The late-Baroque sculptor Joseph Straub (1712–1756) is one of the leading representatives of Baroque in Slovenia. His works can be most extensively found in today's Styria, but also in Vipava region and outside the presently demarcated national borders – in Austrian Styria (Ernovž/Ehrenhausen), Italy (Gorizia), Hungary (Velika Kaniža/Nagykanizsa) and Croatia (Čakovec, Taborsko, Varaždin, Zlatar).
Joseph had four brothers who were all sculptors like himself: Johann Baptist (1704–1784), Philipp Jakob (1706–1774), Johann Georg the Younger (1721–1773) and Franz Anton (1726–c. 1774/76). The five were the sons of carpenter and sculptor Johann Georg Straub the Elder (1674–1755) from his two marriages in the small south German town Wiesensteig. They pursued distinguished sculptors' careers. Although they received part of their art training together, each of them finally settled in a different place of the Holy Roman Empire and beyond. Some of them in important art- and political centres of the said territory, others on its outskirts.
The Straub brothers acquired their first art skills in the workshop of their father in Wiesensteig. The father, together with his brother Johannes (1681–1759) and his offspring, provided a great variety of service to his clients. They manufactured furniture and altars, carved statues, and supplied ornaments, polychromy and gilding. All of the five brothers thus received an all-round education within their family, which enabled them to make a living also outside their birthplace, Wiesensteig. Johann Baptist became court sculptor in Munich in 1737, his younger brother Philipp Jakob took over the workshop of the late sculptor Johann Jakob Schoy (1686–1733) in Graz and took up the post of the sculptor of the province. Three younger brothers settled on the outskirts of the Holy Roman Empire and beyond – Joseph in Maribor, Johann Georg Jr. in Radgona/Bad Radkersburg, and Franz Anton in Zagreb.
It is likely that Joseph initially followed his brother Philipp Jakob to Graz. In 1736 he is mentioned in Ljubljana in the workshop of the established sculptor Heinrich Michael Löhr, but he got involved in litigation with the master because of his attempt to act independently. Shortly after that he is active in the Vipava region. In 1743 he was entrusted with a prestigious commission – probably through the agency of his brother’s Graz workshop – placed by the city council of Maribor for the execution of a Plague Column. Among his best works mention should be made particularly of the sculptural decoration of the unpreserved altars at Studenci in Maribor (the statues are now in the Regional Museum of Maribor) and in the Minorite church in Ptuj.
The Straub statues of St. Joseph and St. John Nepomuk are set on the high altar of the church in Štanjel, together with the statues of St. Augustine and St. Gregory which are by some other sculptor. The signature Iose. Stravp Inventor Scvlp. Anno 1741 on the pedestal of St. John Nepomuk dates both statues into the time of the artist’s activity in the Vipava region and emphasizes Straub’s independent role both in the concept and execution of the two statues. The year 1741 means that the Štanjel statues are the earliest documented works in the sculptor’s oeuvre.
Because of their poor state, caused by wood pest and decay, the two statues were taken to the Restoration Centre of the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia (IPCHS) at the end of November 2017.
Laboratory analyses showed that there were up to seven layers of paint on the wooden statues. Because of so numerous overpaintings it is possible to assume that the statues of Sts. Joseph and John Nepomuk had been brought from somewhere else and were together with the statues of Sts. Augustine and Gregory uniformly painted. Later overpaintings followed the taste of each period and imitated the appearance of stone. It is difficult to remove such thick layers of paint, even more so because the materials used were different. The work is extremely time-consuming, mainly because the goal of conservation-restoration interventions is to preserve the lowest-lying layer of paint as much as possible.
On the occasion of the September Revelations we also call attention to two kneeling angels by Joseph Straub which are displayed in the Grand Hall (No. 4) of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Slovenia.