I loved the cheerful red and yellow façade of this charming chateau only a half hour from Prague. The captivating exterior always put me in a good mood. The short bus ride had taken me into a different and exciting world.
Because it was my third visit to Dobříš, I was well aware of its history. Unlike many other chateaus, Dobříš did not emerge as a Gothic castle or medieval fortress. It was built as a Renaissance chateau at the end of the 16th century when travelers stopped in the town on their way from Prague to Italy. The chateau was purchased by royal hunter Bruno Mannsfeld in 1630, beginning its long ties to that clan. It got a Baroque makeover at the end of the 17th century, when its lush French and English gardens came into being. Although a fire devastated the chateau in 1720, the Baroque jewel was reconstructed by 1765.
The Colloredo family came into the picture when Marie Isabella, the daughter of Jindřich Pavel Mannsfeld, married František Gundakar Colloredo in 1771, and the new name of the owners became Colloredo-Mannsfeld. World War II brought dark days to the chateau. In 1942 Dobříš was confiscated by the Nazis and served as the seat of acting Protector of the Reich Kurt Daluage, who succeeded the assassinated Reinhard Heydrich that same year. Vikard Colloredo-Mannsfeld, the owner of the chateau during this turbulent time, refused to become a German citizen, taking a stance against the Nazis and targeted as an enemy of the Reich.
In 1945 the chateau was taken over by the state and became the property of the Writers’ Syndicate. As the Writers’ Home from the 1950s to 1990s, the chateau housed scribblers for stays that lasted a week or months. Writers’ conferences were held here, too. A stormy legal battle began in 1992 when Jerome Colloredo-Mannsfeld wanted the chateau and both parks returned. Six years later he got his wish, but he died that same year. Now his descendent, also Jerome Colloredo-Mannsfeld, owns the chateau.
Both representative rooms and former guest rooms make up the 11 spaces on the tour that lasted an hour and depicted the chateau during the Rococo and Classicist eras. This time I had my own guide, which is the way I preferred to see the interiors. We began in the Salla Terrena where the glazed doors once served as an entrance to the stunning French garden I loved so much. Both the captivating statues in the room and those in the park were the work of legendary 18th century Czech sculptor František Ignác Platzer, who also designed the statue of Saint Norbert on the Charles Bridge and the ornamentation of Saint Nicholas Church in Prague’s Lesser Quarter. The walls of this space were decorated with hunting scenes.
The Hunting Lounge featured 18th century wallpaper with hunting motifs. Admiring the hand-painted décor, I spotted three hunters relaxing in lush scenery, accompanied by a dog. I took note of the mixture of Classicist, Rococo and Louis XVI styles evident in the pieces of furniture. I found it intriguing that the legs of a chair fit into the Rococo style while the top part exuded Classicism. The exquisite chandelier hailed from Murano. Photos of the chateau from 1910 appeared throughout the rooms.
The Master Bedrooms were next. Although the furniture flaunted Classicist style, the desk in the space was Baroque. I was particularly drawn to the 18th century armchair upholstered with Gobelin tapestry that showed Venus coming out the sea as she was born. I also adored the gilt Japanese vase that depicted scenes from the life of Buddha. The oldest picture in the chateau, dating from the 16th century, showed Saint Jerome with a skull. The guide explained that St. Jerome was the patron saint of the Colloredo-Mannsfelds. Weird pictures on the drawer of an 18th century ebony bureau depicted angels with instruments of torture.
The picture on an easel in the Italian Lounge was called Canal Grande an original rendition by 18th century Venetian painter and printmaker Canaletto. I thought back to my short trip to Venice five years ago and recalled how I was bursting with energy each day. I wish I had that much energy now. How I had loved meandering down the deserted streets on a Sunday at 7 am! That was when I became hooked on cappuccino.
There were other paintings of Venice in the room, too, as I spotted a gondola and a carnival in full swing. Views of Naples and Messina also adorned the space. A Classicist screen held a compartment for letters. The 50-kilogram chandelier hailing from Murano was light blue and white with floral ornamentation. I loved Italian chandeliers. The tan furniture with black stripes fell into the Classicist category.
I tried to imagine an afternoon tea party in the Ladies’ Rocco Lounge with women relaxing on the maroon Rococo seats and sipping tea from Meissen porcelain cups while recounting anecdotes, telling jokes and complaining about their husbands. A display case with Dresden porcelain had a unique shape – it looked like a carriage. I imagined all the conversations that must have taken place under the Bohemian crystal chandelier hailing from the days of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa. Paintings of pastoral scenes rounded out the attractive room.
The first thing I noticed in the Ladies’ Bedroom was that the white bed with shell ornamentation looked too short, but I knew from other tours that people used to sleep sitting up or half-sitting. They were afraid they would die if they lay down, or women did not want to mess up their elaborate hairstyles. I was surprised to hear that the bed is actually two meters long. Ludwig XVI style furniture, harkening back to the 18th century, was featured in this opulent décor. A copy of Raphael’s Madonna hung in the room. The guide told me a legend about the Venetian mirror: People who look into it will have their wishes fulfilled as long as they do not gaze into another mirror for a year.
The next room was totally different, seemingly from another world. This Writer’s Room was decorated the way the room would have looked when the chateau belonged to the Writers’ Union, from the 1950s to the 1990s. The space featured a modern bed, a typewriter, a record player and a modern bathroom with two tubs. The corridor in the chateau was home to intriguing, 18th century pictures of Prague and Vienna. I spotted graphics of Schönbrunn Palace and its surroundings plus a forest with a church and a pond. In the section focusing on Prague I recognized Old Town Square with a plague column in the center and Týn Church’s spires in the background.
Measuring 220 square meters, the Hall of Mirrors was the largest room on the tour. It was also the most astounding. It was often used for weddings and concerts, and I recalled attending a concert here in the early 1990s when the chateau’s rooms were not open to the public. Certainly this fresco-filled hall was suitable for weddings with its stucco ceiling décor and other ornamentation dating back to the 18th century. Craning my neck to see the ceiling fresco, I peered at a blue sky with angels fluttering to and fro. Allegories of the four seasons were painted above the door. The frescoes above the balcony represented the five senses. Eight Venetian chandeliers captured my attention. Two marble fireplaces on opposite sides of the room and two Czech crystal chandeliers added to the room’s opulence. Above one fireplace, Josefína Czernínová held a small dog in one hand. Opposite her, Jindřich Pavel Mannsfeld gripped construction plans in his right hand.
The Gobelin tapestry room charmed me with its tapestry upholstery on the furniture. I noted the armrests portraying scenes from Italian commedia dell’ arte performances. I especially admired the semi-precious stones in the 18th century jewel chest made of black ebony. In a portrait Marie Isabella Mannsfeld wore an attractive pink dress and had her hair up in a bob. Vases with Oriental motifs were also enticing.
The Rococo Room or Music Room featured Rococo stucco wall décor. Vases dotted the room – some Japanese and others made of Viennese porcelain and sporting floral designs. I took special note of the four Venetian mirrors with gold frames. I loved Venetian mirrors despite their opulence! Above a dominating marble fireplace, a portrait of Joseph II showed the distinguished Holy Roman Emperor with one hand on his hip. Two Czech crystal chandeliers added to the noble atmosphere. An aquarium was unique. The big bowl showed off designs of orange fish and flowers.
The oldest book in the library was open on the table – a German Bible from the 16th century. I admired its bewitching Gothic script. The 3,600 books on the dark wooden shelves were written in German, English and French with a few in Czech, and most hailed from the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection included the volumes of the History of the Czech Nation in Bohemia and Moravia by legendary Czech 19th century historian, František Palacký. Other valuable items were many books by Alexandre Dumas as well as the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Portraits of the Mannsfelds and Colloredos also adorned the room. I recognized one painting as a copy of the original I had seen in the Prado – Diego Velázquez’s “Portrait of the Spanish Infanta Margarita Teresa.” Dolls had been placed throughout the rooms as part of a special exhibition, and in this space there were 50 doll figures from novels. Madame Bovary made a memorable appearance.
The Dining Room boasted of 20th century Neo-Renaissance traits. The 12 chairs made of leather had armrests sporting the eagle on the coat-of-arms of the Colloredo family. Portraits of the Colloredo-Mannsfelds also decorated the walls. In one portrait Josef Colloredo-Mannsfeld was seated on a red chair, with books on a nearby table, perhaps symbolizing his vast knowledge obtained while he had traveled around the world. The vases from Delft added ambience as did the stucco décor on the ceiling.
After touring the 11 rooms, I paid a visit to the JCM family Gallery. Family portraits and Baroque 17th and 18th century works by Italian painters dotted the walls of the small, intimate spaces. I noticed many biblical and mythological scenes as well as historical themes and landscapes. Salvatore Rosa executed “Saint Peter Fishing” in the 17th century while a portrait of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II hailed from the end of the 18th century. Other works addressed topics such as the judgment of Paris and the murder of Saint Wenceslas. Leonardo Bassano’s depiction of the Last Supper from 1605 graced a wall, too.
A temporary exhibition in the gallery featured the work of Belorussian painter Alexandr Iljuščenko. I admired one modern landscape with many greens and browns and his depiction of a tram over a bridge. I could almost hear it clattering over the tracks. An alley flanked by trees during the fall also caught my attention. In another work I saw a green pasture and hills. The people rendered in the paintings appeared too modern for me and took something away from the magical atmosphere of the scenery.
Next I walked into the bewitching French park of nearly two hectares. It was one of my favorites. Founded during the 1770s when the chateau got a Baroque makeover, the French park now boasts of Rococo style. Five terraces, an orangery and a fountain with a Baroque sculptural grouping of horses created by Platzer around 1760 were just a few of the pluses. I also viewed allegorical statues of the seasons. I spotted Poseidon with a crown and Nares with an oar and ocean wreath, too. In the orangery I took note of the four statues of figures from mythology, including Apollo and Aphrodite. The English park was much larger, spanning 30 hectares with a pond and stream. Three artificial caves were located here as well.
I had an appetizing lunch of chicken on a skewer in the quaint and busy chateau restaurant and then made my way to the nearby bus stop for the half hour ride back to Prague.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.