Libochovice Chateau Diary

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I discovered Libochovice Chateau in 2005 and wrote about it in an article describing chateaus in north Bohemia. It was published during October of that year in The Washington Post. Libochovice is certainly a hidden gem in north Bohemia. I recalled its dazzling displays, stunning tapestries, breathtaking ceiling frescoes and beautiful tiled stoves plus exquisite jewel chests. It is a shame there are not more foreign tourists making the trip there. It has so much to offer the curious castlegoer.
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Before entering the chateau courtyard, I peered at the statue of Jan Evangelista Purkyně, who was born in Libochovice during 1787 and who became one of the leading scientists in the world, as he delved into the studies of anatomy and physiology. His father had worked for the Dietrichsteins, the family who had owned the chateau at that time. For two years Purkyně served as a tutor at Blatná Chateau, a remarkable sight in south Bohemia. Later, he made numerous discoveries in the scientific sphere, such as the Purkinje effect, Purkinje cells, Purkinje fibers, Purkinje images and the Purkinje shift. He also coined the scientific terms plasma and protoplasm. A crater on the moon and an asteroid are named after him.
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Before my trip, I had read up on the history of the town and chateau. Located near the romantic ruins of Házmburk Castle, Libochovice was first mentioned in writing at the beginning of the 13th century. At that time, Házmburk Castle, then called Klapý and by no means a ruin, played a major role in the development in the town. A wooden fortress was built in Libochovice, and it was later replaced by a stone Gothic structure. During the Hussite Wars of the 15th century, the castle in Libochovice was razed, the town conquered.
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The Lobkowiczs took over the properties in 1558, and they were responsible for constructing a Renaissance chateau with 28 rooms on the premises. When Jiří Lobkowicz revolted against Emperor Rudolf II in 1594, he was imprisoned, and his property was confiscated. That’s when the Sternberg family took control. Still, times were not rosy. The Thirty Years’ War did much damage, and during a fire in 1661, the chateau was destroyed.
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When Václav Vojtěch Sternberg sold Libochovice to Austrian noble Gundarkar from Dietrichstein in 1676, a new era had begun. The Dietrichsteins would retain ownership until 1858. The chateau was reborn from 1683 to 1690, designed in early Baroque style. There were four wings with a courtyard decorated with Tuscan pilasters and arcades. A sala terrena on the ground floor led to the garden.
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Unfortunately, Gundakar died before the construction of the two-floor structure was completed. His daughter Terezie was then in charge of the chateau, and she had renovations made in the 1870s. More reconstruction occurred from 1902 to 1912. In the 19th century Johann Friedrich Herberstein added many objects of interest to the chateau collection. An avid traveler, he toured Egypt, Syria, Persia and India, for instance.
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During World War II the chateau’s history was bleak. That’s when Nazis took over Libochovice Chateau. Sixty-five residents of the town and surroundings revolted against the Third Reich and were beheaded by the Nazis. After 1945 the chateau was confiscated and nationalized because wartime owner Friedrich Herberstein had obtained German citizenship. More reconstruction took place throughout the decades, and in 2002 the chateau was declared a national monument.
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I was so excited about this tour. First, we visited the sala terrena, which looked like a richly adorned cave. The vaulted ceiling was incredible. I loved the sea motif as decorative seashells took the shape of a floral design. The reliefs of a sea monster also enthralled me.
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Next, we came to one of the highlights of the chateau, large Saturn Hall, where banquets, balls and concerts had been held. Above the fireplace a stucco sculptural grouping focused on Saturn. The Baroque chandelier, hailing from Holland, also captured my interest.
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From there, we continued to the Baroque section of the chateau. The ceiling fresco in the first room was breathtaking, displaying a mythological scene. A Renaissance chest gilded with ivory and a Baroque jewel chest inlaid with ivory and tortoiseshell were two delights.
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I marveled at the tapestry, one of many I would see in this chateau, in the Big Gallery. It dated from the 16th century, and its theme was the Trojan War. The guide remarked that the tapestries were not put up for merely for show; they had also helped heat the rooms. A Baroque fireplace hailed from 1620. Still, that was not all this room had to offer. A jewel chest featuring carved reliefs hailed from the beginning of the 17th century.
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The Study included an atlas from 1775 with pages of handmade paper. I wanted to turn the pages to find out what the handmade paper felt like. I recalled visiting the papermill in Velké Losiny, located in north Moravia, long ago, when I also toured the chateau there. It had been an enthralling experience, I mused. Then a jewel chest made with intarsia dazzled me. One tapestry in this room showed off a garden party while another sported a plant motif in an idyllic setting. The Baroque stove hailed from 1690. There were so many impressive Baroque stoves in this chateau!
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During the 17th and 18th centuries in the Czech lands, there was much interest in Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The Chinese and Imari Japanese vases in the Oriental Salon reminded me of a trip to Dresden’s Porcelain Museum. The pieces in the chateau were so exquisite. Upon seeing an impressive French Baroque clock, I recalled the one I had seen at Loučeň Chateau a few months earlier. And how I loved jewel chests! This particular jewel chest was inlaid with ivory and tortoiseshell, featured intarsia craftsmanship and portrayed a hunting scene. Another thrilling tapestry was on display. I recalled the exciting tapestries at the Residence Palace Museum in Munich.

In the Bedroom I admired the spiral carved columns of the 17th and 18th century Baroque closets as well as the bed with canopy. A Rococo crucifix was also on display. The tapestry in this room featured King Solomon. I was enthusiastic because I knew there were even more tapestries to come.
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Rococo furniture from the 18th century decorated the Morning Salon. I mused that it must have been delightful to sit in this room and sip black or green tea. Two tapestries portraying the apostles adorned the space. And there was yet another ceiling fresco! This one showed Persephone venturing into the Underworld. I was especially drawn to the jewel chest with pictures of a town carved on its drawers. The attention to detail fascinated me.

In the Ladies’ Cabinet there was a Baroque commode with exquisite intarsia plus a Rococo table and desk also created with intarsia. The three tapestries took up themes of nature and architecture, offering a respite from the religious scenes that the tapestries often portrayed.
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The Men’s Cabinet was decorated mostly with Neo-Renassaince and Second Rococo furniture. A large desk was Baroque. If I had not visited so many chateaus, it would have never occurred to me that the big bowl decorated with images of birds and floral motifs used to serve as an aquarium.
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Next came the chapel. While it was originally designed in Gothic style, the chapel now looks as it did after a 19th century renovation. I admired the stained glass windows. I love stained glass! The Neo-Gothic altar featured the apostles. What captured my attention the most, however, was a 16th century exquisitely carved altar showing off the adoration of the Three Kings. The woodwork was incredible, so detailed, so exquisite.
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The Big Dining Room took on Renaissance and Baroque characteristics. A carpet covered the large table, set for a feast. The tableware was made of pewter, typical of the Renaissance era. On the table there was a bowl that served as a washbasin for guests to clean their hands while eating. And more tapestries to behold! This time the two tapestries portrayed Alexander of Macedonia. Two paintings rendered scenes from antiquity. (The paintings throughout the chateau also are worthy of undivided attention.) Once again, I admired yet another ceiling fresco. This one centered around Aphrodite and Athena. In the corners four female figures in oval medallions represented the four continents. (Australia had yet to be discovered.)
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I liked the Biedermeier furniture in the Small Dining Room. That style seemed to me to have such a sense of order and rationality. Yet I was enthralling by all styles of all eras. The colored decorative porcelain from Dresden and the pink-and-white Viennese porcelain service also caught my eye. The Baroque stove was quite a sight, too.

The Rococo Salon featured furniture of the Second Rococo style from the mid-19th century. The pink walls made the room feel quaint and inviting. Stucco adorned the ceiling fresco. Another Baroque stove and Meissen porcelain made appearances. In a flattering portrait, Terezie Dietrichsteinová – Herbersteinová, a former owner of the chateau, looked calm and content with life. I wondered if I was at a time in my life when I was calm and content. To some extent, yes. And traveling certainly played a major, positive role in my contentment.
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The Empire Salon was decorated with furniture of that style from the 19th century. On the walls were pictures of Dietrichstein properties – Nové Město nad Metují Chateau, Kounice and Mikulov, all rendered masterfully by František Kučera. I liked the clock featuring a tongue that showed the time. The clock making time with its tongue brought to mind images of the living objects in The Beauty and the Beast. From the window there was a splendid view of the park.
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The 19th century library was intriguing because it contained mostly books about natural science and travel, all printed in numerous languages. I had not heard of chateau libraries concentrating on only a few subjects. While about 2,500 books were on display, there were approximately 6,000 volumes in total. Objects that Josef Herberstein had brought back from his travels adorned the room, too. I saw African masks, an African crocodile and a Japanese sword, for instance. Another exquisite Baroque stove stood in the space.
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The last room was the casino. A Russian pool table made in Prague dominated the room. I noticed that the card tables were made with intarsia. Portraits of the Dietrichstein clan hung on the walls. Josef, who loved traveling and hunting, was rendered in hunting attire, armed with a rifle and accompanied by a dog. I mused that he must have been a brave man to travel to such distant lands.
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Next I took a look at the park, which had been created in French style during 1683. Later, it got a Baroque makeover, and then it was changed into an English park. Now it is once again in French style, thanks to 20th century reconstruction. I loved the view of the chateau from the back, which sported floral adornment and a fountain. The chateau looked so majestic when viewed from that area.

I ate lunch at a nearby restaurant on the main square that was sleepy on a Saturday afternoon. Libochovice Chateau had dazzled me once again. The combination of ceiling frescoes, Baroque stoves, jewel chests and tapestries made the chateau unique and irresistible. The paintings also contributed to the majestic interior, where no object or piece of furniture failed to enthrall.
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The interior had plenty to offer. I mused that there should be tours of the chateau offered from Prague. Libochovice deserved numerous accolades, and it was a chateau I would never forget, no matter how many chateaus I visited. The combination of artifacts and the design of the interior made Libochovice unforgettable, a place I could tour 100 times and not be bored. Every object spoke to me; nothing failed to capture my interest and curiosity. Yes, Libochovice is a special place, and my visit made my day a huge success.
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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Lobkowicz Palace Diary

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It was one of those places I had been meaning to visit for a long time, but I had just never gotten around to it. Tomorrow. . .this week. . .next week. . .I would always stay home and write instead of visiting the Lobkowicz Palace. Friends and family raved about the museum. In August of 2015, I finally went to check out the Lobkowicz Museum, which opened in 2007.

The beginning of the audio guide tour had me hooked. William Lobkowicz, the current owner of the palace, did most of the narrating. His grandfather Max was married to a British citizen, Gillian. When World War I started, Max had been a very affluent man. During World War II he served as ambassador of the Czech government in exile in London. He was fervently against the Nazis and was an avid supporter of the democratic First Republic of Czechoslovakia. The Nazis disliked Max not only for his anti-Nazi activities but also because he had a British wife. After the Communists took control of the country in 1948, Max found himself trapped in Czechoslovakia. His wife sent him a letter from London, telling him she was gravely ill. She wasn’t, but the ploy worked. The Communists gave Max two days to visit her. With only his coat and the clothes he was wearing, Max fled from his homeland to join his wife in London. He left behind 13 castles. William’s father had been 10 years old at the time and had been sent to live in the USA.

Max Lobkowicz from lobkowicz-palace.com

Max Lobkowicz from lobkowicz-palace.com


What a story! It sounded like something out of a spy novel or film! It must have been so difficult to leave so much property and so many possessions behind. Thirteen castles! It must have been heartwrenching.

Then I found myself in a large room full of family portraits, starting with those of nobility from the house of Pernštejn. The portraits were not merely faces staring at me. Each portrait told a story about an individual thanks to the information on the audio guide. The people came alive as I listened to intriguing facts about their lives. When I was looking at the Pernštejns, I fondly recalled my visits to Pernštejn Castle in Moravia. It was one of my all-time favorites. I wonder if that had been one of the 13 castles grandfather Max left behind.
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Vratislav Pernštejn, born in 1530, held the distinction of being the first Czech to receive the Order of the Golden Fleece, achieving this feat at the tender age of 25. Later, many more Lobkowiczs would be honored with the award. The Lobkowicz clan was related to King Philip II of Spain, whose tenure on the throne lasted 40 years. His territories even included Central America, the Caribbean and parts of what is today the USA. At one time he was even the King of England. Nicknamed “Philip the Prudent,” he was the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Infanta Isabella of Portugal. The Philippine Islands were named after him. He founded the first trans-Pacific trade route between America and Asia. He also made sure the Ottomans would no longer be a formidable enemy of his lands. He also helped his empire get back on its feet in times of financial crises.
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I wished I could trace my family tree back so many centuries. I knew that I was of Slovak heritage on one side of the family, had a grandmother of Czech ancestry and a grandfather of Scottish origin, but I did not know any details. My ancestors from Moravia were named Mareš, a common Czech surname. My grandmother’s maiden name had been Šimánek, also a common name. I think my decision to move to Prague had something to do with filling up a vast emptiness about my family’s past, wondering who my ancestors were and what they were like. In Prague I felt in touch with a past I had never known, and that was one of the reasons Prague felt like home.

I was reminded of a Diego Velázquez exhibition I had seen in Vienna about a year ago when I gazed at the portrait of Infanta Margarita, then a four-year old member of the Spanish royal family. I recognized her from Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas. While Margarita was immortalized in portraiture, she did not enjoy a long life. She died during childbirth when she was only 22 years old.

I found the Lobkowicz’s involvement in the Defenestration of Prague fascinating. One painting showed the historical event, when Protestant nobles revolted against the Catholics and threw two Catholic ministers and a secretary out a window. This event triggered the Thirty Years’ War. Luckily, the three fell onto a pile of dung and did not die. Two of them took refuge in Lobkowicz Palace. According to legend, Polyxana Lobkowicz hid them under her skirts.
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In the next room I was surrounded by fine porcelain. I saw majolica service from Lombardy picturing a calming landscape of coastal scenes with mountains. It dated back to the 17th century and was made in Italy. I was also enamored by service from Delft, dating back to the late 17th century. I had always been fond of porcelain made in Delft.

The painting in the next room captivated me. Lucas Cranach the Elder had rendered Mary and the Christ child in a painting hailing from 1520. Saint Catherine and Saint Barbara also made appearances. I found out that Ferdinand Lobkowicz had been an avid art collector.
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In a separate space stood a processional reliquary cross, Romanesque in style. Hailing from north Germany in the beginning of the 12th century, it was made of gilded copper and adorned with 30 crystal cabochons. I couldn’t believe I was looking at something that ancient and in such good condition. Whenever I saw Romanesque churches, for instance, I could not believe I was standing in a structure built so many centuries ago. I briefly thought back to the Romanesque church with the fascinating façade in Regensburg.

Then I entered a room filled with weapons and knights’ armor. While I was impressed that the Lobkowiczs possessed such a superb armory, weapons were certainly not my cup of tea. I moved on and soon found myself surrounded by musical instruments, especially violins. I love classical music, and the room calmed me while the armory had made me anxious.

I stared for some minutes at the original score of Part III of the Messiah by Handel as arranged by Mozart. I also saw original scores by Beethoven and Mozart, two of my favorites. The first printed edition, dating from 1800, of the score for the oratorio of The Creation by Haydn also caught my attention. My mind wandered back to those classical music classes at Smith College, where I first became enamored with the above-mentioned composers and many more. An entire new world had opened up for me. I also spent some time gazing at the violins and clarinets, wishing I could play an instrument. I had taken beginners’ piano lessons in college for a year, but that was it. In college I always dreamed of being able to play an instrument well enough to major in music. But it had been just a dream. I wasn’t talented enough, and I had concentrated on my writing.

Haymaking by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 16th century. Photo from www.wga.hu

Haymaking by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 16th century. Photo from http://www.wga.hu


Soon I set my eyes on one of my all-time favorite paintings by my favorite artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It was his rendition of Haymaking, one of only six panels representing the 12 months of the year. Each panel represented two months. Haymaking depicted June and July. I remembered gaping at the Bruegel collection in Vienna’s Kunsthistoriches Museum, where I had admired The Gloomy Day (Early Spring), The Return of the Herd (Autumn) and the Hunters in the Snow (Winter.) Bruegel’s paintings of the seasons had played a significant role in Western art. It was the first time that landscape was the main subject of the painting. Before, landscape had been utilized as a backdrop for religious figures. I admired how nature played a role in the lives of the people depicted in the paintings. Their daily activities were dictated by the seasons. I loved the way Bruegel depicted the common man in everyday activities and put so many details in his paintings. The landscape was stunning and idyllic, too.

The Croll Room was breathtaking. Carl Robert Croll had painted over 50 works for Ferdinand Joseph Lobkowicz during six years in the 1840s. I recognized Jezeří Castle, which the Lobkowiczs sold to the Czech state in 1996. I had visited Jezeří some years ago, but the chateau was in need of major reconstruction. Its location on a cliff was romantic, but restoring the interiors was going to take a lot of time. I wondered how far the restoration work had come during the past years. I also recognized Roudnice Chateau, shown Italian Baroque style from reconstruction that took place from 1653 to 1677. I had been to the art gallery at Roudnice Chateau some years ago, but most of the chateau was under reconstruction. Nelahozeves, also seen here, was one of my favorite chateaus due to its impressive art collection. Not far from Prague, I always recommended that visitors take a day trip there. I had even written a post about it for my blog.

City of London from River Thames with St. Paul's Cathedral on Lord Mayor's Day by Canaletto

City of London from River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day by Canaletto, Photo from http://www.wikiart.com


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Then I saw what have to be two of the most beautiful paintings in the world – two views of London by Antonio Canaletto. I loved Canaletto’s work because he brought out the atmosphere of the place he was painting. I could really feel as if I were looking at London and the Thames in his City of London from River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day from 1748 and in The River Thames Looking Toward Westminster from Lambeth from 1746-47. I recalled the extensive Canaletto exhibition I had seen in Aix-en-Provence during June. I loved the details of the boats and sails.
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On the first floor I saw a portrait of Princess Ernestine Lobkowicz clad in brilliant red and portraits painted by the princess in the 17th century. I wondered how many female portrait painters there had been in the 17th century. The Bird Room featured pictures of birds made with real feathers. On the audio guide William’s wife, Alexandra Lobkowicz, mentioned that she had found the pictures infested with insects and that they took almost a year to conserve. In the Dog Room I focused on a painting of two dogs proudly seated on velvet cushions in 1700. They looked so spoiled with their luxurious light blue and gold collars. Then again, I had always spoiled my cats.
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The Firanesi Room was filled with engravings of ancient and modern Rome, one of my favorite cities in the world. I recalled showing my parents the Colosseum, one of my most treasured memories of time spent with my Mom and Dad. The Oriental Room proved a delight as well. It featured nine Chinese embroidered silk panels hailing from the 18th century. I loved Oriental rooms in castles and chateaus. They were so elegant, and the wallpaper was always so beautiful. There was also a Chinese Room in the palace. It had a distinctive Oriental flair and dated from 1900. I loved the bright colors, too.
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Meissen porcelain in a Rococo cabinet

Meissen porcelain in a Rococo cabinet


Next came the Rococo Room, where two Rococo display cabinets displayed various objects, such as snuff boxes, exquisite fans and Meissen porcelain. I admired the rich carving of the woodwork on the cabinets. Seeing the Meissen porcelain reminded me of the Museum of Porcelain in Dresden, where there was so much Meissen to behold that it had been overwhelming for me. The superb display cases dated from the 18th century.
An allegorical fresco in the Dining Room

An allegorical fresco in the Dining Room


The Dining Room flaunted portraits and ceiling frescoes that enthralled me. I saw the Allegory of Europe, the Allegory of Asia and the Allegory of America, for instance. Poseidon and Bacchus appeared in several frescoes. I loved ceiling frescoes in chateaus, especially ones with mythological figures. The elderly attendant in the room described the various frescoes to me enthusiastically. It was nice to meet a museum attendant proud of the place where she was working.
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I punched in a number on the audio guide and listened to how the Lobkowiczs watched the Berlin Wall fall and the Velvet Revolution unfold on television. They returned to Czechoslovakia in 1990 and wanted to make the country their home. Under the first law of restitution, the Lobkowiczs had less than a year to find all the objects that belonged to their family and to make a list of them. It certainly had not been an easy process, but, luckily it had a happy ending.

At the end of the tour I walked by a small concert hall. It would be delightful to attend a concert in such an intimate space in a lavish palace. I would have to come back again to go to a concert. Classical music had played a role in the family history, so perhaps it was only fitting that they had a space for concerts.
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I was very impressed with both the palace and the narration on the audio guide. Lobkowicz Palace had a bit of everything – exceptional artwork from various centuries, impressive furnishings, ceiling frescoes, porcelain, musical instruments, original musical scores, weaponry and of course, portraits. I liked the variety of furnishings and pieces of art that I was able to see from various eras – a Romanesque processional reliquary cross and Rococo display cases, for instance. And the family history was so intriguing! What an ordeal William Lobkowicz’s grandfather had gone through! His possessions had not been taken away from him once, but twice – first by the Nazis and then by the Communists.

Now that I knew what an intriguing place the palace was, I was sure I would be coming back for another visit and for a concert sometime soon.
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Tracy A. Burns is a proofreader, writer and editor in Prague.
NOTE: No photos were allowed on the second floor, only on the first.

Mělník Chateau Diary

 

The Renaissance arcades of Mělník Chateau

The Renaissance arcades of Mělník Chateau

This was my second visit to Mělník Chateau, located less than an hour from Prague by bus. I was enthusiastic about getting reacquainted with the interior that I had so admired during my first time here. Back then, there had been no guided tours. Visitors were given a text to read while they walked through the chateau’s rooms. This time I would have a tour, so I was excited about seeing the chateau from a new perspective.
I knew a bit about the history of the chateau already, and what I did not remember I perused in a booklet that I had bought at the box office, which also served as the souvenir shop. Mělník’s history is closely connected with Czech legends. Supposedly, Princess Ludmila often resided in the town while raising her grandson, Wenceslas (Václav), who would later become a well-respected duke of Bohemia and after his death the patron saint of the country. The original wooden structure was changed into a stone castle during the 10th century. Spouses of Bohemian princes owned the castle, which got a Gothic makeover in the second half of the 13th century.
The castle became home to Bohemian queens during Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV’s reign. Emperor Charles IV, who was responsible for building Prague’s New Town, the Charles Bridge and Charles University, supported winemaking in Mělník and the surrounding areas. He even imported burgundy grapes. Queen Elisabeth Přemyslid, the last wife of Emperor Charles IV, resided in the castle for a lengthy period and died there. She was responsible for building the chapel. The Přemyslid dynasty had ruled Bohemia from the 9th century to 1306.
The castle was given Late Gothic features in the late 15th century. During the following century, it was changed into a Renaissance chateau. The reconstruction was finished during the 17th century. While the castle became decrepit during the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, it was soon repaired.

 

One wall of Mělník Chateau

One wall of Mělník Chateau

Then, in 1753, one of the most significant events in the chateau’s history occurred. Marie Ludmila Countess Czernin wed August Anton Eusebius Lobkowicz. The castle would remain in the Lobkowicz family until 1948, when it was nationalized after the Communist coup that instigated 40 years of totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia.
I envied the fact that the Lobkowiczs had played such prominent roles in Czech history. In the early 15th century Nicolas was given the village of Lobkovice nad Labem by King Wenceslas IV, and he took the name of the village. George Popel Lobkowicz of Vysoký Chlumec held the post of the highest chamberlain of Emperor Rudolph II. Zdeněk Vojtěch became the highest chancellor of the Bohemian Kingdom. His son, Wenceslas Eusebius, served as the highest chamberlain in the kingdom and as president of the secret services during the 17th century.
In the following century John George Christian was made a prince due to his military achievements. Anton Isidor was one of the founders of what is now Prague’s National Gallery. George Christian served as supreme marshal of the Bohemian Kingdom and was a member of the Bohemian Parliament during the 19th century.
But there would be dark, turbulent times for the Lobkowicz clan. During World War II the Nazis took over the chateau. The family took refuge in Prague. Then came 1948 and the Communist coup. The Lobkowiczs fled the country, and the chateau was put in the hands of the state. The present owner of the chateau, George John Prince Lobkowicz, moved to the homeland of his ancestors from Switzerland in 1990. He has been owner of the chateau since 1992 and currently resides there.
I also envied the fact that the Lobkowiczs could trace their ancestry so far back. I knew that my Slovak ancestors had been potato farmers in east Slovakia. I even met a few very distant relatives about 10 years ago, but, unfortunately, they do not keep in touch with me anymore. On the Czech side of the family, I know that my great-grandparents were from somewhere near Prague or from Prague itself. They had a common surname – Šimánek. I also know that I had ancestors from somewhere in Moravia, with the popular Czech surname Mareš.
I moved to Czechoslovakia in 1991 partially because I felt a strong association with the country of my roots and intuitively felt that it was a part of my personal identity. If only I knew more about my ancestors, and if only they had played such prominent roles in Czech history as had the Lobkowiczs! Yet, at the same time, I was not sure that I wanted to know more about my ancestors. I had visited the village in east Slovakia where my great aunt had come from, and I was going to look for an inhabitant with the same – not common – last name as my great aunt’s maiden name. But I decided not to because I was scared. While I wanted to meet long lost relatives, I was also scared of finding them. Scared they might not like me or that I might not like them. What if they had been Communists? What if they were mean people? What if they hated Americans or wanted money from me because they thought all Americans were rich?

 

The elegant Renaissance arcades

The elegant Renaissance arcades

I studied the impressive exterior of the chateau. I loved the elegance of the Renaissance arcades with decorations on the walls. A sundial also adorned the façade. There was sgraffito, too, which I adored. The other wing was built later, in the 17th century, in Baroque style. After admiring the Renaissance arcades for a while, I noticed that it was time for the tour to start and I entered the souvenir shop, ready for what I was sure would be an impressive walk through the ages of Mělník’s top sight.
The guide, a serious and well-dressed woman, described some of the background of the chateau and Lobkowicz family, and it was clear that she was very professional and knowledgeable. The first room was called the Bedroom of George Christian, named after a Lobkowicz who died tragically at the age of 25 in a racing car accident in 1932. I was reminded how we have to treasure each moment in our lives and see the beauty in daily life because we never knew when our time will be up.
I was captivated by a Baroque closet flaunting intarsia. The painted decoration high on the walls showed plant leaves with vases in green and brown. The colors seemed to go well with the 17th century Baroque furniture. On the headboard of the Baroque bed was a painting of a Madonna that appealed to me. I also took note of the richly carved wood of the bed. Portraits of the Lobkowicz family adorned the room, too, and one of the paintings had been executed by master Czech Baroque artist Karel Škréta.
August Longin’s Study was named after a Lobkowicz who had befriended Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a visitor of Mělník. The room featured two exquisite French desks – one hailing from the 17th century and the other from the 18th century. The older one was inlaid with tortoiseshell, plated brass and tin in ebony wood, made in the Boulle style. The 18th century desk, celebrating the Rococo style, was made of gilded bronze and plated brass. I particularly admired the gold decoration on the younger desk, the one that had been stolen during the totalitarian era. It had wound up in an office at the Ministry of Culture.
However, that was not all the room had to offer. An 18th century table with mother-of-pearl hailed from Japan and had designs of fans on its top. There was also a portable 18th century toilet near the room. Small portraits of Habsburg rulers hung on one wall. I spotted Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and Empress Maria Theresa right away.

 

The sundial on the facade

The sundial on the facade

The next room was the Children’s Room with toys from the 19th century, including dolls and a puzzle. Porcelain in a cabinet hailed from Hungary. The 18th century bed in the room was short, but it was standard size for adults at that time. People slept sitting up because they were afraid they would die if they lay down. I admired the rich, wooden carving of the bed and the Madonna on the headboard.
The Big Dining Room featured two Baroque bureaus from the 17th century. They were inlaid with tortoiseshell and adorned with gilded decorations. Some of the pictures painted on them focused on seascapes with ships. The chairs were upholstered with tapestries. The guide pointed out two valuable 17th century lunettes by Škréta; they were part of the story of the life and death of Saint Wenceslas, who, according to legend, had resided in Mělník when he was a child. Other breathtaking paintings rounded out the room’s décor.
The Grand Drawing Room featured 18th century furniture. I noticed two 18th century Rococo tables with gilded brass angels decorating the legs. Portraits of the prominent politician George Christian and his wife Anna were rendered by Czech painter František Ženíšek, who had also decorated the National Theatre. More astounding works of art adorned the walls, some portraits of the Lobkowicz family, others biblical paintings and still others sporting themes from antiquity. I spotted Helen of Troy in one rendition.
I was drawn to the white furniture and pale green walls. It looked airy and light and exuded an atmosphere filled with joy. Chinese and faience porcelain as well as ceramic vases from Asia made up the room, too.

 

Another view of the sundial

Another view of the sundial

The hallway was adorned with a bust of Parliament member George Christian. It had been created by Josef Václav Myslbek, a master of modern sculpture working in the 19th and early 20th century. Engravings featuring carriages decorated one wall, too. I was drawn to other works of art – the pictures of romantic 18th century Prague, especially to Old Town Square, my favorite part of the capital city. I remember the first time I stepped onto Old Town Square. I felt an unexpected electricity, a strong connection with the city and country. I was only a tourist at the time, but at that moment I knew I had to return to live in the homeland of my ancestors.
Perhaps the most astounding room was the Big Hall with Maps and Vedutas that came next. The maps and vedutas hailed from the 17th century. I noticed maps of Italy, France and the Netherlands. Then there were all the big vedutas of European towns on the walls. It was so breathtaking that it was almost overwhelming. The veduta of Prague featured only one bridge, the Charles Bridge, without any statuary decoration. Strasbourg, Nuremburg, Regensburg, Venice, Florence, Seville, Madrid and Brussels were just a few of the other cities represented. The detail of the maps and vedutas was more than impressive. Most of them were made in Amsterdam.
Perhaps I was so drawn to this room because I loved maps so much. I used to buy maps of Czech towns I had never been to and wondered what each building and each street looked like as I took a an imaginary walk through the town. Two large maps decorated my living room – one of the Czech Republic and another of Slovakia, as I treasured memories of Czechoslovakia. I often traced the routes from Prague to various chateaus and impressive towns and thought about my adventures there.
On the map of Slovakia I found Špišský Castle, below which some very distant ancestors were buried, and traced paths to Poprad, Kežmarok and Bratislava. I found Morské Oko in the Vihorlat, near my great aunt’s home village, and traced the path to Košice and Michalovice, where I had heard that some of my other ancestors had hailed from. I found more places I had visited – Humenné, Levoča and Trenčín, for example, and recalled moments of happiness and discovery.
Melnikchateauarcades5Back to the tour. The Knights’ Hall featured 16th century suits of armor on the walls. An 18th century oak table also caught my attention. In the Small Hall with Vedutas, various weapons from the 17th to 19th century were displayed. However, what really caught my attention where the black-and-white vedutas of European cities during the early 18th century. I was entranced by the vedutas of Prague and Brno. Some military equipment on display came from 17th century Turkey. I also admired the richly carved Chinese furniture. I have always been an admirer of wooden Chinese furniture.
The vast Concert Hall was still used for concerts, balls and other events. It was situated in the Baroque wing of the chateau, but the construction of this part had not been finished until 2005. There was an original 16th century wall with sgraffito decorations that delighted me. I’ve always been a big fan of sgraffito! The opposite wall was a copy made in this century, but, faithful to the original plan, it complemented the authentic side. I looked up and saw a painted coffered ceiling. Vedutas of Versailles and its park from the 17th century adorned another wall. Drawn to these works of art, I thought back to my visit to Versailles, during a warm February afternoon and how impressed I had been with the vast French chateau.
Then we went downstairs, passing by colored lithographs of Prague sights from 1792 and 1793. We wound up on the first floor in the lavish Grand Dining Room. Exquisite Baroque paintings adorned the walls. I loved the gold-and-white decoration on the pink-colored ceiling. The silverware hailed from the 18th century, and the guide pointed out Viennese porcelain as well as white Sèvres porcelain. The highlights of the room, though, were two paintings. One was another lunette from the cycle of Saint Wenceslas by Škréta. There was also a spectacular painting called “Christ with Veronica” by Paolo Veronese. It portrayed Christ on the cross with a self-portrait of the painter as the carrier of the cross.

 

The town hall on the main square

The town hall on the main square

The chapel was last. It hailed from the 14th century, built by Queen Elisabeth, the fourth wife of Emperor Charles IV, and was originally dedicated to Saint Louis. During the Thirty Years’ War, the chapel was so badly damaged that it had to be rebuilt, and this time it was consecrated to Saint Ludmila. A painting of Saint Ludmila’s baptism adorned the main altar. Impressive paintings dotted the chapel. Two portraits – of Saint Andrew and Saint Bartholomew – by my favorite Czech Baroque artist, Petr Brandl decorated the space. There was even a painting of an apostle, created by Peter Paul Rubens.
Then the tour ended, and I was thankful that I had been led through the chateau by such a professional guide who had given such detailed information about each room. I was very impressed with her knowledge and enthusiasm. I knew how disappointing tours could be if the guides were not good, though most of my experiences with tour guides in this country has been positive. It was much better to have a tour guide than to be given a text and walk through the chateau by yourself, I mused. The guide helped bring the chateau alive. Her words gave life to the chateau that had played roles in Czech history and legends.
I think it was possible to tour the wine cellars as well, but I do drink much alcohol and am not very interested in wine. However, there are three floors of historical wine cellars below the chateau: Emperor Charles IV had them built. The Lobkowiczs have a family tradition of presenting a new-born with a new wine barrel. The barrel would be filled a year before the young Lobkowicz turned 18. It was remarkable that wine had played such a prevalent role in the family history.
Winetasting tours were available, and if I had liked alcohol, I would have been enthusiastic about taking one of these trips to the cellars with original, wooden barrels.
Instead of sampling wine, I ate a delicious meal in the chateau’s restaurant, though they did not offer my beloved chicken with peaches and cheese. Still, I was pleased with the food and the service.

 

The picturesque houses on the main square

The picturesque houses on the main square

I walked around the town and noticed the impressive Renaissance and Baroque houses on the large main square, especially the town hall, which hailed from the late 14th century. Next to the chateau was the Gothic Church of Saints Peter and Paul. Unfortunately, it was closed, but the ossuary was open. I found out that the next tour of the ossuary would not start until after my bus left for Prague. What a pity. I knew I would have to come back someday, to tour the chateau again and to visit this ossuary that I had not known about before this trip.

 

The Gothic Church of Saints Peter and Paul

The Gothic Church of Saints Peter and Paul

Soon I walked through the decorated gate from 1500 and made my way to the bus station. I immediately caught a bus bound for Prague. When I disembarked at the Holešovice bus station in Prague 7, I was truly happy. I had had another positive experience at another impressive Czech chateau. My day had been filled with making new discoveries and gathering new perspectives on the Lobkowicz family history, the history of the chateau and my own personal history.

 

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

The gate dates back to 1500.

The gate dates back to 1500.

Nelahozeves Chateau Diary

Nelahozeves courtyard

A comfortable 40-minute ride in a new, clean train. That’s all it took to get from Prague’s Masaryk station to Nelahozeves chateau in the village by the same name as it is a mere 30 kilometers from the capital city. Then it is only a short walk to the two-storey chateau. It was my third time here. I especially love the plethora of art work in the Italian Renaissance three-winged structure. Even from the train I could see the chateau, appearing as a sort of fortress looming above me, with its enchanting sgraffito-decorated northern wall facing me. I crossed under the oldest railway tunnel in Bohemia, dating from 1851 to 1855 and constructed in Neo Romanesque style, and then wound up gazing at the beautiful sgraffito on the façade.

Floral motifs decorate the northern wall as do scenes from The Old Testament. For example, on the wall Judith holds the head of Holofernes, Hercules fights the giant Antacus and Isaac is sacrificed. Virgil Solis, a follower of the master artist Albrecht Dürer, is responsible for the design. After crossing a stone bridge, I went through a gateway flanked by Ionic columns and arrived at a rectangular courtyard. The box office was straight ahead.

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The history of the chateau intrigued me, as it had become intertwined with the Lobkowicz family, who bought the chateau in 1623. Bavarian aristocrat Florian Griespek of Griespek constructed it, and his successor Blažej put on the finishing touches in 1614. It took 60 years to build the chateau. Griespek had an interesting background. A former court official of the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Ferdinand I, he had spent time in Prague’s White Tower for charges of high treason. Thanks to Ferdinand I, though, he became a free man again. It was his granddaughter Veronika who sold the chateau to Polyxena of Lobkowicz. The intriguing history does not end there. Not at all. During the Thirty Years’ War, the chateau was occupied by Swedish troops and those of other nationalities as well. Then it served as a military hospital during the Austrian-Prussian War. Later it was the home of a girls’ boarding school. During World War II and under the Communist regime the items in the chateau were scattered in various locations.

Restoration did take place after World War II when it became the property of the Czechoslovak state. Then, finally, in the early 1990s, the Lobkowicz family became its owners once again. The current owners live in the USA, while their son William takes care of the noble residence. To be sure, many of the Lobkowicz clan had been active in Czech politics and culture. For example, Polyxena’s son Václav Eusebius worked as an advisor to Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Ferdinand III and Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Leopold I. Also, Max Lobkowicz focused his energy on the Czechoslovak exile government in England during the Second World War. During that time he also served as Czechoslovak ambassador to Great Britain.

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Perhaps the chateau is best known for its paintings.  In the Gallery of Portraits I saw paintings of members of the Lobkowitz family from the 19th and early 20th century. In my favorite, a woman in a stunning blue dress holds a budding pink rose. An admirer of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s works, I spent some time gazing at his “Madonna with Child, Saint Barbora and Saint Kateřina” from around 1520. I noticed the calming green and blue colors in the horizon as a saint in the foreground read a black book. The Madonna looked pensive while the child appeared defiant. I liked the detail of the baby’s little fingers.

There is a Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece on display as well. It is called “Hygieia feeds a sacred snake” and dates from circa 1614. The Baroque gem shows a snake with its mouth open, appearing famished. I could almost see its tongue flicking in anticipation.

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My beloved Bruegel clan is among those represented in the chateau’s art work, too. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “Haymaking” dates from 1565 and depicts women walking in the foreground, gripping hoes, while others carry baskets on their heads. Horses, used for carting hay, drink from a bucket in the middle of the foreground as people toil in a vast field. The gigantic cliff to the left in the background caught my attention just as the blue and green mountains and river did. The painting depicted two months of the year, illustrating June and July. Then there’s a winter village scene, idyllic and calming, by Pieter Bruegel the Younger around 1615.

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But that’s not all. In Canaletto’s “Thames with Westminster Bridge” from 1746 I noticed the gentle frolicking of the waves and appreciated the details of the boards, sails and oarsmen. Hundreds of black-and-white prints depicting hunting themes also line the walls of a hallway.

My favorite three paintings, though, made up a satirical series of cats posing as female nobles and monkeys representing the male nobility. They are located in a small room filled with 47 paintings. The works by Sebastian Vrancx, who lived from 1573 to 1647, include one depiction of monkeys sword-fighting. I was drawn to the bright red clothing with the stiff collar of one particular monkey as he lunges forward to strike another monkey that had fallen onto the ground. A cat on the sidelines flails her arms, as if saying, “Enough already!”

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Another shows cats and monkeys at a banquet. Two monkeys working as waiters had a well-ironed cloth over one arm. A plain chandelier is overhead while one monkey brings a kettle to a table full of chattering cats. I could almost hear the chit-chat of the seated felines.

In the third rendition cats and monkeys are on a boat in a river. A palace or manor house and another boat make up the background. One monkey reads aloud from a book while another plays the piccolo. I thought it was intriguing that the painter chose to place a monkey with his back to the viewer in the center of the foreground.

On the tour I saw much more than paintings. For example, the library contained 65,000 books, written in German, Latin, Hebrew, Italian, German, French, Spanish and Czech. There were 679 manuscripts, and 114 of them date from the Middle Ages. Subjects ranged from history, medicine, architecture, literature, law and travelogues. However, only a small portion of the books are on display in the chateau. Still, I was fascinated by the 1696 French first edition of The Art of Swimming, which ranked as one of the earliest books on the subject.

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In the Drawing Room I set my eyes on a gold Empire-style table, made with gems and decorated with intarsia. On the black table were pictures of apples, birds, and fruit and flowers in ornate bowls. In the room where the prince welcomes guests, I saw a black cabinet from the 17th century, decorated with pictures of biblical themes, birds and flowers.  In the chapel there was a three-winged altar with pictures of an angel, a man on a chariot with a skeleton to his side and a man in a long robe pointing at a manuscript on a podium.

The Dining Room exhibited exquisite Venetian decoration encased in glass. I was also impressed by the desk made out of antlers, located in the armory. In the middle of the room was a rifle for bird-hunting, decorated with a grotesque brown mask, a black ball in the creature’s mouth. Then there was the beautiful Knights’ Hall with paintings of knights on the walls and a sandstone fireplace from the 16th century. Stucco reliefs adorned the ceiling. At one time, many centuries ago, this room used to be the social center of the chateau, with its Renaissance décor.

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After the tour I wanted to get something to eat in the delightful restaurant upstairs, but it was open only to groups who book it in advance. In past years, it had been open to the public. I made my way back to the train station- a small, brick building that was more of a stop than a station. I passed Antonín Dvořák’s birthplace, a white house that was open odd hours. It was a pity the house-turned-museum was not open; I would have liked to have visited the place again as I had not been there for many years.

A comfortable, clean train came on time, and I headed back to Prague in the early afternoon.

 

 

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