Nebílovy Chateau Diary

We approached the yellow-and-white Baroque chateau that was located about 16 kilometers south of Pilsen. Nebílovy had two horseshoe-shaped sections, a front and a back wing. The front part of the chateau boasted a beautiful yellow exterior. However, the outside of the back chateau was in bad condition. When my friend saw the back wing, she asked me if the chateau was open.

Because this was my second visit, I was able to explain to my friend that the building in the back sported some beautiful interiors of representative rooms, including a dazzling dancing hall and an impressive chapel. Unfortunately, finances had not yet permitted the exterior of the back wing to be restored. Many rooms in the back wing had to be renovated, and it would take a long time. Czech chateaus and castles just didn’t have the money to do repairs quickly. I wished I was a billionaire and could donate money to cats and the restoration of chateaus and castles in the Czech Republic. Alas, this was not to be.

I was familiar with the history of Nebílovy. The chateau came into existence during 1706 thanks to Count Adam Jindřich from Steinau, who had it built for residential purposes. The Viennese architect who made this possible was Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt. Count Adam Jindřich would be a major player in the chateau’s history. He had made a name for himself as imperial general and field marshal of the Venetian Republic. However, Adam Jindřich passed away in 1712, before construction was completed.

Then Nebílovy was sold to the Černín family, and construction was finished before 1720.  Count Vojtěch Černín from Chudenice, an accomplished hunter, had it reconstructed in the late 18th century, when master artist Antonie Tuvora painted the interiors. Unfortunately, most of his painting had not survived. It was still visible, though, in the 18th century Dancing Hall due to a lengthy and complicated restoration process.

The Wallenstein-Vartemberk clan then had possession of the chateau, but they lived at Kozel Chateau nearby. I had visited Kozel with its one-floor unique architectural style several times. Later, Nebílovy became decrepit and would remain in bad condition for 100 years. From 1816 it was no longer inhabited. It was used for agricultural purposes. After World War I, parts of the property were divided into plots and sold. Restoration didn’t start until 1968, when the state got control. It was open to the public in 1998.

We walked through the park, which had many flower arrangements and an intriguing fountain. One side was fenced off. Sheep, rams and goats called that part home.

Soon it was time for the tour of the front and back wings. Even the hallway of the front wing was impressive with its delightful paintings of herbal flowers. I especially liked one painting near the beginning of the tour – it showed two hamsters eating grapes. I hadn’t seen many hamsters in paintings in chateaus.

One feature I loved during the tour was the presence of impressive Venetian chandeliers. The Oriental porcelain and furnishings also captured my attention. The porcelain in general was also worth praising, especially the Meissen works. An avid tea drinker, I especially liked a white tea cup decorated with painting of ivy and red flowers. It had a cheery, Christmasy feel. I loved Christmas Eve. It was my favorite holiday. Another piece that interested me was a blue porcelain peacock adorned with real feathers. I also was drawn to a black jewel chest, its drawers sporting floral, plant and bird motifs. The pianos in the chateau were another delight.

While we were examining the back building, we saw the Dancing Hall. I stood in the middle of the 180 meters squared room and stared at the wall and ceiling frescoes of an exotic landscape with Classicist and Rococo elements. It almost made me dizzy with glee.

The frescoes were dotted with monkeys, peacocks, birds and ancient ruins as well as a few people in 18th century attire. The palm trees started at floor level and reached to the ceiling. The doors and fireplace became parts of the landscape, surrounded by trees and architecture from antiquity. I particularly liked the painting of the monkey praying. The faux window, made using illusive techniques, was another thrill. A temple stood in the idyllic landscape, where several people relaxed. Broken statues and pedestals added to the motif of antiquity. I was awed at how Tuvora’s delicate work really drew the viewer into the setting. I was even more fascinated by the restoration process of the fresco. They had arranged it into 650 parts and restored each piece during a lengthy process that was not ready until 2013. The fresco restoration had been even lauded by the National Monument Institute.

After the tour, we entered a small doorway from the courtyard of the back building. It didn’t look like it would be anything special. But inside there was a chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony, an impressive Baroque creation with gilded altars that included wonderful statuary. On the other side of the back building, there was a modern art exhibition that was interesting to see.

We soon left the chateau, full of awe at the 18th century interiors and intriguing architecture of the exteriors. Images of the Dancing Hall kept popping through my mind. It was definitely exceptional, a true work of art – precise and masterful. We came back to Prague, knowing our trip was a great success.

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

Palazzo Leoni Montanari Diary

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My visit to the Gallerie d’Italia in the Palazzo Leoni Montanari of Vicenza proved to be one of the most enthralling art experiences I have ever experienced. The gushingly Baroque palace was built in the 1670s, commissioned by Giovanni Leoni Montanari. The combination of statuary, stucco and fresco decoration in the building enhanced my great interest in the exhibitions. Owned by Intesa Sanpaolo bank and opened in 1999, the gallery houses a collection of vases from Attica and Magna Graecia, 18th century Venetian painting, a unique 17th century Carrara marble sculpture and the most impressive collection of Russian icons I have seen outside of the Russian Museum and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. In this post, I am concentrating on the interior of the gallery itself and the exhibition of Russian icons as well as a temporary show of Soviet era icons.

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While the palace is by no means as vast as the Hermitage or Prado, it certainly made an everlasting impression. In fact, its size allows for an intimate atmosphere in which the visitor can become well-acquainted with its displays without feeling overwhelmed, though the gallery is by no means small.

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This definitely is one of my favorite art galleries in the world, ranking up there with the Doria Pamphilj in Rome or Lazaro Galdiano Museum in Madrid. The Baroque palazzo is a work of art itself. Indeed, the palace ornamentation is unbelievably rich. The inner courtyard with loggia features a superb statue of Hercules clubbing a monster to death. Just looking at the statue makes one feel imbued with the mythological character’s strength and determination. I was reminded of the theme of Hercules that was promoted in the Teatro Olimpico, an architectural gem designed by Andrea Palladio and a breathtaking sight I had visited earlier that day. In addition, in the palace courtyard I saw five frescoes sporting classical themes.

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Sculptural adornment greets the visitor in the entrance hall as dragons and hideous creatures make appearances in stucco forms. One space near the main staircase is designed as a sort of grotto with exquisite painting decoration. The Hall of Apollo celebrates that deity as well as Hercules. It features tapestries and stucco portrayals of protagonists from The Iliad, too. The Room of the Old Testament and the Room of Ancient Rome have stunning friezes.  The Room of the Four Continents prominently displays stucco figures of America, Africa, Asia and Europe above the entrances. Frescoes take on historical themes, such as Aristotle mentoring a young Alexander the Great in geography. Allegorical statues also add eloquence to the space.

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The Gallery of Truth is the room that most amazed me. I could not look away for a long time, as I was so mesmerized with the stucco and fresco decoration that covers the entire ceiling. The central fresco celebrates the triumph of truth. Nine muses are represented, too. Putties and garlands abound, and grotesque creatures join in the exuberant fray. The paintings show the feats of Hercules. In this room, I saw him slaying serpents, freeing Prometheus from the rock and holding up the world for Atlas.

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While ceramics are not usually my cup of tea, this collection did feature an impressive 500 items, many unearthed in Ruvo di Puglia, a town in Puglia I had visited the previous year and one of the most tranquil places I had ever seen. It brought back memories of that astounding trip to Apulian Romanesque churches and tranquil settings without hordes of tourists. Puglia had given me a sense of serenity and a feeling of peace. I was reminded of those feelings, as I better comprehended the ancient history of Ruvo di Puglia.

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The 18th century Venetian paintings brought back memories of my trip to Venice, just one of many places in Italy to which I longed to return. The 14 paintings of everyday life in the society of the Venetian nobility by Pietro Longhi triggered thoughts of a Prague exhibition of works by Rococo painter Norbert Grund, who was a masterful observer of his era. Yet Longhi did not only paint common scenes. I also admired his portrayals of exotic animals surprising and enthralling an audience.

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I was entranced with the works of Canaletto and his contemporaries. The Venice landscapes spoke to me. I recalled the exhibition of Canaletto’s works I had seen in Aix-en-Provence a few years earlier. I also thought of the Canaletto painting that I had admired in Nelahozeves Chateau and later in the Lobkowicz Museum in Prague.

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In a room punctuated by stucco decoration, I admired the unique sculpture “The Fall of the Rebel Angels” by Agostino Fasolato, created in the 18th century. Shaped as a pyramid, the sculpture features 60 intertwining figures, all twisting and turning, carved from one piece of Carrara marble. Once on display in Padua, the plethora of figures exhibit a great attention to detail as masterful as that in paintings by Pietor Brueghel the Elder. I was entranced with the dynamic sense of movement attained by the sculptor. The sculpture, indeed, seemed to be in motion as figures wiggled and writhed.

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The Russian icons enthralled me so much that I was just as astounded by this gallery as I was by the comprehensive Van Gogh exhibition at the Palladian Basilicata with its elegant arches and arcades. At this gallery I saw 140 icons ranging in age from the Middle Ages to the 20th century and giving a superb overview of the history of the icon in Russian society throughout the centuries.

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The icons boast various themes. They are inspired by the Bible, legends, liturgical hymns, theological texts and feasts, for instance. The Mother of God and Saint Nicholas are featured in some of the artistic creations. Icons of saints and monks, some with monasteries in the background, make many appearances. I also saw frames and covers for icons made with precious materials. A mastery of the goldsmith trade also is illustrated in some items. The schools represented include Moscow, Novgorod and Vladimír. The icons are organized by subject matter, which was helpful and intriguing.

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I also found the temporary exhibition of Soviet icons by Grisha Bruskin to be very impressive. A monumental painting called “The Fundamental Lesson,” created in 1945, features 256 white figures. The painting stresses the significance of statues in the Soviet Union as each person represented has an ideological meaning. Instead of a celebration of saints, Madonnas and monks, I saw workers, pioneers, athletes, functionaries, astronauts, soldiers and doctors exalted onto ideological pedestals. Small sculptures of these figures are also displayed. There are 25 porcelain pieces and 49 renditions in bronze.

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“The Fundamental Lesson”

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I remembered how, as a child growing up in America, I had been taught by society that Russia was the enemy, all Communists were bad people, and everything was black-and-white. Russia was evil, we were good. I had wondered what life was like in a Communist country. Did people ever cry with joy or truly feel happy and at peace with themselves and with the world? I wondered what people ate, what people wore, what people were thinking about.

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Overall, I was most impressed with this exhibition because it exposes the dangers of Soviet ideology. It impressed upon me how Soviet society had been inundated by the ideological myths represented by the painting and small statuary.

More Russian icons from the permanent exhibition:

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I came away from this gallery with a heightened appreciation of having grown up in a free, democratic society. I had attained a deeper understanding of the art of Russian icons. I had seen a unique sculpture carved with precision. The visit had triggered golden memories of Venice. I had examined Venetian society in the 18th century thanks to Longhi. I had seen artifacts from one of my favorite Apulian towns, Ruvo di Puglia and had thought about that unforgettable trip. I had experienced all this in a building that was a masterful work of art, the Gallery of Truth being my favorite space.

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

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