Each picture was painted on the front board of a beehive “drawer.” The cutout at the bottom was the entrance and exit for the bees. Click any picture to display it in a larger size.

Madonna and Child
Madonna and Child, robed and crowned
Both Mother and Child wear royal robes and crowns, a representation often seen in Central Europe. Many of the earliest surviving beehive paintings have the same subject, leading some scholars to believe that the original purpose of the paintings was to invoke heavenly protection for the hive and bees.

Adam and Eve
Adam, Eve, animals (including a unicorn), tree, and snake
Our first parents are shown wearing leafy aprons, as if they had already eaten the apple, but Eve is still conversing with the snake. Perhaps she’s complaining that she expected the apple to make her wise, not shy. If the timeline is being distorted, however, it’s probably in deference to community standards of decency, rather than a misreading of Scripture.

The Lamentation of Job
Job sitting on a dunghill, his wife exhorting him
This version of the Job story includes no musicians to lighten the sufferer’s mood or comforters to darken it. The only other person present is his wife, who seems to be urging him to snap out of it and stop feeling sorry for himself. Note that Job’s dunghill is located right next to a Slovenian-style beehive. If you enlarge the picture, you can see the bees (or bee-like dots) around the entrance slots.

The Four Evangelists
From left to right, Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John
Each evangelist, holding a pen and his own Gospel, is accompanied by his traditional symbol: An angel for Matthew, an ox for Luke, a lion for Mark, and an eagle for John.

St. Florian Putting Out a Fire
The saint, in armor, pouring water on a miniature burning house
In an age when a fortuitous rainstorm might be all that saved a burning house from total destruction, it isn’t surprising that a saint with a fire-extinguishing specialty had a strong appeal. St. Florian, according to tradition, was a Roman officer in what is now Austria who converted to the Christian faith and was martyred for refusing to abandon it. According to one source I found, his military duties included organizing fire brigades, and thus, in a later age, he became the patron saint of firemen. Another source doesn’t mention fire brigades, but says that Florian’s martyrdom culminated (after some quite unpleasant preliminaries) in his being thrown into a fire and afterwards drowned in a river — qualifying him as “a powerful protector in danger from fire or water.” Florian is honored all over Central Europe, and has been revered in Poland as a patron saint since 1138, when Pope Lucius III presented some of his relics to King Casimir and the bishop of Krakow.

Combat of Pegam and Lambergar
Two well-dressed gentlemen on horseback, fighting with sabers
The fight between Pegam and Lambergar is famous in Slovenian folklore, folk songs, and folk art. The combatants are based on real people who lived in the 15th century. “Pegam” (which means ‛with spots’ in Slovene, a possible comment on his complexion) was originally Jan Vitovec, a Czech mercenary commander who became a powerful nobleman in his own right, allied with the King of Hungary, and at times led troops against the Habsburg emperor. The knight Gašper Lambergar, a firm supporter of the Habsburgs, held the castle Grad Kamen in the Gorenjska village of Begunje. Though the records say nothing about him as a soldier, he was a famous winner of chivalric tournaments. He and Vitovec might really have come into conflict, though whether they did, and what sort of conflict it was, are not known. In folklore, however, they fight an epic duel. Some versions of the story describe Pegam as a three-headed giant; in others he becomes one after being defeated by Lambergar (Gorenjska’s favorite son), and goes to live underground. In this and other beehive paintings, both adversaries look like Slovene country gentlemen of the 19th century, although here the villain is easy to identify by the demons on his shoulders. I don’t know why two demons are required, but perhaps they are scheduled to become heads two and three when Pegam meets his fate.

Tailors Pursued by a Giant Snail
A very large snail chases three men
Nothing I can see in this picture identifies the men clearly as tailors, but the details aren’t as clear as they might be. Research reveals, however, that Slovene farmers tended to regard all men who lived in towns and worked indoors as contemptible wimps, and for some reason they singled out tailors to represent all of this wretched class. Beehive painters delighted in pictures like this one, which illustrates the tailors’ pathetic deficiency in speed as well as courage.

“Sawing the Hag”
Two men saw a woman in half
I’m rather mystified by this painting. The title is from the site where I found it, which also provides this note: “The custom on the Wednesday before the fast symbolized the end of the unpopular fasting period.” This sounds like a reference to a Carnival custom, something done during the holiday that precedes the Lenten fast (in which case it should have been done on Fat Tuesday, not Ash Wednesday). Carnival customs in some places include the slaughter of a symbolic figure such as Old Man Winter, and perhaps something like that is going on in the picture. That would seem a little more logical than acting out the end of the long fast before it has even begun. But neither of these suggestions explains why the onlookers on the left are grieving and those on the right are cheering. Nor did Google turn up a reference to a Slovenian folk custom or tradition related in any way to this picture. Perhaps the picture has nothing to do with carnival customs and merely illustrates a gory fairy tale. If it is about a genuine folk ritual, however, we can safely assume that the hag involved in the performance was artificial.