The Devil is in the Details

Painted beehive panels - Slovenian specialty

Traditional Carniolan Kranjič hives exhibited in the Beekeeping Museum. by Miran KambičBeekeeping Museum in Radovljica

Painted Beehive Panels

Painted beehive panels are a unique part of Slovenian folk art, which are found nowhere else in the world. 

They are paintings on the front panels of beehives, especially traditional Carniolan kranjič hives, with various images showing the richness of the folk imagination and way of thinking of the rural population in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Painted beehive panel. Motif: Boarding Noah's Ark (1862)Beekeeping Museum in Radovljica

Boarding Noah’s Ark | Dated 1862

When God saw that people were evil and depraved, he decided to thoroughly cleanse the earth. Since Noah was the only righteous and faultless man of his kind, God chose to give him a chance to survive.

He gave him instructions for how to build the giant boat, which is today known as Noah’s Ark. The boat was intended for Noah’s family (Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives) as well as for animals.

God explicitly commanded Noah to take on board two animals of every species that lived on land. Then God sent the Deluge to Earth. The water covered the entire Earth for 40 days and destroyed all terrestrial life except the humans and animals on Noah’s Ark.

The water then began to recede and the boat ran aground on top of the Mount Ararat.

Painted beehive panel. Motif: Pilgrim Mary (1758)Beekeeping Museum in Radovljica

Pilgrim Mary | Dated 1758

From the 18th and first decades of the 19th century, we know mostly religious motifs of painted beehive frontal panel, of which Mary, as the universal patroness, is most often depicted.

The figure is typically triangular, with a wide spread dress, that is barely visible in the lower part. To the left and to the right of the central motif are the numbers 17 and 58, which together represent the year 1758.

It is the oldest known beehive frontal panel. This example of Slovenian folk art belongs to the post-Baroque painting tradition of the first group of painters, among religious motifs.

Painted beehive panel. Motif: Adam and Eva in ParadiseBeekeeping Museum in Radovljica

Adam and Eve in Paradise | Dated 1889

The serpent tries to persuade Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

The motif is based on the Old Testament of the Bible: God places the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden and forbids them to eat from the tree of knowledge.

The serpent tells Eve that by eating this fruit they will learn good and bad and be equal to God. 

Eve then takes the fruit, eats it... 

... and gives it to Adam. The depiction is taken from one of the similar biblical illustrations and is adapted to a longitudinal pictorial surface. 

The animals are still, the depiction of a small elephant is interesting, the fruit has become an apple...

...the two people are already dressed...

...although they are supposed to have only learnt the concept of nudity after eating the fruit.

Figural painted beehive panel: The Head of a BearBeekeeping Museum in Radovljica

Bear's Head

Figural painted beehive panel in the shape of a bear's head. Painted beehive panels in the form of an animal depict a protector of bees.

Bees fly in and out through the opening in the mouth.

Figural painted beehive panel: The LionBeekeeping Museum in Radovljica

Lion's Head

Figural painted beehive panel in the shape of a lion's head.

Painted beehive panel. Motif: The Wedding in Cana (1882)Beekeeping Museum in Radovljica

Marriage at Cana | Dated 1882

The motif is based on the New Testament of the Bible. Christ, his mother, and the disciples were invited to a wedding.

When the wine ran out, Christ miraculously turned water into wine

Painted beehive panel. Motif: Hunter's Funeral (1876)Beekeeping Museum in Radovljica

Hunter’s Funeral | Dated 1876

Animals carrying a hunter to a funeral.

A satirical motif depicting animals in human roles.

Painted beehive panel. Motif: An Old Woman's Mill (1861)Beekeeping Museum in Radovljica

An Old Woman’s Mill | Dated 1861

There was hardly an old beehive that did not have ‘an old woman’s mill’ painted on one of the frontal panels.

The painting is still widely known today. It shows a fantastic mixture that makes old women young.

Folk humour with undisguised satiricalness branches out from these depictions.

However, studies show that the core of the motif is quite different. ‘Old woman’s mill’ is just one of the versions of the ancient motif of rejuvenation.

Man is rejuvenated with water, rejuvenated with fire – that is, he is reformed or reshaped — and he finally rejuvenates in the mill.

Numerous narrative forms speak of this; this one is an example of fine art.

Beekeeping museum Radovljica. A room containing figural beehives and painted beehive panels. by Ivan EsenkoBeekeeping Museum in Radovljica

Our permanent exhibition includes a separate room dedicated to painted beehive panels.

Credits: Story

This story is based on the book 'Living Together. About Bees and Mankind' by Dr. Petra Bole.

🔎 Learn more about Radovljica Municipality Museums' Museum of Apiculture on our website

🖋 Text: Dr. Petra Bole  | 📸 Photography: Ivan Esenko

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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