City Museum of Prague Diary

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I had wanted to visit the City Museum of Prague again for some time, but I had just not gotten around to it. I remembered how the intriguing museum took visitors through the joys and disappointments of Czech history. This time, I went to see a temporary exhibition about Prague during the 20-year existence of the democratic First Republic, but, of course, I explored the entire museum as well.

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It was even more impressive than I had remembered. In the main hallway, I saw the calendar dial for Old Town’s Astronomical Clock, painted in 1865 by well-acclaimed Czech artist Josef Mánes. The dial was divided into circular rings. I took notice of the medieval syllable calendar. The folk costume-clad figures represented the 12 months, celebrating Slavic identity. I recognized Troský Castle in the background for September, and I knew that December symbolized the tradition of Czech pig-slaughtering, a custom the European Union did not approve of. A castle addict, I was excited to see Bezděz Castle in the background of the portrayal of March as a young farmer did his ploughing duties in the foreground. I remembered walking 4 kilometers from the train station to the ruins of Bezděz. It had entailed two kilometers of a steep, rocky incline that led to the remnants of what must have been at one time an impressive castle. I liked walking around the ruins, several pages that described each part in my hand, trying to imagine what it had looked like in its heyday. I wasn’t a big fan of ruins, but this one had charmed me.

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Mánes had also painted figures as zodiac signs. I saw dolphins with a plump cherub for Pisces. Sagittarius featured an Old Bohemian warrior while the depiction of Capricorn did not include any human figures but rather a cherub guiding a goat.

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I also noticed that Romanesque elements had greatly influenced the adornment on the dial. I recalled the Romanesque church in Regensburg, Germany, the façade an architectural delight. I had also seen many churches with Romanesque features in Czech villages. At the ruins of Vyšehrad Castle in Prague, St. Martin’s rotunda fit the Romanesque style.

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I walked into the prehistory section, not knowing if I would find it interesting as prehistory was not my cup of tea. I discovered that the first archeological find in Prague was unearthed near St. Matthew’s Church in Prague’s sixth district, a nice walk from where I had lived for many years. The small church had an intimate flair, and if I had been religious, I would have gone there for services. I would also like to be buried there. It is a relatively small and beautiful cemetery in my favorite section of Prague, but I do not think that would be possible. The cemetery is home to some famous Czech artists – architect Pavel Janák and actor Jiří Kemr.

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I also learned that the first farmers in Central Bohemia came in 6 BC. Another interesting fact was that the Celts, in the second half of 1 BC, were the first people to wear trousers in Central Europe.

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The medieval displays were eye-catching. Frescoes and wall paintings from Prague houses were highlighted. I read that Prague’s boroughs were created in the 13th and 14th centuries when a medieval fortress had been built. I already knew the Old Town was founded by King Wenceslas I during the 1230s. I read about the origins of the various districts of Prague. A statue that got my attention showed Christ in agony, hailing from 1413 and made of linden wood. Ceramic stove tiles showed pictures of Hussite soldiers from the 15th century, when the Hussite wars ravaged the Czech lands.

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Rudolf II’s Prague was also featured in the museum section that documented Prague from 1434 to 1620. Artists had flocked to Prague, which had made a name for itself as a center of European Mannerism. Rudolf II’s collection of art and curiosities was certainly impressive. An art gallery at Prague Castle displayed much art that had been attained during his reign. I had also seen many of Rudolf II’s curiosities in the Kunsthammer in Vienna.

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Of course, the Thirty Years’ War was given much attention, as the Catholic victory over the Protestants would greatly influence Prague and Czech history for hundreds of years. Before the war, there were many Ultraquists in Prague society. The defining battle for the Czech lands was at White Mountain in Prague during 1620. The townspeople of Prague were not happy with the then current legal, economic and political roles of towns and took part in this battle. During the war, the Saxons occupied Prague, and the Swedes pillaged and bombed the New Town in Prague.

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I remembered living near the Vltava embankment in the pleasant New Town. I tried to imagine the damage and destruction that those bombs had brought to the quarter. It must have been a devastating sight. Prague became part of a province after the war, and Baroque art and architecture became the fashion. In 1624 Catholicism became the only religion allowed in the Czech lands. During the Baroque period, Czech artists including the Dientzenhofer family of architects, sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun as well as painters Karel Škréta, Petr Brandl and Norbert Grund made their way to Prague in 1710 and had a great influence on the art in the city.

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The reign of the Habsburgs brought with it a long period of Germanization and a centralized monarchy that dominated the 18th century. Some of the exhibits on display from this century were intriguing, to say the least. A table clock took on a macabre character, featuring a skeleton wielding a scythe. There was also a wooden throne from St. Vitus Cathedral, made in the second half of the 17th century. A glass garden with musicians and nobles was another impressive creation.

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Then Prague experienced peace for 100 years. The exhibition ended with the Baroque section, but there was more to the museum, specifically Antonín Langweil’s model of Prague, constructed from 1826 to 1837. He had worked in the University Library at the Clementinum when he was not creating this amazing three-dimensional model of the city. The precision and detail left me in awe. He did not finish the project, but what he did create is astoundingly beautiful and innovative. I saw many sights I had first become acquainted with when I was a tourist in the city during the summer of 1991 – Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge and the Lesser Quarter’s main square as well as the Old Town, St. Vitus Cathedral and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

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I recalled walking to Prague Castle across the Charles Bridge early each morning when I first moved to Prague and lived in the Old Town. I would never forget standing below the balcony of Prague Castle on a frigid February evening in 1994 while Václav Havel gave a speech as the first President of the newly created Czech Republic, his wife Olga by his side. I recalled the moment I had set my eyes on Old Town Square for the first time, back in 1991, feeling at once that I had found my true home.

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What I found just as impressive as the exhibits were the richly adorned coffered ceilings in the museum. The painting is incredible. One used to be in a house in Prague and hails from the 17th century. On walls of the upper floor is a magnificent painting of the city.

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While I already had a solid foundation in Czech and Prague history before this visit, I realized how important this museum would be as a learning experience for tourists who really wanted to become acquainted with the historical events that had shaped the city’s identity through the Baroque era.

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It was such a shame that the displays ended with the Baroque era, but there was no more space in the museum. I thought that a museum of more recent history should be created with a special room celebrating Václav Havel as a dissident, playwright and president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.

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Walking through this museum, I was moved by the lands’ often tumultuous history and reminded how the history of the city seeps into my soul every day, no matter where I am. Just looking around me, I feel the history, which is one of the traits I like most about Prague. It is one reason I feel at home here and don’t want to leave.

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

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2018 Travel Diary

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A building in Rovereto, one of my favorite places I discovered this past year

For me 2018 will always be associated with Palladian villas and the Veneto region of Italy, the excitement of Berlin and remarkable Czech sights. I also visited some unforgettable art exhibitions in Prague and elsewhere in Europe.

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Basilicata Palladiana, Vicenza

During March I traveled with a friend via the arsviva agency to the Veneto to see Palladian sights and other architectural gems in Vicenza, Padua and Rovereto. The three cities were fascinating, each with its own unique character. I was especially drawn to Vicenza for the Teatro Olimpico, Palazzo Leoni Montanari and Palazzo Chiericati. Of course, I admired the elegant arches and arcades of the Basilicata Palladiana.

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The highlight of my tour of Palladian architecture was the Teatro Olimpico, one of only three Renaissance theatres in existence. Palladio’s plan was based on classical architecture. I most admired the illusive architecture in the set for Oedipus Rex, the oldest existing theatre scenery, which featured painting with a false perspective. It looked as if the seven roads of Thebes led from the stage into the horizon. Also, it was difficult to fathom that the clear sky was really painted. The illusion seemed so real.

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A Russian icon in the Gallerie d’Italia

I cherished my time in the galleries of Vicenza. The Gallerie d’Italia was decorated with rich statuary, stucco ornamentation and frescoes. It houses 18th century Venetian painting, a unique 17th century sculpture made of Carrara marble and vases from Attica and Magna Graecia. However, the highlight of the gallery for me was its superb collection of Russian icons. I had only seen more intriguing collections in St. Petersburg.

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The interior of the Civic Museum

The Civic Museum in the Chiericati Palace also caught my undivided attention. The palace itself was a work of art, designed by Palladio in 1550 with frescoes and stucco adornment decorating the interior. The art spanning from the 1200s to the 20th century was incredible.

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Villa Rotunda – no pictures allowed inside

I also saw some Palladian villas, including La Rotunda, which inspired Thomas Jefferson in his design of his home at Monticello. The exterior’s appearance is that of an antique villa. The geometric design connects the sloping portico roofs with the ribs of the dome. The geometric interior was planned for comfort and beautiful views. The rooms are organized around a central hall with a dome. The villa has three floors and a mezzanine.

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Basilica of San Antonio or Basilica del Santo – no photos allowed inside

In Padua I gazed in wonder at the Basilica of Saint Antonio, which is huge with eight cupolas. The interior has a Latin cross pattern with three naves separated by pilasters. The various chapels were outstanding. The Chapel of Saint Giacomo, hails from the 14th century with six columns of red marble included in the décor. The work, “The Crucifixion” is divided into three parts on the walls. Pictures on lunettes narrate the life of Saint Giacomo the Great.

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Basilica of San Antonio, Padua

The main altar of the basilica was created by Donatello. The pictorial narration of the altar includes four miracles of Saint Antonio, sculpture of the Crucifixion, Madonna with Child and the figure of Saint Antonio, for example. The Chapel of the Saint includes the tomb of Saint Antonio. On the walls are nine reliefs of marble figures recalling miracles performed by Saint Antonio. There was so much to see, a person would need a few days to do this place of worship justice.

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Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

I also was enthralled with the Scrovegni Chapel, which featured amazing 14th century frescoes by Giotto di Bondone. Thirty-eight panels of frescoes cover three walls on three levels. I was flabbergasted, staring at each fresco in a trance.

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From the Depero Futurist House of Art, by Fortunato Depero

I was very impressed with Rovereto, a picturesque town below the Dolomites. Its charming, narrow streets and squares cast a magic spell on me. I visited the Depero Futurist House of Art, the only Futurist museum in Italy, featuring the works of Fortunato Depero, a painter, sculptor, writer and graphic designer. I learned that Futurism rejected the past and celebrated modernity as well as technological advances. The museum included furniture, painting, tapestries, cloth material, drawings, collages, posters, toys and a film. I loved the vibrant colors of many of the works.

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Nowadays school children hang out or wait for tours at the Berlin Wall remnants

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Glazed dome of Reichstag

In May I spent five days in Berlin, a city I had not visited since 1991 except for a one-day visit to the Gemaldegalerie several years earlier. The East had undergone radical changes since then, to say the least. Most of the Wall is gone. The former Communist section of the city is lively with bars and restaurants and includes most of the main sights. Now a Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks greet visitors past the Brandenberg Gate. Back in 1991, the difference between East and West Berlin was almost tangible, the East being gray, depressing and drab.

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The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the Gemaldegalerie

Once again I inspected the art ranging from medieval days to Neoclassicism in the Gemaldegalerie. I was very moved by the 220 meters of original Berlin Wall at the memorial on Bernauer Strasse. Berlin’s Cathedral impressed me a great deal with the eight mosaics decorating its dome. I had a tour of the Reichstag’s glazed dome, a superb structure of modern architecture soaring 47 meters. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe greatly moved me with its 2,711 concrete blocks of equal size but different heights. The DDR Museum with its multimedia exhibits gave me an idea of what life was like for East Germans under Communism. The Old National Gallery bewitched me with its 19th century art collection, and the temporary exhibition Wanderlust featured 19th century landscapes with travelers on foot. I particularly liked the pictorial renditions of Naples and places in Sicily. I saw the Ishtar Gate and a building from Aleppo in the Pergamon Museum, for instance. The Museum of Decorative Arts was a treasure, too, with amazing exhibits in fashion, design and object art from the Middle Ages through Art Deco.

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Plague mask worn by doctors in the German Historical Museum

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Pictures of concentration camp prisoners

What impressed me the most was the German Historical Museum, where I spent a good part of two days. Encompassing 2,000 years of German history, the museum takes the visitor from the reign of Charlemagne to the departure of the Allies in 1994 by presenting historical facts, personalities and events and by portraying everyday life in the various eras. I especially liked the plague mask worn by doctors treating patients with this disease. Made of leather, it had a long beak and looked as if it belonged in a commedia dell’arte play. The section about World War II was especially gripping. The Germans were certainly facing that horrific part of their past head-on in this museum.

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Troja Chateau from Prague’s Botanical Gardens

When my parents visited, we toured the dazzling Rudolfinum with its beautiful Dvořák concert hall. President Tomáš G. Masaryk was elected in that building on three occasions, when Parliament had met there during the First Republic. I visited the lovely and vast Botanical Gardens in Troja, examining the southern part and the greenhouse. The views of Troja Chateau from the gardens were unbeatable.

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Prague’s National Museum restored

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Painting of Karlštejn Castle in National Museum

Shortly after it reopened after a seven-year renovation, I spent time in the National Museum of Prague. The exhibition about Czech and Slovak relations during the past 100 years and life under Communism was outstanding. The permanent display also was captivating, but the place was so crowded. A Neo-Renaissance gem, the National Museum features amazing sculpture, painting and architectural elements. I especially liked the pantheon, where paintings, statues and busts celebrate Czech culture and history. The four paintings of castles in Bohemia impressed this avid castlegoer. I also explored the Hanspaulka, Ořechovka and Baba sections of Prague with their distinctive villas.

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Gothic archway in Horšovský Týn Castle

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From Horšovský Týn Chateau

Out of Prague I made my way back to Osek Monastery below the Krušné Mountains, established in the 13th century. The Chapter Hall was one of the first Gothic buildings erected in the Czech lands while the interior of the church takes on a Baroque appearance. Hořovice Chateau is much younger, hailing from the late 17th century. The Late Baroque décor includes a fantastic ceiling fresco in the hall of the main staircase. The Large Dining Hall amazes with Second Rococo adornment. Horšovský Týn Castle and Chateau offers six tours; we had time for two. Established in the 13th century, it includes an 18th century pool table with its sides decorated in tortoiseshell and intarsia. A Rococo jewel case and Holland Rococo display case caught my attention, too. The Italian vedutas of Venice made me long for that Italian city. The 18th century Dancing Hall features four big wall mirrors and a 28-branch chandelier made of Czech glass. Ceiling frescoes also captured my interest. However, the original Gothic portal at the entrance to the chapel was the most outstanding architectural feature. The chapel was magical, too. Velké Březno, one of the youngest and smallest chateaus in the Czech lands, also amazed.

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Ceiling fresco at Hořovice Chateau

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Velké Březno Chateau interior

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Velké Březno Chateau exterior

I also spent time in museums this past year. In Vienna I saw the excellent Monet exhibition as well as the Pieter Bruegel the Elder exhibition. Both captivated me. In Prague the exhibition showcasing the various collages of Jiří Kolář was an art highlight. The exhibition about Czech and Czechoslovak history in the Riding School of Prague Castle was unforgettable. There were many more art-related highlights, but I do not have time to mention them all.

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Collage by Jiří Kolář

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Prague Castle Riding School exhibition

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From Czechoslovak Exhibition at National Museum, cash register from beginning of 20th century

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

 

 

 

National Museum Diary

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I was introduced to Prague’s National Museum during July of 1991, when, for the first time, I saw objects and attire from World War II on exhibit there. I couldn’t believe that I was actually looking at real Nazi uniforms and authentic items from the horrific era of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, a period I had only read about in books while growing up in the USA. The exhibition made me even more aware of what a nightmarish time of oppression and terror it had been. I had never felt so close to history before that trip to Prague. It was an unforgettable experience for me, as were many moments during that first foray to one of the lands of my ancestors. By the time I moved to Prague in September of that year, the exhibition was gone. I occasionally visited the museum after that, but nothing there would influence me that strongly.

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Fast forward to late October of 2018, when the National Museum reopened after seven years of reconstruction. The once grimy façade of the Neo-Renaissance gem now looked squeaky clean. Inside the most significant scientific and cultural institution in Bohemia was an exhibition about Czechs and Slovaks during the 100 years of existence since Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918. Right now, though, I am going to write about what I saw in the building itself as I savored the beauty of the sculpture, painting and architecture of the interior.

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First, it is necessary to have some background about the museum in order to appreciate it fully. The year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of its founding, as Kašpar Maria Šternberg and other prominent Czechs established the institution in 1818. During the 19th century, the museum became a symbol for Czech nationalism. At the time, Czechs were experiencing an era of Germanization with the Habsburg rulers at the helm. The Journal of the Bohemian Museum published there in Czech had a profound influence on Czech literature.

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The current building was erected from 1885 to 1891 thanks to architect Josef Schulz. The edifice survived World War II but not without damage. The items normally housed in the museum had been transferred to another location, fortunately. Still, that wouldn’t be the last time the National Museum became a victim of historical events. When the Warsaw Pact armies invaded Prague in August of 1968, the Soviets shot at the museum, riddling it with bullet holes. The Russians also destroyed some sculptures, for instance. During 1969, university student Jan Palach set fire to himself as a protest against the rigid normalization period in front of the museum. He would succumb to his injuries in the hospital. The National Museum was also damaged during the construction of the Prague Metro in 1972. Six years later a large highway around the museum would prove a detriment.

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The museum has served as a backdrop for many demonstrations and events throughout Czech history. I recalled the museum looming in the background as I walked around the State of Saint Wenceslas in December of 2011, observing all the candles and tributes to former dissident-turned-president Václav Havel shortly after his death. I had set a rose in front of the statue. Thinking back, I missed those days when Havel had been in the Castle.

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The exterior of the National Museum that dominates Wenceslas Square is noteworthy. Sandstone statues, stucco and exquisite reliefs all add to its elegance and distinction. Allegorical statues are situated above a fountain, for example. The building consists of a large central tower with a dome and a lantern. There are four domes. A pantheon is located beneath the main dome. The exterior staircase is grandiose, too. In front of the museum, there is a splendid view of Wenceslas Square.

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The moment I stepped inside the museum I was again entranced with its elegance. The entrance hall consisted of a monumental staircase fit for royalty with a coffered ceiling and 20 tall columns of red Swedish granite. Above are two floors with decorated arcades and beautiful floors. Upstairs I saw portraits of rulers of Bohemia and four paintings of significant castles in Bohemia – Prague Castle, Karlštejn, Zvíkov and Křivoklát. I loved spending my spring and summer weekends castle-hopping. I remember the many strolls I took to Prague Castle across the Charles Bridge many early mornings when I first moved to Prague and resided in the center. The chapel at Karlštejn Castle was one of the most beautiful sights in a castle interior. I also spent time admiring the 12 depictions of historical places in Bohemia, such as that of Český Krumlov, the most picturesque town in the country after Prague with its castle boasting three tours and Baroque theatre as well as extensive castle garden. Bronze busts rounded out the decoration.

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The pantheon is perhaps my favorite section of the museum because it celebrates Czech history and culture, two subjects dear to my heart. The paintings, statues and busts serve as poignant reminders of the nation’s cultural accomplishments and historical contributions. Even the door of the pantheon is magnificent with its rich woodcarving. In the pantheon I found statues of Czech historical figures who have made me excited about the nation’s history – František Palacký, a 19th century historian, politician and writer dubbed The Father of the Nation. His seven-volume History of the Czech Nation in Bohemia and Moravia remains a significant source of information for modern day historians. He also was a major participant in the Czech National Revival.

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Jan Amos Comenius’s likeness was there, too. He was a religious and educational reformer who authored textbooks, encyclopedias and dictionaries as well as one of the most important works of Czech literature, The Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart. The statue of Antonín Dvořák made me think of his New World Symphony, which I saw the Czech Philharmonic perform in an awe-inspiring concert. Karel Čapek’s statue brought to mind my graduate studies that in part focused on his plethora of works of various genres. The paintings in the chamber are also extraordinary. One of the lunettes that celebrates Czech history in the pantheon shows the founding of Prague University, now Charles University, in 1348 with Emperor Charles IV playing the central role.

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The statue of first Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk has an intriguing history. It was removed during World War II and slated to be melted, but somehow survived a tenure in a junkyard and was reinstalled after the war. During the Stalinist 1950s, the government wasn’t exactly enthralled with Masaryk, so his statue was placed in the depository. When the liberal reforms of the 1968 Prague Spring were in full swing, the statue of Masaryk was reinstated in the pantheon. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Masaryk’s likeness remained there, even though the Communists did not put him in a favorable light. If I could live in another time period, I would choose the 1920s of Czechoslovakia, when the country was freshly on a democratic path with Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk leading the way.

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Once again, the building cast a magical spell on me as I felt overwhelmed by the painting and sculptural decoration. Both the exterior and interior were filled with a sense of grandeur and splendor that made me reluctant to leave.

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

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View of Wenceslas Square from the National Museum

Rothmayer Villa Diary

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NOTE: It is not permitted to take photos inside the villa. Photos can only be taken outside from the street.
I was excited about my trip to the Rothmayer Villa in Prague’s Břevnov quarter of the sixth district. I had never been there, even though the villa had been open to the public since the fall of the previous year (2015). In fact, I had not even heard of the architect, Otto Rothmayer before I came across the listing of the villa in a Prague cultural guide. This definitely would be a new adventure.
When I first set eyes on the Rothmayer Villa on the corner of a tranquil street next to a hospital, I was surprised at how small it was. I had thought it would be bigger because I had visited the much larger Müller Villa a few days earlier. I was also surprised at the lack of decoration on the façade, which had symmetrical windows and a spartan cornice. Yet even the simplicity of the rectangular design exuded a sense of elegance. Certainly, the classicist-modernist style was not my favorite. I preferred styles with some ornamentation, such as Art Nouveau. Still, it was intriguing, and I appreciated the sobriety of the design.

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Otto Rothmayer, photo from bydleni.idnes.cz
Otto Rothmayer built this house for his family during 1928 and 1929, a time when the Tugendhat Villa was under construction in Brno, designed by legendary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and a time when work on the Müller Villa, designed by Adolf Loos and Karel Lhotka, was underway in another section of Prague 6. Many villas in Prague were erected during the interwar years.
The guide started off by providing information about Rothmayer’s life and work. Rothmayer took up carpentry at a young age. He turned to architecture before World War I, studying under Slovenian architect Jože Plečník at Prague’s Academy of Applied Arts. Plečník’s creations would inspire Rothmayer for the rest of his life. After World War I, Rothmayer finished his studies and worked in the studio of Cubist architects Pavel Janák and Josef Gočár. He also cooperated with Janák and Gočár on the design of a pavilion for an exhibition in Lyon during 1920. In 1921 he took up the post of assistant architect at Prague Castle with Plečník as his boss and colleague. Rothmayer held the position until 1958, when he retired. After 1930 Plečník left Prague Castle while Rothmayer continued to work there.

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Rothmayer’s impressive designs at Prague Castle includes renovating the apartment of the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. He also created plans for some of the courtyards and improved the appearance of the Theresian Wing of the Old Royal Palace. He designed the Staircase Hall using what was then a new material, faux marble. His style was also visible in interior renovations of the New Royal Palace.
Yet Rothmayer’s designs were not limited to Prague Castle. He designed three other family houses, all with porches so they would allow residents ready access to the outdoors. One of his creations was a weekend house for sculptor Otakar Hátlý. Rothmayer also served as a professor of Decorative and Applied Arts from 1947 to 1951. He stopped teaching because his ideas clashed with the social realism philosophy of the era. He also designed exhibitions for the Museum of Applied Arts and was responsible for installations of various exhibitions at the Museum of Decorative Arts and National Literary Monument. A side altar for the Church of the Most Sacred Heart in the Vinohrady quarter of Prague is another example of his work.

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Vila Stadion, 1928, from http://www.renton.si
The guide told us that Plečník’s Villa Stadion in Ljubljana inspired Rothmayer’s design of his family villa. I was familiar with the name and creations of Jože Plečník, whose style could be said to fit into the category of Art Nouveau while Rothmayer’s work was much simpler in design. There was a huge exhibition of Plečník’s architectural gems at Prague Castle many years ago. Also, when I had visited Ljubljana, I had made a trip to his studio. Plečník was responsible for the modern look of Ljubljana, designing architectural masterpieces throughout the city. For example, his creations there included the Triple Bridge, the Slovene National and University Library, a cemetery and parks. Elsewhere in Europe, he designed many structures in Vienna and his style can be found in Belgrade, too.

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Jože Plečník, 1933, from http://www.dieselpunks.org. Photo by Karel Repa
Plečník’s works at Prague Castle under Masaryk’s tenure as president included reconstructing the first and third courtyards and reconstructing the appearance of the southern gardens. Plečník spent three years doing renovations on Masaryk’s apartment at the Castle, and Rothmayer took part in this project as well. Plečník’s distinctive style can also be seen in the Spanish Hall and Bellevue Summer Palace. Yet his designs are not limited to the Castle. He also designed structures in Vinohrady and the Old Town of Prague, for example. Outside of Prague he worked on the president’s summer residence at Lány and at Křivoklát Castle.

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The most beautiful church in Prague Heart, designed by Plečník, photo from newchurcharchitecture.wordpress.com.

After explaining to the group about Rothmayer’s background, the tour guide drew our attention to black-and-white photos on an ash wood table designed by Rothmayer. The guide pointed out one photo in which Otto’s wife Božena had a short haircut and wore pants, signs that she was a modern woman. Another photo showed the villa surrounded by fields. Rothmayer had built it on an isolated plot of land. Now other villas flanked the street, and the villa was right next to a huge hospital. We also learned some basic information about the villa. It had a rectangular plan with a cylindrical shape that was the large, impressive spiral staircase connecting the floors. It was intriguing that the family had not owned a car. They walked to town, which was quite a distance away.

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Like Plečník, Rothmayer favored wood for his furniture as was evident in this room. Other furnishings were created from spruce and pine. Jan Vaněk was responsible for the design of four impressive Windsor chairs. I was familiar with his designs. He was a Brno-based architect who had also collaborated on the Müller Villa not far from here. The floor was original, made of cork. A unique teapot in the space had once belonged to Plečník. The guide also commented that when the house was constructed, small heaters that used coal had been placed in each room. There was also a simple yet elegant white tiled stove in the space; these tiled stoves were sprinkled throughout the villa.
Božena’s room, currently the ticket office, was next. I saw examples of her embroideries with folk art themes framed on the walls. Her creations included clothes, including pants for women, plus purses and jewellery. She also set up an exhibition about the modern woman. I was drawn to the small bust of Božena Němcová, a 19th century Czech writer who is credited with founding modern Czech prose. She also wrote fairy tales and travelogues, for example. Her best known work is her novel, The Grandmother, based on memories of her happy childhood in the countryside. In the book the grandmother represents love, goodness and morality. Her literary masterpieces greatly contributed to the Czech National Revival movement. I certainly understood how a modern woman like Božena Rothmayer could be inspired by this author.

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Then we came to the room where Otto had worked and slept. He had made all the furniture for this space, which had once been full of belongings – drawings, paintings and books. The desk was mobile; it could move back and forth to get the best light. The drawers in the desk could move from side-to-side. It reminded me of the moveable drawers in the closets designed by Vaněk for the Ladies’ Dressing Room at the Müller Villa.
The Children’s Room, where their son Jan Rothmayer (1932-2010) had slept, included an audio system that Jan had designed. He was an electrotechnician who had also taken up photography, inspired by family friend and legendary photographer, Josef Sudek. who had often visited in the 1950s and 1960s and had taken many pictures of the house and garden. Sudek was best known for his photos of Prague, such as the interior of St. Vitus Cathedral and panoramas of city. His style could be described as neo-romantic. Sudek was able to take such beautiful photographs, even though he had use of only one arm.

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Josef Sudek, photo from http://www.afuk.cz
In this room we watched an intriguing video about the Rothmayer family and their work. The photos taken by Jan were particularly intriguing. My favorite showed a lit candle next to a half-full glass of wine. Sudek’s still lifes had certainly been an inspiration for this picture.
The room on the highest floor was once the Winter Garden Room and became the Summer Study during the 1950s. I had expected that there would be more books on the shelves. I was drawn to the small sculptures that also decorated the space. At one time, the small terrace had included a herb garden.
Last, we went to the basement, which included a carpentry workshop where Otto had made his furniture. There was also a guest room, where Sudek had slept. The armchair and table were designed by Plečník.

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Then we were free to go outside into the garden, which was sprinkled with glassware and rocks. Rothmayer had worked with glass artists. A big, blue vase caught my attention. The garden, like the villa, was simple yet elegant. I liked the white garden furniture made from rough steel. It had been very popular at the time.
Because the family had lived there until 2009, many of the furnishings were authentic. Also, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague had some furniture from the villa in its collection, so many of the furnishings were preserved. The villa had remained private property under Communism, when many places had been nationalized.

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I was surprised that the rooms were small and that the style of the furniture was so simple. Yet the simplicity was by no means a negative aspect. It had a certain elegance to it. I had expected the villa to have a lavish interior because I had visited the Müller Villa several days earlier. Designed by Viennese architect Adolf Loos, who also had Czech citizenship, and Czech Karel Lhotka from 1928 to 1930, the Müller Villa was much bigger, with a sober, unornamented exterior shaped like a cube. However, the interior greatly differed from the Rothmayer Villa in its extravagant decoration. Both villas, though, made use of wood as a key material for furnishings. Yet Loos had also utilized marble and stone, which were expensive materials.
Visiting this villa greatly improved my understanding of modern architecture. I became familiar with the lives of Otto Rothmayer and his family as well as with their contributions to Czech architecture, photography, fashion and textile design. I appreciated the simple, practical style. I would certainly recommend this villa to tourists interested in modern architecture.

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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.