I visited Prague’s National Technical Museum for the first time in 2023, even though I have been living in Prague for more than 25 years. I am not a big technology fan and didn’t think I would be very interested in the exhibits.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The museum includes sections on astronomy; chemistry; sugar and chocolate; transportation; printing; household items; photography; the measurement of time; architecture, civil engineering and design; metallurgy and mining, for instance. A TV studio used by Czech television from 1997 to 2011 allows visitors to sit behind a news desk and see how the TV technology works. A mock mine from the 1950s makes up another exposition. In this post I will concentrate on my two favorite parts – transportation and architecture, civil engineering and design.
Television studio in National Technical Museum
The history of the museum itself is intriguing. Vojtěch Náprstek, a Czech patriot and world-traveler, established the Czech Industrial Museum in 1862. While many exhibits from this museum are now in the Náprstek Museum, some pieces in the collection found their way to the National Technical Museum, which was founded in 1908. Two years later, the museum opened in Prague’s Schwarzenberg Palace near the Castle. After Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, it moved to the Letná district of Prague, where it is situated today. Construction took place from 1938 to 1941, but, during the Nazi Occupation, the building was used as the ministry of the postal service. After World War II, the museum was located on Letná again, though it was not allocated the entire building. In 1951, new expositions were created, such as transportation, mining, astronomy and photography.
Wicker seat for passengers from Czechoslovak Aria BH-25 airliner, 1920
After the Velvet Revolution that had brought democracy to Czechoslovakia, the museum was able to utilize the entire building. However, there were difficult times ahead. During the 2002 floods, the museum’s depository in the Karlín district was heavily damaged, and some of the artifacts were ruined. Reconstruction started in 2003. In 2011, five expositions were opened. Still, construction wasn’t totally finished until 2013.
Masaryk’s presidential car
Zigmund and Hazelka’s car in which they traveled throughout Africa and South America
The main hall housing the transportation section is vast and overwhelming. Automobiles, a train dining car, planes, a boat, motorcycles and bicycles all make up the breathtaking exhibition. I liked the Tatra 80 car from 1935, the automobile of the first president of democratic Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, because I was interested in the First Republic era from 1918 to 1938. I also was excited to see the Tatra 87 car of world travelers Jiří Hanzelka and Miroslav Zigmund. They traveled around Africa and South America in that car from 1947 to 1950 and did more than 700 reports for radio broadcasts about their trips. The two had been the dynamic duo of travel: They visited more than 100 countries. They also made films, mostly documentaries, and wrote books together.
The dining car of Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I and later of President Masaryk
I was enamored by the dining car of Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I, which in 1923 became part of Masaryk’s presidential train. When President Edvard Beneš returned to his homeland from exile after the war in 1945, this dining car was part of his train. The dining car was put out of commission in 1959.
A sailing boat called Nike was on display, too. Czech Richard Kankolski had sailed around the world in it during 1972, and, at that time, it earned the distinction of being the second smallest boat to sail around the world.
Three planes that saw action in World War I also are displayed, including an American one. Dating from 1911, the plane manned by the first Czech pilot Jan Kašpar is part of the exhibition. I was drawn to the British Spitfire that members of a Czechoslovak squadron of the RAF had flown during World War II.
Germans drove this kind of motorcycle when they occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939.
I was very interested in the various bicycles and motorcycles, too, even though I vow never to ride either of them. A bamboo-made Slavia bike hails from 1905. The BMW R11 from 1932 caught my undivided attention because the Germans had driven these motorcycles when they occupied Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939. I tried to imagine seeing so many of these motorcycles at Prague Castle with the flag of the Third Reich fluttering from the flagpole. The very thought was chilling.
Milan Špinka’s bike
The first series-manufactured motorcycle in the world
I also saw the Jawa 500 – 891 from 1973. While the Soviet Union had excelled on ice speedway competitions, this is the motorcycle on which Czech Milan Špinka defeated the USSR in the world championships of 1974. Another motorcycle that interested me was the Hildebrand & Wolfmuller from 1894. It was the first series-manufactured motorcycle in the world. The one on display is the first motorcycle manufactured for the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Indian brand, 1915, manufactured in America
Czechoslovak observation balloon, 1934
The architectural part of the museum covers the developments in the Czech lands from the second half of the 19th century to the present. Styles of historicism, secession, cubism, constructivism, functionalism and socialist realism as well as modern works are all represented. I loved the architectural models, especially those of villas in Prague, the Czech Pavilion at Expo 58 in Brussels and the Czechoslovak exhibition pavilion at the World Arts and Technology Exhibition in Paris during 1936. I loved to take walks through the villa-dotted sections of Prague’s Baba, Ořechovka and Hanspaulka quarters. In this museum, I saw models of famous villas in the Hodkovičky, Podolí and Troja districts of Prague, for instance.
Czechoslovak World Arts and Technology pavilion, Paris, 1936
Director Martin Frič’s villa in Hodkovičky, 1934-35
Top: Stýblo’s villa in Podolí quarter of Prague, 1935-36, Bottom: Villa of film director Věra Chytilová in Troja quarter of Prague, 1970-75
I liked the model of the column with lantern in front of Our Lady of the Snows Church in Prague because it was unique, Cubist in style. I also took notice of the Cubist Petrof BB upright piano. The model of the television transmitter and hotel on Ještěd Hill in Liberec brought back memories of the magnificent views from the observation point at the restaurant and hotel. Some models showed off designs by masterful Czech architect Jan Kotěra, including the East Bohemia Museum in Hradec Králové, which had extremely impressed me about a month previously, and the reconstruction of Saint George’s Church in Doubravka near Pilsen in west Bohemia. The museum in Hradec Králové was constructed from 1906 to 1913 while the church hails from 1899. Architectural plans and photography rounded out the exposition.
Ještěd Hill Hotel and Restaurant
Cubist column in front of church – top photo, Cubist piano – bottom photo
I was glad I had finally visited this museum that offers valuable insights into the technical world. The main hall with various exhibits of transportation was amazing, and my interest in architecture compelled me to take a close look at the exhibits in that section. Overall, it was a day well spent.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
This permanent exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Hradec Králové showcases the works of some of the most influential Czech artists of the 20th century. I liked the fact that the works were organized by person with commentary about the artists’ backgrounds and styles. I will highlight the creations that most influenced me, although all the painters and sculptors are important.
First, about the building housing the Gallery of Modern Art: Like many edifices in Hradec Králové, the museum is an architectural gem. Facing the town’s main square, the building that was completed in 1912 by Osvald Polívka is impressive with two statues flanking the façade. These sculptures were made by Ladislav Šaloun in 1908 and show allegories of commerce and the harvest. Reliefs of atlases with dogs at their feet also make up the external ornamentation. Polívka’s Art Nouveau designs can be found in Prague’s Municipal House, which he decorated from 1905 to 1912. I tell everyone coming to Prague to tour the Art Nouveau Municipal House, as it is certain to be a highlight of any visit. Šaloun created the statue of Jan Hus that dominates Prague’s Old Town Square.
Several banks were housed in this building before and during the First Republic. For many years under Communism, the Cotton Industry Association and an agricultural company called the place home. Renovations took place in the late 1960s. In 1987, the totalitarian regime transformed the building into the Museum of Revolutionary Traditions. This totalitarian exhibition was closed after the 1989 Velvet Revolution that freed Czechoslovakia from Communist control.
In 1990, the Gallery of Modern Art took up residence there. From 2014 to 2016, both the interior and exterior underwent a vast renovation. A walkway was formed around the central atrium, for example. The interior boasts geometric shapes, floral designs and Art Nouveau-styled adornment of garlands and cherubs. I especially liked the stained glass window decoration.
Here are some of my favorite artists represented in this exhibition:
Fate of the Artist, 1909
The expressive sculpture of Quido Kocián was influenced by symbolism and Art Nouveau. I love how he was able to express basic emotions like love and suffering. I went to a superb exhibition of his work about 15 years ago on Husova Street in Prague. In some statues I could see the turmoil and anguish of the persons depicted. Other sculptures triggered feelings of happiness and fulfillment. Kocián had a knack for depicting various psychological states and the depths of the human soul. He studied under legendary artist Josef Václav Myslbek but wound up rebelling against Myslbek’s traditional style, opting for expressiveness instead. Kocián’s works were not fully appreciated in the Czech art history sphere for a long time.
A member of the artist Group 42, Zívr focused on everyday life, a feature that is dear to me in all art forms. Inspired by Cubism and the creations of Otto Gutfreund, he made sculptures that have machine-like qualities as well as human traits. He had a penchant for surrealism. After the world wars, Zívr was influenced by nature, and his works portrayed strong symbolism. I liked the way he was able to express a person’s soul through primitive forms.
I had been to a large exhibition of Kolář’s works in Prague’s Kinský Palace some years ago and was very familiar with his collages that included cut out images and words from publications. (See my article about the exhibition in a much earlier post called Jiří Kolář Exhibition Diary) He was a poet and prose writer as well as a fierce critic of Communism. Kolář emigrated to Paris in 1979. He often used phrases from books or created his own poems in his collages. His works lingered on the border of the dream realm and reality, a trait I found very intriguing. A staunch supporter of democracy, Kolář was also one of the first Czechs to sign Charter 77, a document written by dissidents to promote human rights in the normalization era of Communist Czechoslovakia. He played a major role in publishing literature banned by the regime. Kolář was also one of the founders of the influential Group 42.
Scene by the Fire, 1984
I know Róna’s sculptures well, but I was not familiar with his paintings. Róna designed the abstract Franz Kafka Monument in Prague’s Jewish Quarter, an important sculpture to see in the Jewish Town. He is, indeed, a man of many talents: He has also worked as a painter, illustrator, screenwriter, author of books, actor, singer and educator. His works have a certain dynamic energy. He has been inspired by the Expressionism style of Edvard Munch, Oskar Kokoschka, Max Beckmann, Egon Schiele and Pablo Picasso. A supporter of democracy, he drew brochures for the Velvet Revolution during 1989. Rona is also an avid traveler. His sculptures can be found at Prague Castle as well as on the island of Crete and in many other places.
I liked the mystical quality in Váchal’s works. He was a graphic designer, wood engraver, bookmaker, writer and painter who excelled in all those genres. Váchal was inspired by expressionism. His works featured symbolism, naturalism and Art Nouveau tendencies. A soldier during World War I, he fought in 12 battles. The Communist coup brought hard times for Váchal, who remained isolated after 1948. People did not show much interest in his work then. In the 1960s, he received some acclaim. Much later people recognized that Váchal had created some of the most significant works of Czech graphic design in the 20th century.
Four Seasons, 1914
Because Nekolová was female, she had limited educational opportunities during the 19th and early 20th century. She did, however, study unofficially under the prominent Czech artist, Jan Preisler. Nekolová worked as a painter, illustrator and graphic artist. She steered away from representations of modern life in her works. She was known for her landscapes and for her emphasis on motherhood. Nekolová strove to promote the national identity of the Slav nation. She developed a strong interest in folk culture. At the end of World War I, Nekolová was hospitalized. She died in 1919 at the age of 29.
In the Kitchen, 1908
A prominent avant-garde artist, Kubišta helped found the Expressionist group the Osma (The Eight). He was a painter, graphic designer and theoretician and is considered to be the founder of Czech modern painting. His works dealt with existential issues. Kubišta’s expressionism was inspired by Munch. He was also influenced by Braque and Picasso’s Cubism. Kubišta analyzed the works of Eugene Delacroix and Vincent Van Gogh. His works also contain elements of Futurism and Fauvism. Kubišta often explored themes dealing with modern technology and nature. While serving in the Austrian army during World War I, he won the distinguished Leopold Order. He died of the Spanish flu at the age of 34 in 1918.
Dance of Salome, 1911
Hej hore háj, Folk Song, 1948
Along with Kubišta, Filla established the Osma group. He also was known for his writings about art theory. During his early artistic endeavors, he drew inspiration from Edvard Munch’s Expressionism. Later he took up Cubism, influenced by Picasso and Braque. He also was captivated by Baroque still lifes by Dutch painters. El Greco and his symbolism fascinated Filla. In the 1930s, he became enthralled with surrealism. His landscapes demonstrate his knowledge of Chinese calligraphy. My favorite trait in his paintings involves his use of a harmony of colors.
Repression (Anxiety) by Josef Wagner – temporary exhibition
I especially liked the exhibition’s pieces of art influenced by Expressionism and Cubism. The colors and shapes in Kubišta’s and Filla’s works caught my undivided attention. I was introduced to Nekolová’s art and intriguing background at this exhibition. I was fascinated how Quido Kocián captured the emotions of the human soul in his sculptures while Zívr concentrated on simple forms to create profound meaning. Kolář’s collages were a sort of visual poetry. Váchal and Róna’s creations displayed impressive energy.
Moscow Diary, 1989 by Anna Daučíková
It was my first visit to Hradec Králové, except for brief stops at the train station and bus station. The Gallery of Modern Art with its poignant exterior and interior decoration and use of space was one of the most impressive buildings I saw.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
Landscape, 1962 by Vladimír Boudník
Apollo and Dionysus, 2013 by Anna Hulačová
The gallery also has an impressive collection of contemporary art.
Beach in Crimea (In A Small Bay), 1936 by Věra Jičínská, temporary exhibition
See my post Věra Jičínská Exhibition Diary for more information on this temporary show.
Věra Jičínská – On the Terrace, 1934. Photo from webpages of Gallery of Modern Art, Hradec Králové.
What I like most about visiting Czech museums outside of Prague is that I often find an exhibition dedicated to an artist who is underrated and has been overlooked by the capital city’s art scene.I was in luck when I visited the Gallery of Modern Art in east Bohemia’s Hradec Králové because I came across an exhibition dedicated to the late artist and writer Věra Jičínská, who had made a name for herself in Europe during the interwar years. While she is best known as a painter, the thrilling show also emphasized her penchant for traveling and her talent as a journalist, photographer and designer. Back then, women were not expected to have careers but rather to dedicate their lives to raising a family. Jičínská demonstrated her independence by concentrating on an artistic career, smoking and sporting short hair.
Beach in Crimea (In a Small Bay), 1936.
Jičínská grew up near Brno and later studied in Prague at the School of Decorative Arts. She spent the following years living abroad, exhibiting her art during a seven-year sojourn in Paris after spending two years in Munich. In Paris she became steadfast friends with Czech painter Jan Zrzavý and composer Bohuslav Martinů. Her early career was influenced by Purism and Cubism, but during 1925 she developed a Neoclassical style. By the 1930s, her works were imbued with bright colors.
Parisian rooftops, 1923-24.
The exhibition’s display of paintings inspired by her travels was my favorite section. Jičínská’s paintings of Brittany’s landscape and fishing tradition captured my attention. That was one place I longed to see. Her romantic rendition of Paris’ rooftops and the Eiffel Tower brought back memories of my visits to the French capital. I went up the Eiffel Tower for the first time when I was a junior in college.As my friend and I enjoyed the sights from early morning until night every day, we drew energy from the electric atmosphere of the city and its many wonders. Her works showing places in Hungary and Czechoslovakia also captured my attention.
The Eiffel Tower, 1927.
Jičínská also became known for painting female nudes, a subject that, up until then, only had been taken up by male artists. She celebrated the female body in her works, even painting pregnant women. Dance was another theme she dealt with. The bright colors of her painting “Alexander Sakharov in a Fantastic Burlesque” captured the vibrancy of the dance. She was fascinated by folk culture. Her “Girl in Folk Costume” emphasized the beauty of the people, their costumes and folk traditions. Some of her art focused on Hindu dance themes, too.
Journalism by Věra Jičínská
In the early 1930s, she took up journalism. Her articles examined modern culture – theatre, film and architecture, for instance. The profession of journalism was also the theme of some of her paintings. I had spent time as a culture writer for various publications, and her thirst for knowledge in the cultural sphere made me feel a certain kinship.
In 1930 she married a former classmate. The following year the couple moved to Prague, though her work was still exhibited throughout Europe. Together, the two trekked to Slovakia during 1933 and 1934, and she documented her trip with masterful photographs. Her pictures from Slovakia brought out the character of the people photographed. There was no exaggeration or embellishment to the photos. She emphasized everyday activities in her snapshots. This feature made me think of my favorite Czech writer, Bohumil Hrabal, who, in his fiction, stressed the beauty of everyday life. Ever since I read his books, I have become more appreciative of the little things in life that, up until that time, I would often take for granted, the small joys that take on so much meaning when they are gone.
Still, the one photograph that impressed me the most featured gulls swooping around Prague Castle. I was reminded of one of the many views that had made me fall in love with the city – Prague Castle from several of the bridges, Prague Castle from the Vltava embankment, Prague Castle from the window of a flat I had rented long ago. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, I found great solace in that postcard perfect view from the apartment where I was living at the time. It helped me deal with the tragedy of that day, which would be forever etched in so many minds. Jičínská also took poignant photos during trips to Poland, Russia and Ukraine.
In 1937, her life changed again. Jičínská gave birth to a daughter whom she named Dana. While she devoted much time to motherhood, she did not give up her career. She even exhibited works during World War II. By 1941, she was concentrating on working with pastels to create a colorful dynamic and rendering many landscapes. In 1946, the couple bought a cottage in Říčky, a village nestled in the Orlické Mountains. Jičínská often painted there, and many Czech artists visited the couple during the 1950s.
The Communist coup of 1948 had had a devastating effect on Jičínská and her family. Her husband’s publishing house was nationalized, and he was no longer the boss but rather one of the employees. Her parents had lived in a villa in Brno, but the Communists only let them occupy several rooms. To make matters worse, her father saw his pension dwindle.
Girl in Folk Costume, 1929.
Due to the financial hardships, Jičínská branched out into more artistic fields. She designed postcards and became a designer who often worked with ceramics. In 1952 she was restoring a ceiling fresco at the Czechoslovak Academy of Arts and Sciences when the scaffolding collapsed. She was severely injured and could not continue as a painter. She focused on her work as a designer. On March 27, 1961, a year after her daughter married, Jičínská died in Prague.
Before this exhibition I had not even heard of Věra Jičínská. After seeing her works, I appreciated the obstacles she must have come across pursuing a career as a female artist, journalist and traveler during the interwar years. I grew up playing baseball and ice hockey with boys, and I often was the only girl in the baseball league. But that was nothing compared to what Jičínská had accomplished as a woman breaking down barriers and living an independent life the way she chose to live it, not allowing herself to be dictated by society’s norms.
Alexander Sakharov in a Fantastic Burlesque, 1932.
The Gallery of Modern Art’s permanent exhibitions were also fascinating, and I will write about that in a separate post. Twenty artists from the last century were featured in one section, and contemporary art played a role in the collections, too. But what stood out most for me was the exhibition of Věra Jičínská’s artistic accomplishments.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
I love visiting the exhibitions at the Kooperativa Gallery in Prague’s Karlín district. Kooperativa, an insurance company with headquarters in Vienna, created spaces for a café and gallery in its Prague office building during 2012, when it moved there. The exhibitions are free and very intriguing.
I went to an exhibition of Ladislav Janouch’s passionate sculptures in April of 2023. Previously, I had been enthralled by an exhibition showcasing Czech Impressionist art. The works by Janouch certainly did not disappoint.
Born during 1944 in Prague, Janouch has created not only expressive sculptures but also drawings and sketches. After graduating from the Academy of Decorative Arts in Prague during 1973, he has devoted much of his time to sculpture, participating in 25 individual exhibitions. He studied in Italy on a scholarship during 1980. The materials he has utilized include wood, stone, marble, bronze and metal.
Janouch’s works focus on the human figure. Janouch’s poignant sculptures include mothers with their children, female nudes, mythological figures, athletes and busts of famous Czech personalities. The figures are in various positions – some seated, some standing, some lying down. He takes on mythological themes with his creations of Prometheus and Icarus, for example. Sports enthusiasts will take special notice of the discus thrower captured perfectly in motion. I could almost see the athlete’s twisting torso moving because the work is so vivid.
He has sculpted many busts, including those of professors. His busts reveal not only facial features but also character traits in an emphatic way. Each bust tells a different tale. My favorite, though, is that of the late singer, songwriter and poet Karel Kryl, whose music I listen to often. Kryl’s songs, made up of poignant poetry, protest against the Communist regime.
Kryl emigrated to Germany in September of 1969, during the strict Communist period of Normalization. After the Prague Spring invasion during August of 1968, the Communists had begun their Normalization era of rigid rules. I remember where I was when I heard Kryl unexpectedly had died of a heart attack on March 3,1994 at the age of 49. A waiter in the Na Rybárně Restaurant near Václav Havel’s embankment apartment had told me, and I had shared his sorrow. Kryl had only been in Prague two days before his sudden death; he passed away in Munich. Kryl died shortly after I had discovered his music. I bought all his cassettes and listened to them religiously, scrutinizing the Czech language in poetic form, too. I could feel Kryl’s penchant for protest and devotion to democracy in the face of his bust.
Ladislav Janouch also created busts of his father and grandfather, who had played roles in the Czech literary world. His father, Jaroslav Janouch, had been a writer, editor and translator. His grandfather had made a name for himself as a writer of humorous stories in numerous magazines and six books. (Two were published posthumously.) He had used the pseudonym Jaroslav Choltický. Ladislav’s son is a sculptor, too. In 2020 Ladislav exhibited his works alongside his son’s creations in Kadaň.
I was very glad to familiarize myself with Janouch’s sculptures. I liked the expressiveness in his human forms. His renditions of athletes gave me the most joy. The tender relationship between mother and child was another meaningful feature. I also was especially moved by the busts as each face told a unique story.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader.
I had waited months for the tour of Stanislav Sucharda’s second villa. The first time I had had to cancel due to illness. I had seen the exterior of the Sucharda Villa on Slavíčkova Street for the first time on a tour of Bubeneč in Prague’s sixth district. Constructed for sculptor, designer and medallist Stanislav Sucharda from 1904 to 1907 by architect Jan Kotěra, the villa is shaped like a cube and features a mansard roof, polygonal bay windows and half-timbered gables. To say I was impressed is an understatement.
The studio of the Sucharda Villa, now a separate building
A large studio building, influenced by Cubism, stood next to what was Sucharda’s second villa. A knight figure is featured on its steep roof. This had once been Sucharda’s atelier but now was owned by the government for administrative purposes. Sucharda had needed a large studio after he won the competition for the colossal monument to František Palacký, the founder of Czech historiography as well as a prominent politician. Palacký’s nickname was the Father of the Nation.
Jan Kotěra – Photo from Kralovehradecký architektonický manual
Kotěra received accolades not only as an architect but also as a theoretician of architecture, a furniture designer and a painter. He designed all the interior furnishings for this villa. I was familiar with Kotěra’s National Building in Prostějov, Moravia. The two-winged, L-shaped building in Prostějov was clearly divided into sections for a hall, restaurant and cafes. Kotěra had also designed half of the complex for the Law Faculty of what is now Charles University, which I had often passed on foot or on the tram.
Decoration on Sucharda’s first villa
As I have already pointed out, this was Sucharda’s second villa in Bubeneč. The first one is also on Slavíčkova Street. It is a neo-Renaissance structure that he and his family had inhabited for 10 years. An exquisite painting of the bishop Božetěch is featured on the exterior of this villa. Stanislav sold this building to his brother Vojtěch, who had made a name for himself as an artist, too.
Mašek’s Villa on Slavíčková Street
Indeed, Slavíčkova Street is dotted with villas built for artists, including architect Jan Koula and painter Karel Vítězslav Mašek. The prominent villas on this street were built from 1895 to 1907. On Mašek’s villa there is floral decoration with a painting of the Virgin Mary with Child. Both the Koula and Mašek villas feature motifs of white pigeons. The painting on one side of Koula’s villa is outstanding.
Koula’s Villa on Slavíčkova Street
Back to Stanislav Sucharda: Family members have taken up artistic professions for at least 250 years. Stanislav was brought up in Nová Paka, where his father, Antonín Sucharda, had created and restored sculptures. The five children helped out in their father’s workshop and would continue to pursue artistic careers.
Stanislav attended the School of Decorative Arts in Prague, where he studied under the greatest Czech sculptor of the 19th and 20th century, Josef Václav Myslbek. Every Praguer knows Myslbek’s equestrian statue of Saint Wenceslas at the top of Wenceslas Square. I vividly remember the statue being decorated with votive candles and pictures of Václav Havel shortly after the former president and former dissident died in 2011. The sight had made an unforgettable impression of me and filled me with an immense feeling of loss. Many demonstrations have taken place around the statue, too, even under Communism.
Bust of František Palacký from Maleč Chateau, where Palacky had resided.
Myslbek had been very influenced by the Czech National Revival that promoted Czech culture and the Czech language. I was familiar with Myslbek’s sculptural portrait of František Palacký, who had supported the Czech National Revival, on Palacký’s former home in the street named after him.
Postcard of Sucharda’s Prague and Vltava (1902) printed by Museum of Stanislav Sucharda
It is not surprising that Sucharda’s early creations were greatly influenced by Myslbek’s realism. Sucharda became known for his creations of Czech historical figures and the Slavonic themes in his work, which are two of the reasons his works appeal to me. I love Czech history and studied it in graduate school. After a Prague exhibition of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture in 1902, however, Sucharda’s style became more vibrant and underwent some changes.
Postcard of Sucharda’s Liliana (1909), printed by Museum of Stanislav Sucharda
Sucharda is best known for his sculptural grouping of the monument to Palacký on Palacký Square in Prague’s second district. Many years ago, Palacký’s statue had greeted me every time I took the Metro at the square or rode by on a tram. I had become very interested in Palacký’s work during graduate studies in Czech history, and I found that having a monument dedicated to him near my apartment was refreshing and soothing. The bronze statues of the monument brought to mind the revitalization of Czech history and culture during the Czech National Revival.
Palacký monument on Palacký Square in Prague
The monument also made me think of the Czech nation finally gaining independence after World War I with the creation of Czechoslovakia, even though Palacký had not been alive to see that. I thought of the Czech nation breaking free from the Germanization of the Austro-Hungarian Empire whenever I passed by that sculptural grouping.
A cast of Palacký’s hand by Myslbek
In the same district as his villa, Sucharda had created a monument to composer Karel Bendl. He also built monuments to Czech historical figures Jan Amos Komenský (Comenius in English) and martyr Jan Hus, for instance. Other designs include sculpture for the study of the mayor of Prague from 1907 to 1909.
Sucharda also authored many reliefs, medals and plaques, and his medal designs were highly praised. His medal works even received international recognition. Stanislav became professor of the first Department of Medal Design of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague after spending two decades as a professor at the School of Decorative Arts. He had also served for seven years as the chairperson of the Mánes Union of Fine Arts, which organized many influential exhibitions in Prague and was an important promoter of modern art.
Sokol membership card from 1912. Photo from aukro.cz
For Sucharda there was more to life than artistry. He was an avid member of the legendary Sokol physical education organization, even working as an instructor there. His entire family was involved with this prominent Czech organization.
Then fate intervened. Stanislav served in the military during World War I and did battle on the eastern front. Wounded in the war, he died after returning to the Czech lands in 1916, a year after being chosen to head the medal design department of the Academy of Fine Arts. I thought it was such a shame that he did not get to see the establishment of independent Czechoslovakia with Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk at the helm.
Sucharda’s Second Villa as seen from the garden
The tour of the two-story villa was very impressive as Sucharda’s granddaughter told the group about her father’s work, the pieces of art in the building and the history of the villa. A professional guide was insightful, too. The interior consisted of an English style hall with stained glass decoration on high windows and sculptures, reliefs and paintings. The British architecture of the hall reminded me a bit of Staircase Hall in the Moravian villa of Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič, who had been inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement.
Jurkovič’s Villa in Moravia
We saw works by Edvard Munch and Rodin as well as many Czech creations. Small statues and other artworks decorated the top of an elegant decorative fireplace. Behind plush red seating shaped in a semi-circle was a beautiful stained glass window. I especially liked a large relief by Sucharda in the entrance hall and a life-size statue.
In the narrow hallway there was a fountain with sculptural decoration that employed religious motifs. We also saw the dining room with its paintings, statues, busts and ceramics. Works by Stanislav’s daughter were very impressive. The woodcarving of Kotěra furnishings was masterful. A small conservatory was adjoined to the dining room. Intriguing artifacts decorated the piano, and outstanding paintings decorated the walls. I especially liked a rendition of the Roman Forum by Cyril Bouda. It brought to mind my passion for Italy and the time I had showed my parents the Roman Forum
The garden had an intimate feel. I could imagine sitting there, reading a good book and relaxing on a sunny day.
The Muller Villa in Prague
Visiting villas in Prague was one of my favorite pastimes. I recalled touring the František Bílek Villa, the Muller Villa, the Winternitz Villa and the Rothmayer Villa in the capital city. I had also toured several intriguing villas in Brno and the Bauer Villa in central Bohemia. I would definitely recommend touring these villas. I was glad I was able to get to know Stanislav Sucharda better via his villa and the art within it. I developed a much stronger appreciation of Sucharda’s contribution to modern art. The tour was even more impressive than I had imagined it would be.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
This museum of Renaissance and neo-Renaissance decorated apartments in a palace is one of my favorite sights in Milan. It is big enough to include many treasures but yet small enough to have an intimate feel. Because the exhibition focuses on the Renaissance and neo-Renaissance, I didn’t feel overwhelmed as I often do when displays include many styles from numerous eras.
The history of the museum is enthralling. In the second half of the 19th century, Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi furnished their palace located from via Gesu to via Santo Spirito in Milan with works of Renaissance and Neo-Renaissance art – tapestries, paintings, sculpture and weapons, for example. The furniture hails from Italy, Britain, Japan, France, Germany and Spain. Even though the apartments were transformed into a museum during 1974, the public wasn’t able to view them until 1994.
Giuseppe lived in his apartment with his wife. His five children lived on another floor with their nanny. Fausto had his own apartment on the same floor as Giuseppe. While they managed various charities and traveled, they also had some intriguing hobbies. Fausto enjoyed riding in hot-air balloons and Giuseppe was one of the first to ride a velocipede. They used their Renaissance-furnished apartments for daily activities rather than treating the spaces as a museum. Even though it was decorated to look like the Renaissance, the brothers had installed modern amenities, including hot and cold water and electricity. In fact, this palace made a name for itself as one of the first private homes in the world to install electricity.
I especially liked the coffered ceilings and Latin inscriptions throughout the flats. Throughout the palace I saw the distinguished family crests of lily and eagle. The Neo-Renaissance frames used to display Renaissance art were appealing, fusing the old with the new or newer.
Many spaces captured my attention, including the Fresco Room, where15th century frescoes make a fascinating appearance. The Bevilacqua Room showed off the Madonna and Child by the artist after which the space is named. I took a good look at this innovative work from the 15th century. It was made of glass stones, silver thread, velvet and gold. A coffered ceiling and gold-and-red silk wall coverings added to the elegance of the space.
I have always loved libraries, and this library was no exception. On the 16th century terrestrial globe in the library, North America is labeled as “Unknown Territory.”
The largest room was the Grand Salon with a coffered ceiling adorned with pine cone images. Family crests made an appearance as did Latin inscriptions. The frieze featured a theme from Greek mythology and included 16th century frescoes. The red-and-gold décor gave the room a special sense of grandeur. The six stained glass windows were exquisite.
The living room of Giuseppe and Carolina included 16th century decorated paneling, red furniture with velvet upholstery and a piano. The Red Room, which served as the couple’s bedroom, showed off a coffered ceiling and 15th and 16th century paintings as well as a canopied bed with red covering. A door in this room leads to the children’s floor, so the children never had to walk through the Renaissance-decorated apartments.
The Dining Room was elegant, too. The wall coverings showed the story of Persian king Cyrus. The majolica plates showed scenes from Alexander the Great’s life.
The bed in Fausto’s Bedroom was adorned with head and foot boards sporting 16th century reliefs. The decorated Neo-Renaissance coffered ceiling was another highlight. A 15th century altarpiece also enthralled. I noticed a clock and a lamp shaped like skulls, too.
I noticed the 16th century ceiling decorated with the two family crests and a Latin inscription in Giuseppe’s Bedroom, called “the Green Room.” The headboard showed off a Pieta scene.
The armory was a long and narrow room with helmets, armor, swords and shields. While I am not especially interested in weaponry, it was impressive.
I liked the Bagatti Valsecchi Room where visitors can open drawers and see photos of the two brothers and some of their personal belongings. One photo that captivated me showed the palace after a section was bombed during the second world war. On another photograph, I saw Giuseppe on a velocipede.
After my visit, I decide that this was my favorite museum in Milan because there was so much to appreciate and yet the flats had an intimacy that larger museums lack. The apartments brought the Renaissance to life with its artifacts. The photos of the two brothers made the apartments feel even more intimate. I was given the chance of having a glimpse of their lives, of getting to know them. That the flat was used for daily life and hadn’t been a museum when the brothers were alive made it all the more appealing. The painted coffered ceilings, the elegant beds with canopies and the 15th and 16th century paintings and frescoes throughout made great impressions on me.
I finally left, knowing someday I would be back because this was a museum I could go back to again and again, greatly enriching my life with each visit.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
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.