Rothmayer Villa Diary

RothmayerVilla1
NOTE: It is not permitted to take photos inside the villa. Photos can only be taken outside from the street.
I was excited about my trip to the Rothmayer Villa in Prague’s Břevnov quarter of the sixth district. I had never been there, even though the villa had been open to the public since the fall of the previous year (2015). In fact, I had not even heard of the architect, Otto Rothmayer before I came across the listing of the villa in a Prague cultural guide. This definitely would be a new adventure.
When I first set eyes on the Rothmayer Villa on the corner of a tranquil street next to a hospital, I was surprised at how small it was. I had thought it would be bigger because I had visited the much larger Müller Villa a few days earlier. I was also surprised at the lack of decoration on the façade, which had symmetrical windows and a spartan cornice. Yet even the simplicity of the rectangular design exuded a sense of elegance. Certainly, the classicist-modernist style was not my favorite. I preferred styles with some ornamentation, such as Art Nouveau. Still, it was intriguing, and I appreciated the sobriety of the design.

OttoRothmayer

Otto Rothmayer, photo from bydleni.idnes.cz
Otto Rothmayer built this house for his family during 1928 and 1929, a time when the Tugendhat Villa was under construction in Brno, designed by legendary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and a time when work on the Müller Villa, designed by Adolf Loos and Karel Lhotka, was underway in another section of Prague 6. Many villas in Prague were erected during the interwar years.
The guide started off by providing information about Rothmayer’s life and work. Rothmayer took up carpentry at a young age. He turned to architecture before World War I, studying under Slovenian architect Jože Plečník at Prague’s Academy of Applied Arts. Plečník’s creations would inspire Rothmayer for the rest of his life. After World War I, Rothmayer finished his studies and worked in the studio of Cubist architects Pavel Janák and Josef Gočár. He also cooperated with Janák and Gočár on the design of a pavilion for an exhibition in Lyon during 1920. In 1921 he took up the post of assistant architect at Prague Castle with Plečník as his boss and colleague. Rothmayer held the position until 1958, when he retired. After 1930 Plečník left Prague Castle while Rothmayer continued to work there.

RothmayerVilla2
Rothmayer’s impressive designs at Prague Castle includes renovating the apartment of the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. He also created plans for some of the courtyards and improved the appearance of the Theresian Wing of the Old Royal Palace. He designed the Staircase Hall using what was then a new material, faux marble. His style was also visible in interior renovations of the New Royal Palace.
Yet Rothmayer’s designs were not limited to Prague Castle. He designed three other family houses, all with porches so they would allow residents ready access to the outdoors. One of his creations was a weekend house for sculptor Otakar Hátlý. Rothmayer also served as a professor of Decorative and Applied Arts from 1947 to 1951. He stopped teaching because his ideas clashed with the social realism philosophy of the era. He also designed exhibitions for the Museum of Applied Arts and was responsible for installations of various exhibitions at the Museum of Decorative Arts and National Literary Monument. A side altar for the Church of the Most Sacred Heart in the Vinohrady quarter of Prague is another example of his work.

Plecnikvila-stadion-1928

Vila Stadion, 1928, from http://www.renton.si
The guide told us that Plečník’s Villa Stadion in Ljubljana inspired Rothmayer’s design of his family villa. I was familiar with the name and creations of Jože Plečník, whose style could be said to fit into the category of Art Nouveau while Rothmayer’s work was much simpler in design. There was a huge exhibition of Plečník’s architectural gems at Prague Castle many years ago. Also, when I had visited Ljubljana, I had made a trip to his studio. Plečník was responsible for the modern look of Ljubljana, designing architectural masterpieces throughout the city. For example, his creations there included the Triple Bridge, the Slovene National and University Library, a cemetery and parks. Elsewhere in Europe, he designed many structures in Vienna and his style can be found in Belgrade, too.

JozePlecnik1933

Jože Plečník, 1933, from http://www.dieselpunks.org. Photo by Karel Repa
Plečník’s works at Prague Castle under Masaryk’s tenure as president included reconstructing the first and third courtyards and reconstructing the appearance of the southern gardens. Plečník spent three years doing renovations on Masaryk’s apartment at the Castle, and Rothmayer took part in this project as well. Plečník’s distinctive style can also be seen in the Spanish Hall and Bellevue Summer Palace. Yet his designs are not limited to the Castle. He also designed structures in Vinohrady and the Old Town of Prague, for example. Outside of Prague he worked on the president’s summer residence at Lány and at Křivoklát Castle.

Kostel Nejsvětějšího srdce Páně

The most beautiful church in Prague Heart, designed by Plečník, photo from newchurcharchitecture.wordpress.com.

After explaining to the group about Rothmayer’s background, the tour guide drew our attention to black-and-white photos on an ash wood table designed by Rothmayer. The guide pointed out one photo in which Otto’s wife Božena had a short haircut and wore pants, signs that she was a modern woman. Another photo showed the villa surrounded by fields. Rothmayer had built it on an isolated plot of land. Now other villas flanked the street, and the villa was right next to a huge hospital. We also learned some basic information about the villa. It had a rectangular plan with a cylindrical shape that was the large, impressive spiral staircase connecting the floors. It was intriguing that the family had not owned a car. They walked to town, which was quite a distance away.

RothmayerVilla3
Like Plečník, Rothmayer favored wood for his furniture as was evident in this room. Other furnishings were created from spruce and pine. Jan Vaněk was responsible for the design of four impressive Windsor chairs. I was familiar with his designs. He was a Brno-based architect who had also collaborated on the Müller Villa not far from here. The floor was original, made of cork. A unique teapot in the space had once belonged to Plečník. The guide also commented that when the house was constructed, small heaters that used coal had been placed in each room. There was also a simple yet elegant white tiled stove in the space; these tiled stoves were sprinkled throughout the villa.
Božena’s room, currently the ticket office, was next. I saw examples of her embroideries with folk art themes framed on the walls. Her creations included clothes, including pants for women, plus purses and jewellery. She also set up an exhibition about the modern woman. I was drawn to the small bust of Božena Němcová, a 19th century Czech writer who is credited with founding modern Czech prose. She also wrote fairy tales and travelogues, for example. Her best known work is her novel, The Grandmother, based on memories of her happy childhood in the countryside. In the book the grandmother represents love, goodness and morality. Her literary masterpieces greatly contributed to the Czech National Revival movement. I certainly understood how a modern woman like Božena Rothmayer could be inspired by this author.

RothmayerVilla4
Then we came to the room where Otto had worked and slept. He had made all the furniture for this space, which had once been full of belongings – drawings, paintings and books. The desk was mobile; it could move back and forth to get the best light. The drawers in the desk could move from side-to-side. It reminded me of the moveable drawers in the closets designed by Vaněk for the Ladies’ Dressing Room at the Müller Villa.
The Children’s Room, where their son Jan Rothmayer (1932-2010) had slept, included an audio system that Jan had designed. He was an electrotechnician who had also taken up photography, inspired by family friend and legendary photographer, Josef Sudek. who had often visited in the 1950s and 1960s and had taken many pictures of the house and garden. Sudek was best known for his photos of Prague, such as the interior of St. Vitus Cathedral and panoramas of city. His style could be described as neo-romantic. Sudek was able to take such beautiful photographs, even though he had use of only one arm.

JosefSudek

Josef Sudek, photo from http://www.afuk.cz
In this room we watched an intriguing video about the Rothmayer family and their work. The photos taken by Jan were particularly intriguing. My favorite showed a lit candle next to a half-full glass of wine. Sudek’s still lifes had certainly been an inspiration for this picture.
The room on the highest floor was once the Winter Garden Room and became the Summer Study during the 1950s. I had expected that there would be more books on the shelves. I was drawn to the small sculptures that also decorated the space. At one time, the small terrace had included a herb garden.
Last, we went to the basement, which included a carpentry workshop where Otto had made his furniture. There was also a guest room, where Sudek had slept. The armchair and table were designed by Plečník.

RothmayerVilla5
Then we were free to go outside into the garden, which was sprinkled with glassware and rocks. Rothmayer had worked with glass artists. A big, blue vase caught my attention. The garden, like the villa, was simple yet elegant. I liked the white garden furniture made from rough steel. It had been very popular at the time.
Because the family had lived there until 2009, many of the furnishings were authentic. Also, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague had some furniture from the villa in its collection, so many of the furnishings were preserved. The villa had remained private property under Communism, when many places had been nationalized.

RothmayerVilla6cornice
I was surprised that the rooms were small and that the style of the furniture was so simple. Yet the simplicity was by no means a negative aspect. It had a certain elegance to it. I had expected the villa to have a lavish interior because I had visited the Müller Villa several days earlier. Designed by Viennese architect Adolf Loos, who also had Czech citizenship, and Czech Karel Lhotka from 1928 to 1930, the Müller Villa was much bigger, with a sober, unornamented exterior shaped like a cube. However, the interior greatly differed from the Rothmayer Villa in its extravagant decoration. Both villas, though, made use of wood as a key material for furnishings. Yet Loos had also utilized marble and stone, which were expensive materials.
Visiting this villa greatly improved my understanding of modern architecture. I became familiar with the lives of Otto Rothmayer and his family as well as with their contributions to Czech architecture, photography, fashion and textile design. I appreciated the simple, practical style. I would certainly recommend this villa to tourists interested in modern architecture.

RothmayerVilla7
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Advertisements

Capri Diary

Capri1

I immediately signed up for a day trip to Capri on the arsviva tour of Naples and the surrounding area. I was thrilled. The azure sea, the beautifully blue sky, the terraced slopes on the massive cliffs – I could hardly wait.
After we disembarked from the ferry, we got on a small boat, which held about 20 or 25 people. Then we cruised around the island. I was enthralled by the scenery, but at the same time I was terrified. I had never been on such a small boat. The waves – though no doubt gentle – rocked the boat back and forth as we took photos. While I have an affinity for mountains, I have always felt – no pun intended – like a fish out of water near the sea. I don’t even remember how to swim, though I did take lessons as a child. Each time the boat rocked to one side, I was convinced that it would capsize, I would fall in the enchantingly azure water and drown.

Capri4
Yet, at the same time, I was captivated by the intense beauty of my surroundings. There was a pleasant sea breeze on that beautiful September day. The rocky coast, the high cliffs, the grottoes, the natural arches made by the rocks, the houses set precariously on the cliffs – it was breathtaking and a bit surreal for me. As the boat navigated around the caves, I worried that it would get stuck and that we would be trapped there. Still, the caves had a sense of mystery to them, a sort of mystical quality. The Blue Grotto was not open on that day – the water level was too high, but the other grottoes we saw were remarkable.

Capri2
I was especially intrigued by the red box-like villa of the now deceased journalist and writer Curzio Malaparte (whose name means “wrong-sided”), who had fought for Mussolini during the so-called “March on Rome” in 1922, but became a fervent opponent of the Italian dictator when Italy changed sides during World War II. After the war he flirted with the Communist Party. Malaparte was known for his anti-Hitler and anti-Mussolini writings. He was kicked out of the National Fascist Party and was arrested by Mussolini on numerous occasions. The rebellious author had been a Republican most of his life but died a devout Catholic.

Capri29
His villa was built from 1938 to 1941. Some critics call it a masterpiece of Italian modern architecture while others see it as an eyesore. I was drawn to it because it was unique. Some features of the villa include reverse pyramidal stairs that lead to a roof patio. It lurks precariously on a cliff 32 meters above sea level, looking as if it may fall into the water at any moment.

Capri7
Before my trip to Capri, I did a little research about the island, a large limestone and sandstone rock that has a population of about 12,500. The total surface area of the island, made up of towns Capri and Anacapri, comes to 11 square kilometers while the island is six kilometers in length. Mountains can be found on the island, too. The highest is Mount Solaro at 589 meters.

Capri12
Capri was once a Greek colony. It got its name from wild goats on the island. The Romans took over in 29 AD when Emperor Augustus saw it for the first time. Augustus’ successor, Tiberius, formed close ties with the island. He lived as a recluse there during the last 10 years of his life. After his death in 37 AD, things were not so rosy for Capri, and later many pirate raids took place on the island. After the Romans, Capri switched owners many times. The Spaniards controlled the island for a lengthy period. The island has certainly had its share of trials and tribulations, such as the plague during the 18th century. It was ruled by the Bourbons before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy.

Capri13
Tourism officially started on Capri in the 17th century, when the first tourist, French antiques dealer Jean-Jacques Bouchard, visited the island. During the “Dolce Vita” years of the 1950s and early 1960s, none of the names in cinema, the arts and politics could resist Capri’s charm, and they were often seen on the island wearing so-called Capri pants and espadrillas. A number of well-known personalities have lived on Capri, and today many celebrities have homes there. The founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Ilych Lenin, even visited Maxim Gorky at that writer’s residence on Capri in 1908. Queen Victoria made a point of staying on the island. Norman Douglas was another Capri resident.

Capri45
Back to my trip: I was thrilled that I had survived the boat ride. From the Marina Grande we took the funicular to the town of Capri. I was glad that I did not know then about one of the first rides in the funicular during the the early 20th century, when two cables broke – a tragedy that resulted in two deaths. However, my ride, thankfully, was uneventful. We all made it to the main square safely.

Capri23
I soon found myself on the main square, the Piazzetta, bustling with crowded, outdoor cafés. I took a seat at one café and drank a Cola Zero. The waiter served me surprisingly quickly. When I got the bill, I was shocked that a small bottle cost six euros. At least I did not have to wait an hour to pay.

Capri26
Then I took some time to take in my surroundings. I saw the clock tower, the former bell tower of a cathedral. I admired its architecture featuring an eastern-influenced cupola and arcades. I stood in front of the Church of Saint Stephen, which had Baroque elements and a central dome. It was not open, but later I found out that the interior included Roman fragments from the Villa Jovis, which we would see a bit later on, as well as sculptures and paintings. I took a short walk through narrow, winding paths, past designer shops and white houses, toward the marina. Then I headed back for our meeting at the main square.

Capri40
We trekked uphill to the Villa Jovis. Away from the busy main square Capri was tranquil with narrow streets flanked by magnificent villas and gardens. I occasionally stopped to take in the stunning scenery.

CapriVJ5
Villa Jovis, named after the god Jovis or Jupiter, hailed from 27 AD, when it was constructed for Tiberius, who lived like a recluse there until he died in 37 AD, when he was 79 years old. It stands on Mount Tiberius, which is 335 meters high. It is by no means the only villa Tiberius had built on Capri; he had no less than 12 constructed on the island. Villa Jovis, though, is the biggest of them all, measuring 1.7 acres or 7,000 square meters.

CapriVJ6
Below the villa we saw the remains of a watch tower that Tiberius had used as a sort of telegraph system. He would signal to the mainland via fire or smoke. We explored the former living quarters, the administrative area, the reception area and what had been a hall offering magnificent views of the sea. We saw the remnants of the complex system of water tanks that had collected rain water for the villa and the area where the baths used to be along with a complicated heating system. Part of the ruins may have even once been an observatory.

CapriVJ10
Tiberius was a complicated historical figure. He made quite a name for himself as a general but didn’t seem too enthusiastic to take on the role of emperor. He was known as a sad, weary, reclusive old man in an unhappy marriage. Augustus forced him to leave his beloved wife to marry into the emperor’s family. There were rumors of Tiberius’ cruelty and perversion. For example, it is said that he threw his enemies into a bottomless abyss. Yet, it is probable that there was little truth to these stories. Tiberius ruled for 22 years and during that time only about 50 people were accused of treason. Only half of them were actually convicted. He certainly was no friend of the Senate, which abhorred him, even refusing to grant him divine honors after his death. One of the reasons Tiberius fled to Capri was because he was afraid he would be assassinated, and his villas on Capri were well-guarded and hard to reach.

CapriVJ15
After taking many snapshots of superb views, I wandered down the narrow, winding streets, invigorated by the tranquil atmosphere and found an excellent family-run restaurant. Then I went closer to the center and did some window-shopping. I was impressed with the ceramics sold on the island.

CapriVJ12
While I did not have time to get to Anacapri, other members of the tour did. They visited the villa of Axel Munthe, who, in the first half of the last century, had been a Swedish writer, physician and psychiatrist. He was known for helping the poor free of charge, and he had bravely offered his medical services during wartime. His Villa San Michele includes impressive gardens dotted with Egyptian relics. I hope I have a chance to return someday to visit Anacapri and other sights on the island.

Capri43
While Capri seemed idyllic as I walked along its narrow, picturesque lanes, I would not buy a villa on the island if I ever become rich enough to do so. I found the sheer cliffs daunting and in a way terrifying. I was certainly not at home by the sea. It was a thrilling place to visit, but I would prefer to buy an apartment in Paris or Rome, though I doubt I will ever have the money to do so!

Capri17
On the way back to Naples, I sat on the upper level, outside on the ferry, feeling the sea breeze on my face and watching the hypnotizing movement of the waves. I did not feel scared on the ferry as I had on the small boat. I breathed in the fresh sea air and was thankful I had had another superb day during my trip to Campania.

Capri42
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.

Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte Diary

NaplesCapodimonteext
One of the highlights of my trip to Naples was visiting the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte museum, which houses a gallery of 19th century art, porcelain, ceramics, an armory and historical apartments. Founded by Charles Bourbon in 1738, the palace was not completed until 1838. Artwork featured at the museum includes The Blind Leading the Blind and Misanthrope by my beloved Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Madonna with Child and Angels by Botticelli and three portraits of Pope Paul II by Titian. Raphael, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Pieter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, El Greco and Caravaggio are just a few of the artists represented. The museum is also home to seven tapestries showing scenes from the Battle of Pavia. The Gallery of Rare Things shows off miniatures, small bronzes, works of majolica, ivory and crystal pieces, gems and jewelry, for instance. I took pictures mostly of the royal apartments, which included the stunning Ballroom. The design of this room was influenced by 18th century findings at Herculaneum and Pompeii. The crystal chandeliers, the Neoclassical divans and the marble floor featuring geometric designs all enthralled me.

NaplesCapodimonteint1

NaplesCapodimonteint3

NaplesCapodimonteint4

NaplesCapodimonteint5

NaplesCapodimonteint6

NaplesCapodimonteint7

NaplesCapodimonteint8

NaplesCapodimonteint9

NaplesCapodimonteint10

NaplesCapodimonteint11

NaplesCapodimonteint12

NaplesCapodimonteint15

NaplesCapodimoneint17

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