SAZU, France Stele Institut of Art History; Ministry of Culture, Directorate for Cultural Heritage, INDOK Centre
Photographs by: Blaž Gutman, Andrej Furlan, MGML documentation, dr. France Stele, Ministry of Culture, Directorate for Cultural Heritage, INDOK Centre
Graphic and exhibition design: Bojan Lazarevič, Agora Proars
Language editing: Katja Paladin
English translation: Matic Šavli
Promotion: Maja Kovač, Nejc Kovačič, Ana Kure
Exhibition layout: O.K.vir, Technical services of MGML
The exhibition was created within the framework of the Art in Slovenia at a Cultural Crossroads (P6-0061) research programme and the Bourgeois Art Commissions in Carniola and Styria in the 19th and the First Half of the 20th Century (J6-3136) research project, both of which are funded from the national budget by the Slovenian Research And Innovation Agency.
1 January, 1 November, 25 December: Closed
24 and 31 December: 10:00–14:00
Visits of the original Plečnik’s home are only possible with a guided tour that begines every full hour.
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Visiting the Plečnik House (price includes permanent exhibition Plečnik and a guided tour of Plečnik's home)
Adults: 8 €
Students: 6 €
Children: 6 €
Adults over the age of 60: 6 €
Families: 18 €
Unemployed visitors: 6 €
Visitors with disabilities: 6 €
Free admission for carers
ICOM, PRESS, SMD: free admission
Guided tours for private groups of more than 7 visitors need to be booked at least 5 working days in advance.
Visiting the Plečnik House with a prior reservation
Groups of up to 4 persons: 38 €
Groups of over 4 persons: 9 €/person, reduced 7 €/person
Visiting the permanent exhibition Plečnik
Adults: 5 €
Students: 3 €
Children: 3 €
Adults over the age of 60: 3 €
Families: 12 €
Unemployed visitors: 3 €
Visitors with disabilities: 3 €
Free admission for carers
ICOM, PRESS, SMD: free admission