Jurij Šubic received a commission for painting in the newly built palace of archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in Athens through his colleague, Danish architect Teofil Hansen (1813‒1891). Hansen, also a professor at the Viennese Art Academy, knew Šubic well, since Šubic drew architectural decorations for him. The two were also acquainted through professor Griepenkerl, who was at the same time working on his Prometheus Cycle for the Athens Academy, where Šubic helped as well.
On 5 December 1879, Šubic arrived to Athens and architect Ernst Ziller (1837‒1923) presented him the idea of the painting. Schliemann and Ziller drew their iconography from the writings of German poet and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749‒1832), who emphasized the meaning of Pompeii compositions. At the same time, the paintings had to reflect the patron’s character, his virtues and accomplishments, resulting in motifs from mythology, classical literature, allegories with cupids and scenes from excavations in Mycenae and in Troy. Šubic was happy with the commission, since it assured him a year of work and kept him, as he put it, in the most eminent company of scholars, artists and friends of the arts. He befriended Paul Ziller, a younger brother of Ernst Ziller, with whom he spent holidays, frequented the theatre and travelled around Greece. At one point, Šubic also lived in his home and painted Ziller family members, their friends and acquaintances (like the family of the British ambassador Corbett). In Athens, Šubic also socialized with younger brother of famous Theodor Mommsen, August Mommsen (1821‒1913). A scholar and classical philologist, Mommsen wrote a literary piece Short Tragedy in Athens, a parody of a conversation about the ceiling decorations in the Schliemann Palace, which features Ziller, Šubic and Schliemann.
Šubic concluded with his work in the palace on 13 October 1880. When Šubic was departing from Athens, he wrote to his cousin Ivan: “It took me a year and a half to deliver the commissions and it was with heavy heart that I then separated from the magic of that land, which to men always brings back many memories of old tales from history and mythology ‒ from the place that even today keeps so much of the most exquisite art, from the most beautiful era of the human mind. Saying farewell to kind acquaintances, I left for Paris.” Šubic left for the French capital on 2 December 1880 at the invitation of his friend, Czech painter Vojtěch Hynais (1854‒1925), whom he helped to paint the screen for the National Theatre in Prague.
For Shrovetide in 1881, Heinrich Schliemann welcomed the first guests to his palace with a magnificent gala and showed them the wall paintings. Newspapers commended the work and mentioned that the decoration in the dance hall was work by Jurij Šubic, a young painter and a student of Professor Griepenkerl.
The paintings and quotes from literature on the walls of the palace capture classical thought, emphasize the magnificence and power of the Antiquity, and at the same time extol the deeds of the patron and his virtues, like justice, honour, dedication, care for the common good. Motifs derive from various sources - ancient mythology, Roman literature (Aeneid by Virgil), Pompeii wall painting and Baroque painting by Guido Reni (Aurora) - that all connect Heinrich Schliemann with the spirit of the Ancient World.
Šubic painted rooms and balconies of the upper two floors. Besides own compositions, he used as templates books of German architect and painter Wilhelm Zahn (1800‒1871) that presented decorative elements and paintings from Pompeii. In almost actual size, he depicted eight of the nine muses, floating in cherry-coloured sky, together with personification of the four seasons and the four elements. Featured are various deities, like Zeus Enthroned, Demeter with Basket, Dionysus with a Pantherand his entourage, the dancing maenads. Šubic completed smaller fields with different motifs, like divine attributes (thyrsus), fruit and animals (lobster, fish), which were brought from the palace’s kitchen for him to paint.
To depict Schliemann’s archaeological work, Šubic depicted playful and diligent cupids, who were roguish and entertaining characters even in Roman times. The cupids excavate, discover and inspect artefacts that can be connected with actual works of art Schliemann discovered in Mycenae and Troy. Demeanour and hairstyles of the accompanying figures reveal them as “portraits” of Šubic, Schliemann, his two spouses and their children, who are joined by the family’s St Bernard.
The Exhibition was organised by National Gallery of Slovenia, Numismatic Museum of Athens and the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia in Athens on the occasion of the State Visit of His Excellency Mr Borut Pahor, President of the Republic of Slovenia to the Hellenic Republic.