Panjska končnica: painted hives of the Slovenian folk tradition

The Slovenian term panjska končnica refers to a wooden board decorated by hand that is placed to close particular types of hives called kranjič. This form of folk art is typical of Slovenia. It appeared on the territory after the mid-nineteenth century and continued at full pace until the beginning of the twentieth century, mainly in the territories of Southern Carinthia, northwest Slovene Štajerska, central and northern Carniola, and Goriškega. Outside this area, the lively trade of live bees of Carniola brought an export of thousands of them to Europe and other countries, even stimulating a weak local painting of hives in Lammertal in neighboring Austria.

The painted panels are now part of what is considered the Slovenian cultural heritage and, according to today’s knowledge, are considered an autochthonous cultural element and considered one of the chapters of popular art, created mainly by and for members of the lower social strata – the peasants (in the past, in fact, almost all farms had an apiary). 

Wooden beehives were painted mainly so that bees could recognize their hive and for the peasant to be able to distinguish their hives from others and protect them from spells and accidents. 

The first images painted on the hives were mainly devotional with simple stories, though carefully thought out in a decorative way. In the center, there was usually the Virgin Mary or one of the saints, and on the sides a bouquet, a vase of flowers, or part of a curtain. Typical were also the images of the peasants’ lives or particularly important events. The secular motifs adopted later came mostly from the popular narration, from everyday life (depictions of farm chores, weddings, inns), or recordings of important events. In these paintings there was little scenery and nature, these elements were used only as a background for history. There were no portraits because vanity and beauty were rarely represented since they had no place in peasant life (the only exception is the history of the mill and the desire for youth and beauty). The most common motive was punishment. Since beekeepers were men, it was mainly their view of the events of life and their attitude toward the opposite sex to be represented. The composition, placement of the figures, decoration, and coloring of the hives were still inspired by the baroque tradition, but it is significant that painters, whether professional or not, did not want to create works of art. The most important thing for them was the content since the paintings on the hives were art for the common. 

Painted hives of the Slovenian folk tradition

The wood from which the extensions of the hive were made was mostly spruce. Often, however, lime, pine, or larch wood was also used. The colors were prepared by the painters themselves. The process required that the primary colors were finely ground and then mixed with linseed oil. The technique proved so durable that the images resisted both sun and rain. 

Today, the collection of painted hives of historical interest is housed in the Radovljica Beekeeping Museum and the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum in Ljubljana. Both collections have about 700 panels that, from an ethnological point of view, also play an important role in revealing the relationship with the world of both local farmers and consumers of the time. 

Finally, in addition to the opportunity to admire these historical finds in museums you can also see painted hives of modern creation at beekeepers and farms. The tradition of painted beehives today has not completely disappeared but on the contrary, it is preserved by taking to subject new stories or often images of nature.

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