After visiting the Brera Art Gallery in Milan, I walked to the nearby Museo del Risorgimento, which featured 14 rooms of paintings, prints, sculptures and artifacts depicting Italian historical events from 1796 to 1870 as well as arms. It traces the periods from the call for Italian independence to Italian unification. I learned about Napoleon’s reign in Italy as well as the Austrian monarchy’s control. I noticed how prominent Milan’s role had been during the Five Days of Milan, the nickname of the 1848 uprising against the Austrians.
I saw paintings depicting Italian King Victor Emmanuel II, who took the throne in 1861 and reigned until his death in 1878. Two of the paintings were created by Gerolamo Induno. Nicknamed the Father of the Fatherland, Victor Emmanuel II had the distinction of being the first king of a unified Italy since the sixth century. He was born the eldest son of Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and made a name for himself in the First Italian War of Independence during 1848-49 before being crowned king.
I spent a lot of time staring at the photos of soldiers in the Album of the Thousands, the volunteers in the Expedition of the Thousand, a campaign that took place in 1860. The group of volunteers armed only with out-of-date muskets defeated the more powerful navy of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Portraits of the 1,089 soldiers in business card format made up this album. I saw the volunteers as individuals rather than as a group of soldiers who conquered Bourbon rule in south Italy. Looking at their portraits, I felt as if I could see the personalities of the men.
Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the most prominent generals in modern history, guided the volunteers in the Expedition of the Thousand. Their uniforms were made up of red shirts and grey pants. In the exposition I saw the actual poncho and red shirt donned by Garibaldi, who also had military successes in South Africa and elsewhere in Europe.
I loved the paintings and sculptures most of all. These collections were especially noteworthy. The collection of paintings depicting the Imperial period from 1804 to 1814 was perhaps the most poignant of all eras represented by this genre. Francesco Hayez, whose works I had seen in the Brera, had depicted Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria in a moving portrait. Also, powerful canvases of the Five Days of Milan had been rendered by Carlo Canelli, Carlo Bossoli and Pietro Bouvier, for example. Gerolamo Induno and Domenico Induno contributed to the paintings depicting the Second War of Independence. The original Italian flag that flew over the Duomo in Milan on March 20, 1848 was another highlight. The cloak and regal insignia from Napoleon’s coronation as King of Italy were also enthralling.
The 18th century Palazzo Moriggio that houses the museum had an intriguing history as well. The museum had been situated there since 1951. Under Napoleon’s reign the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then the Ministry of Defense had been located in the palace.
This museum really opened my eyes to many events in Italian history. I had known only very basic information about this museum before my visit. It wasn’t on my list of most important places to see. I learned so much about the time periods in which the Risorgimento took place. I had never been a big fan of battle scenes, but I was struck by the details and by the historical significance of these paintings. While the museum is relatively small, it allows visitors to develop much knowledge about poignant eras in Italian history. In this museum I could actually feel the history come to life. Each artifact tells a story.
Tracy Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
Milan Duomo, one of the highlights of my year of travels
This past year was punctuated by trips to riveting sights in the Czech Republic and Italy. As usual, I went castlehopping on day trips during the spring, summer and fall. My jaunts took me to Sychrov, Mělník, Konopiště and Maleč, to name a few. I visited the former flat of a legendary 19th century historian called The Father of the Nation and his son-in-law, a politician nicknamed The Leader of the Nation. I also visited their chateau out of Prague. I toured the exhibition at the Strž Villa, where Karel Čapek and his wife Olga Scheinpflugová spent three years and three months in the 1930s.
Exterior of Milan Cathedral
I also enjoyed a week in what is probably my favorite Italian city, Milan, where I saw the most amazing art galleries and stunning architecture. From the Duomo to the Church of Saint Maurizio to the Poldi Pezzoli Gallery to the Ambrosiana to The Last Supper, I was overwhelmed by the incredible artistic creations the city had to offer.
The Last Supper, displayed in Milan
While I did not visit many temporary art exhibitions this past year, the ones I did go to left very positive and powerful impressions. I was lucky to be able to buy tickets for the Titian and Sorella exhibitions in Milan, both so comprehensive and exhilarating. I loved the way Titian masterfully created the material of his models’ clothing; it looked so real. You can almost feel the material just by looking at it. I loved Sorella’s beach scenes and landscapes. I had visited his former home, now a museum, in Madrid, so I was familiar with his work.
From the Kooperativa exhibition
In Prague I went to a few exhibitions. I saw a show at the Kooperativa featuring the theme of water in 19th and 20th century Czech landscapes. Artists such as Julius Mařák, Antonín Hudeček, Václav Špála and Josef Čapek were represented there. My favorite was a tranquil, snowy scene, seemingly out of a Bruegel painting. Čapek’s portrayal of two fishermen also captured my attention. Mařák’s forest landscapes were mystical and magical.
From the East Bohemian Gallery in Pardubice
I also went to Pardubice, where I was immersed in the 19th and 20th century Czech landscape painting at the East Bohemian Art Gallery. The works of Jan Zrzavý, Hudeček, Antonín Slavíček, Antonin Chittussi and Špála all captivated me.
By Peter Paul Rubens from the Prague Castle Gallery
I also saw the temporary exhibition of the Prague Castle Gallery’s permanent collection that had been started by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. I learned about the history of the collection, which was fascinating, and I saw masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, Paolo Veronese and many others.
By Alphonse Mucha
Copy of stained-glass window at St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague, created by Alphonse Mucha
I was enamored by the exhibition of Alphonse Mucha’s art in Mucha: The Family Collection at the Wallenstein Riding Stables. While Mucha is best known for his posters featuring Sarah Bernhardt, this exhibition also highlighted his drawings, paintings, sculptures, photos and jewelry. Some works were on display for the first time. I especially loved the reproductions of his stained-glass windows for Saint Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague.
From furnished rooms at Werich Villa
About my day trips: Let’s start in Prague. This year I visited the Werich Villa exhibition for the first time. Located on Prague’s Kampa Island, the villa was the home of actor Jan Werich from 1945 until his death in 1980. I liked the photos from the avant-garde plays of the Liberated Theatre best. The dramatic creations from the 1920s and 1930s were parodies of Dadaistic absurdity inspired by Charlie Chaplin and punctuated by jazz music. I also was captivated by the two rooms made to look as they did when Werich had lived there. Everything from the abstract painting of him and his colleague as actors at the Liberated Theatre to the Ballantine bottle of gin made me feel as if I got a sense of the atmosphere that had prevailed during the decades Werich had lived there.
The legendary Golem in the movie by the same name. Werich starred in the film.
Jan Werich and Jiří Voskovec at the Liberated Theatre
I visited the former flat of the first Czech historian František Palacký on Palacký Street in the city center for the first time in many years. I tried to imagine the bubbling conversations in the 19th century living room as the leaders of the Czech National Revival, who were promoting the Czech language and Czech culture, gathered there with Palacký’s family. I saw the desk where Palacký wrote his History of the Czech Nation as well as intriguing sculptures, paintings and portraits. The guide pointed at a box and told me that Palacký’s brain was inside. I wish the guide would have opened it!
Bust of František Palacký at Maleč Chateau
Bust of F.L. Rieger at Maleč Chateau
His son-in-law František Ladislav Rieger, who organized the first Czech encyclopedia and led a powerful political party, also lived at that address with his family as he had married Palacký’s daughter Marie. I saw the desk where he had labored over the encyclopedia volumes and paintings of his modest birthplace. I also saw the beds in which Palacký and Rieger died.
Piano that was often played by Antonín Dvořák
Funeral of F.L. Rieger
The Main Hall where the leaders of the Czech National Revival often gathered
Then I visited Maleč Chateau outside of Prague, a place where Palacký and Rieger had spent much time. The chateau hosted an exhibition about the two and the time periods in which they lived. There, I saw pictures of visiting Americans from Cleveland and Chicago gathered outside Palacký’s flat in Prague and another showing an American group at the chateau. I liked the portrait of Rieger by František Ženíšek and the piano once played by Antonín Dvořák, a frequent visitor to the chateau. The personalities of the Czech National Revival had once gathered in the main hall, which featured an exquisite chandelier, Renaissance stucco decoration and frescoes depicting landscapes. While looking at the picture of Rieger’s crowded funeral procession, I felt as if I was there among the masses dressed in black, mourning a national figure.
In the spring I took the third tour at Konopiště Chateau, a place I had visited at least eight or nine times. I hadn’t been on the tour of Franz Ferdinand d’Este’s private apartments for many years. I loved the portraits lining one hallway. The historical figures included Dante Alighieri, Titian and Christopher Columbus. In one room there were 1,307 hunting trophies. I enjoyed seeing the family’s photos from their travels in the late 19th and early 20th century.
View from Konopiště Chateau
We briefly visited the chapel, perhaps my favorite of all Czech chateaus with its gold stars dotting the blue ceiling, stained glass windows and Renaissance sculptures. Near the end of the tour, I was reminded of that tragic day in June of 1914, when Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, an event that triggered the first world war. I saw a bloodied handkerchief, one of the bullets from Gavrilo Princip’s pistol and the death masks of the royal married couple.
Arcades of Mělnik Chateau
At Mělnik Chateau I was once again overcome with amazement when I peered at detailed 17th century maps of European cities in the Big Hall and the small 18th century black-and-white vedutas of European cities in the Small Hall. The artwork at Mělnik was incredible. I saw paintings by Baroque legendary artists Karel Škréta and Petr Brandl and even a painting by Veronese. I yearned to show this chateau to my parents.
Front page of Lidové noviny announcing Karel Čapek’s death
Karel Čapek and his wife Olga Scheinpflugová
I also visited the museum of the legendary and versatile Czech writer Karel Čapek at what once was his villa in Stará huť. At the Strž Villa I saw 3-D diagrams of stage sets from his plays and the desk where he had written many works. The exhibition included photos of his childhood, pictures of his dogs and cat, and the front page of Lidové noviny newspaper with the large, bold headline announcing his death in 1938. Sections of the exhibition were devoted to his wife, a famous actress, and his brother, a prominent painter and writer.
Staircase at Sychrov Chateau
Neo-Gothic facade of Sychrov Chateau
Another chateau I visited for maybe the fourth time was the Neo-Gothic Sychrov in north Bohemia. The Rohan portrait gallery included 242 portraits of French origin, including French kings and queens as well as members of the Rohan family, who owned the chateau for 125 years. It ranks as the biggest collection of French portrait painting in Central Europe. A narrow, spiral, wooden staircase as well as rich wood paneling and leather wallpaper in many rooms also caught my attention.
La Scala Opera House
Finally, this past year I made it to Milan! In this magical city I had so many memorable experiences. I watched some minutes of a rehearsal of Giaconda in the royal box at La Scala Opera House. I finally saw The Last Supper with my own eyes, although we were only allowed to stay in the space for 15 minutes.
Stained-glass window at Milan Cathedral
I gazed at the mostly Gothic exterior of the Duomo at six in the morning, when the square was free of pedestrian traffic. The stained-glass windows inside and the views from the rooftop were other highlights. The artifacts of the Museo del Duomo, including the original stained-glass windows, tapestries and gargoyles, added more context to the tour of the Duomo.
The Basilica of Saint Ambrose
The Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio was one of the most beautiful Romanesque buildings in the world, originating in the fourth century AD and getting its current appearance from a 12th century makeover. The 19th century shopping gallery Galleria Vittorio Emaneuele II with its mosaics on the floor and near the dome was stunning. The bookstore in the shopping gallery was comprehensive and huge, just the way I liked them. I saw impressive vedutas of Milan Cathedral, Alpine scenes and paintings of the Navigli district of Milan as well as sculpture by Antonio Canova in the Gallerie d’Italia.
In the Ambrosiana
The Ambrosiana’s library stunned me. I gazed at the Leonardo da Vinci drawings of inventions in the Codice Atlantico exhibition as well as the library itself, such an overwhelming place. I loved the paintings in the Ambrosiana, too. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Musician, Titian’s Adoration of the Magi, Botticelli’s Madonna del Padiglione, the paintings by Francesco Hayez, Paul Brill’s fantastic landscapes and Jan Bruegel’s fantasy-tinged renditions all impressed me. Caravaggio’s superb depiction of a bowl of fruit was another highlight.
At the Brera Art Gallery
The Brera Art Gallery was another superb cultural venue. I was enthralled with the Italian paintings from the 13th to 20th centuries, including works by Raphael, Andrea Mantegna, Donato Bramante, Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, Giovanni Bellini and Bernardino Luini. Flemish art also made an appearance. I was overwhelmed by the paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Jacob Jordaens and Anton van Dyck. And who could forget the vedutas of Venice by Canaletto and the famous painting The Kiss by Francesco Hayez?
Museum of the Risorgimento
Around the corner from the Brera, I stopped in the Museo del Risorgimento, which featured 14 rooms of paintings, prints, sculptures and artifacts depicting Italian historical events from the call for Italian independence to the Italian unification. I learned about Napoleon’s reign in Italy as well as the Austrian monarchy’s control of what would later become a unified and independent Italy. I spent a lot of time staring at the photos of soldiers in the Album of the Thousands, the volunteers in the Expedition of the Thousand. Portraits of the 1,089 soldiers in business card format made up this album. I loved the paintings that brought the turbulent era to life, such as those by Stragliati and Canella.
At the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum
While I loved these museums, my two favorites had been former homes, the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi and Museo Poldi Pezzoli, the first located in an apartment, the second situated in a palace. Two brothers collected Renaissance and Neo-Renaissance art – tapestries, paintings, sculpture and weapons – at the end of the 1800s to decorate the interior of their apartment, which would later become the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi. It is one of the best-preserved house museums in Europe. The furnishings were diverse – Italian, British, German, French, Japanese and Spanish, for instance. It had a more intimate feel than the Poldi Pezzoli, though that was an amazing museum as well.
At the Museum of Poldi Pezzoli
The art collection in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli came into existence during the 19th century, when the Poldi Pezzoli noble family lived there. Artists represented there included Giovanni Bellini, Mantegna, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Hayez, Tiepolo and Canaletto as well as Lucas Cranach the Elder. Many Renaissance and Baroque works punctuate the collection. An armory, a glass collection, ceramics and tapestries also make up the superb objects on display.
The Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan was another highlight. The villa, now a museum, was built from 1932 to 1935 and included an enchanting garden, the first private pool in Milan and second pool in the city plus tennis courts. The exterior is an example of Italian rationalism with a no-frills attitude of simplicity.
A work by Picasso in the Villa Necchi Campiglio
The interior included Art Deco décor. The Smoking Room featured a large Renaissance fireplace while many paintings and much sculpture from Italian artists in the early 1900s dotted the house museum. Paintings by Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico and Umberto Boccioni come to mind. Parts of the villa also exuded the atmosphere of the 1800s due to a reconstruction. Some 130 works of art hail from this period – Canaletto and Tiepolo were represented. I also saw intriguing ceramics and Chinese porcelain. The spaces themselves were architecturally evocative.
Main altar at the Church of San Maurizio
The interior of the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore was a work of art in itself. Divided into two parts, it included a vaulted nave and vaulted chapels plus the Hall of Nuns. The Renaissance church featured 16th century frescoes by Bernardino Luini, his brothers and his son. On the dividing wall in the Hall of Nuns, I gazed at Bernardino Luini’s creations from the 1530s – the figures of Saint Catherine and Saint Agatha as well as scenes from the Marriage at Cana and the Carrying of the Cross of Christ. I also saw his frescoes showing the life of Saint Maurizio. In one chapel Bernardino Luini rendered the martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The main altar with the painting of the Adoration of the Magi by Antonio Campi took my breath away, too.
The Last Supper
At long last I saw The Last Supper in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church. It was a dream come true. The moment following Christ’s assertion that one of those seated at the table would betray him was masterfully portrayed. The facial expressions and body language are works of art in themselves. As Christ utters those immortal words, all the dinner guests look riddled with horror except Judas, who clutches his silver ever so tightly. Even though we were only allowed to be in the room for 15 minutes, I was overcome with amazement at the Renaissance fresco in front of me. It told a complex story so clearly. I was in awe of those gestures and facial expressions.
Gallerie d’Italia in Milan
In the Czech Republic, I had mostly traveled to places I had been before, except for Maleč Chateau, the Strž Villa and the Werich Villa. I saw Milan for the first time, though the trip had been planned and cancelled during two years. I was in awe of the sights I rediscovered and those I experienced for the first time. The visits were eye-opening as I learned new information about Czech and Italian history and culture. The exhibitions of painting, sculpture and more also proved poignant and powerful.
Tracy A. Burns is a proofreader, writer and editor in Prague.
I have been a fan of Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau works ever since I came to Prague in the 1990s. While he is best known for his exhilarating posters of actress Sarah Bernhardt, Mucha was a very versatile artist – as is evidenced in this comprehensive exhibition of creations owned by his descendants. The first extensive showing of his works in 30 years is housed at Prague’s Waldstein Palace. The exhibition highlights not only the advertising posters but also his drawings, paintings, sculptures, photos and jewelry, for instance. The family displays some originals to the public for the first time.
Family portraits evoking Mucha’s childhood add an intimate feel to the exhibition. Born in Ivančice, Moravia, Mucha called home a building that also included the town jail. The Czech lands were under Austrian rule when Mucha grew up. They were part of the Habsburg Empire in which German was the official language. Yet, during that era, the Czech National Revival took place, when Czech nationalists promoted Czech culture and the Czech language.
At the end of 1894, Mucha became a star overnight when he designed a poster for Bernhardt’s production of Gismonda. The following year he created posters that decorated calendars, postcards and menus as well as theatre programs. His work would find enthusiastic audiences in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Munich, London, New York and other cities during subsequent years.
I loved how, in his advertising posters, Mucha utilized folk features not only found in Czech art but also in Byzantine, Islamic, Japanese, Gothic, Judaic, Celtic and Rococo works. Much of this genre focuses on beautiful, young women with an optimistic and cheerful flair. They are wearing flowing robes in pastel colors. I loved the touches of floral and plant ornamentation plus arabesques and naturalistic elements, too.
The exhibition boasted family portraits and photos, such as those of his friends Paul Gaugin and Auguste Rodin. Gaugin even was Mucha’s housemate for a while. During the Paris Exposition Universalle of 1900, Mucha represented Austria-Hungary as the show focused on the accomplishments of the past century. I had not known that in 1899 Mucha had designed a jewelry collection that was featured at this major show. One of the jewelry pieces on display at the exhibition features a snake-shaped broach that Bernhardt wore during her portrayal as Medusa. I also was captivated by Mucha’s decorations for a German theatre in the USA. He would wind up making three trips to the United States, hailed by The New York Daily News as “the world’s greatest decorative artist.”
Works in the exhibition illustrated how mysticism had influenced him. His philosophy is also apparent in his creations. For example, he believed in beauty, truth and love to guide him on the spiritual path. For a monument he created a triptych called The Age of Reason, the Age of Wisdom and the Age of Love, fusing these three characteristics into one piece of art. Unfortunately, Mucha didn’t get the chance to finish it.
Perhaps what always captivates me the most about Mucha’s art is his emphasis on Slav identity. Indeed, his phenomenal Slav Epic paintings feature the heroic tales of the Slavs in 20 historical, symbolic canvases. Several reproductions of these works at the exhibition reinforced Mucha’s identity as a Czech and Slav patriot.
I saw panels devoted to Mucha’s decorations in the Municipal House, for which he designed numerous pieces – three wall panels, a ceiling painting depicting prominent Czech personalities, eight pendentives and furnishings. I remember seeing these for myself on tours of the Art Nouveau Municipal House, something I recommend to every Prague visitor. It is notable that, while Mucha’s works often were rooted in Slav identity in the past, he also looked to the future for a prosperous Czech nation.
I was enamored by the reproductions of his stained-glass window designs. The originals decorate the interior of Saint Vitus’ Cathedral at Prague Castle. In 1931 he portrayed Saint Wenceslas, the nation’s patron saint, as a child with his grandmother Saint Ludmila in a central panel along with other panels featuring the lives and work of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Seeing examples of his colorful and vibrant stained glass renditions close-up was for me one of the highlights of this exhibition.
Mucha’s life was cut short by the arrival of the Nazis in Prague, where they set up the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during March of 1939. The 79-year-old Mucha, riddled with health problems, was targeted by the Gestapo. Mucha was a Freemason, Judeophile and a promoter of democratic Czechoslovakia. He was one of the first to be interrogated by the Nazis. Mucha was stricken with pneumonia due to the strain from grueling interrogations and died in Prague 10 days short of his 79th birthday on July 14th, 1939. He is now buried in Prague’s Vyšehrad Cemetery along with other prominent Czechs.
This exhibition takes museumgoers on a unique and unforgettable journey from his childhood roots in Moravia to his time as an outsider in Paris to his experiences in the democratic Czechoslovakia until his untimely death. It stresses his identity as a Moravian, as a Czech, as a Slav and as a European. It shows his accomplishments in the art scene by displaying an eclectic collection of his creations that profoundly punctuated the artistic world.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
The Sforza Castle in Milan was built for Galeazzo II Visconti in the second half of the 14th century. It was destroyed in the 15th century, but Francesco Sforza rebuilt it. Then the Sforza family used it as a residence. The end of the 1400s was a time of splendor. During the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante created frescoes in the castle. The castle became one of the largest in Europe in the 16th century.
Later, the castle was changed into a citadel. The ducal apartments were used as barracks and stables under Spanish, Austrian, French and again Austrian rule. An armory was for a time also on the premises. At the end of the 1800s, the castle became the property of the city of Milan. When Italy was unified, the castle was in a very dilapidated state, but the complex to be reconstructed and made into a museum. The castle took on the appearance it had when it had been under Sforza control. Though the central tower is not original, it is made to look like it had when built in 1521.
During World War II, the complex suffered much damage but was reconstructed. Now the castle includes museums and cultural institutes.
The collection of the Museum of Ancient Art and Arms features sculpture from the fifth to the 16th century, some from Lombardy and others from Tuscany. Some rooms are decorated with stunning frescoes. An armory containing European weapons from the end of the 14th to the 19th century and an impressive room of tapestries also make up the exhibition. Sixteenth century Flemish tapestries intrigued me. Saint Ambrose dominates another tapestry. Two medieval portals and tombstones are also on display.
Visitors walk through the ducal apartments decorated by Galeazzo Maria Sforza. I was especially impressed with the ducal chapel. Leonardo da Vinci designed and frescoed the Sala delle Asse (Room of Wooden Boards), which was being restored when I was there. I read that the walls and vaulted ceiling of this room are painted with trompe l‘oeil. The vault shows off branches leaves and berries that give the illusion that the space is outside instead of in a castle. In other rooms the Spanish domination is highlighted with sculpture and the remarkable funerary monument of Gaston de Foix, created from 1517 to 1522.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
The Sforza Castle in Milan was built for Galeazzo II Visconti in the second half of the 14th century. It was destroyed in the mid-15th century, but the duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, rebuilt it. Then the Sforza family inhabited the castle. The end of the 1400s was a time of splendor. During the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante created frescoes in the castle. The castle became one of the largest in Europe in the 16th century.
Later, the castle fell on hard times and was transformed into a citadel. The ducal apartments were used as barracks and stables under Spanish, Austrian, French and again Austrian rule. An armory was for a time also on the premises. At the end of the 1800s, the castle became the property of the city of Milan. The unification of Italy prompted the complex to be reconstructed and made into a museum. The castle took on the appearance it had when it had been under Sforza control. Though the central tower is not original, it is made to look like it had when built in 1521.
During World War II, the complex suffered much damage but was reconstructed. Now the castle includes museums and cultural institutes. Several of the other museums include those featuring ancient art and arms as well as one highlighting antique wooden furniture and sculpture. The Pieta Rondanini by Michelangelo is also a sight not to be missed.
The Picture Gallery focuses on Milanese and Lombard paintings from the 15th to the 18th century with over 230 works on display. It also includes remarkable Venetian and 17th century Dutch and Flemish works. Some Lombard artists represented are Foppa, Bramantino and Bernardino Luini. Other artists whose paintings amaze are Andrea Mantegna, Bergognone, Giovanni Bellini, Lorenzo Lotto, Correggio, Tintoretto, Tiziano, Tiepolo and Canaletto. One highlight is the Trivulzio Madonna by Mantegna from 1497. This important work shows Madonna on a throne, flanked by saints. Angels sing, and cherub faces are included in the decoration. Yet the exhibition does not only contain paintings. Some sculptures, busts and medals are on display, too.
Tracy Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
The permanent collection of the Prague Castle Picture Gallery has been closed since 2019 due to an air-conditioning defect and a lack of financial means for repairs. A special exhibition of about half of the collection’s works opened at the Castle’s Imperial Stables during July of 2022 and will last for three months.
The Picture Gallery originated during the reign of Emperor Rudolf II, at the end of the 16th century. Rudolf II chose Prague as his residence when he was Holy Roman Emperor. The ruler was passionate about collecting works of art – paintings, curiosities, statues and more. For almost 30 years, Rudolf II amassed artifacts, and inherited other pieces. He exhibited his vast art collection in the then newly constructed north wing of the Castle, the part of the complex where he built the Spanish Hall. The majority of his painting collection was Italian in origin.
Stellar artists worked as court painters in Prague: Hans von Aachen, Bartholomeus Spranger, Pieter Stevens and many others. First, allow me to mention Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a portrait painter serving Emperor Maximilian II and Emperor Ferdinand I. Arcimboldo began serving the emperor in 1562. Rudolf, the son of the emperor, was very taken with his work. He composed still lifes for Rudolf, and, after Arcimboldo returned to Milan in 1587 due to illness, he had a now famous portrait of Rudolf, called Vertumnus, sent to Prague. Arcimboldo’s portraits were allegorical, often composed of various objects that would make up the person’s head, for instance.
Hans von Aachen was Rudolf II’s favorite when he was emperor. He began painting for Rudolf II in 1592 and wound up making Prague his home, where he created his best portraits. The painter became good friends with Rudolf II, too. The picture gallery still has von Aachen’s portrait of his daughter Maria Maxmiliana. His style was a precursor to the Baroque features that would later dominate Czech art.
Spranger’s tenure in Prague lasted from 1580 to 1590. His often complicated and ornate works displayed Mannerist features. Spranger created numerous paintings for the Rudolfine collection. In 1607, Spranger created Allegory on the Triumph of Fidelity over Destiny – Allegory on the Fate of Hans Mont, referring to the sculpture to worked for Rudolf II until an eye injury prevented him from doing so. Mont’s whereabouts were unknown. This is one of Spranger’s paintings that has remained at the Castle throughout the centuries. He also created a masterful portrait of Jacob König, a German goldsmith who was selling antiques in Italy.
Pieter Stevens was another masterful court painter. He resided in Bohemia with his family and excelled at landscapes, influenced by Paul Brill and Hans Bol. He often portrayed village scenes or rendered forests and mountains in his unique way.
In 1585, Rudolf II’s collection was comprised of 3,000 paintings, including many Italian, Dutch, Flemish and German works, not to mention the numerous curiosities and statues.
After Rudolf II died in 1612, his successor Emperor Matthias had many of Rudolf’s paintings taken to Vienna, where he had his imperial residence. The Bohemian Estates sold some of Rudolf’s works so they had enough money to pay their soldiers. After the Catholics defeated the Protestant nobles in the Battle of White Mountain during 1620, Archduke Maximilian of Bavaria confiscated many of the works. Others were destroyed. During 1630, while the Thirty Years’ War was raging, Saxon soldiers took over Prague Castle and stole much of the artwork.
When the Swedes occupied Prague Castle in 1648, they took some of Rudolf’s collection to Queen Christina in Stockholm, but the most significant works had already been sent to Vienna. The queen sold some of the artwork and gave away others. She also took her favorites to her residence in Italy. Part of the collection was destroyed in a fire at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. Some works stayed in Prague when the Swedes took control because they were hidden.
A few paintings made their way to England, becoming part of Lord Buckingham’s collection. Several were returned to Prague from Vienna. Other paintings were sold in Europe. Empress Maria Theresa had the picture gallery at the Castle shut down. In 1782 many of the Rudolfine artworks were sold at auction.
Some paintings have perhaps miraculously remained at Prague Castle throughout the trials and tribulations of history. Paolo Veronese’s Portrait of Jakob König and Christ Washing the Feet of his Disciples as well as The Adoration of the Shepherds became property of the gallery in the middle of the 17th century and never left. Titian’s Young Woman at Her Toilet has called Prague Castle home since the 18th century. Several of the paintings by the Bassano brothers have remained in Prague, though many were transported to Vienna.
In 1796, Czech aristocrats and burghers organized the Picture Gallery of Patriotic Friends of the Arts in Prague, which would later become the National Gallery. Some paintings were not sent to Vienna because they were on loan at the time to this Prague society. The year after its creation, the group was able to get 67 of Rudolf’s paintings back from Vienna. Gradually, they obtained more and more paintings from Vienna.
In 1918 Czechoslovakia was formed, and Prague Castle became the office of the president. In 1930 the Masaryk Fund began to purchase paintings for Prague Castle. During the Nazi Occupation some of the paintings hung at the president’s summer residence of Lány and others stayed at Prague Castle.
Much reconstruction took place at Prague Castle from 1960 to 1961. The National Gallery Commission brought many paintings to the National Gallery and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. Many paintings were stored in a depository at Opočno Chateau during 1961. After the reconstruction, the Prague Castle Painting Gallery was established, taking up six rooms and including works of Titian, Rubens, Veronese and Tintoretto. German masters and Baroque artists from the Czech lands and the Netherlands also made up the collection.
The Velvet Revolution of November of 1989 triggered the downfall of Communism. A few years later, in 1993, the Prague Castle Administration was set up. One of its purposes was to organize new exhibitions at the painting gallery. From 1995 to 1998, much reconstruction took place at the Castle, and the Prague Castle Administration bought more paintings from Rudolf’s collection.
There has not been such a vast collection at Prague Castle since Rudolf’s death. It is impossible to faithfully recreate the Rudolfine collection because there are not enough inventories. Many of the paintings taken during the Thirty Years’ War have disappeared. Still, the Prague Castle Picture Gallery houses 120 outstanding works, including ones from the original collection.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.
When I entered the large courtyard of the basilica in Milan, I thought that this must be one of the most beautiful Romanesque buildings I had ever seen. I reminded myself that I was looking at one of the oldest churches in Milan, built by Saint Ambrose in the fourth century over a cemetery for martyrs. Saint Ambrose had built four churches, then situated outside the walls of the city. A monastery was located there from 789, housing two different monastic communities who had each built a bell tower.
The current appearance stemmed from a 12th century transformation into Lombard Romanesque style. In 1528, The Peace of St. Ambrose had been penned there between the nobility and the populace. Kings of Italy and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire had been crowned there during Romanesque and medieval times. There was 15th century renovation carried out by Donato Bramante, who had served as architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In August of 1943, the basilica was bombed, causing much damage to the apse and other areas. Restoration had worked wonders.
Standing in the atrium, I concentrated on the exterior. The red brick color of the Romanesque architecture was stunning. I saw a portico with arches supported by semi-columns and pilasters. The portico entrance included four blind arcades. The main portal hailed from the 8th to 10th century. One side of the atrium included upper and lower loggias. I looked at the pillars surrounded by semi-columns with lavish capitals adorned with lions, angels and vegetable motifs, to name a few. These were older than the Romanesque elements. I saw the two bell towers, one from the 9th century and a higher one from the 12th century. I gazed at the white marble Devil’s Column, which, according to legend, had two holes made by the Devil’s horns after he was unsuccessful at tempting Saint Ambrose. Tombstones from the former cemetery there also stood outside the entrance.
Inside, I saw a 12th century nave with two side aisles that had stunning arcades. The ceiling had remarkable 12th century ribbed vaults, and I saw galleries above the aisles. I loved the Romanesque brickwork of the pillars. It made both the interior and exterior dynamic. There was no transept. I noticed the Serpent’s Column, which was supposedly built by Moses.
I stared at the apse with its 13th century mosaic of Christ Pantocrator or creator of all. At the sides were scenes featuring the life of Saint Ambrose. A gilded domed ceiling caught my attention as did mosaics on walls dating from the 5th century.
The pulpit was for me perhaps the most intriguing part of the church. It hailed from the 12th century and boasted two gilt copper reliefs showing an eagle and seated man, symbolizing apostles John and Matthew. The base of the pulpit was the fourth century sarcophagus of Stilicho with amazing reliefs from the Old Testament. I also noticed Apollo riding a chariot.
Also, I gazed at the 10th century ciborium which was painted with reliefs showing Christ, Saint Ambrose, Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica. It included four columns in red porphyry and a canopy. The Golden Altar, another highlight for me, dated from the 9th century. The front showed off masterful goldsmithing skills and was adorned with precious stones. Scenes from the life of Christ decorated this side as well. The back included a silver relief celebrating the life of Saint Ambrose. The bishop’s throne hailed from the 9th and 14th centuries. I imagined the kings of Italy seated on the throne during their coronation ceremonies. Wow!
The oratory contained the relics of Saint Vittore and Saint Satiro, who was Saint Ambrose’s brother. The San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro sacellum featured a chapel to Saint Vittore. It was adorned with 5th century mosaics, with the bust of San Vittore making an appearance. The walls were striking in blue and showed six saints. The tomb of Emperor Louis II, who passed in 875, was also in the church. The chapels contained paintings by Tiepolo and Bernardo Luini, for example. In the crypt were the remains of saints Ambrose, Gervasus and Protasus.
The six-room museum included artwork and objects related to the church. Some of the highlights were Saint Ambrose’s bed and a cast of Stilicho’s sarcophagus. I also saw mosaics and triptychs.
Finally, I left the basilica, still stunned by the Romanesque pillars with delightful capitals and sarcophagus from 400 AD under the pulpit as well as the golden altar with its precious stones. The Christ Pantocrater mosaic bewitched me. The museum, too, had been more than intriguing. I gazed at the exterior from the atrium, entranced. My next stop was the Church of Saint Maurizio, where I would be overwhelmed by beauty once more.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
When I visited the Cathedral Museum in Milan, I didn’t expect it to be so big. The museum measured 2,000 meters square, and there were 26 rooms. Set up in chronological order, the artifacts included stained glass windows, paintings, tapestries, architectural models, sculpture, bronze doors, goldsmithing artifacts and more. The museum, located on the ground floor of the Palazzo Reale, allowed me to see the various phases of construction from its foundation in 1386 to the 20th century. The museum dates back to 1953. Ten more rooms were added in 1960, and it was reopened in 1973. It underwent major renovation during this century, too.
Placed in the museum during 2013 after renovation was completed, the Treasures of the Cathedral are on display in two rooms and feature liturgical objects from the 5th to the 17th century. I saw the Cross of Chiaravalle, a masterpiece of Romanesque goldsmithing art. The Cross of San Carlo was another goldsmithing object that amazed. It was made in Mannerist style during the 1500s. The cross is even used in cathedral ceremonies new archbishops are inaugurated. La Pace di Pio V, dated around 1565, utilized lapis lazuli decoration on columns and a sarcophagus. The cross was studded with diamonds. Gold decoration added to its beauty. Il Calice delle Arti Liberali is a chalice placed on a copper gilded frame. Made in Milan during the 1500s, the chalice has enamel decoration.
Perhaps my favorite part of the museum was the section with the stained-glass windows. I was enthusiastic about having the opportunity to see stained-glass windows up close. These panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament had been created by artists from Lombardy, France, Germany and the Netherlands. I loved stained-glass windows, and they were my favorite part of the cathedral’s interior. I spent so much time staring at those windows when I was inside the cathedral.
The sculpture was another delight. The marble Late Gothic figures hailed from the first 50 years of the cathedral’s construction. There were also statues made of terracotta from the Mannerist and Baroque eras. A few of the noteworthy sculptures featured Saint Agnes, Saint George and Galeazzo Maria Sforza. The Sforza noble family had had a vast influence on the city’s development and politics. I also was amazed by the gargoyles. I was thrilled that I had the chance to see them close up.
A model of the entire cathedral comprised three centuries of work and was made at a scale of 1:20. Another model that caught my attention was an early 16th century wooden rendition of the cathedral, made by Bernardino Zenale from Treviglio. This model provided insights into the structural development of the various sections of the cathedral, such as the apse, transept and tiberium.
I found the objects in the museum stunning. I was flabbergasted by their beauty. I had expected a small museum of liturgical items, not such an amazing array of artifacts. I had learned how the cathedral had been constructed in various eras and about the main players in the history of the structure.
Leaving the Museo del Duomo, I was very satisfied with my visit and ready for the temporary Titian exhibition in the Palazzo Reale.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
When I looked at the Palazzo dell’Arengario, which houses the Museo del Novecento, I thought that the exterior was an eyesore as it was punctuated by a Fascist style of architecture. It was intriguing, nonetheless. The two symmetrical buildings each had three tiers. Arcades made an appearance as well as did bas reliefs. Even though construction commenced in 1936, the palace was not completed until 1956. During World War II, bombs severely damaged the edifice. In the early years of the 21st century, it was renovated. The museum opened in 2010. About 400 works by mostly Italian artists are on display in chronological order, decade-by-decade.
A spiral ramp takes the visitors to the first three floors. It may look like something out of science fiction, but I thought the ramp interrupted the space. I thought it was more of a hassle rather than a unique and innovative feature. In the Hirschhorn or Guggenheim, the ramp and the locations of the artwork complement each other. I felt that at the Museo del Novecento the ramp and pieces of art worked against each other, dividing rather than complementing.
The first painting that caught my attention was the large canvas called TheFourth Estate by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. It was lcreated from 1898 to 1902 in Divisionist style. This kind of painting utilizes individual points of color in a neo-Impressionist fashion. Depicting workers on strike, the painting gets its name from the working class that embodies the meaning of “the fourth estate.” Out of the crowd of demonstrators and into the light step three figures, two men and a woman holding a baby. They are walking toward the viewer confidently, not at all in a hurry. They are clearly there to try to reach a deal with their employer. But they are not panicked or nervous. They have terms and conditions that have to be met. The colors in the painting have a cold quality, but the light gives the group a vibrancy that makes them look powerful and in control of the situation.
Foreign artists represented included Georges Braque, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian. Indeed, these works are some of the most significant in the collection. Klee’s Wald Bau from 1919 and Kandinsky’s Composition 1916 stand out, for example.
One section of the museum focuses on Italian Futurists, such as Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla and Fortunato Depero. In fact, one room is dedicated to Boccioni’s works. I had visited a museum featuring Depero’s works in Rovereto a few years earlier, so I was familiar with the Futurist style. Born in Italy during the early 20th century, Futurism looked to the future rather than to the past. It praised modernity and technological advances. Industrial cities, cars and airplanes were often subjects of Futurist artworks. Depero’s creations certainly looked like they were in motion. I recalled some people depicted in one work as resembling machines.
The Novecento of the 1920s is well represented with a style that was inspired by ancient Roman art and Renaissance art, which are meshed together in an abstract way. Giorgio de Chirico’s surrealism is on display, too. In fact, his creations take up an entire room. Art Informel by Italian artists and the Azimeth group are featured in the museum, too. The last section follows trends from the Sixties to the Eighties with exhibits of Kinetic Art, Programmed Art, Pop Art, Analytical Painting and Conceptual Art. Lucio Fontana’s works take up the top floor. Take a look at his neon sculpture and you’ll realize what an artistic journey you have taken from the social realism of The Fourth Estate floors below.
A few works worth mentioning include Giacomo Balla’s Ragazza che corre sul balcone from 1912 and Umberto Boccioni’s Svilippo di una bottiglia nello spazio from 1913-35. Balla’s painting showing a boy running on a balcony is dynamic and vivacious as it shows spontaneous movement and the joy and innocence of childhood. The colors of blue, brown and green with white help to create the sense of motion that is central to the painting. Futurism is all about movement as opposed to the static and still life qualities of Cubism.
While Boccioni was also a Futurist, his bronze sculpture Sviluppo di una bottiglia nello spazio showcased a bottle on a plate in unique way that is reminiscent of a natura morta. This kind of still life was not at all typical for Boccioni’s style because of its lack of movement.
Amedeo Modigliani’s portraits were on display, too. He painted the Parisian art collector Paul Guillaume with one eye, for instance. In Arturo Martini’s sculpture La convalescente from 1932, the sick, young woman who is the subject of the work has been forgotten and abandoned. Her empty gaze and lost look practically ripped through my heart. It reminded me of when I was taken downstairs on a stretcher to have my gallbladder operation. The nurses left me on the stretcher in the empty space next to the operating room. I could hear the doctor trying to wake up the patient. At first she didn’t respond. He had to talk to her several times. For a few minutes, I thought that I had been abandoned and that the woman having the operation before me had died. I wanted to run out of there, but I was drugged and could hardly move. Finally, she regained consciousness.
I particularly liked De Chirico’s surrealist works with vibrant colors. His I bagni misteriosi was inspired by a 16th century work by Lucas Cranach. Ever since I was a child, I have loved Klee’s abstract art. For me Klee’s art has a sense of rationality and logic that I often find absent in abstract works.
On the third floor there are glass walls that provide great views of the Duomo Square and the cathedral as well as Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade. I stood in that room for a long time, surveying the passersby walking to and fro below me, gazing at the long line to enter the cathedral and the people having lunch at expensive restaurants on the square. It was nice to be up there, looking down at the crowds on that scorching hot May day.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.
A theatre and classical music aficionado, I was excited to tour the La Scala Theatre in Milan, where operas and ballets were staged. Classical music concerts by two orchestras also took place there. A chorus called the theatre home, too. I bought my ticket for the tour online before traveling to Italy. I was not disappointed.
First, I gazed at the exterior. The neoclassical building emphasized functionality. It blended in with other buildings on La Scala Square. I had assumed the famous edifice would stand out with an exterior featuring much ornamentation. When the theatre was built, the square was nonexistent, and La Scala did not have a dominant location on the street. It was one of many buildings. Still, it looked elegant. I gazed at the decorated tympanum with bas relief and stucco adornment. I also saw half-columns and two sides of an interrupted balustrade along with decorated parapets.
Once inside, I had some free time before the tour so I walked through the Theatre Museum. I saw many busts of famous members of the opera ensemble, statues, paintings and musical instruments, such as a piano that Franz Liszt had played. There was a special costume exhibition there, too. I am afraid that I am not an expert at opera, so I was not able to recognize all the names of those represented in the museum. A legendary conductor that had worked magic at La Scala was Arturo Toscanini. He had put into place many reforms and had staged works by Richard Wagner, for instance.
Numerous operas by Verdi had been performed at La Scala, and Verdi had made a name for himself with Nabucco, staged at La Scala in 1842. Maria Callas had sung on that stage, her amazing voice filling the auditorium. Herbert von Karajan had conducted concerts at La Scala. I was familiar with his work. I had some of the concerts he had conducted in various places on CDs.
In 1965 Claudio Abbado made his debut. He conducted operas as well as concerts. Riccardo Muti first conducted there in 1981. From 1989 to 1998, he created productions of masterpieces such as Rigoletto, La Traviata and MacBeth.
Operas by Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Amilcare Ponchielli, Vincenzo Bellini, Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti and Karlheinz Stockhausen all had premiered at La Scala. The small museum was very intriguing and certainly a delight for opera lovers.
At the beginning of our tour, the guide told us about the history of the building. The city’s Teatro Regio Ducale burned down in 1776, and Milan needed a new theatre for operas. This edifice was constructed over the site of a demolished church called Santa Maria della Scala, from which the theatre got its name. The owners of the boxes at the destroyed Teatro Regio Ducale paid for the construction. It took two years to build.
Teatro alla Scala opened on August 3, 1778, staging Antonio Salieri’s opera Europa riconosciuta. The La Scale Theatre became an important meeting point for the upper class. At that time, there were no chairs on the main floor, so spectators had to stand during the performance. Also, there was no orchestra pit. Over 80 oil lamps provided light on the stage area while about 1,000 additional lamps were situated elsewhere in the building. Buckets full of water were stored in several rooms in case of a fire. Electric lighting was not installed until 1883. In the early days, the owners of the boxes decorated their spaces themselves, choosing various colors of wallpaper, for instance. In 1844, the boxes all were decorated in red. Today remnants of the original décor can be seen in some boxes. Some are adorned with ceiling frescoes or with mirrors and stucco ornamentation.
However, a casino was also located in the building during the initial seasons. There was a space in the theatre where much bartering took place. For example, people swapped horses. The voices in the foyer could be quite loud so that it was sometimes difficult to hear the performance.
Significant renovation took place in 1907. The seating area originally had 3,000 seats, but after reconstruction the number of seats decreased to 1,987. In 1938 movable bridges and levels were added to the stage, so it was easy to change sets immediately. The system was actually quite complex.
La Scala was badly damaged by bombs during World War II. The theatre was reconstructed and opened with much aplomb in May of 1946. More restoration work occurred between 2002 and 2004, and the ensembles had to perform elsewhere for those two years. Today the theater is divided into four sections of boxes and two galleries for a total of six levels. The backstage area was enlarged during that renovation. The new stage remains one of the biggest in Italy. (Looking at the stage, I was struck by how large and deep it was.) Architect Mario Botta had an electronic system installed next to seats so spectators could read the libretto in English, Italian or the original language of the production while watching the spectacle. This technological feature intrigued me.
In 2005 there were many problems with management. In 2006, during a performance of Aida, the audience was incessantly booing tenor Roberto Alagna. The actor left the stage and did not return. His understudy had to take up the role immediately. He didn’t even have time to put on a costume.
The interior style was neoclassical with gold and red colors dominating the seating area. Medallions and floral as well as animal motifs provided adornment inside. I was overwhelmed by La Scala’s beauty. We sat in the royal box for a short time and watched a rehearsal for Gioconda, which had had its premiere at La Scala centuries earlier. We weren’t allowed to remain there for long, but it was still one of the highlights of my visit to Milan.
Maybe next time I come to Milan I will be able to attend an opera or a classical concert at La Scala.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.