Panjska končnica – the art of decorating a Slovenian beehive

Darja | Live the World

November 23, 2022

An interesting and a unique feature of beekeeping in Slovenia are colorful paintings that are decorating the front panels of beehives and are called panjske končnice. Typically, the motifs on such work of art are biblical or are depicting scenes and characters from folk tales. Having the front panel of a beehive painted, it is much easier for a beekeeper to remember the position of a specific bee colony in a beehive and to distinguish between many of them.

The art of painting beehive panels has emerged in the mid-18th century, most probably in the Upper Carniola region, where also the famous Slovenian beekeeper Anton Janša was living and practicing beekeeping and painting. These beautifully painted panels were mostly present in the northern parts of Slovenia. The painters were artists or self-taught painters that used natural pigments to create such beautiful paintings and making the colors lasting with the use of flax oil. The oldest known painted wooden panel is dating back to 1758 and it is interesting to observe the difference in motifs, painting style and colors, when comparing these to later ones, from the end of 19th century, when also the industrial colors were used.

There are more than 600 different motifs known, more than half of them being biblical or somewhat religious origin, often representing saints. Many of these panels are to be seen in museums, where the cultural heritage of beekeeping is preserved and available to be seen and admired by curious minds. One such exhibition to honor the 1st World bee day will present the fascinating private collection of the artist Branko Čušin in Koroška Bela.

In general, the motifs on the painted beehive panels are presenting folk traditions from the time and resemble the life of the rural population. Apart from biblical figures, the images on the front panels would contain caricatures and satirical motifs as well and these were often copied from popular printed publications that were present in Europe at the time.

One such interesting satirical motif is depicting an advocate who is milking a cow, when two peasants are fighting over it. This is depicting an interesting critique of peoples’ conflicts and unnecessary arguments and lawsuits. Instead of solving the disagreement calmly, the peasants involve themselves in litigation and are too busy arguing, whereas in the meantime an advocate is making the profits.

The old painted beehive panels are still motivating and inspiring people to recreate the motifs and to express their ideas on the wooden fronts. Apart from admiring them it in the museums and other houses that honor Slovenian beekeeping tradition you can also attend some workshops and make your own beehive panel. Such workshops are being offered in Ethnographical museum in Ljubljana (Slovenski etnografski muzej) and in Arboretum Volčji potok, for example. Since bees are an important part of alpine world as well, many events organized within the International wild flower festival in Bohinj will include this interesting topic as well.

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