I have been a fan of Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau works ever since I came to Prague in the 1990s. While he is best known for his exhilarating posters of actress Sarah Bernhardt, Mucha was a very versatile artist – as is evidenced in this comprehensive exhibition of creations owned by his descendants. The first extensive showing of his works in 30 years is housed at Prague’s Waldstein Palace. The exhibition highlights not only the advertising posters but also his drawings, paintings, sculptures, photos and jewelry, for instance. The family displays some originals to the public for the first time.
Family portraits evoking Mucha’s childhood add an intimate feel to the exhibition. Born in Ivančice, Moravia, Mucha called home a building that also included the town jail. The Czech lands were under Austrian rule when Mucha grew up. They were part of the Habsburg Empire in which German was the official language. Yet, during that era, the Czech National Revival took place, when Czech nationalists promoted Czech culture and the Czech language.
At the end of 1894, Mucha became a star overnight when he designed a poster for Bernhardt’s production of Gismonda. The following year he created posters that decorated calendars, postcards and menus as well as theatre programs. His work would find enthusiastic audiences in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Munich, London, New York and other cities during subsequent years.
I loved how, in his advertising posters, Mucha utilized folk features not only found in Czech art but also in Byzantine, Islamic, Japanese, Gothic, Judaic, Celtic and Rococo works. Much of this genre focuses on beautiful, young women with an optimistic and cheerful flair. They are wearing flowing robes in pastel colors. I loved the touches of floral and plant ornamentation plus arabesques and naturalistic elements, too.
The exhibition boasted family portraits and photos, such as those of his friends Paul Gaugin and Auguste Rodin. Gaugin even was Mucha’s housemate for a while. During the Paris Exposition Universalle of 1900, Mucha represented Austria-Hungary as the show focused on the accomplishments of the past century. I had not known that in 1899 Mucha had designed a jewelry collection that was featured at this major show. One of the jewelry pieces on display at the exhibition features a snake-shaped broach that Bernhardt wore during her portrayal as Medusa. I also was captivated by Mucha’s decorations for a German theatre in the USA. He would wind up making three trips to the United States, hailed by The New York Daily News as “the world’s greatest decorative artist.”
Works in the exhibition illustrated how mysticism had influenced him. His philosophy is also apparent in his creations. For example, he believed in beauty, truth and love to guide him on the spiritual path. For a monument he created a triptych called The Age of Reason, the Age of Wisdom and the Age of Love, fusing these three characteristics into one piece of art. Unfortunately, Mucha didn’t get the chance to finish it.
Perhaps what always captivates me the most about Mucha’s art is his emphasis on Slav identity. Indeed, his phenomenal Slav Epic paintings feature the heroic tales of the Slavs in 20 historical, symbolic canvases. Several reproductions of these works at the exhibition reinforced Mucha’s identity as a Czech and Slav patriot.
I saw panels devoted to Mucha’s decorations in the Municipal House, for which he designed numerous pieces – three wall panels, a ceiling painting depicting prominent Czech personalities, eight pendentives and furnishings. I remember seeing these for myself on tours of the Art Nouveau Municipal House, something I recommend to every Prague visitor. It is notable that, while Mucha’s works often were rooted in Slav identity in the past, he also looked to the future for a prosperous Czech nation.
I was enamored by the reproductions of his stained-glass window designs. The originals decorate the interior of Saint Vitus’ Cathedral at Prague Castle. In 1931 he portrayed Saint Wenceslas, the nation’s patron saint, as a child with his grandmother Saint Ludmila in a central panel along with other panels featuring the lives and work of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Seeing examples of his colorful and vibrant stained glass renditions close-up was for me one of the highlights of this exhibition.
Mucha’s life was cut short by the arrival of the Nazis in Prague, where they set up the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during March of 1939. The 79-year-old Mucha, riddled with health problems, was targeted by the Gestapo. Mucha was a Freemason, Judeophile and a promoter of democratic Czechoslovakia. He was one of the first to be interrogated by the Nazis. Mucha was stricken with pneumonia due to the strain from grueling interrogations and died in Prague 10 days short of his 79th birthday on July 14th, 1939. He is now buried in Prague’s Vyšehrad Cemetery along with other prominent Czechs.
This exhibition takes museumgoers on a unique and unforgettable journey from his childhood roots in Moravia to his time as an outsider in Paris to his experiences in the democratic Czechoslovakia until his untimely death. It stresses his identity as a Moravian, as a Czech, as a Slav and as a European. It shows his accomplishments in the art scene by displaying an eclectic collection of his creations that profoundly punctuated the artistic world.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
From the moment I saw a picture of Neo-Renaissance Červená Lhota Chateau, I yearned to see it with my own eyes. Its cheerful red appearance cast a spell on me. Comprised of two stories, the pictured chateau dominated a rocky island surrounded by a pond. Červená Lhota looked as if it had jumped out of a fairy tale. How beautiful and romantic the reflection of the four-winged structure looked in the water! I read that a forest was situated nearby as was as a park with the Renaissance Chapel of the Holy Trinity.
There was only one problem: I had heard that the chateau was a 10-kilometer walk from the nearest public transportation, a train station. I was afraid I would get lost as I didn’t have a great sense of direction. I had no one to go with me and didn’t have access to a car. I wondered if I even could walk 10 kilometers. I loved playing sports, but 10 kilometers – was that even possible?
One afternoon I found myself at Prague’s main bus station, arriving home from a day trip. I decided to ask at a window if it was possible to travel to Červená Lhota by bus. I was in luck! It was! I got my bus ticket for the following Saturday. I would have to change buses at Jihlava, in Moravia. I hadn’t realized that the chateau was in Moravia, but I didn’t think any more about it.
I set off for Červená Lhota on a scorching summer day, enthusiastic, elated even, as I listened to the melodic singing of Slovak soft rock star Pavol Habera on my Walkman. I was sure nothing could destroy my ecstatic mood.
Two and a half hours later, I got off the bus at Jihlava and waited for another bus to take me – finally! – to Červená Lhota. Soon I would see that cheerful red façade that featured prominently on the craggy rocks! I would gaze at the sublime reflection of the chateau in the pond! It would be bliss! Before long, I walked to platform number 10, thinking that I could not have hoped for better weather and that nothing surely could go wrong.
Finally, the bus came, and on a sign behind the windshield I saw the words Červená Lhota. I was so close to my destination. It would not be long now.
The bus driver announced “Červená Lhota” when we came to a village. As I exited, I asked the driver, “How do I get to the chateau?”
The driver looked at me as if I was crazy.
“The chateau is near Jindřichův Hradec, in south Bohemia. This is another Červená Lhota.”
My face fell with disappointment.
The driver continued, “I’ll be stopping here again in an hour. Wait, and then you can go back with me to Jihlava.”
I thanked him, tempted to burst into tears. I sat on the bench at the bus stop, my mind reeling. How could I be so stupid? Hadn’t I read that the chateau was in south Bohemia? When I got my bus ticket, I had been so happy, so full of hope. Now I didn’t even know exactly where I was. Somewhere not too far from Jihlava in Moravia. I felt lost – in more ways than one. I didn’t like teaching with the agency full-time. I didn’t want to get up at five every morning and finish work at seven or nine at night. I wanted to do other things, to be able to sleep until seven am, at least several days a week. I didn’t like my housing situation. I felt like my life was just one disappointment after another, as if it was full of days spent in the wrong places. Is this all there was? Was this the only life I could live? I was in my early thirties. I wanted to make a change, but what? And how? I knew I didn’t want to move out of Prague. I felt that I was stuck at a crossroads.
No one else came to the bus stop during that hour. I was alone. It was quiet. I got myself together mentally, many thoughts going through my head. I had to persevere; I knew that. I had to move onward one small step at a time. During those 60 minutes of solitude, I decided that I wouldn’t let life get me down. The following Saturday I would take the train to Kardašovy Řečice, which was 10 kilometers from the right Červená Lhota. I was determined to see the chateau. I would walk the 10 kilometers alone. I could do it, I kept telling myself. When I saw the bus approaching, I breathed a sigh of relief.
From Jihlava I easily found a bus to Prague. When I got off in the capital city, I did not feel lost anymore. Instead, I was filled with purpose and determination.
The following Saturday I made it to Kardašovy Řečice in the morning. The weather was beautiful though very hot. I was so kanxious. What if I got lost in the middle of nowhere? Casting these thoughts aside, I started walking. Soon I came upon four adults in their twenties, two women and two men who had exited the same train.
“Is this the way to Červená Lhota?” I asked.
“Yeah. We’re going there, too. Come with us!”
We walked to Červená Lhota together, talking about their vacation in south Bohemia and their home in north Bohemia as well about Czech culture and literature. They recommended Zákupy Chateau near their hometown and Děčín Chateau, where I had been when it was still closed to the public in 1991. We talked about our respective travels, too. Our conversations were very pleasant, and I was glad to have met them. I had made four new friends.
I was tired when we arrived at the chateau. However, I totally forgot about my fatigue when I gazed upon that cheerful red façade and its reflection in the calm waters. The chateau was everything I imagined it to be. I almost pinched myself, not believing that the enchanting structure in front of me was real. I took photos on my disposable Kodak camera – I was saving to buy a digital one – while we waited for the tour. I also had a bite to eat in the chateau restaurant, sitting outside with a spectacular view of the red beauty.
The chateau rooms were small but intimate. However, the tour was crowded. Sometimes I had to almost push my way to the front of the large group so I could see because I was short. Still, I didn’t mind. I had reached my goal and met some nice people on the way. The furnishings and decorations were superb, in styles from Renaissance to Beidermeier. Each room had its own charm. I loved the intimate feel of the chateau. It really felt as if a family could live there rather than as a cold representative space.
We all left the chateau feeling elated and set off for the 10-kilometer walk to the train station. Could I trek another 10 kilometers? I needn’t have worried. A bus came and took us to the train station in a five-minute journey. As I stepped off this bus, I felt so different from the moment I had exited the bus in the village of Červená Lhota the previous weekend. This time I felt triumphant, victorious, full of energy despite my weary legs.
My four friends were catching a later train, so we parted at the station, promising to keep in touch. We said our goodbyes, and I started my journey back to Prague. I knew I had to come back here one day.
And, 18 years later, I would.
My second trip to the right Červená Lhota took place during August of 2021, when the situation with covid cases was not too horrible. A friend drove me there. I often visited castles and chateaus with her. She had visited the chateau decades ago but had never seen it surrounded by water. It was much easier than walking 10 kilometers, that was for sure, though I knew I could use the exercise. During the pandemic I had become lax about fitness.
The moment I saw the chateau I was flabbergasted because the pond had disappeared. My friend was so disappointed. The chateau still had me in a trance with its bewitching exterior, but the lack of water made it seem more steeped in reality than in a fairy-tale. Later, we would find out that the chateau would not have water around it for at least two more years. It was simply too expensive to maintain. A garden area was set up on one part of the dry land below the rocky terrain, but it still didn’t make up for the appearance of yesteryear.
It had been a long 18 years. I had stopped teaching full-time about 11 years ago, and I had moved twice. Now I was happy with my work as I was doing more writing and content with my accommodation. I was excited to be back. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed this chateau until I set my eyes on it again. It was scorching hot just like the first time I had visited. The guide told us that we had to wear masks. I was glad because when I was at Jemniště Chateau that rule had not been enforced. I was also pleased that only 20 people were allowed on the tour due to health concerns. I wouldn’t have to deal with a crowd like I had at Jemniště or Děčín chateaus, and there was less of a chance of catching covid during this visit.
I had refamiliarized myself with the chateau’s history before making the trip. The structure was first mentioned in writing during 1465 when it had been a Gothic fortress under the control of the sons of Ctibor of Zásmuk. During 1530 the knighted family of Káb from Rybňany became the owners. Jan Káb’s tombstone would be placed in the nearby chapel. Jan Káb’s two children had succumbed to the plague, so, after his death, his brothers took over. Then called Nová Lhota, the structure was transformed into Renaissance style from 1542 to 1555. A private chapel, now the Church of the Trinity, was built near the chateau in the 1550s. It would become known for its illusive fresco decoration that originated in the second half of the 16th century.
It got the name Červená Lhota (červená means red in Czech) during 1597, when it was painted the same color it is today. The chateau had changed owners again. Vilém Rút of Dírná had chosen this bright color for his residence. A legend claims that the devil had kidnapped a lady at the chateau, and she had been killed. After her murder, a spot of blood could be seen under a window of the then white façade. Another legend claimed that her blood had gushed over the chateau exterior, making it red, and the color could not be changed.
When the Catholics defeated the Protestants at White Mountain in November of 1620, the chateau was confiscated from the Rút family because they were Utraquists. It didn’t make a difference that they had not fought in the battle that would start the Thirty Years’ War.
During 1621 an Italian aristocrat named Antonio Bruccio took charge of Červená Lhota when the imperial army occupied it. After the war he made sure the chateau was not looted. The chapel was plundered, though, and Bruccio reconstructed it, so that the holy space could be reconsecrated in 1635. He founded a spa nearby, and it earned as much praise as the one in Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), which has for centuries grabbed world-wide attention. Bruccio’s spa, alas, is no more. The stone bridge was built during his era, in 1622. He died in 1639, childless.
Vilém Slavata from Chlum and Košumberk purchased it after Bruccio passed, but he wouldn’t use the chateau as his main residence. I recalled that during the Third Defenestration of Prague, in 1618, he had been thrown out the window of the Castle. He didn’t die because he fell on a heap of dung. While looking after the chateau, he had some reconstruction completed. In 1641 the tower with distinguished portal was built. By 1678 the chateau sported a Baroque appearance. To this day the tower’s portal is decorated in Baroque style. Stuccowork seen in the chateau hails from this era.
When the Slavata dynasty died out, the niece of the last of the Slavata clan was given possession of the chateau. Marie Theresa married into the Windischgratz family. Two owners in this clan accumulated a great debt due to their bad handling of finances. They wound up selling the chateau to barons, who started having construction work done. A fire damaged the chateau.
Two years after the fire, in 1776, Baron Ignác Stillfried bought the place. Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, a composer and co-founder of the German opera, lived at the chateau from 1796 to 1799, when he died. Then the dukes of Schonburg-Hartenstein took control in 1835. They would own Červená Lhota for 110 years. During the second half of the 19th century, the chateau was given pseudo-Gothic features, inspired by Hluboká Chateau, one of my all-time favorites. From 1903 to 1913, the chateau got a Neo-Renaissance makeover, giving Červená Lhota the appearance it has today. The chapel was renovated at the beginning of the 20th century, too. In 1907 mass began to be held here again. (Services had been halted during the early 19th century.) After World War I, Johann, the then current owner who had been awarded Golden Fleece and Maltese Cross medals, lived there and added to the chateau’s splendor. When Johann died in 1937, he was buried in the chapel nearby.
Because the family was German, the chateau was handed over to the Czechoslovak state after the war. A children’s sanatorium was set up there in 1946, but its existence was short-lived. During 1949, Červená Lhota was open to the public. Some services, such as weddings, still take place in the former private chapel.
Soon it was time to tour the 16 rooms. So glad that we were in a small group, I was enamored of the interior, which once again felt like a home instead of mere representative spaces. The first floor showed off the life of the Schonburg-Hartenstein clan at the start of the 20th century. It was thrilling to see mostly original furnishings of various styles. Not many chateaus showed off authentic furnishings. At the beginning of our tour, we watched a flutist and pianist in period dress superbly play Renaissance music. The painted ceilings, elaborate clocks and stunning chandeliers all caught my undivided attention. Exquisite religious paintings and portraits, beautiful tiled stoves, furniture with intarsia, black-and-white graphics of various animals and fine porcelain also complemented the spaces. The intricate gilded headboard of a bed sported a hovering putti.
While we perused each room protected by our FFP2 masks, I recalled that Jan Káb’s two children had died of the plague, and I realized that, as the current coronavirus pandemic continued, I had learned how to live all over again. I had spent the first three weeks of the pandemic hiding in my apartment, tuned all day and night to CNN, only leaving to take out the trash. I had been that scared of catching the virus. I had kept my windows closed; my life closed off. Now I was doing things the best I could, being as cautious as I could, but still living rather than merely existing.
I thought back to those 60 minutes spent on that bench at the bus stop in another Červená Lhota, where I had mustered up the courage to face challenges and disappointments head-on, where I had become determined to make changes in my life, even if the changes meant sometimes taking small steps at a time. The tranquility of the hour that seemed to last for such a long time allowed me to get to grips with my present and helped guide me into the future.
Perhaps finding the village of Červená Lhota in Moravia had not been a mistake, but rather it had marked the beginning of a journey that had taken me here, for the second time, to this neo-Renaissance architectural wonder, visited during a pandemic that I had weathered the best I could, making changes along the way, directing my life story one day at a time as I came to new revelations about my journey and my destination. Perhaps it was only fitting that Červená Lhota would be the last chateau I would visit during the summer of 2021. After the tour, my friend and I promised to come back when the pond was restored. So, until then, I said my goodbyes to the place that has been close to my heart for several decades.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
A long-term temporary exhibition, the First Republic art exhibition in Prague’s Trade Fair Palace showcases mostly Czechoslovak paintings and sculpture from 1918 to 1938, when Czechoslovakia was a democratic state under the guidance of President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, and Masaryk, who had been living in exile, was welcomed back into the Czech lands with much celebration and fanfare. The Munich Agreement, signed in September of 1938, proved a dark and dismal event in Czechoslovakia’s history, as the country ceded its German-minority Sudetenland to Hitler’s Third Reich. On March 15, 1939, the Nazis would march into Prague, and Hitler would set up the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, starting a horrific chapter in Czech and Central European history.
The exhibition examines the flourishing of art in the various cultural centers of Czechoslovakia, first and foremost in Prague but also in Brno, the capital of Moravia. In Slovakia the cultural hubs were located in Bratislava and eastern Košice. Zarkarpattia was a section of Czechoslovakia from 1920 to 1938, and its city of Užhorod was the setting of some intriguing exhibitions. The exhibition not only features Czech art but also Czech-German production and Slovak artistic endeavors.
Antonín Slavíček, House in Kameničky, 1904
Adolf Hoffmeister, Bridge, 1922
Bohumil Kubišta, Quarry in Braník, 1910-11
Some of the Czech and Slovak artists whose works shine in the exhibition are Antonin Slavíček, Max Švabinský, Josef Čapek, Václav Špála, Jan Zrzavý, Jan Preisler, Ľudovít Fulla, Martin Benka, Bohumil Kubišta and Josef Šíma as well as Toyen and Jindřich Štyrský. The German and Austrian artists represented include August Bromse, Max Pechstein and Oskar Kokoschka, a favorite of mine.
Sculpture by Auguste Rodin, Paul Cezanne, House in Aix, 1885-87
French art from the 19th and 20th century is also on display as the Mánes Association in Prague held an important exhibition of French art at the Municipal House during 1923. The dynamic renditions of Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin, Rodin, Rousseau and others are in the limelight, too. The paintings of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso explore Cubist tendencies.
Vincent Van Gogh, Green Wheat Field, 1889
Henri Rousseau, Self-Portrait – Me. Portrait – Landscape, 1890
Georges Seurat, Harbor in Honfleur, 1886
I was particularly impressed by the works of a Czech artistic group called the Obstinates, established at the Municipal House. It included artists who spent World War I in Prague. I liked to eat chicken with potatoes at the Art Nouveau Municipal House, and I sometimes would imagine what it had been like for those artists to discuss their ideas and theories of art there. Three of my favorite Czech painters belonged to this group of avant-garde art that had traits of Cubism and Expressionism: Josef Čapek, Špála and Zrzavý. The Municipal House at that time was one of the most prominent exhibition spaces. It still houses art exhibitions and nowadays also includes a concert hall.
On right: Jan Zrzavý, Lady in the Loge, 1918
I also tried to imagine the avant-garde Devětsil group having its first exhibition during 1922 at the Union of Fine Arts in the Rudolfinum, now the main concert house for the Czech Philharmonic. I have attended many concerts there, even seeing my favorite violinist Joshua Bell on its stage twice. I wondered what it had been like to see the works of Karel Teige, Adolf Hoffmeister and Štyrský in that majestic building during 1922 and 1923.
Jindřich Štyrský, The Puppeteer, 1921
My favorite painting in the exhibition was called “Woman with a Cat” by František Zdeněk Eberl. I am a cat fanatic, and the woman in the painting is holding her cat on her shoulder so lovingly. You can sense that the cat is an important part of her family just as my Šarlota Garrigue Masaryková Burnsová is for me. (My cat is named after President Masaryk’s wife, the First Republic’s First Lady of Czechoslovakia.)
František Zdeněk Eberl, Woman with a Cat, around 1929
The exhibition also highlighted the importance of the Mánes Association of Fine Artists, which had been established by Prague students in 1887. It had many functions, organizing exhibitions and lectures as well as editing magazines, for instance.
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Village Square, 1920
Vincenc Beneš, Behind the Mill in Písek, 1928
There were African art relics in the exhibition as well. I thought of Josef Čapek, who had been greatly influenced by African art. The exhibition informed museumgoers that Emil Filla’s paintings had been on display with African art at the Mánes in 1935. Filla had a strong interest in non-European art and was an avid supporter of the surrealist trends in Czechoslovakia.
Another significant exhibition space during that era was the Dr. Feigl Gallery. Hugo Feigl made quite a name for himself as a private gallery owner. The exhibitions he put together did not only display Czech art but also highlighted Czech-German, Jewish and artists from around the world. He did not only organize exhibitions at his own gallery. One art show that interested me was Feigl’s exhibition of German and Austrian artists who had come to Prague as refugees, fleeing Hitler as the dictator amassed more and more power. Oskar Kokoschka, one of my favorite painters, was a refugee who had made his home in Prague. I loved his view of the Charles Bridge and his view of Prague on display. They captured the magical spell of Prague using avant-garde techniques.
Oskar Kokoschka, Prague – View from Kramář’s Villa, 1934-35
Oskar Kokoschka, Prague – Charles Bridge, 1934
August Bromse, Descent from the Cross, before 1922
In 1937, Feigl even organized a daring exhibition of German Expressionist works from a German collection of which the Nazis were by no means fans. This exhibition encouraged people to protest against an exhibition in Munich, one that glorified the Nazi regime with its display of Nazi-approved art.
Václav Špála, By the River – Vltava near Červená, 1927, sculpture by Otto Gutfreund
I was also enthralled by the exhibitions that had taken place in Brno, Zlín and Bratislava. I had poignant memories of all three places. I had helped out at the first international theatre festival organized by the Theatre on a String in Brno many years ago. People in Brno had been so friendly, and my Czech really improved thanks to my time spent there. I had also visited some villas in Brno and knew the city’s sights well.
Max Švabinský, In the Land of Peace, 1922
Otto Gutfreund, Business, 1923
I had spent several days of one vacation in Zlín, where I had toured the fascinating Báťa shoe museum, which probably featured every kind of shoe imaginable. More than a decade ago, I had visited Bratislava once a month to help take care of my favorite Slovak writer’s grave. I had also visited the Slovak National Theatre, learning Slovak in part thanks to its performances. I loved the Slovak language and felt at peace hearing people around me speak it. I also felt this way when I heard Czech. I especially liked the works of Slovak painter Ľudovít Fulla. His use of bright colors, in his work “Balloons” for example, gave his paintings a dynamism and vitality that was unforgettable.
On right: Ľudovít Fulla, Balloons, 1930
Košice and Užhorod were featured as artistic centers, too. I had spent a lot of time in Košice during my travels to Slovakia as some of my ancestors had been from that region, and I had also used Košice as a starting point to visit other places in east Slovakia, such as Humenné and the Vihorlat. I had never been to Užhorod, which Czechoslovakia had begun to modernize during the early days of the country’s existence. I was surprised that architect Josef Gočár had designed some functionalist buildings there. I often walked by some of Gočár’s architectural achievements in the Baba quarter of functionalist individual family homes.
Anton Jaszusch, Landscape, 1920-24
Pablo Picasso, Still Life with a Goblet, 1922
The exhibition also informed me that between 1933 and 1938, about 10,000 refugees from Germany and Austria had officially made their way to Czechoslovakia while the number of unofficial refugees was about the same. Many significant artists came to Czechoslovakia to flee Hitler’s hold on Germany and Austria.
Caricature of Hitler, John Heartfield, Adolf the Superman: Swallows Gold and Spouts Junk, 1932
I was surprised to discover that as early as 1934 an exhibition of caricatures and humor protested Hitler’s ascent to power. It took place at the Mánes Association of Fine Artists. The caricatures were not limited to Hitler and even included some of the “good guys.” For instance, artists also poked fun at Masaryk. I was very moved by Josef Čapek’s versions of the painting “Fire,” showing a person unable to escape the dancing flames, artworks providing a stark warning about the danger of Hitler’s ideology and reign. The caricature of Hitler was chilling. Hitler’s head was perched atop a chest x-ray. His spine was made up of coins. His heart was shaped like a swastika.
A sculpture commenting on the Munich Agreement of 1938
Josef Čapek, Fire, 1938
The exhibition ended with those works commenting Hitler’s control of the region, specifically on the Munich Agreement of 1938. While those paintings and the sculpture profoundly affected me, I preferred to concentrate on the avant-garde creations that had been featured in an artistically flourishing democratic Czechoslovakia, when artists boldly experimented with their artistic visions, during an era that I had always wanted to visit if I could go back in time. I would have loved to experience the atmosphere of the country when democracy was fresh, the state new and full of promise. Little did anyone know at its inception that the First Republic would not last long and that such a chilling chapter would follow.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
I had heard that the Stiassni Villa in Brno had been open to the public since the end of 2014, but I did not have time to go there in 2015. When the Czech UNISMA travel agency offered a tour of the Stiassni and Löw-Beer villas in the Moravian capital, I immediately signed up. A prime example of modern functionalist architecture in the Czech lands, the Stiassni Villa had been under reconstruction from 2012 to 2014. During Communism renovations had taken place as well –during that time period furniture from various chateaus had been added to the interior. Still, the villa had original furniture, too.
I was entranced with the section of Brno where the architectural gem was located – in the villa-sprinkled Masaryk Quarter, a section that looked tranquil, so different from the hustle and bustle of the city center. It reminded me of the Hanspaulka section of Prague, where I enjoyed taking long walks along villa-flanked streets.
I am not a big fan of the functionalist style, but the exterior was intriguing. Its spartan appearance reminded me a bit of the exteriors of Prague’s Müller Villa and Rothmayer Villa. Shaped like the letter L, the Stiassni Villa was designed by architect Ernst Wiesner, who made quite a name for himself in Brno during the interwar years. His work was influenced by Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who designed the Müller Villa in Prague. Wiesner created the plans for other buildings in Brno as well, such as the Moravia Palace and crematorium. Wiesner fled to Great Britain in 1939, the year the Nazis took over. The villa was completed in 1929 for textile entrepreneur Alfred Stiassni and his family – his wife Hermine and his daughter Susanne. The structure features rectangular windows and a massive cassette cornice, for example.
The Stiassni’s tenure at the villa only lasted nine years. Because they were Jewish, the family fled Czechoslovakia in 1938, when they traveled to London and then continued to Brazil. Alfred Stiassni’s mother decided not to leave her homeland due to her age. She died at the Terezín concentration camp in central Bohemia during 1942, when she was 87 years old. The villa was taken over by the Nazis during World War II. During 1945, the Stiassnis obtained US citizenship. That same year Russian soldiers liberating the city would destroy furnishings in the villa. It was in good shape again when Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš stayed there later that year, on his first visit to Brno after the war. He and his wife would reside in the villa again the following year during another trip to the Moravian capital.
Paintings of the owners of the villa, Alfred and Hermine Stiassni. The paintings are not part of the original furnishings.
From 1952 the villa was the property of the Regional National Committee and was used as accommodation for VIP guests, such as Fidel Castro. In 1961 Alfred Stiassni died in Beverly Hills, California. His wife passed away the following year. In 1964 leading Soviet Union politician Nikita Khrushchev spent time at the villa. From 1990 to 2005, the place served as a four-star hotel. Famous guests included Rudy Giuliani and Bill Gates. In 2005 Susanne, who had married an American, died in Beverly Hills.
Soon it was time for the tour to begin. In the Large Dining Room I admired the copy of a Baroque painting by 17th century Flemish Baroque painter Jacob Jordaens showing merry people drinking and laughing. I thought I could see the influences of Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder in the work. The onyx fireplace also caught my attention. My eyes were drawn to an elegant vase as well.
Another room featured watercolor paintings by Hermine and original chairs with grey upholstery. The pewter chandelier was also intriguing. An exquisite table had been originally in Bítov Castle, one of the largest and oldest castles in Moravia, a sight I had toured twice. I also admired a Baroque commode. The stucco decoration on the walls and ceiling was stunning. Then we visited some small rooms, and I especially liked the Empire space with side tables and a bed in that style. The bathroom was made of green marble. It had obtained its appearance during reconstruction in the 1980s. It is not known what the bathroom really looked like during the Stiassni’s tenure there.
The first floor was even more intriguing. Behind Alfred’s vast closet with moveable drawers was a space for more than 10 pairs of shoes. I recalled how the drawers in the dressing rooms of the Müller Villa were also moveable. In the bathroom the detail on the faucets was superb.
From Hermine’s bedroom it was possible to see the sloping English garden with hills and other greenery in the background. Other villas could also be seen in scenery that would have made a remarkable landscape painting. Mirrors covered Hermine’s closet in her dressing room. Her bathroom was green marble because the architects had no idea what it had looked like originally.
The daughter Susanne had the nicest rooms. Her playroom featured a dressing room, a bathroom and the terrace. I liked the yellow color of the rooms. It was my mother’s favorite color, and it brought back memories of my time spent with her in the yellow-painted kitchen of my parents’ house. So many discussions about so many topics, so many smiles, so many problems resolved. Susanne’s governess also had a small room.
The Small Dining Room, where the Stiassnis usually ate, was very modest with a small table set for three. The garden was another highlight of the villa. It was established in 1927 and included many foreign woody species. I noted its symmetrical design. Each section had been assigned a different use.
The Stiassnis were athletes. They took up swimming, skiing and skating, for example. There had been a swimming pool above the villa, and there still were tennis courts on the property.
I had enjoyed my tour of the villa, which contained some intriguing furnishings and was architecturally enthralling. I appreciated the functionalist design even though it was not my favorite style. I could imagine the villa in the early 1930s, when the family was settled there, not aware that their time in the villa would be cut short by the Nazis’ rise to power. From there we headed to the Löw-Beer Villa, which had a stunning Secession façade but only one piece of original furniture. Facing the famous Tugendhat Villa, the Löw-Beer Villa is now used as an exhibition space.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
Often overshadowed by nearby neo-Gothic Lednice, Valtice Chateau is one of the most underrated sights in Moravia. I had visited Valtice Chateau twice before and was bewitched by the Baroque gem both times. The first time I came here, an employee took me quickly through the rooms as she did not want to give a tour to only one person. The Baroque and Rococo interior includes some original 18th century furniture, which never failed to impress me.
Usually, I traveled to Lednice Chateau and Valtice Chateau by bus from Mikulov, where I had stayed in a hotel. To catch the bus back to Mikulov after visiting Valtice, I always had to hurry and had never had a chance to see the park. This time I was on a tour with the arsviva travel agency, whose tours I had taken to other sights in the Czech Republic and to towns in Germany. Seeing the garden and town were on the itinerary, too.
The facade of Valtice Chateau
I already knew the background information. Valtice originated in the 12the century or earlier as a castle. The Liechtenstein clan would greatly influence the development of Valtice. They bought it in 1387 and kept the chateau in the family until 1945, creating a legacy that survived for almost 600 years. During 1560 they chose Valtice as their main residence. The castle became a Renaissance chateau during the 17th century. During the Thirty Years’ War the Swedes damaged Valtice. Later it got a Baroque makeover. Much construction took place during the 18th century. For example, the stunning chateau chapel was completed in 1729. At the end of that century, the chateau theatre was built. The garden, established during the Baroque reconstruction underwent renovations at that time.
Representative rooms at the chateau have been opened to visitors since the first half of the 19th century. Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I and his wife Princess Elizabeth, often called “Sisi,” came to the chateau as did Austrian Chancellor Klemens von Metternich. When the chateau became the property of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1920, there were no changes made.
But those golden days did not last forever. World War II came, and after the war the chateau was plundered. Considered to be traitors, Soviet prisoners-of-war were shot at Valtice. Then a section of the chateau became a forced labor camp for women while another part was used for drying hops. The grounds were in poor condition, too. Extensive reconstruction took place in the 1960s, and now Valtice is a Baroque beauty. The chateau even made the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List during 1996, an honor that is well-deserved.
The mammoth statues of Hercules in front of the chateau gave me an imposing welcome. When I looked up at them, I felt that I played such a small role in the huge, scary world. This feeling was not negative; rather, it was humbling. The comprehensive tour lasted one hour. It covered the representative rooms, the emperor’s apartments and the chapel that had been lauded throughout Central Europe.
Our guide was a very scholarly and enthusiastic woman. She clearly liked her job. In the entranceway I saw Japanese porcelain from the 18th century as well as an impressive carriage. The Antechamber was a real treat – I loved the Oriental pink-and-green wallpaper decorated with pink flower buds. I loved the ceiling paintings throughout the chateau. They featured mythological characters. The Emperor’s Salon featured portraits of the Habsburg family – Maria Theresa and Joseph II were two of those making appearances. In another space I saw paintings of battle scenes from the Napoleonic Wars. In this particular room the Roman gods’ victory over the Titans was the pictorial theme.
The Dining Room
The Dining Room was the biggest space in the chateau. The pink-and-grey imitation marble on the walls looked so elegant and majestic. Above the doors I saw extraordinary reliefs of musical instruments. It reminded me of college, when music had played such an important role in my life. I adored my private piano lessons, even though I was not very talented. During college I was introduced to the magical world of classical music, which I still listen to today. I even went to the symphony in a nearby town once a month, momentarily escaping university life. I should make music a more significant part of my present, I chided myself. The Baroque 18th century chandelier and the Empire style side tables added to the splendor of the room. The view of the park was superb, too.
In another space I liked the floral and bird motifs on the royal blue upholstery on the chairs. The design was so lively, so energetic. I also noticed a Baroque landscape painting by a Dutch painter. I had been enamored by Dutch and Flemish landscape renditions ever since my first semester of college, when I took a course on Dutch and Flemish art. The chandelier, though, was what fascinated me most. It featured Triton and was decorated with antlers. Somehow the two looked out-of-place together. They did not complement each other. Yet that only made the chandelier more unique and more intriguing.
The unique chandelier and exquisite furnishings
The Red Salon or Smoking Room featured an exquisite large mirror. How I would love to look into that mirror every day! Olympic gods looked down on me from the ceiling. Paintings with biblical motifs also decorated the room. The two bureaus made with ivory were stunning, forged in the Florence style and dating from the 17th and 18th century. The jewel chest in the Ladies’ Salon showed off Chinese motifs, and the wings featured a Chinese landscape. The ceiling painting was outstanding; it showed the conquering of Troy. In a bedroom there was an elegant bed with canopy. The Madonna painting hanging behind it was a copy of a work by Raphael.
A captivating bed in Valtice Chateau
The Marble Salon boasted ornamentation from the 18th century. I loved the pink-and-grey imitation marble on the walls. It was so elegant, so sophisticated! I would love to have walls decorating in that fashion in my house. Floral still lifes dominated the walls, and the god Flora took precedence in the ceiling painting. On one wall in another room there was the shell of a huge tortoise between rifles. I had seen many hunting trophies on walls, but never that of a tortoise. The library featured over a 1,000 volumes, most in French but others also in German and Latin. There was even an old-fashioned elevator in the chateau.
Another exquisite bed in Valtice Chateau
It was a pity we could only see the chapel through a glass partition from one side of the upper level. I admired the richly decorated balcony of the chapel that dated from 1726. The intarsia on the benches below astounded me. Such exquisite detail! There were several paintings in the room from which we peered at the chapel. A 15th century oil painting of Jesus Christ with the Cross proved to be the oldest picture in the chateau. I loved the Baroque Picture Gallery with the paintings set so close together. It was overwhelming, though. There was so much to see on each wall. Hunting themes dominated the room. The ceiling painting carried the same theme – it featured Diana, goddess of the hunt. I loved the Holland Baroque furniture in the Study. It reminded me of the Holland Baroque furnishings I had seen at Český Šternberk Castle in central Bohemia. Other rooms featured ceiling paintings of the Allegory of Morning and the Allegory of Evening.
Valtice Chateau Park
In yet another space there was a unique bureau. A section of it opened to reveal a desk, but the bottom part was for storing laundry. It was dazzling, made of ivory with intarsia from various woods. There were also Dutch still lifes of fruit and vegetables and an elegant, light blue bed with a canopy. The ceiling painting focused on the allegory of spring. I wanted to pick some of the flowers out of the basket that was portrayed there. The Reception Room featured pink chairs and wallpaper, giving it a cheerful atmosphere. Baroque landscape paintings dotted one wall.
Valtice Chateau Park
Next we saw the Baroque park, built midway through the 18th century. Fascinating architectural objects had been situated there at one time. Perhaps it had been most famous for its gloriette. At the beginning of the 19th century, the park was expanded. There was even an amphitheatre with Baroque statuary built in the park during the early 20th century. Vases and benches had also been part of the park decor. Now those objects are gone, but the park remains intriguing with its many varieties of trees, bushes and flowers.
We also visited the small town of Valtice, focusing on the main square. The Church of the The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, situated on the southeast side of the main square, was the most impressive sight in my opinion. The Baroque masterpiece hailed from 1679. It had been built after the earlier church collapsed. The church proved to be a harmonious and tranquil continuation of Roman architecture with significant sculptural decoration. At one time a painting by Peter Paul Rubens adorned the main altar, but it was transferred to Vienna during the Prussian Wars because of the threat of invasion by the Turks. Now it hangs in the National Gallery in London. The church has one rectangular nave with side chapels and a wide main altar. The stucco decoration and sculptural ornamentation is impressive. I was also intrigued by the cupola.
The interior of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
The interior of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
The Baroque Plague Column hails from 1670, when the lands were experiencing a plague epidemic. It was not completed until the second half of the 18th century. The Virgin Mary crowns the column while five saints also make appearances, including Saint Sebastian and John of Nepomuk, who was drowned in the Vltava River on the order of Bohemian King Wenceslas.
The Plague Column in Valtice
I was overjoyed that I had had the opportunity to see all the rooms open to the public plus the garden and town. Thanks to our superb tour guide, I learned information that I would have never known if I had come there by myself. I just wished tourists would appreciate Valtice as much as they did Lednice. Valtice shouldn’t be in second place but tied for first.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
A bus took me directly from Frýdek Místek to Hukvaldy, where I embarked on the uphill, demanding 20-minute walk in the scorching heat. The moment I reached the entrance to the castle ruin in northern Moravia, I was beside myself.
The castle ruins
The views to the gentle, green Beskydy Mountains, which loomed in the distance, were magnificent. Supposedly, one could even sometimes see as far as the Jeseníky Mountains and Praděd Mountain in the Jeseník region. I saw picturesque, romantic villages in undulating valleys, the lush green of the mountains surrounding the dots that made up the small towns. I wondered if I could see the Polish or Slovak border.
The views from the castle ruins are breathtaking.
Another breathtaking view
Upon entering the castle ruins, I was in for an even bigger surprise. The castle ruins were just as romantic and picturesque as were the views from the wall at the entrance. The music of Leoš Janáček, a native of this village, kept racing through my head. All those compositions inspired by Moravian folk music, the unique melodies and specific, repeating motifs. Before I came to the castle, I had stopped at the local school, where Janácek was born, the ninth child out of 13, on July 3, 1854.
The castle ruins
The castle dates from the 13th century.
I skimmed over a brochure about the castle’s history. The monument dates from around 1285. Olomouc bishops gained ownership of the castle in the middle of the 14th century, then the castle changed hands several times before King Jiří of Poděbrady bought it during 1465 in order to return it to the bishops. From that point on, the Olomouc bishopric and later archbishopric were almost continually the owners of Hukvaldy until it became state property in 1948.
The ruins even have their own ghosts.
The castle became a ruin in the 18th century.
The once vibrant castle became a ruin in 1762, when a fire broke out after lightning struck the fortress. Yet the Chapel of Saint Ondřej remains almost untouched since its construction during the end of the 17th century. Decorated with statues of Jan Nepomuk and František Xavier, it is a real, though small, gem.
Hukvaldy even has its own ghost named Světlík, who was killed by a hejtman that wanted to marry his beautiful daughter. Světlík refused to let him do so. The castle had a famous prisoner, too. Philip Dambrovsky was accused of poisoning four Olomouc bishops.
A view through the ruin
Another view of the ruin
As I walked through the gates and courtyards, strolled around the bastions, peeked into the cellars and took note of the destroyed buildings that were once occupied by the burgrave, I felt energized from the power that was emitted by the stone walls and fragments, as if this place had a significant story to tell and was telling that story as I stepped through its magical gates.
Hukvaldy is, indeed, magical.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
You can almost hear Janáček’s music coming from the ruins.
A statue of a fox commemorating Janáček’s opera, The Cunning Little Vixen.
The views of the mountains in the distance are sure to amaze.
It was my second visit to Vranov nad Dyjí, one of my favorite chateaus, located near Znojmo in south Moravia. Its façade was a hodgepodge of at least three architectural styles. Some medieval elements of the Baroque chateau had been preserved. The Crow’s Tower and the building in the first courtyard harkened back to the Middle Ages. The Baroque fountain was spectacular. I had to stop to admire the garden bursting with color as I walked toward the chateau. The white and yellow Baroque church with belfries was perched on a cliff to the left and below the chateau. It looked to me that it was positioned precariously, as if it would fall off the edge at any moment.
The chateau, part of Podyjí National Park, blended in with the cliffs and picturesque countryside, a characteristic that I found attractive. Vranov nad Dyjí did not disturb nature but rather complemented it. I felt comfortable here in this stunning, natural environment. The rooms were small and intimate (except for the vast Ancestors’ Hall) and were filled with exquisite objects. All the items gave the chateau a unique identity without one artifact overwhelming the others.
I was already familiar with the history of the chateau. Vranov was first mentioned in the Kosmas Chronicle during 1100. Originally, it served as a fortress made of wood and became a stone castle at the end of the 13th and during the 14th century. There were additions made in the 15th century, but in 1665 it succumbed to flames. When Michal Johann II von Althann bought it in 1680, the chateau stayed in the family for more than a century. Michael Johann II made it into a Baroque chateau. Under his guidance the astounding Hall of Ancestors and the chapel were built. Later, the chateau became a three-wing residential palace. Neo-Gothic and Romantic style elements were added during the 19th century. During that century, it was the property of two Polish clans – the Mniszek counts and the Stadnickis. The state took control of the chateau after 1945.
Waiting for the tour to begin, I was overwhelmed by the two-flight Baroque main stairway decorated with sculptures. Hercules battled the giant Antaeus. Prince Aeneas carried his feeble father from burning Troy. Then 15 young children scampered toward me. It was my worst nightmare. I was worried that all these children would accompany me on the tour of my beloved chateau, and I would not be able to hear the guide over their cries. At least that had been my experience when visiting other chateaus with groups of young children.
Finally, the tour began. The guide, a tall, lanky, serious blond woman in her early twenties, ushered me and the children as well as a few other adults into the Hall of Ancestors. It took eight years to complete the lush décor of this space with its walls and ceiling covered in breathtaking frescoes celebrating the Althann family. Its stunning beauty made me dizzy. I looked up and noticed a golden chariot floating on the clouds. The female charioteer symbolized the Earth’s fertility, the guide explained. Between the oval windows I could make out the figures of Hercules, Orpheus, Theseus, Odysseus and Perseus praising the Althann ancestors. The family members’ statues decorated the niches of the hall. I was amazed by something else, too. None of the children were misbehaving. Some mumbled to themselves, but they were all fairly quiet and seemed interested in the guide’s descriptions. Maybe they would not be so badly behaved, after all.
Next we went outside onto the terrace, created at the end of the 18th century. The children loved the cannon balls there. The guide explained that the Swedes tried to take over the chateau twice during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, but failed to do so. I peered at the valley and romantic landscape that surrounded the chateau. The scenery was postcard perfect. It was so peaceful and tranquil. I could have stared at the landscape forever. Standing there, looking at the countryside of south Moravia, I found inner peace. Perhaps that is why I loved this chateau so much. Here, I found a sense of inner peace, calmness and strength to take on future trials and tribulations.
Then it was time for the residential rooms, furnished as they were at the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century. In the tiny entrance to the Pignatelli bedroom, a space that could not fit all the children, I saw a painting of Vranov five years before it was engulfed by flames in the 17th century. I was especially drawn to the scraggly cliffs and the meandering river in the picture as well as to the stone bridge that I walked on earlier today. Then we entered the main room, which was once the private chapel. A moustached man told a few rambunctious children to be quiet. The room exuded a sense of symmetry so typical of the Classicist era. I noticed the exquisite fabric texture of the wall hangings, decorated with hunting themes and picturesque landscapes. Two statues inspired by antiquity flanked a canopy bed and stood on pedestals. I was enamored by their exquisite green leaf motifs.
The next space had been a dining room since the 1720s. The printed stoneware on the table featured the Italian town of Ferrara and came from the prominent Vranov earthenware factory founded in the 19th century. I was filled with awe as I took in the pictures on the wall. The hand-painted canvas showed landscape views of a park with ancient, medieval, Chinese and Egyptian structures. The guide pointed out a scene showing the Park Monceau in Paris. Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, whose tenure on the throne lasted from 1711 to 1740, made an appearance in the scene. No stranger to the Althann family, Charles VI was a close friend of Marie Anna, who was an owner of the chateau in the second half of the 18th century. The emperor had even visited Vranov. Two children were scolded for pushing each other.
In the Family Salon the owner’s relatives and guests would discuss private and public topics after a meal. They played cards or chess, read books, listened to music and sipped coffee, tea or hot chocolate. A samovar tea urn from Russia’s Tula town attested to this ritual. The white-grey and pistachio colors of the wall fabrics entranced me. They showed Pompeii and other ancient towns. A young girl with bright blue eyes giggled.
The Blue Salon, the ladies’ living room, exuded a Classical style with its blue wall hangings and two sculptures of Aphrodite on white stoves. The furniture, an elegant blue mahogany, hailed from the 19th century and was made in Empire style. There were various kinds of porcelain – Viennese and Meissen, for example – in the room as well. The children began to appear restless, no longer paying much attention to the exhibits.
The Respirium was where the family relaxed after taking a bath. The wall and ceiling décor fascinated me. The Classicist relief stucco and ornamentation featuring carved wood was so elegant, and I felt so comfortable in this space. The white columns had hidden compartments where toiletries were kept. I loved the stucco decorations above the door. In one scene, Artemis, goddess of the hunt, was being watched by Actaeon, who happened to be hunting in the forest when he saw her naked. Artemis turned him into a deer that her dogs devoured. I was glad that I was able to hear the guide as the children talked and argued among themselves. One girl with long chestnut-colored hair who would someday turn into a very beautiful woman began to cry.
Next we saw the Classicist bathroom, hailing from the 18th century. Artificial marble lined the walls. I loved the four black columns that appeared so elegant without being extravagant. The guide, her voice a bit hoarse now, explained that the central pool had been used as a bathing area, but now visitors threw coins in the water for good luck. The children became excited and pleaded with the adults to give them some change. The chaperones shook their heads.
Hailing from the 18th century, a Rococo screen with Chinese motifs took precedence in the Oriental Salon. On the screen I could make out oriental gardens with bodies of water and paths. An aristocratic couple was celebrating around exotic figures. I was fascinated by the three unique sections of a 19th century Chinese scroll preserved in three rectangular frames. The scroll depicted a poet who had lived in the third century. The scribbler was coming home after being captured by the Huns. The scrolls showed her Hunnish escort, musicians and a general riding under a canopy while the poet held a child under a royal standard. This time a few of the children appeared interested in the scenes on the scroll as they talked among themselves about ancient battles.
Next came the Pompeii Salon with graphics on the walls depicting interiors of ancient palaces and villas. Vranov stoneware made a prominent appearance here. My eyes wandered to a pink vase with green décor. How I would love for my mother to be able to see that! She would love that vase! Maybe some day she would, I told myself. I wanted to show my parents so much of this country, but I would never have the chance to show them everything. The children showed no interest in the space.
The Althann Salon was another delight. Many of the paintings depicted members of this family, so significant to the development of the chateau. I admired the Baroque traveling altar. Brightly colored Vranov stoneware from the 19th century could also be found throughout the salon. By now the children were whining, restless, ready to leave.
The Gentlemen’s Salon hailed from the 19th century, and the decorations were inspired by spiritual alchemy. The scene above the door showed two female figures sleeping. Naked figures above four landscapes held torches. The symbols under the landscapes were focused on the Freemasons. The compasses and the square represented the meeting of heaven and earth, the guide remarked over a din of children’s cries. I admired the four landscapes on the walls, especially the depiction of the waterfall. I could almost hear the cascading water. The youngsters were not able to sit still.
The Swiss Rooms with 19th century landscape paintings on the walls were the next stops. I recognized Hercules in the midst of a battle. A black-stained cabinet was inlaid with marble depicting castles, towns, and rocks. The Picture Gallery included paintings by Dutch and Austrian artists from the 17th to 19th centuries. The Study was decorated with 19th century symbols of alchemy.
Last but not least came the library rooms. Created at the beginning of the 19th century, they now housed some 10,000 volumes. The black cabinets with geometrical designs looked sleek. Most of the books were written in French, German and Polish and hailed from the 18th and 19th centuries. The volumes consisted of both fiction and non-fiction that included subjects such as philosophy, mathematics, geography, theatre and history. I gazed at Voltaire’s collected works in cabinet 13.
Soon the tour was over. The children and their escorts scrambled away, and I took off toward the Chapel of the Holy Trinity in its romantic setting on the edge of the cliff below the chateau. It was hard for me to believe that this impressive structure was completed within two years (1699-1700). Relieved that the children were not going to the church, I turned out to be the only one on the tour. I overheard a couple above the stairs leading down to the chapel.
“Do you want to see the chapel?”
The answer: “No, it does not seem so interesting.”
That couple did not know what they were missing. Architecturally, the interior had a central cylindrical nave with six oval rooms. There were three altars. Notably absent from the main altar was a picture or any kind of centerpiece. I had never seen a main altar like that before. I liked it because it was unique. I could see the Holy Trinity, and a pigeon represented the Holy Spirit. Angels also appeared in the Baroque creation, and golden rods shot out of the work.
The fresco in the cupola celebrated Archangel Michael, the defender of the Catholic Church, wielding a sword as he defeated Satan. Victorious, he placed his foot on his opponent’s chest. Angels danced and swirled around him. One side altar showed Saint Sebastian struck with arrows and Saint John the Baptist accompanied by sheep. The other altar portrayed Saint Barbara with a tower and Saint John with an eagle, holding a book. The Virgin Mary wore golden, flowing drapery.
Oval panels above the altars dealt with themes such as Heaven, Paradise and the Last Judgment. The panel depicting the Last Judgment featured skeletons. One skeleton’s gesture seemed to be saying, “What? Me?”
After the tour of the church, I gazed at the romantic countryside and at the elegant chateau that blended with its surroundings, becoming a part of nature yet still retaining its own identity. Yes, I felt at peace here, even when among the rambunctious children on the tour. This place gave me strength that I often lacked. In the countryside here I also found a sense of hope. The panorama gave me energy and a sense of optimism.
I left, reluctantly, to walk down the steep hill to the village below. From there the bus would take me back to Znojmo, where I would see a castle with magnificent interiors, a stunning rotunda, a spectacular church and several picturesque squares. I would stay in that intriguing south Moravian town overnight before heading back to Prague.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
During an Easter vacation in Olomouc, I decided to pay a visit to the chateau in Velké Losiny, which was a two-hour bus ride away. I was enthusiastic about seeing the chateau as I had recently read Václav Kaplický’s Witch Hammer, based on the witch trials that took place in northern Moravia from 1678 to 1692. In both the book and real life, Deacon Kryštof Alois Lautner tried to protect those branded as witches from a cruel fate, but even he wound up on the stake. I thought it was interesting that the witch trails in what is now the Czech Republic had been confined to two regions of northern Moravia, where there was a mostly German-speaking population.
It terrified me that people could believe such terrible superstitions and that because of those superstitions they could torture and kill fellow human beings. For 15 years, when the emperor’s inquisitor Jindřich František Boblig from Edelstadt occupied the chateau, more than 100 people from the regions were killed, 56 of them from Velké Losiny. The opportunity to see a place where such religious intolerance was carried out sent a chill up my spine. The very idea of people being burned as witches terrified me; yet I just had to see this place with my own eyes.
It made me sad that, although there are no longer witch trials, religious intolerance in such extreme forms still exists today. There were so many examples of religious intolerance in the modern world that it frightened and disgusted me.
As the bus took me north, I saw more and more snow on the ground, even though it was spring. I was the only person on the bus without skis. Many were even standing in the aisle because all the seats were taken. When the bus came to Velké Losiny, it passed the white three-winged Renaissance chateau with beautiful arcades but didn’t even slow down at the stop. The driver evidently thought he only had skiers on board, and no one was waiting at that particular stop. I spoke up frantically that I needed to get off the bus, and a skier quickly told the driver. Finally, the bus let me off. About 15 skiers had to disembark from the bus in order for me to get out. Luckily, even though the driver hadn’t stopped where he was supposed to, I still wasn’t far away from the chateau.
When I approached the chateau, I noticed the exquisite sgraffito on one wall of the Renaissance wing from the 1680s and discovered that the chateau was really made of two parts: the Renaissance palace with arcaded courtyard and a Baroque two-storey building. The arcades in the courtyard gave the chateau a dignified look, I thought. They dated from the 17th century, and the Baroque arcades were decorated with sculptures of dwarfs. It wasn’t until the tour that I realized the Renaissance windows were the oldest in Central Europe.
The guide explained that the Žerotín family had owned the chateau for more than 300 years, until 1802, and that Jan the Younger of Žerotín had built the Renaissance palace, a project that was finally finished in 1589. Also, this particular Žerotín, in 1596, founded the paper mill nearby, where paper was made by hand even today. It holds the distinction of being the only paper mill in Europe that makes paper by hand. During the Thirty Years’ War, the Žerotíns did not lose their property even though they did not convert to Catholicism. The Lichtenstein family took over the chateau from the Žerotíns in the 19th century because the Žerotíns were experiencing financial difficulties. The Žerotín portrait gallery in the chateau dates as far back as the 17th century, the guide pointed out.
On the tour, which consisted of only the guide and me, I stood on a parquet floor that was 400 years old. One 400-year old door was beautifully decorated with intarsia. In the Knights’ Hall I marveled at a majolica tiled stove, the third oldest in the Czech Republic, dating from 1585. The white, brown, blue and green colors intrigued me. The leather wallpaper also caught my attention. One of the two oldest leather wall coverings in the Czech Republic, it was decorated with floral ornament and a joint coat-of-arms of the Žerotín and Oppersdorf families. It dated from 1660. I especially liked the griffin with elaborate wings that stood for the Oppersdorfs. I looked up and thought I saw a panel ceiling, but it was only an illusion. The ceiling was, in fact, painted in magnificent blue and gold colors. I also saw a Renaissance cupboard that was 400 years old, from the last quarter of the 16th century.
The guide informed me that above this space was a large room with a beamed ceiling where the witch craft trials took place in 1678, but the room was not open to the public. What a pity, I thought. That would be something to write home about! And to think I was standing in the room right below it!
In the library founded by Jan of Žerotín, the books ranged from the 15th to 19th century and were written in Latin, German and Czech, for example. They covered topics about horses, astrology and law, to name a few. In the center of the room, I saw a Renaissance reading pulpit made of ebony inlaid with ivory. I was especially intrigued with a leather wall covering that featured golden arabesques. Lions figured in some corners on the borders of the wallpaper.
In another room I saw the thrilling painting, “Night Festivity in Sienna,” which depicted firecrackers going off over a square. I liked the elements of fantasy in the picture that most likely dated from the 18th century. I set my eyes on beautiful Baroque tapestries with motifs of a legend about Cupid and Psyche. They were woven around the middle of the 14th century. One tapestry illustrated a scene with Cupid and Psyche. A second tapestry showed Psyche and her two sisters. A third portrayed Mercury, Zeus and other gods at Cupid and Psyche’s wedding. I saw even more tapestries in the chateau, and the guide proudly explained that this chateau had the second most tapestries in Moravia.
A set of four more tapestries decorated another room. The first showed Antony meeting Cleopatra; the second was titled, “A Torchlight Feast”; the third elaborated on the theme of Cleopatra’s and Antony’s love for each other; and the fourth, dating from 1560, dealt with Roman history as it portrayed the heroic young Roman Mucius Scaevola, who tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Etruscan king Lars Posenna. Because of his courage, he was not killed, though his right arm was badly burned. This particular tapestry dated from the second half of the 16th century.
In another room an early Baroque cabinet from Spain was inlaid with ivory. The drawers featured pictures made of tortoiseshell and ivory. I was enthralled by a small carved altar from Peru or Chile. It dated back to the 17th century, most likely. I saw even more leather wallpaper, this time from 1640, and a Baroque panel ceiling. I also took note of a Spanish bureau dating from the 17th century; it was called a vargueno. One particular painting fascinated me. It carried an inscription in an old form of the Czech language and showed a woman praying and Christ on the cross. Hailing from 1566, it was the funeral picture of Magdelene of Zástřizl, marked with the date of her death, the same year the painting was executed.
Then the guide and I came to a room where a copy of the official, thick book about the witch trials was displayed. She mentioned that among the 56 victims had been a Catholic priest. I imagined Boblig flipping through that fat volume, feeling pleased with himself, choosing which woman to torture next. Those thoughts both angered and terrified me. The atrocities of that period were too much for me to fathom.
In the two chapels, decorated by Jan Kryštof Handke and dating from the 1740s, I set my eyes on an astounding ceiling fresco featuring allegorical figures representing the four continents. A man with a parrot stood for America. Why Handke had chosen this particular symbol for America, I did not know. Other figures included a kneeling woman with a crown to represent Europe, a man with a turban to denote Asia and a bowing black man as Africa.
The big chapel also featured a marble Rococo altar and a Renaissance altar of Madonna with child. The organ from 1723 still worked, the guide claimed. The fresco ceiling painting in the small chapel was the inspiration of Handke as well, and Baroque elements had been added to the late Renaissance altar. A copy of a Gothic statuette of Madonna of Altotting, from the Bavaria region of Germany, dated from the 14th century. Silk paintings also decorated the space.
The Empire Wing, where the Lichtensteins had lived, featured light wood Beidermeyer furniture. The porcelain was from Slavkov in the Czech Lands and from Vienna, Austria. The park, from 1802 in the English style, included eight sandstone sculptures of dwarves from the 1830s and a fountain decorated with a sculpture featuring fish and putti.
I left the chateau, astounded, unable to take in all I had seen, and set off for the paper mill nearby, where I went on a one-hour tour of the place. Founded in the 16th century, it was one of the oldest paper mills in Europe and was now the only existing one. Even the wife of a stationer who had worked here had been burned as a witch during Boblig’s reign. The handmade paper was made from cotton and flax. Some items in the museum included examples of Japanese handmade paper and a model of a paper crusher. I saw how paper was dried by hanging it on poles and learned about press compaction and the drainage of paper, among other things.
Then I found a restaurant in a hotel, ate a big meal of chicken, peaches and ham, wrote some postcards and soon left for the bus stop. This time, I hoped the bus would stop at the designated place.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.