Buchlovice Chateau Diary

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The bus from Brno to Buchlovice left me off on the highway. For a moment I panicked. Where was the underpass? I found it quickly, though, and soon came upon the magical chateau that immediately captured my heart. I loved chateaus most of all. Massive, Gothic castles were impressive but also cold and intimidating while chateaus had an intimate quality and a fragility that spoke to me.

Buchlovice Chateau was composed of separate lower and upper sections shaped as semicircles. The chateau flaunted the Baroque style, resembling an Italian villa from that period. Crowned by a cupola, the lower part incorporated the main building with representative rooms. The upper building hosted temporary exhibitions and was home to offices. I also was eager to explore the beauty of the garden with its stunning statues and flower species I had read about.

ImageAfter I bought my ticket, I took a few snapshots of the lower chateau and the fountain with an obelisk in the middle, situated in the courtyard. Then I joined the group of about 15 people on this sunny day in early July.

Buchlovice was built in the first half of the 18th century by Jan Dětřich of Petřvald for his wife Anežka Eleanora of Colonna-Fels. The Petřvalds owned nearby Buchlov Castle, too. Even in those days the lower chateau had been the most important structure, and back then the upper chateau had served as a farmstead.

After the Petřvalds, the Bertcholds gained the property, along with Buchlov Castle. The chateau was renovated in the 1920s. The Bertcholds held on to it until 1945, when the estate was nationalized under the so-called Beneš decrees that made it state property. The decrees stated that Germans, Nazi collaborators, traitors and others living in Czechoslovakia had to relinquish their Czechoslovak citizenship and property without compensation. The guide did not specify the reason why the Berchtolds had to give up Buchlovice, but I assumed it was because they had had German citizenship.

ImageBuchlovice was the seat of a significant meeting in European history at the beginning of the 20th century when the Czech lands belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Alois Lexa of Aehrenthal, the Austrian-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with Alexander Petrovich Izvolskii, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Russia. Leopold II Berchtold, as Austrian-Hungarian envoy in St. Petersburg, persuaded them to hold the talk there.

The two discussed the political turmoil in the Balkans, especially the push for independence of non-Turkish nationalities under Turkish rule. Neither politician wanted war. The Austro-Hungarian Empire aimed to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina while the Russians wanted their ships to be able to travel freely through the Dardanelles. However, Aehrenthal did not confer with the Council of the Empire in Vienna on the annexation issue of Bosnia and Herzegovina along with the Russian considerations. Emperor Franz Joseph I announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina during October of 1908.

ImageAs I entered the first room on the tour, I was dazzled by the delicate color scheme, exquisite furnishings and sense of intimacy. I felt as if I were stepping into the distant past, into someone’s home. I almost expected a member of the Petřvalds or Bertcholds to enter the space. The canopy bed captured my attention. The canopy was decorated in a pleasing pink, brown and white floral design. The wallpaper was stunning and cheerful, too, featuring pink flowers. A 17th century jewelry box from Spain had a special compartment for love letters. I wondered who had written to whom, and what exactly had been discussed in that correspondence. Did the recipient wind up marrying the writer? Or were the letters full of passionate goodbyes or passionate dreams that would never be realized?

Left with those thoughts, I continued to the Small Dining Room which featured Rococo furnishings. Even though it was lavish, I liked the flamboyancy and playfulness of the Rococo style. Yet I also appreciated Gothic and Renaissance styles, so strikingly different from Rococo. There was one unique object in the room. It was a small car that looked like a wheelchair with a steering wheel and headlights. I wondered if children played in it or if adults used it to get from room to room.

In one bedroom a painting of Madonna and Child proved a copy of a work by Raphael. The furniture was Baroque. I loved the pink and white theme in the children’s bedroom. The wallpaper featuring pink ribbons on a white background was exquisite. The Silver Salon featured silver on the wood paneling. Bright yellow furnishings brought cheer to the room. In a side room the motif of a peacock decorated the furniture.

ImageThe oval Music Hall was stunning with its frescoes. The room had two storeys divided by a gallery with gold-plated metal railings. The walls and cupola featured stucco decoration. The elliptical ceiling fresco showed the genius of the arts presenting the completed castle to Anežka, Jan Dětřich’s wife. Fortune showers her with flowers. At the top of the cupola were allegories of the personality characteristics of Anežka – justice, innocence, fortitude and love of the arts.  The frescoes of the four seasons were breathtaking, too. Then there were the four allegories of the elements. I was drawn to the angry, tall waves in the fresco depicting the allegory of water. I also noticed polychrome coats-of-arms and Corinthian columns in the majestic space.

In the library that housed Frantisek Palacký’s The History of the Czech Nation in Bohemia and Moravia as well as English, German and French books, I noticed a painting of Buchlov Castle above elaborate gold frames of portraits. I would visit Gothic Buchlov after wandering through the garden here. I knew it would be a totally different experience than the tour of this Baroque chateau.

ImageThe Big Dining Room featured red chairs with Hungarian porcelain. Two large, colorful Asian vases caught my eye. The chapel housed the oldest paintings in the chateau, dating from around 1600, and white stucco on the walls and ceiling. On the second floor I was enthralled by the bedroom of Leopold II Berchtold as the space was decorated in Napoleon style with the bed covered by what looked like a military tent.

The guide mentioned that Buchlovice was also home to an impressive collection of graphic art of the 16th to 19th centuries with 6,378 artworks. These renditions were situated in the depository, which was not part of the tour.

ImageNow it was time to explore the English style garden, created at the beginning of the 18th century. Sloping from west to east, the garden was divided into terraces. A bridge over a stream led to a large stairway with a vase-bearing balustrade. On the lower terrace I saw four statues of musicians and vases with masks of satyrs. Four statues featuring allegories of the continents also called the garden home. More than 800 species and varieties of fuchsias and numerous rhododendrons were also grown in the garden that contained exotic and rare woody species.

After a walk through the impressive garden terraces, I was eager to make my way to Buchlov. Peering at my watch, I wondered if I had enough time to walk through the forest paths to the Gothic gem and make the tour in time to return to Buchlovice for the bus back to Brno.

I would soon find out.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.

Buchlov Castle Diary

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I had wanted to walk through the forest from Buchlovice Chateau to Buchlov Castle, but I did not have enough time before my bus back to Brno left from Buchlovice. I went to the information office and asked if there was any way I could get to Buchlov and have enough time for the 90-minute tour. The young, blond woman suggested I call a local man who gives rides back and forth. Since the information office recommended him, I thought it would be safe. The stout, bearded man came within 10 minutes, and soon massive, Gothic Buchlov loomed above me, overpowering me with its sheer size and strength.

First, the guide, a lanky man wearing a T-shirt that pictured the castle, explained that the history of Buchlov went all the way back to around 1300, when it was first mentioned in writing. At that time, Buchlov was royal property, but Moravian noble families were put in charge of it. The design of the Early Gothic chapel, forged in the 1370s, was inspired by Sainte-Chapelle Chapel in Paris. Unfortunately, it was mostly destroyed by Hungarians in an attack during 1468 and later abolished. The first private owners of the castle were the Lords of Žerotín, who took it over in 1520. Their tenure at Buchlov was short-lived, however, and the Zástřizly nobility called it home for 100 years, from 1544 to 1644. During this era Renaissance reconstruction took place.

In 1644 the Petřvalds came and would own Buchlov until 1800. The Petřvald family made some Baroque changes in the 17th and 18th centuries. From 1800 the property was transferred to the counts of Berchtold, who would become major players in the castle’s history. The two half-brothers Leopold I Berchtold and Dr. Bedřich Berchtold had been world travelers, and many of the souvenirs they had collected on their trips were displayed in the castle. Dr. Bedřich had another claim to fame: he had been the co-founder of the collection at Prague’s National Museum. The older brother, Leopold I, was known for setting up schools and a poor house, among other achievements.

The family kept it until 1945, when the so-called Beneš decrees made it state property. The Beneš decrees stated that Germans, Nazi collaborators, traitors and others living in Czechoslovakia had to relinquish their Czechoslovak citizenship and property without compensation. The guide did not specify the reason why the Berchtolds had to give up the property, but I guessed it was because they had had German citizenship. Much reconstruction took place during the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century.

ImageAn intriguing legend is associated with the linden tree situated in front of the Dancing Hall, home to 18th century furnishings and Baroque portraits. According to the legend, some 400 years ago the tree was planted with its roots upward and its crown in the ground.  It was said to be proof that a man sentenced to death for poaching was really innocent.

After passing through a gate hailing from the middle of the 16th century, our group arrived at the third courtyard. In the black kitchen I marveled at the oldest architectural feature in the castle – the Late Romanesque arch dating back to 1340s. The pots and utensils were copies of those used in the Middle Ages.

The armory offered an intriguing perspective on the battle-ridden history of the castle. Some weapons dated back to 1421, when the Hussites tried to conquer Buchlov, and others hailed from the 17th century Thirty Years’ War when the Swedes did much damage. Buchlov survived that war only because a ransom was paid. There were weapons from all over the world – from Asia as well as Central and South America, for example.

ImageOn the first floor we entered the Baroque library, which was home to about 10,000 volumes. Books that promoted Protestantism were removed after the Thirty Years’ War Battle of White Mountain in Prague during 1620. The Bohemian Protestant rebels were defeated by the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, who was devoutly Catholic, and the German Catholic League.

In the early 17th century the majority of the Bohemian nobility had been Protestant. When die-hard Catholic Ferdinand II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, it meant serious trouble for the Protestants. After the Battle of White Mountain, the Czechs would find themselves under Habsburg rule, and German would become the prominent language of the lands. The books in Czech mostly came from the Czech National Revival, an 18th and 19th century movement that strived to promote the Czech language, Czech culture and national identity.

 I saw an intriguing architectural detail of an Early Gothic portal where the chapel from the 1370s was situated, now an empty space with spectacular views of the countryside.  Then we came to the Buchlov Madonna, whose expression seemed to be asking, “Is this kid mine?”  The statue dated from the first half of the 14th century. Another Madonna appeared to be trying to keep her son from wriggling away.  There was also a rendition called “The Last Supper of the Lord,” a double-sided painting, part of a winged altar, which is composed of a central panel and two side panels. It dated from the end of the 15th century. It always astonished me that artifacts from the 14th or 15th century could survive to the present day.  It fascinated me how they were tangible connections with the distant past.

ImageThe Knights’ Hall featured cross vaulting and reticulated vaulting. These architectural elements were decorated with the coats-of-arms of significant Moravian clans. Then we came to a room decorated with an ornate tiled stove that flaunted cherubs and floral motifs in brown, green, yellow and white. A complete knight’s armor from the 16th century weighed 30 kilograms. I could not imagine wearing it. I do not think I would even be able to stand up in that armor. I was intrigued by the calendar from the Middle Ages. I learned that February of 1693 had had 31 days.

The next section was the castle museum. It had been opened by Count Zikmund I Berchtold in 1856. Zikmund I had revolted against the Habsburgs in Hungary during 1848 and 1849. The rebellion was unsuccessful, and he got the death penalty. The court reduced his sentence to house arrest for life, so he organized the family museum. I saw plumed helmets, weapons of American Indians and the skins of a zebra, polar bear, grizzly bear and alligators. There were also human skeletons and a collection of shoes ranging from sandals to boots. In a jar was an embryo of a baby pig with eight legs and two tails. It made me think back to the revolting human embryos that Peter the Great had collected, now gathered in Saint Petersburg. My stomach had violently churned when I had seen them during that freezing April morning several years ago.

ImageThen the guide explained that after the Battle of Slavkov in 1805 the nearby Buchlovice Chateau had been used as a hospital where military personnel and civilians had received free medical attention. Leopold I Berchtold caught typhus there and died at the relatively young age of 50. On the wall was a picture of a woman in the third stage of syphilis. She had large empty sockets for eyes, and her nose was black. Her teeth made her look sinister and dangerous. It was absolutely horrifying. She looked like a monster, not like a human being. I thought of people with cancer and how the horrible disease could make people look so emaciated. I felt lucky that I did not have cancer and that my father had survived two bouts with the terrifying illness. I knew I would keep the image of that woman, stripped of human dignity, in my mind for a long time.

The next room was totally different. It featured an Egyptian mummy in a coffin made of cedar wood. It was about 2,300 years old. The illusive wall painting dated from the first half of the 19th century and made me feel as though I was inside an Egyptian tomb.

Last, we climbed the tower and saw astounding views of the south and east Moravian countryside. I could also see the church where the family tomb of the Petřvalds and Berchtolds was located, but it was not nearby, and we did not go there. We descended many steps and came to the locked door. For a moment I was disoriented and lost sight of the guide. Then he appeared and opened the door with one of his many large keys. We all filed out, into the sunshine. When I turned around to thank the guide, he had disappeared.

My driver came for me, and soon I was back in Buchlovice, standing at the bus sign on the highway as car after car sped by me. The bus did arrive on time, though, and before long I was back in Brno.

 

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor living in Prague, Czech Republic.

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Nové Hrady near Litomyšl Chateau Diary

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About eight years ago I mentioned to several English students how I loved traveling to castles and chateaus on the weekends. “Have you been to Nové Hrady near Litomyšl? You have to go there!” my 25-year old female student blurted out, explaining that she was from a nearby town. I had visited Nové Hrady Castle in south Bohemia, but I had never heard of a Nové Hrady Chateau in east Bohemia. I could not find any public transportation at a convenient time, so I put this chateau on the back burner and explored others. Then, on a Friday in 2011, I was so eager to see the Rococo chateau I had looked up on the Internet, that I took the Student Agency bus to Hradec Králové, and then made the one-hour trip to Litomyšl.  From there a friend who owned a cottage nearby gave me a lift to Nové Hrady.

The history of Nové Hrady began with the construction of a church on this site in the 12th century. After the Hussite Wars in the 15th century, a Gothic castle called “Nový Hrad” or “New Castle” was erected there. In the 16th century the castle was transformed into a Renaissance chateau, but during The Thirty Years’ War it was plundered and destroyed. Duchess Anna Barbara Harbuval de Chamaré bought it in 1750, and Nové Hrady got its Rococo appearance from 1773 to 1777, when her son, French nobleman Jean-Antoine Harbural de Chamaré made it his summer residence.

ImageBack then it was dubbed the “Small Schonbrunn” or “Czech Versailles.” The French garden, English park and chateau chapel were created at this time, too. In 1935 Knight Bartoň of Dobenín purchased it and carried out the needed repairs. During the Second World War, the SS and Hitlerjugend occupied the chateau. In 1948 it became the property of the state. One wing of the chateau was turned into an elementary school, which existed here until the 1980s. An exhibition of Rococo art was placed in another wing. During the 1950s the chateau’s situation became even more desolate: Its basement was transformed into a fattening farm for pigs.

Reconstruction was carried out in various phases, but the chateau was still in a very decrepit state when it was returned to its original owner’s grandson, Josef Bartoň, in 1990. Unfortunately, he did not renovate the chateau. Instead, he put it up for sale. In 1997 the Kučera family from Prague purchased it. It finally opened to the public in 2001.

Now it looked so majestic that it was impossible for me to imagine the chateau in such terrible condition. After going through a three-part gate, I walked through a Rococo garden with fountains and ascended a lavish staircase studded with statues. I liked the coral orangish color of the chateau that made the exterior appear playful, cheerful and vibrant.

ImageI had visited enough chateaus to I know a little about the Rococo period. The key word for this style was ornate. Small sculptures often appeared as did lavish mirrors and tapestries. Rococo was even more extravagant than the Baroque style that had preceded it.

The tour began in the hallway below a monumental staircase enriched with putti statues. The side walls of the entrance hall were decorated with hunting trophies. We entered the large Main Hall with its creamy yellow walls and white rich stucco décor. The yellow and white colors made for an airy, joyful combination. The white tile stove was original, in Late Baroque style, and a white piano stood nearby. The crystal chandelier from Empress Marie Theresa’s era used 64 light bulbs and weighed 180 kilograms.

One window looked out to the Classicist circular gazebo with Baroque theatre of evenly sheared high bushes. In the wall the guide showed us two doors that opened outward to reveal a bar. From the terrace I saw the Rococo garden I had passed through to get to the box office.  The staircase looked even more elegant from this perspective.

ImageNext we entered a Baroque bedroom. The pillowcases on the Baroque bed had delicate, lace patterns. A brown table, oak closet and desk featured intarsia. A kneeler also hailed from the Baroque era. In the following room there was a grandfather clock that the guide claimed was impossible to repair. A kneeler featured an engraving of a house and trees using the intarsia technique. A Baroque intarsia table from Holland with motifs of flowers, birds, butterflies and vases rounded out the room.

Then came the Rococo Salon. The table and armchairs had a white floral design. The table impressed me the most with the ornate, gold ornamentation of its legs and sides. A white wardrobe decorated with green laurels was pleasing to the eye. The couch and chairs were pea green with yellow, flaunting a floral pattern. The green color combined with yellow gave the furniture a cheerful appearance.

Unfortunately, original Rococo chapel had been destroyed. The present chapel was sparse.  It featured two stained glass windows and a large carving of Jesus Christ on a cross.

ImageThen it was time for another Rococo style room featuring intarsia. The tops of two dressing tables were decorated with beads shaped into green swirls on a blue and black background. The space also contained two intarsia dressers decorated with floral motifs and a kneeler boasting intarsia.

In the former kitchen the 18th century grandfather clock, varnished in red, was engraved with Oriental themes, one feature of the Rococo period.  A desk featuring Oriental themes, depicting Chinese people and nature, caught my eye. The two jewelry boxes were Chinese, too.

The next room was called the Classicism Room. Classicism relied on order, symmetry and simplicity and began after 1765 as a reaction to Baroque and Rococo. It was connected with the French Revolution. The striped grey with tan couch and two chairs certainly fit the Classicist description. In a display case there were two elegant fans.

However, a clock glittering with gold made me think of the Empire Style that would be featured in the next room. After all, the gold and black color combination was one trait of the Empire style that corresponded with the era of Emperor Napoleon and his military maneuvers into Egypt during 1796. Oriental themes also played a part in the Empire style. Sure enough, in The Empire style room, black and gold freely mingled. A black clock featured two black men wearing gold loincloths and sporting heads of golden hair. Another gold clock was decorated with a seated angel. The furniture featured Oriental and animal themes.

ImageThe next room was set up in the Biedermeier style, from the first half of the 19th century. Carving and intarsia still appeared in smaller objects. A picture of a semi-circular square flanked by columns showed a passion for symmetry and order. I wondered if the painting depicted a place in Rome. The striped chairs and couch featured a simple yet elegant style.

The Smokers’ Salon was all about green. The rug was green, the cushions on the brown chairs were green, a partition was green, and a loveseat was decorated with green and tan stripes. This room was designed in the Art Nouveau style from the beginning of the 20th century.

ImageAfter the tour I explored the garden. There was a pond to my left, near the road. One part consisted of trees and plants on a slope, rising in tiers. It looked wild and untamed. Purple flowers lined a path behind the back gate that had its private garden. I spotted the Baroque theatre of shrubbery and the Classicist garden summerhouse. Further on, there was a hotel, an orangery, a paddock for horses, and an area where deer were bred.

I was very impressed with the Rococo exterior of the chateau, and it had been intriguing for me to see furniture and objects from various periods inside. The tour enlightened me as to the differences between eras. My understanding of the various time periods was enriched. I loved the black with gold combination of some objects. I wish the chateau had more paintings, though. A painting gallery of Baroque and Rococo art would have really added to the already stunning tour.

Soon I got back to Litomyšl, where I ate some chicken with peaches and cheese – my favorite – and then hurried to catch the 1 pm bus back to Hradec Králové. Upon arriving there, I ran to the other side of the terminal, where the Student Agency bus was about to leave for Prague. I made it just in time.Image

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor living in Prague.

Velké Meziříčí Chateau Diary

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The direct bus from Prague to Velké Meziříčí – believe it or not – arrived early: It got in at 8:45 instead of the scheduled 8:55, and on a weekday, too. Almost two hours from Prague, the south Moravian town is on the bus routes to Jihlava and Brno.

Dating back to the 1330s, the chateau boasts some intriguing legends and is connected with some significant historical events. According to one legend, a week before the 1723 fire that ravaged the town and chateau, at noon the chateau clock tolled 102 times instead of 12 times. A week later 102 buildings had incurred damage from the fire, including the town hall. Another legend concerns one of the former owners of the chateau – Duchess Marie Eleanora from Guastalla and Sabionetta. After dying tragically in a horse riding accident, she began to haunt the chateau as its so-called “White Lady.”

Historical events also took place here.  In August of 1415, chateau owner Lacek of Kravaře ushered Moravian nobility to the chateau, trying to convince them to sign a protest against the incarceration of legendary Czech priest, philosopher and reformer, Jan Hus, who had been accused of heresy against the Catholic Church.

The chateau went through several renovations. It was Jan the Younger from Meziříčí who changed it from a Roman Gothic castle to a Renaissance chateau in the 16th century. Later, in 1733, Baroque elements were added. Owner Rudolf Lobkowicz gave the chateau a Neo-Gothic flair.

ImageOther former owners made their mark in the chateau’s history as well. For example, Marie Eleanora Liechtensteinová also served as Lady of the Bedchamber for Holy Roman Empress and Sovereign of Bohemia Maria Theresa of Austria. She became a close friend of the Empress’ daughter, French Queen and Navarre Queen Marie Antoinette, who also was the Archduchess of Austria. During the 18th century French Revolution, Marie Antoinette gave her good friend her exquisite, wooden desk. The chateau also obtained Empress Maria Theresa’s unique, black glass funereal necklace, which she had worn after her husband, František Štěpán Lotrinský, died. I was enamored with both items in the former Dancing Hall.

Former owners Rudolf Lobkowicz and František Harrach were world travelers, bringing back souvenirs from Asia, for example. These are displayed in the Oriental Salon. Some objects from Japan that caught my attention included a black and gold wardrobe, a jewelry box for traveling and a red chest. I also saw silk-topped paintings. The picture of a pagoda was exquisite. A precious Baroque table was decorated with a picture of the town.

Known as a collector, traveler, poet, press editor and economist, Harrach was also an aide to Archduke Ferdinand Karl Joseph of Austria-Este, better known as Archduke Ferdinand d’Este. In September of 1909, Harrach hosted d’Este plus Emperor of Austria and King of Bohemia Franz Joseph I and German Emperor and Prussian King Wilhelm II as well as other historical figures during military field maneuvers. The bedroom where Emperor Franz Joseph I slept was one of the many highlights of the tour. I marveled at the ornate wooden décor of the bed frame and gazed at Emperor Franz Joseph’s portrait hanging nearby.

But perhaps Harrach is better known for his participation in one particular historical event. When Archduke Ferdinand d’Este was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, Harrach was sitting next to him but escaped injury. Harrach swabbed blood from Ferdinand’s fatal wound with his handkerchief, and at the chateau I saw the blood on a white background in a black frame marked with the date and year of the tragedy. That was the most impressive feature of the Serbian Salon, which also was home to many photos of Archduke Ferdinand d´Este and Emperor Franz Joseph I.

When Harrach died, his daughter Josefa inherited the chateau, but she was forced to emigrate in 1948, after the February Communist coup. The chateau was nationalized and served various functions in the 20th century – it has been and still is a museum; it also has served as a state archive and a maternity hospital. In 1995 the chateau was returned to the family. Now Josefa’s three sons look after it.

ImageOther items that particularly impressed me were the life-size portraits of nobles on the landing. I felt as if the portraits could swallow me up. Three coats-of-arms with Baroque golden frames also enriched the landing. The Men’s Salon featured an exquisite brown tapestry of leaves, fruit and branches as well as a jewel box made of tortoise shell and silver. A unique stand for cigars also decorated the room. The chandelier was unique as well – it was made out of deer antlers and brass.

The former Dancing Hall held more treasures than Marie Antoinette’s desk and Maria Theresa’s necklace. I also saw Rococo furniture and a Baroque black closet decorated with ivory. The Rococo Dining Room was light and airy and used for concerts. The frescoes on the walls showed Czech streams, bridges and cottages, a sort of idyllic country life. Another fresco portrayed the chateau in Baroque style and still another depicted a town celebration. I gaped at the Venetian chandelier. It had diamond-shaped glass pieces. I loved Venetian chandeliers!

Then I came to the museum section of the chateau. I was impressed that the museum hosted a very eclectic collection of items. With displays ranging from Cubist furniture to town life during the last 600 years, every room held a different surprise.

In the hallway there was an intriguing sculpture exhibition by Velké Meziříčí native Jiří Marek, who lived from 1914 to 1993. His large wooden figures twisted in agony. I could almost feel the pain portrayed in the sculptures. The pain was almost tangible. In one sculpture Marek had created a limp hand so realistically. His figures reminded me somewhat of those created by legendary Czech sculptors Frantisek Bílek and Franta Uprka.

ImageIn the Velké Mezíříčí town exposition the uniform top of the Pioneers Communist youth organization from the 1980s got my undivided attention.  In a display case was a light blue shirt with a red scarf that I have come to associate so well with the Pioneers’ organization. Because I hadn’t experienced Communism, the uniform shirt captivated me. I wondered if the parents of the child who had worn these clothes had actually believed in Communist ideology or if they had dressed their child this way out of fear.

The exposition also showed what kind of clothes townspeople wore during the 19th century and what sort of furniture could have been found in their homes. Tapestries depicting scenes from town life hung on the walls.

Soon I came to the Cubist rooms – a Cubist living room in one space and a bedroom of that style in another. The Cubist furniture was designed by well-known architect Pavel Janák and the famous Artěl group in Prague for a prominent Czech mathematician and physicist. Janák’s box with a top, its black stripes on white almost hypnotizing me, was in one display case. What impressed me the most was the Cubist couch. The back was composed of three triangular shapes, the middle one at a different angle than the outer two.

ImageThen I made my way to the Jewish synagogue, which was strongly advertised on the town’s Web pages. (Later I found out the advertised synagogue was a different one, which is now used as an exhibition space.) The red brick façade was beautiful, but the inside was a disappointment. Vietnamese sold their goods in the interior, as row upon row of cheap clothing littered the spaces. I saw a straw hat with the words The Czech Republic written on the brim and packs of underwear as well as backpacks hanging from a wall. I had expected that this synagogue would be a sort of museum open to the public, possibly with tours and information about Jewish life in the town. I soon left the synagogue and continued toward the main square.

On the main square there was a quaint church, an impressive town hall and stunning sgraffito on the façade of several buildings. I ate lunch – turkey in some gross-looking but thankfully tasteless sauce – in a garden restaurant where the service was slow.

Then I headed back to the bus station to get the one o’clock back to Prague. I was the only person at the stop, which made me wonder if I was standing in the right place. I became nervous. When the bus didn’t show up by 1:10 pm, I was worried. It did come, though, at 1:20 pm, and soon I was on my way home, with fond memories of the chateau’s representative rooms and the diverse displays of its museum.Image

 

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor living in Prague.

Dušan Jurkovič’s Villa Diary

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I was able to go by car to the villa where Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič lived from 1907 to 1919. It was in a tranquil village near Brno, the capital of Moravia.  The architectural gem had opened in 2011. I did not know much about Jurkovič except that he was responsible for much of the stunning décor in the Coffer Room of the Nové Město nad Metují Chateau as well as the renovation of that chateau’s two-tiered garden.  While visiting the villa, it would become clear to me that Jurkovič was one of the leading architects in the Czech lands during the 19th century and that this house was his most prominent work.

This leading Slovak architect had been inspired by Austrian architects Josef Maria Olbrich and Josef Hoffmann, both of whom, along with artist Gustav Klimt and others, co-founded the Viennese Secession or Art Nouveau movement at the end of the 19th century.  Jurkovič had especially been influenced by Olbrich’s Secession style Darmstadt Artists’ Colony, where Art Nouveau artists lived and worked. One of the Secession features on the houses included the decoration at the entrance with its gold-plated floral motifs. Olbrich’s style mixed British tendencies with central European qualities. Hoffmann’s Hohe Warte Artists’ Colony, launched in Art Nouveau style, was another influence. Jurkovič had originally intended that his villa would become part of an artists’ colony, and he even opened the villa with an exhibition of 119 artworks, many his own, in 1906.

First, I walked through the garden, bursting with color and featuring pergolas and trelliswork. The view of the house from the garden confirmed that Jurkovič had created his own unique style by meshing several styles together. The house was a mixture of English Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and traditional Moravian folk architecture. During the 19th century, the Habsburgs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire supported European folk art because it united its regions. Folk art would play a major role in architecture during that century.

ImageAs I understood it, the English Arts and Crafts movement had emphasized simplicity and had employed romantic and folk styles. The materials used were also accented. Also British architects often featured a staircase hall, which dominated Jurkovič’s main achievement. The movement reached its peak from 1860 to 1910.

Jurkovič’s villa looked like it belonged in a fairy tale. I expected princes and maidens to stick their heads out its windows. I loved the playfulness of its design as if it had popped out of a story book. It was no wonder that it had been dubbed “the Fairy Tale House.” The villa was made of stone, wood and cork with lime-coating on the exterior and plaster on the interior. It resembled a country house or cottage in England.

At the entrance gate there was a mosaic of two peacocks standing opposite each other. There used to be a mosaic showing a scene from The Shephard and the Dragon fairy tale, but it was destroyed because it had been made on a cork rather than plastered base. The mosaic that replaced it lit up at night. The entrance loggia featured the statue, “The Thinker,” by sculptor Jan Štursa, who had helped define modern Czech sculpture. It was one of the few original pieces that were now in the villa. The house had been renovated to look as it had when Jurkovič and his family had lived there from 1907 to 1919, when the architect returned to Bratislava, Slovakia, where he died in 1947.

Soon it was time for my tour, which had to be booked in advance. My tour guide and I entered the main room of the villa, the Staircase Hall. It was dazzling. I especially loved the folk elements of traditional Moravian architecture, such as the red, white and blue abstract wallpaper on one side. The folk-oriented carpet featured reds and blues, too. The wine red and forest green colors represented in the room also symbolized Moravian folk art. I thought they complemented each other well and gave the place a cozy atmosphere. I recalled that in the Coffer Room at Nové Město nad Metují, reds, greens and browns played major roles.

Ceramics and tapestries also filled the room. The tiled stove was dark green, and the doors took on the same hue. The wallpaper was not the only part of the room to have blues in it. Even the exquisite, wooden table had a stunning, blue tone.  The chandelier, though, was pure Art Nouveau and had featured light bulbs, as the villa had utilized electric lighting.

ImageThe alcove, designed for Jurkovič’s wife Božena, was light and airy in contrast to the dark central section of the room.  I admired the tapestries in the alcove. One showed a log cabin with mountains in the background. The others shared the countryside theme, depicting fields and cross stations. The room was assembled like a gallery of Jurkovič’s work. He had also designed the furniture. I realized that the villa itself was an exhibit with smaller exhibits inside.

Jurkovič’s former study rooms featured a temporary show of furniture designed during the middle of the 20th century. Artists Zdeněk Plesník and Miroslav Navrátil used materials experimentally. Their armchairs were made from bent lamellas, which were fine sheets of material positioned in the shape of gills. The armchairs could be put into several positions. They could function as chairs or as a bed, if all three were placed together. I was surprised to find out that Navrátil had created the chairs on trams. Even now, trams 1, 3 and 11 in Brno were equipped with the style of chairs that he had created. I often took tram 1 to the center, so I had actually sat on a chair that he had designed!

Other spaces that used to serve as a bedroom, children’s bedroom and bathroom were now decorated with pictures of Jurkovič’s other designs, interactive materials and furniture from his other buildings. I found out that he had also designed the interior of the Vesna boarding house in the Czech lands. The bedroom there boasted vibrant hues of greens, yellows and reds. Jurkovič also incorporated a dovetail motif. I saw a stunning wooden chair with a dovetail masterfully carved on its back.

ImageJurkovič would also design a diner and hostel in Wallachian Pustevny in triumphant folk architectural style. The diner boasted an interior with a turquoise hue illuminated by side windows. The walls were covered with pictures of Czech figures, such as the country’s patron Saint Wenceslas and the Radegast pagan mountain god.

Jurkovič’s designs for the Luhačovice spa town were harshly criticized by Brno architect Karel Hugo Kepka and the editorial board of Architektonický obzor journal, which caused his commissions there to cease after 1914. Today, though, residents of Luhačovice are very proud of Jurkovič’s work there. He also designed a house in the Bubeneč district of Prague 6, using concrete instead of wood and constructing an elevated gable.

During World War I he designed about 40 cemeteries for fallen Austrian soldiers in what was then Galicia. After the war he concentrated on war memorials, and in the late 1920s he began to experiment with the functionalist style. Jurkovič moved out of this villa in 1919, after democratic Czechoslovakia was created because he wanted to help reshape his native, reborn Slovakia. So he moved back to Bratislava, where he died in 1947.

I loved the red color with floral pattern of the wooden beams on the ceiling. It had a log cabin appeal and gave the beams a vibrant folk architecture appearance. The entire villa exuded a warmth and coziness that I had also felt at Nové Město nad Metují’s Chateau. 

I was impressed with the tour, but disappointed that only the Staircase Hall looked as it had when Jurkovič had lived there. I understood that Jurkovič had sold a lot of the furniture. The Staircase Hall had such a dynamic quality. It was so vibrant, so cheerful, yet at the same time intimate. I wished that more than a few pieces of the original furniture and ornamentation had been preserved. While the temporary exhibition and spaces documenting Jurkovič’s works were intriguing, the Staircase Hall was definitely the highlight of the tour.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader living in Prague.