Next to his signature, Viennese painter Johann Ignaz Cimbal often added a peculiar sign in his frescoes and oils. It is a combination of letters, appearing in a different form in each of the studied cases (Zalaegerszeg, Oberlaa, Zwettl, Peremarton, Tornyiszentmiklós, Nagykároly [ Carei]), which – and the poor state of the works – make the identification of the letters difficult. In most cases the sign reads VSG, so it is not the initials of the painter.
In some Cimbal works the three letters also appear with iconographic meaning. On the picture of the King Saint Stephen side altar in the parish church of Tornyiszentmiklós the letters shining in the halo around the Holy Cross were identified as VSG earlier and decoded as “Vera Sacra Crux”. However, it is more likely that this abbreviation hides the same meaning as the monograms next to Cimbal’s signatures.
Guidance to the elucidation of the monogram was provided by the ceiling fresco in the southern vestry-room of Székesfehérvár cathedral. The clearly readable VSG abbreviation appears in the corners of the triangle symbolizing the Holy Trinity, which leaves no doubt that it is in connection of the Holy Trinity. The most obvious explanation is the letters being the initials of the German words for the three divine entities, Vater, Sohn and [Heiliger] Geist.
The attribution of the picture (Maria Immaculata) on the high altar of the parish church of Sárospatak to Cimbal was suggested on the basis of this motif, here in three corners of a triangular aureole around the Ark of Covenant. The attribution is also confirmed by style critical analyses. (Analogous are Cimbal’s Immaculata figures in Zalaeregszeg, Tornyiszentmiklós and Székesfehérvár.)
The abbreviation alluding to the Holy Trinity, which is perfectly embedded in the iconographic fabric of some paintings, was also used by Cimbal independently of the theme, attached to his name. Inserting a sign referring to the Holy Trinity above his name must have been a religious gesture. Having completed a picture, the painter crossed himself, as it were, offering his work to God. He sealed his offering with the mysterious sign of God “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”. (A similar religious gesture must underlie the signature 70 of an early Cimbal work, the Saint Anne altar picture in Vienna’s Barmherzigenkirche. The abbreviation “Zimbal i. VR” is traditionally interpreted as “In veneratione” with the explanation that the painter made the picture as a votive offering.) Cimbal always created a new composition out of the three letters, so it cannot have been his aim to make a recognizable constant “trade-mark”. (For this purpose he used his name with the customary addition “invenit et pinxit”.) The linking of the three letters is not just a customary formal solution as in monograms, but it has a meaning: it symbolizes the unity of the three divine persons, just as the circle in the triangle in Székesfehérvár.
An extremely expressive iconographic solution needs special mention, applied almost to each of his depictions of the Holy Trinity in Hungary. It is the sceptre held by the three coeternal persons (hence it has extreme length). As it occurs so frequently, it cannot be part of an occasional client’s wish but much rather it is the painter’s invention. Perhaps a comprehensive examination of the entire oeuvre will discover further examples in support of the author’s hypothesis that the Holy Trinity was a particularly favourite theme of Cimbal. It was again his personal devotion that led him to use the Holy Trinity monogram.
The motivation behind commissions for religious art works in the period was first of all the client’s personal religiosity. The religious motifs of the artists can usually only be inferred from indirect data and in connection with few works. One such sign is that for the duration of painting the frescoes Franz Anton Maulbertsch joined the Scapular Confraternity of Székesfehérvár, while the group portrait on the organ loft of Sümeg permits the assumption that he took part in the devotions of the Angelic Society founded by bishop Márton Padányi Biró. His pupil Johannes Pöckel who settled in Sümeg was a member of the local Confraternity of the Cord. Unfortunately, no information to this effect is known about Cimbal.
His signature and Holy Trinity monogram testify that not only the client but also the painter offered his work to God.