Osek Monastery Diary

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Note: No photos were allowed inside

I traveled to the picturesque region below the Krušné Mountains to see Osek Monastery in 2018. It was my second visit in eight years. I remembered shivering with cold as I wore my rather thin jacket during that first visit, probably in October of 2010. Feeling partially frozen, I waited patiently for the bus back to Prague after a wonderful tour. I had enjoyed my time there immensely, but what I remember most is the cold that seeped through my garments.

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It was July when I came back for another look at the Cistercian monastery that was founded in the early 13th century, though monks had called the area home even at the end of the 12th century. This time, I arrived by car with a friend.

The Church of Our Lady at the monastery was a Romanesque creation, built as a three-aisled basilica in the shape of a Latin cross. The chapels and choir are rectangular. Measuring 76 meters long, during Romanesque days it was the biggest monasterial church in Bohemia.

The monastery was damaged during the Hussite wars of the 15th century during two years. The Hussites detested the Cistercians because, among other reasons, they were the wealthiest order in the Czech lands. The Thirty Years’ War brought devastation to the holy place. From 1580 to 1628, the monastery was closed.

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In the early 18th century, the Abbot Benedict Littweig ordered Baroque reconstruction. Two cupolas, the façade, sculptural ornamentation and the main altar all hail from that time period. The main architect of the makeover was an Italian born in Bohemia, Octavian Broggio from the Litoměřice region. He favored radical Baroque style and had experience working in Prague and in the area where he was born.

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During 1945 and 1946, the German monks who were living there were resettled in Germany for a while, and during 1961, they were sent to Germany again. At one point, the Salesians lived there, but the order was closed in 1950. The year 1950 would be the beginning of dreadful times. From 1950 to 1953, the monastery was used a detention center for priests. After that, it became a detention center for nuns. The Cistercian monks reclaimed the property in 1991 and left in 2010, when Abbot Bernard Thebej, who had overseen the monastery from 1991, died.

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I waited for the tour as I gazed at the Baroque façade with a superb portico. Saints John, Mark, Luke and Matouš faced me. I saw Saints Peter and Paul above them. I thought of the other Cistercian monasteries I had visited. In south Bohemia, I had seen both Vyšší Brod and Zlatá Koruna. At Vyšší Brod, I was most enamored by the library of 70,000 volumes, the third Czech monastic library. The Theological Hall with one of the largest collections of Bibles in Central Europe had also captivated me. I recalled the elaborate Rococo stucco decoration and numerous Rococo wall paintings at Zlatá Koruna as well as the early Gothic Chapel of Guardian Angels. Near Kutná Hora, not far from Prague, Sedlec Monastery had amazed me with its Santini-created Baroque Gothic style interior and paintings by Baroque master Petr Brandl. Plasy in west Bohemia also came to mind. Santini had done his magic there as well, and the Baroque pharmacy had such superbly painted drawers. I had toured Plasy at least three times. I had been impressed by Velehrad in Moravia, but I had been there so many, too many, years ago.

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The guide took us inside. The superb interior was pure Baroque with much stucco ornamentation. I was particularly drawn to one side altar because of its extremely morbid character. The altar featured Christ on the Cross, flanked by two angels, but the ornamentation made it feel creepy. It was adorned with figures of skulls and bones in Classicist style. At the foot of the Cross, there was a golden skull. I recalled the Cycle of Death murals at Kuks, a former hospital in splendid Baroque style. I had visited it on several occasions, so I was well-versed with the Baroque obsession for skeletons, skulls and bones. At the altar, there was a reliquary with remnants of Saint John the Baptist and other saints. All the chapels were impressive, but this one especially caught my attention.

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Interior of the church, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

There were two Baroque cupolas. I saw painted windows on one – a trademark of the Baroque style. Two Baroque organs graced the church. One of them had 666 pedals, giving it a mystical quality.

The choir benches – Baroque, of course – were amazing, made with intarsia decoration of wood on wood. The inlays were breathtaking. Black spiral columns and gold ornamentation added to the Baroque ambience. The guide opened a cabinet behind a bench: Hymnbooks were stored there. I could imagine the Cistercian monks singing in celebration and could almost hear their voices resound through the church. In front of the choir, there were modern benches where services were currently held. Facing these benches, underneath the floor, was the tomb of the last abbot.

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The main altar included impressive sculptures of the four apostles. Figures of angels also had prominent roles in the adornment. The painting of Assumption of Our Lady – the patron saint of the Cistercians – was the work of Jan Krištof Liška, a truly remarkable Czech artist. Václav Vavřinec Reiner, whose monumental painting I had seen at Duchcov Chateau a few months earlier, was responsible for the painting of the side altars as was Michael Leopold Willmann. Reiner also had created, along with Jan Jakub Steinfels, the ceiling paintings in the main nave and chancel. They portrayed scenes from the life of Christ and from the Old Testament.

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Aerial view of Osek, from http://www.mapio.net

The cloister surrounds a garden that is decorated with three tombstones from the 14th to 16th centuries. Eighteenth century paintings promoting the history of the order are features of the cloister. I could see Romanesque traits in the entrance portal to the cloister from the church.

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Vaulted ceiling, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

We passed by Well Chapel. A well, the monks’ source of water for a lengthy period, was the central element of the chapel, as the name suggests. Sculptural decoration adorned the well. On the wall behind it, there was a bright orange sliver of glass. This piece was original, dating back to the Gothic era. At that time, the glass had been brightly colored.

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Reader’s Lectern in Chapter Hall, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

The Chapter Hall was a Gothic delight. Constructed from 1225 to 1250, it was one of the first Gothic buildings in the Czech lands. The sandstone sculptures from this era were impressive. A Gothic statue of the Madonna hails from around 1430. Monks had frequented this area every day. In the middle of a room was a reader’s lectern from which monks would read aloud to those gathered in the space. A Gothic mechanism allowed the top of the lectern to swivel from side to side. In the chapel, the altar looked a bit flamboyant for late Gothic, with white and gold decoration. The wall paintings illustrating the history of the order were newer, dating from 1750.

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Gothic ceiling, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

Near the entranceway to the chapter hall was a dog’s paw print. I wondered what kind of dog had made the imprint and if the dog had lived during the Gothic period or Baroque era.

I loved that the monastery’s architecture celebrated both spectacular Baroque and Gothic styles. After the tour, my friend and I found a busy restaurant with outside tables, where we had delicious food. The establishment seemed to be the popular place for lunch in the town.

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Our stomachs filled with a satisfying lunch, we headed back to Prague. I had learned during the tour that the monastery would soon be closing for three years to have the entire interior renovated. I felt lucky I had had the chance to visit before the renovation and knew I had to come back in three years, to see an even more superb Baroque and Gothic creation.

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

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Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin Diary

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Located next to the Gemaldegalerie of painting masterpieces, the Museum of Decorative Arts(Kunstgewerbemuseum) in the Kulturforum complex holds a very underrated and impressive collection of top-notch exhibits in fashion, design and object art from the Middle Ages through the Art Deco period. I was particularly impressed with the monumental Renaissance tapestries.

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To be sure, the medieval and Renaissance art was astounding, especially the Guelph Treasure from the 12th century. Objects from the Baroque era also stood out, including furnishings and a cabinet of curiosities from that era. Rococo porcelain, such as Meissen, is well-represented, too. The Art Nouveau and Art Deco collection spans from 1900 to 1920. I was drawn to the Art Deco vases and the furniture in both styles.

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On the lower level, there is an intriguing exhibition of chairs from the 19th century to the present. It was fascinating to see how chair design had developed through the ages. One chair was made of what looked like wire; I could not imagine how painful it would be to sit on it. Another resembled an ice cream cone in a playful yellow with white color combination.

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Normally, I am not interested in fashion at all, but this collection caught my undivided attention. I loved the stunning evening dresses plus the older fashions from 1700 to 1850. I could never wear a corset! This museum outdid my expectations, and I came away with a fonder appreciation of fashion, design and art in general.

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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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Hanspaulka Diary

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Baroque Chapel of the Holy Trinity, Nad Komornickou Street

One of my favorite pastimes in Prague is taking long walks through architecturally intriguing sections of the city. My favorite quarter in Prague is the villa-dotted Hanspaulka area in Prague’s sixth district, which is ideal for long walks on sunny days.

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The quarter gets its name from Jan Pavel Hippmann, inspector of the archbishop’s farms during the 18th century. In German his name was Hans Paul, and his nickname was “Hanspaul.” He built a Baroque-Rococo chateau in the area and lived there for 40 years. His chateau was dubbed “Hanspaulka.” The section has been known as Hanspaulka for more than 200 years.

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The quarter has not always been dotted with villas. From the 14th century, it was a section of vineyards and six small chapels to which residents from all over the city flocked. (Two of these chapels are still standing.) Today’s main street, Na Pískách, was filled with sand. It gets its name from the Czech word for sand – “písek.”

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Before the Thirty Years’ War, there were about 120 vineyards in Hanspaulka. The war did a lot of damage, to put it lightly. After 1627 many owners decided to try their luck abroad, abandoning their vineyards. During 1637 only 50 vineyards remained. The vineyards were devastated by war again in the middle of the 18th century, and only two were revived. There are no vineyards in the section now, but many streets are named after former owners of vineyards.

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While the first villas cropped up in the 19th century, the architectural boom of villa construction occurred in the 1930s. Well-known architects, such as Karel Lhota, designed many of the luxurious homes there.

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Baroque chateau

The chateau is definitely one of the main sights in the area. It has a late Baroque façade. After World War I it became an archeological museum. In 1996, it was sold to a private company. Now it houses the institute of former Czech president and long-time politician Václav Klaus.

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Pavel Janák, photo from Brněnský architektonický manuál

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The interior of St. Matthew’s Church

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The pulpit of St. Matthew’s Church

St. Matthew’s Church was originally a rotunda. The church came into being in 1404, but the original structure was demolished in 1770. Its current appearance dates back to the late 1800s. Legendary film and theatre actor Josef Kemr and architect Pavel Janák are buried in its cemetery. I remember seeing Kemr on stage, and I even owned some films in which he had performed. I admire Janák’s Cubist and Rondocubist styles of architecture. I recalled that he designed Prague’s Adria Palace and some villas in the Střešovice quarter of Prague’s sixth district. He had also drawn up the plans for the functionalist Baba Housing Estate near Hanspaulka. Janák also contributed to the architecture of Prague Castle.

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Josef Kemr’s grave

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The buildings in Hanspaulka show off a variety of architectural styles. You will come across a Neo-Baroque villa with balustrades, oriels, dormer windows and small towers and a Neo-Classicist villas, too. A former popular pub was built in geometric Secession style. Another former pub served as a meeting place for underground artists during the Communist era, and today a plaque commemorates the establishment. Art Deco townhouses as well as villas with sculptural decoration and ceramic veneers are sprinkled throughout the quarter. Hanspaulka was not always a quarter catering to the wealthy. In the 1930s members of the working class would take out mortgages to buy the Art Deco townhouses. They were allowed to live in one room, always opting for the kitchen, until the mortgage was paid off.

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Functionalism and Purism are no strangers to Hanspaulka. In fact, the first functionalist villa in Prague was built in Hanspaulka. The design of this villa was greatly influenced by the works of Le Corbusier. It features a semi-circular balcony and a roof terrace. A former French high school, built from 1930 to 1934, features classrooms lit from both sides and terraces where classes can take place if weather conditions permit. While I admire a variety of styles from Romanesque to Neo-Gothic, functionalism is not my cup of tea. Still, I admire the architectural characteristics of these villas.

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The Linhart Villa, the first functionalist villa in Prague

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The former French school

Unfortunately, not all the buildings are so elegant. One structure was constructed during the early 1950s in the style of social realism, which prevailed under Communism. The two sections of the building have house signs that glorify the working class.

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The house sign glorifying the working class, social realist architecture

Demolished in 2014, the Hotel Praha was another eyesore in a style that may appear to fit into the social realist realm but really has Western characteristics. It was built from 1975 to 1981. An exquisite chandelier hung in the foyer, and the terrace offered magnificent views of the city. Until the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the hotel served as accommodation for guests of the Communist government. Now it is a garden that is not open to the public. An international school will be constructed on the premises in the near future.

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The Hotel Praha, now demolished, from Pintarest

Many famous Czech personalities have lived in Hanspaulka – Nobel Prize-winning poet Jaroslav Seifert and actress Lída Baarová, who was Nazi Minister Joseph Goebbels’ mistress for two years while she was residing in Berlin. I recalled discovering Seifert’s poetry as I delved deeper and deeper into my studies of the Czech language, when I was a student at Prague’s State Language School.

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Lída Baarová, photo from lidovky.cz

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The villa where Lída Baarová lived – Her sister committed suicide here.

Baarová certainly had led an intriguing life. Hitler ordered Goebbels and Baarová to end the affair and banned Baarová from acting. At a premiere of one of her films in Berlin, paid moviegoers shouted insults at her, and the screening had to be cancelled. Baarová could not take it anymore. After having a nervous breakdown, she moved back to Prague and then to Italy. However, the end of the war did not mean the end of her problems. Back in Czechoslovakia after the war, the authorities suspected her and her family of collaborating with the Nazis. Her mother died while being interrogated, and her sister committed suicide. Though she was never charged, Baarová spent a year and a half in custody. When freed, she moved abroad. She died during 2000 in Salzburg. Baarová is buried in Prague.

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Jaroslav Weigel on the left, Ladislav Smoljak on the right, from Murder in the Parlor Car, Divadlo Járy Cimrmana, photo from filmer.cz

I know that the late film and theatre director / actor Ladislav Smoljak, best known for his roles at the Jára Cimrman Theatre, lived in the area because I used to see him with his adorable dog at the local vet.

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The villa of Alois Eliáš

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A plaque commemorating Alois Eliáš is situated on his former home.

Czech politician and General Alois Eliáš, who was deeply involved in the resistance movement during World War II, lived in this area. He was executed by the Nazis.

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Vlasta Burian’s villa

I was most intrigued by the fate of Vlasta Burian, who had a luxurious villa with a swimming pool, gym and tennis courts in the area.  Burian made a name for himself as a film and theatre actor during the First Republic, which lasted from 1918 until 1939. I have enjoyed watching all his films available on DVD. I admire his comedy for its improvisation, black humor and satire. From 1923 to 1956, he made four silent films and 36 with sound.

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Vlasta Burian, photo from revueidnes.cz

Unfortunately, Burian suffered from manic depression. He also had his share of trials and tribulations. Burian was branded a Nazi collaborator after World War II because he had performed a small role in one radio play spouting Nazi propaganda. During these bleak times, he wound up serving several prison terms, working in the mines and later serving food in a cafeteria, as he wound up destitute. The Communists had taken away all his property and belongings. The authorities confiscated his villa during the 1950s, when the Communists placed a nursery school there.

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Plaque commemorating Vlasta Burian on his villa

Burian was rehabilitated in 1994. After the Velvet Revolution, his grandson was given the property and now rents it. The villa is once again luxurious, though without a swimming pool. The tennis courts are still standing. A plaque commemorating Burian was placed on the house in 1998.

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Sometimes, when I am taking my walks, I ponder over Hanspaulka’s role in the 1945 Prague Uprising, when the Germans were retreating. One-third of all the German soldiers were housed in Dejvice, the area that includes Hanspaulka, as the Nazis had their military headquarters in this district. German officers occupied many villas in Hanspaulka, taking over those, which had belonged to Jews.

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On May 4, 1945, Hanspaulka residents were hugging in the streets, rejoicing that the Germans could not win the war. But things were not that easy. The residents cut off important streets from the Germans and put up about 45 barriers in the quarter. At first, they had few weapons, but then they were able to confiscate weapons from 60 German officers whom they arrested. The Czech inhabitants also obtained weapons from German trucks and cars and prevented Germans from escaping. The Nazis had their area headquarters at Hanspaulka’s elementary school, where they stashed their weapons and had their barracks.

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Even when Praguers had overcome the Germans in many parts of the city, the fighting in Hanspaulka continued. Germans set fire to houses, pillaged homes and killed Czechs. They fired on any villa where Czechs lived, especially at homes displaying the Czechoslovak flag. While one high school student named Náďa opened her window to see what was going on, the Germans shot her dead. The resistance fighters created a makeshift hospital with 24 beds and four doctors plus 24 nurses. Someone had to guard the corpses piled in an abandoned building on Na Hadovce Street to prevent people from stealing the deceased’s coats, shoes and other clothing. Two of the dead left there were German women who had gassed themselves when they realized their country had lost. In the early morning hours of May 9, the Soviets liberated Hanspaulka and took over the school.

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A plaque marking the site of a former pub where underground artists gathered under Communism

I would think about how peaceful it is in Hanspaulka now and how chaotic and horrific it must have been during the uprising – villas on fire or pillaged, piles of corpses, Germans shooting at homes displaying Czechoslovak flags. Usually, my thoughts during my walks are not so bleak. I admire the beauty and elegance of the quarter today, and the variety of architectural styles never fails to dazzle me. I take note of the functionalist, Neo-Classicist, Neo-Baroque and Art Deco architecture. I like the Art Deco style best. On the main street there are several quaint cafes with outside seating in the summer, and I sometimes stop there and enjoy the sunshine. During my walks, I also am able to sort out my own problems and feel at peace after a stressful day or week.

More photos to come as the weather becomes more agreeable!

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

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Baroque Chapel of Saint Michael, Na Pernikářce Street

Kozel Chateau Diary

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I took a bus with Student Agency to Pilsen (Plzeň in Czech), a city in west Bohemia where I have explored the historical underground, the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, art galleries, excellent restaurants and the main square, to name just a few. Pilsen was very dear to me, and I loved coming here on day trips. This time, though, I was getting a train to Šťáhlavy, and from there I walked to Kozel Chateau, which I had visited about 10 years earlier on a perfect, sunny summer day.

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This day was by no means perfect. It was cold, and the dark clouds threatened rain. Still, I knew that would not stop me from enjoying this unique chateau, built in Classical style, with four wings surrounded by an inner rectangular courtyard. The architect was Václav Haberditz, who had been based in Prague. I wished I had more information about him, but he was not well-known.

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The design had a simplicity and sobriety to it that I admired. It was restrained, symmetrical and orderly. While I loved traveling to Baroque chateaus, I also appreciated this style that harkened back to forms utilized in classical antiquity. The chateau did not need any fancy exterior fittings to project its beauty.

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I reacquainted myself with its intriguing history. Kozel was erected from 1784 to 1789 for its owner, Jan Vojtěch Černín of Chudenice, who worked for Emperor Joseph II as the supreme huntsman of the Czech kingdom. The chateau, not surprisingly, was designed as a hunting lodge, though a few years later it became the family’s summer residence.

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In the 1790s the chateau was expanded. Four new buildings came into being thanks to Prague architect of Italian origin Jan Nepomuk Palliardi, who specialized in the Classicist style.

The chateau had not always been called Kozel. Its original name was the German Waldschloss or Jadgschloss bei Stiahlav. It is not known how the chateau came to be called the Czech word meaning goat, though a legend says that the ancient Slavs used to sacrifice a goat on this spot during the spring equinox in hopes of receiving a bountiful harvest.

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Jan Vojtěch Černín died childless, so his grandnephew Count Kristian Vincenc Valdštejn-Vartenberk inherited the property. Kozel remained in the family until it was nationalized in 1945 and did not undergo any major changes. I admired that the chateau remained in its original style. So many chateaus underwent such drastic makeovers over centuries. During the 19th century, one owner was Arnošt Valdštejn-Vartenberk, whose claim to fame was establishing an ironworks in Pilsen during 1859. He sold it to Email Škoda in 1869, when the business took on the name Škoda Works, and before long this enterprise would become the most prestigious and largest engineering works in what was at the time Austria-Hungary.

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I walked through the park, though the weather was chilly. I saw ducks, swans, a big pond and a vast expanse of land that merged with the countryside. Here I felt at one with nature. I remembered the last time I was here. I had spent time reading on a bench as well as gazing at the idyllic scenery in the park.

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Now it was time for my tour. The interior was nothing like the Classicist exterior. It was extravagant, luxurious, plush. In one of the first rooms, I admired a clock from London that had only one hand; it dated back to the 16th century. I did not recall ever seeing a one-handed clock. Graphic sheets from Italy showed Italian villas and chateaus, and I was reminded of my passion for Italy and my exciting travels there. How I would love to visit those villas and chateaus! I wanted to see everything in Italy just as I wanted to see everything in the Czech Republic.

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I saw a Classicist commode decorated with intarsia and a few Baroque fans, one showing off a scene of people, dogs and horses. A King Louis XVI bureau hailed from the 16th century and was adorned with Greek and Roman mythological scenes. The intarsia decorating the piece of furniture was outstanding. There also was an impressive tiled stove. I would see similar stoves in all but one space, it turned out.

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Next, we came to the entrance hall. I loved the wall painting by Antonín Turova, who made the room resemble a winter garden with walls showing green ivy on trellises. His al secco method of painting on dry lime plaster was exquisite. I thought of the illusive painted altars I had seen in churches, such as the remarkable one at Hejnice Basilica in north Bohemia. A movable Rococo lamp also caught my attention.

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The Smokers’ Drawing Room included a Classicist bureau and two Rococo cabinets with Meissen porcelain. A collection of pipes was on display, too. It reminded me of my grandfather, who had for many years smoked a pipe. I remember scrutinizing his collection of pipes when I was a child. Then I recalled how proud he was when I was nine and took up his hobby of coin collecting. We walked into one coin shop, and he announced, “This is my granddaughter!” Even today I can see the saleswoman’s smile.

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A bedroom was decorated in 18th century Rococo style with a Classicist bed. The graphic sheets on the walls hailed from Germany and portrayed aristocratic life during the 18th century. I admired the shell decoration on the Viennese porcelain.

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In the Dressing Room, I wanted to relax on the Rococo chaise-lounge and yearned to take home the Renaissance jewel chest inlaid with ivory. In the Hunting Salon, a Baroque desk featuring intarsia showed off hunting motifs. While I was not a fan of hunting, that piece of furniture did impress me.

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There was a Billiard Room as well. I recalled playing pool with my father when I was a child. I played badly, but we had fun. It was treasured father-daughter time. My interest was riveted by the landscape paintings by German and Italian painters. In the Dining Room I gawked at the black-and-gold Baroque thermometer and faience portraying birds and cabbages. The only fireplace in the chateau was Rococo in style.

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The biggest space was the Drawing Room for Social Occasions, where a painting by Turova caught my attention. It showed Radyně Castle, now a ruin, located near Pilsen. I recognized Kozel below it. There were birds, trees, ancient ruins, dogs and an eagle in the painting. The walls were stunning. Medallions were inspired by mythology. I saw Hercules holding a boar, for example.

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The Blue Room or the Countess’ Study intrigued me with its Louis XVI style furnishings. I loved the intarsia table shaped as a globe. It could be adjusted to be an embroidery table or a desk. I would love to have that in my living room, though the cat would probably sharpen her claws on it. Another white tiled stove, this one quite ornate, was on display. A bedroom also boasted Louis XVI furniture and a Classicist mirror.

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The Music Chamber had served that purpose when Jan Černín created it for his first wife Josefína. I took special notice of the piano and harp. I loved the music instruments painted on the walls. The grey-and-light blue painted walls impressed me, too. We came to the Grey Room, the original living room of the countess’ chambermaid. It included Biedermeier furniture from the 19th century. I loved the symmetry of that style, the orderliness, the simple elegance. I took special note of the portable embroidery table that can be closed like a purse – exquisite! Porcelain in display cases also caught my attention.

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The Morning Dining Room showed off a series of Viennese porcelain with shell-shaped adornment. Meissen porcelain was no stranger to the room, either. The Count’s Study featured oriental objects. I loved the turtle figure that looked like a dragon. It hailed from the 18th century. A gilded Classicist desk that featured intarsia was another highlight.

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The library was divided into two parts. It included over 7,900 volumes from 1517 to 1840, including the first edition of a French encyclopedia and 17th century maps. Books from 18th century France were in abundance. The library’s volumes were in various languages – Old German, French and Latin, for example – but, as was the case in many chateau libraries, none of the books were written in Czech. It is worth noting that the library was only moved to Kozel after 1945. It is not original.

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The next room, the Empire Drawing Room, was decorated with Empire style furniture. I loved the painted vedutas of Italian spas on the walls. I thought back to Monreale’s Santa Maria Nuova Cathedral in Sicily and the Church of Saint Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) in Rome. What about those arcades in Bologna and all the masterpieces in Ravenna? I loved Italy so much, but I loved the Czech Republic even more. One painting of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius caught my attention. I recalled the views from Mount Etna and from Mount Vesuvius during my trips there. The Viennese porcelain was another treat in that space.

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There was a theatre on the premises, too. Created in the 1830s, it was originally a stable for Jan Vojtěch Černín’s favorite horse. Decorated in Empire style, it was composed of a small, modest stage that served as an intimate space. The equipment was original. The owners’ families had often performed here. I studied the stage set of a lush forest with a wooden church, a tree in the middle.

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What impressed me more than the furnishings of the interior was the wall painting of the interiors, the work of Prague artist Turova, who drew his inspiration from Rococo painting with landscapes and ancient ruins. He also decorated part of the monastery of Břevnov in Prague’s sixth district, and I remember touring the impressive monastery church too many years ago. He painted the interiors over a two-year period, from 1787 to 1789. The reception rooms boasted female figures, putti and deities, for example. The main chateau Drawing Room featured romantic ruins and landscapes.

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The Chapel of the Holy Rood was a vaulted structure with a cupola. The altar, created in 1794, featured a painting of the crucifixion by Turova. Columns and pilasters were not absent, either. The organ was Rococo in style.

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Soon the tour finished. I greatly appreciated this unique architectural structure of pure Classicism. I was impressed that very few changes had been made over so much time. I was also impressed that the chateau had stayed in the family for so long rather than having many owners, each making his or her own changes to the place. The painting decoration inside particularly thrilled me. I was fascinated how the inside could be so different from the outside of the building. I thought the exterior and interior somehow created a sense of harmony, even though they were composed of such different architectural elements.

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I went around the back of the chateau and looked at the countryside from a terrace with a fountain. The views from the chateau were astounding. I only wish the weather had been better. It was not possible to explore paths as it began to rain. Still, I was satisfied with my trip. I went back to Pilsen to take a look at the Brewery Museum and grab a bite to eat at the legendary U Salzmannů restaurant and pub. Then I took a Student Agency bus to Prague, where I returned home, happy to be living in such an amazing country with so many places to explore.

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

 

Kladruby Monastery Diary

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I had visited Kladruby Monastery about 20 years before I participated in the arsviva tour of architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel’s creations in west Bohemia. I had wanted to pay the Benedictine Monastery another visit for a long time.

I already knew a bit about the fascinating history of the place. Kladruby Monastery was founded by Prince Vladislav I during 1115. It was established on the Nuremberg-Prague trade route. The monastery made quite a name for itself at the end of the 12th century and during the 13th century. The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Saint Wolfgang and Saint Benedict was consecrated in 1233 with King Wenceslas I on hand for the ceremony. (King Wenceslas I was not the only royal to visit the monastery; King Přemysl Otakar I held negotiations there during the 13th century, too.)

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There was much looting later that century, but around 1370, a new abbot was appointed, and the situation improved. The Chapel of All Saints was added during that period. Then Hussite Wars brought devastation to Kladruby. The Hussites and then the army of the Emperor Sigismund took control of the monastery in the 15th century. The Benedictines returned in 1435, though it took about 70 years for things to shape up. The monastery flourished during the early 16th century, and more monks called Kladruby home. This was a glorious time of expansion. A school was set up; both Catholics and Protestants attended.

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Things took a turn for the worst with the onset of the Thirty Years’ War. The monastery was looted and pillaged. Because the Catholics won, Kladruby was once again in favor after the wartime turmoil. Expansion and reconstruction took place in the Catholized land.

Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, a Czech architect of Italian origin, became associated with the monastery in the early 18th century, when he was in charge of doing a makeover of the church in Baroque Gothic style, which emphasized Gothic features in a distinctly Baroque style. Thanks to his efforts, the church interior is bewitchingly beautiful.

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In 1785 Emperor Joseph II dissolved the monastery. The Benedictines packed their bags, and the Windisch-Graetz clan moved in. During their tenure, they divided the monastery into apartments. One part of the complex was made into a brewery. The Windisch-Graetzes, however, did build a library that is rather impressive.

Kladruby was nationalized after World War II, and terrible times were to come. Sick cattle grazed on the monastery’s property while other parts were transformed into offices. Reconstruction did not begin until the middle of the 1960s.

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I was especially intrigued by the Dining Room, which showed off an 18th century pewter service. What I found most intriguing, however, was the portrait of Cardinal Schwarzenberg. No matter where I stood, his eyes were always staring at me. I gazed at the portrait of the red-drapery clad cardinal with a stern expression from several angles.

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In the ambulatory we saw many sandstone statues by Late Baroque sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun, one of my favorites. His works are so dynamic and powerful. It was evident that Braun’s sojourn in Italy had influenced his creations. Most of these statues were inspired by Greek and Roman historical themes while some stood for allegories of character traits. They were all original except for the statue of Count František Antonín Špork, who had been a prominent cultural figure and patron of the arts in the early 18th century. He had founded Kuks, a former hospital that had once been located across from a popular spa, and he commissioned Braun to make statues of vices and virtues for the Baroque exterior of Kuks.

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I had visited Kuks for the third time the previous year, and Braun’s statues were certainly a highlight. The newly restored Dance of Death paintings lining a hallway and the Baroque pharmacy there were also impressive. I had also examined the statuary carved from sandstone rocks in Braun’s Bethlehem, situated near Kuks. Those accomplishments are by no means the only ones on Braun’s résumé. He authored several statuaries on Prague’s Charles Bridge, such as The Vision of St. Luthgard, which was his first work. It brought him much acclaim. At Kladruby we also saw 12 woodcuts depicting scenes from Christ’s childhood. It astounded me how it had been possible to portray so much detail in the 16th century carvings.

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At the monastery there are about 500 sculptures, paintings and portraits of John of Nepomuk, the Czech patron saint of Bohemia who was drowned in the Vltava River on the orders of King Wenceslas IV during the latter part of the 14th century. The king and archbishop were at odds over who should be the abbot of the prosperous and influential monastery. John of Nepomuk showed his support for the Pope by confirming the archbishop’s candidate, which infuriated the king. John of Nepomuk became a saint in 1729.

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Then came the Santini-designed Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Saint Benedict and Saint Wolfgang. Santini had been inspired by the Italian radical Baroque use of geometry and symbolism. I see Santini’s structures as rational yet radical. Santini elevates Gothic art to a new form, offering fresh perspectives and giving new insights. I fondly recalled last year’s arsviva tour of Santini’s structures in east Bohemia and Moravia. I had learned so much about Santini’s creations, and my appreciation of the architect had grown.

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Santini was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a stonemason, but palsy prevented him from doing so. As a student he was mentored by Prague-based architect Jan Baptiste Mathey. During a four-year sojourn in Italy, Santini became enamored with works by Italian architects Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarnini and their radical Baroque style. Santini was commissioned to reconstruct many religious sites. Baroque art became the fashion during the era when the Catholic army triumphed in the Thirty Years’ War and remained so afterwards, when the Catholicism flourished in the Czech lands. During a mere 46 years, Santini cast his magic spell on about 80 buildings.

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It amazed me how the church at Kladruby – the third biggest church in the Czech lands – retained its Gothic charm while also celebrating the Baroque style. I loved the details, such as the slots for candles in the benches of the choir. The pulpit was shaped like a boat rocking on a stormy sea. The Baroque organ – which still worked – boasted 1,270 pedals. Santini designed the impressive organ case. At the bottom of the main altar, there was a small statue of Christ on the cross, and I noticed that the Christ figure was crooked. I wondered what that symbolized. Two devils appeared in paintings in the church as well. Directly below the gushingly Late Baroque dome decorated with a scene of the Assumption was a large eight-pointed star of many layers. It was just one of many eight-pointed stars symbolizing the Virgin Mary that appeared in the church. I also liked the Romanesque elements that Santini had retained. I loved the many frescoes on the walls as well as the church’s stucco ribs and helical vaults. The play of light was also dynamic. Light played such a major role in Santini’s designs.

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The high altar, one of Braun’s masterpieces, was perhaps the most intriguing as it featured both Gothic and Baroque elements. It showed scenes from the life and torment of Jesus Christ and scenes from the history of the Benedictine Order. The Assam brothers, who had been Late Baroque gurus, had also decorated sections of the church.  I recalled the church in Munich that they had decorated. The Late Baroque adornment there was so overwhelming that it had made me dizzy.

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We also visited the Windisch-Graetz Empire style library, which held 33,000 volumes and included a gallery. On display were weapons of various sorts and objects obtained during travels abroad.

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I was more than satisfied with my visit to Kladruby and would recommend it to everyone who has time to see sights in west Bohemia. What impressed me most about Kladruby’s history was that it reflected the history of the Czech lands going through eras of prosperity, destruction and rebirth. Visiting the monastery was like reading a 900-year old illustrated text. Santini’s geometric symbolism, his use of Gothic and Baroque elements and the play of light greatly impressed me. Braun’s statues were so lively. Each facial expression told a story – some of delight, some of anguish. It was as if it was possible to see into the soul of each character represented in the statues.

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

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Dance of Death Paintings at Kuks Diary

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NOTE: See my Kuks Diary for more information on Kuks hospital.

I visited the former Baroque hospital Kuks for the third time last year, soon after reconstruction. In the early 18th century, a spa had been situated across from the hospital, but it was destroyed by a flood in 1740. At Kuks visitors can admire 24 Late Baroque statues of vices and virtues by master sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun, a Baroque pharmacy, a pharmaceutical museum, a lapidarium, a chapel, a church and a crypt. Lining one hallways are 50 Dance of Death paintings that were beautifully restored during the recent reconstruction.

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The Dance of Death or Danse Macabre genre in art was revived during the Baroque age and not only at Kuks. It began during the Late Middle Ages in 15th century France. The artistic renderings show death personified summoning people from all walks of life to dance. No one – neither kings nor beggars – could escape death. During medieval days the plague had ravaged Europe, and this was one artistic way to try to come to terms with so many deaths riddling the continent. Dances of death also played roles in religious plays presented in churches. People looking at these paintings during the hospital’s Baroque heyday were supposed to dwell on the fragility of life. Thus, the Dance of Death emphasized a certain mentality, a specific outlook on both life and death.

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

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