Church of Saint Corona Diary

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The first place our guides took us in Vicenza was the Church of Saint Corona, a three-nave Gothic structure with many treasures inside. The church harkens back to 1261, when it was constructed to house a Holy Thorn that the bishop of Vicenza had received as a present from French King Louis IX.

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I loved the interior with its paintings, frescoes, superb choir, ceiling and chancel. The artwork included a masterpiece by Paolo Veronese, “Adoration of the Magi.” The main altar featured Giovanni Bellini’s “The Baptism of Christ” while Bartolomeo Montagna’s “Magdalen and Saints” also made an appearance. I was especially entranced with Giabattista Pittoni’s “Enthroned Madonna and child venerated by Saints Peter and Pius V,” though all the paintings greatly impressed me. I loved art, and seeing these paintings filled me with joy and excitement as if I were at a renowned art museum.

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The choir in the apse was another wonder. The carved, inlaid decoration on the wooden choir was so delicate and detailed. The frescoes in the Thiene Chapel hailed from the early 15th century. The chancel was also of Renaissance origin. The painted coffered ceiling with stucco decoration was another jewel.  The superbly adorned main altar also appealed to me. The stained glass windows amazed.

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Of course, we could not take a good look at the church without paying close attention to the Valmarana Chapel, designed by Andrea Palladio around 1576 and located in the crypt. The Valmarana clan had been buried in the church, so it was no surprise that Antonio Valmarana had chosen to be interred there. The chapel was simply designed as a balanced space with a square space. The two niches in the chapel were simple yet helped give the space a sense of elegance. I liked the symmetry, and I would appreciate this characteristic of Palladio’s architecture in many other works that day and in the following days of our trip.

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Every element of the church seemed unique. The paintings each told a powerful story. The Gothic characteristics, the ceiling, the chancel, the choir, the chapel designed by Palladio – everything fused together to make this an architectural gem, just one of the many architectural gems that awaited me in Vicenza.

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

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Palazzo Chiericati Diary

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In March of 2018, I spent time in Vicenza, where I admired Renaissance Palladian architecture. I was enthralled with Vicenza. The elegant arches and arcades of the Basilicata Palladiana and the Renaissance masterpiece called the Theatre Olimpico were two sights that took my breath away. The two art galleries I visited also were stunning. I could have spent hours at each gallery. The Civic Museum, housed in the Chiericati Palace, displays amazing art from the 1200s to the beginning of the 20th century. Even though renovation was ongoing, the collections were extensive.

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The palace itself is a masterpiece designed by Palladio in 1550. The building is a work of art with enthralling frescoes and superb stuccoes and has been recognized by UNESCO. The Chiericatis were fans of Palladio; he also designed a villa for them. One prominent architectural feature involves Palladio making the palace look elegant by placing the structure on a podium. The central section, accessible by a grand staircase, resembles a temple, as Palladio respected antique forms. By raising the building, Palladio also was able to protect it from floods, so it served more than a merely decorative purpose. I also found these architectural elements at the Villa Rotunda and the Villa Malcontenta, two places designed by Palladio. The façade has a two-story loggia, typical of Palladio’s designs. One side of the loggia is closed off by a wall with an arch.

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While I was enamored with the exterior of the building, I was not prepared for the onslaught of beautiful artworks that greeted me inside. The ground floor showed off frescoes, stuccoes, grotesques and lunettes. Seven lunettes told the story of the city’s prosperity during the 1500s and 1600s.

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The first floor included a medieval section, where work by Hans Memling and others were showcased. I also was introduced to the paintings of Bartolomeo Montagna and his contemporaries. The second floor concentrated on Venetian paintings of the 1500s, with works by Bassano, Tintoretto and Veronese. The 17th century was also represented.

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When I reached the attic, I no longer felt as if I was in a museum but rather as if I had set foot in a three-room house. These spaces held the paintings, drawings and etchings that once belonged to Marquis Giuseppe Roi. The works dated from the 15th century to the 20th century. Intriguing furniture also made up the collection.

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The basement hosted temporary exhibitions. I could see the 14th and 15th century foundations of the palace, where kitchens and cellars used to be. There was a well and a barrel staircase, for instance. Walking through the basement was like walking back in time.

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We got off the bus in Vicenza across from the Palazzo Chiericati, and this was the first building I saw in the city. The exterior certainly didn’t disappoint, and the interior was full of surprises and delights.

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

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Telč Diary

 

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I was excited about my second trip to Telč, a Renaissance architectural gem I had first visited back in 1992, the year UNESCO recognized the town as a cultural monument. I remember feeling so overwhelmed when I had first stepped onto the large triangular Zachariáš of Hradec Square. More than 20 years later, I still felt the same way.

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The Renaissance burgher houses were narrow, each with unique facades portraying various architectural styles. The arcading and arched gables were astounding. I saw Late Baroque and Classicist forms as well as facades that had retained many Renaissance characteristics. The House of Ambrož Šlapanovský at number 6 boasted of a simple Baroque and Classicist façade while the House of Nedorost Master Hosier at number 12 sported a façade harkening from Renaissance days. Its high attic and crenellation from the late 16th century appealed to me.

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I was especially drawn to the House of Osterreicher the Master Mason at number 15. The illusive sgraffito on the façade was complimented by the dynamic hues that made this house one of the most dominant on the square. I loved the shades of green, grey and white that combined to make a captivating façade hailing from the middle of the 16th century. The façade also sported the allegorical figures of Melancholy and the Crucifixion.

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The façade I fancied the most featured a gable in Venetian Renaissance style. Adorned with biblical figures, the gable hailed from 1555. I was entranced by the gable on the House of Jan the Baker at number 17, an edifice with a late Baroque appearance and stucco frame. In the middle, the depiction of the Holy Trinity was superb and elegant. I also was enthralled with the House of Plzák the Alderman at number 31 with its sgraffito decoration. Even though the Town Hall had been built during the 16th century, it clearly had taken on Classicist features when changes were made in 1811. The Marian Column in the center of the square was wonderfully Baroque, the same style of so many plague columns in the country.

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But I am getting ahead of myself. It’s time for a short history lesson about the town. Telč originated in the 13th century, and the first written document mentioning the town dates from 1366. Oldřich of Hradec was awarded Telč in the 14th century, and the town would remain in the family of the wealthy Hradec clan until 1604. The most significant Hradec owner was Zachariáš of Hradec, who took over the property in 1550. His biggest claim-to-fame was transforming what had been a Gothic castle into a Renaissance chateau. The structure still retains its Renaissance character and ranks as one of the best preserved Renaissance chateaus in the country.

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When there were no more men in the family to inherit the property, Vilém Slavata acquired Telč. He is best known as one of the two governors thrown out of Prague Castle in the Third Defenestration of Prague during 1618. He survived because he landed on a pile of manure. This event helped trigger the Thirty Years’ War and brought to a head the conflict between Czech Protestant nobles and the Catholic Habsburg ruling monarchy. Slavata was able to keep the chateau in his family for three generations. František Antonín Liechtenstein-Castelcorn took over at the end of the 18th century, when the property came into the hands of the Podstastský-Liechtenstein clan. They would retain ownership until 1945, when the chateau was nationalized.

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It was soon time for the first tour of the chateau. We started out in the medieval Chapel of Saint George. I was drawn to the superb carving of Saint George fighting the dragon on a wall. The vaulted ceilings on the ground floor were outstanding.

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The African Hall was one of my favorites, though I am not usually particularly drawn to rooms with hunting trophies. The gigantic elephant’s ear and the open-mouthed hippo’s head were striking. The Knights’ Hall was decorated with knights’ armor from the 16th century and had a superb coffered ceiling from 1570. It was decorated with painted scenes of Hercules’ feats. Its artificial marble checkered floor hailed from the same year. This only proved to be one of many remarkable ceilings in the chateau, however. The Japanese porcelain dishes and sgraffito ornamentation in the Banquet Hall were exquisite.

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The Golden Hall was the highlight of the tour, that’s for sure. It measured 30 meters, but the main feature that took my breath away was the Renaissance gilded coffered ceiling decorated with painted biblical subjects. The woodcarving on the ceiling was exceptional, the likes of which I had never seen before. The Blue Hall was magnificent, featuring another remarkable ceiling, this one adorned with figures of the four elements – water, earth, fire and air. The Renaissance stove also captured my attention. The ceiling in the Men’s Parlor was yet another gem, painted wine red with gold. These colors gave it a certain warmth and intimacy. Circular medallions also decorated the ceiling.

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The next tour featured the Podstastký Private Apartments, adorned in 19th and early 20th century styles. What enamored me the most were the 300 Delft faience plates in the Count’s Room. Two distinctive closets stood out in one space – a Baroque closet with rich decoration and a shorter Renaissance closet featuring intarsia. The guide showed us a green trashcan decorated with a picture of Napoleon because the family despised the French ruler. I also saw the most beautiful Italian jewel chests made with ebony. Other adornment included Oriental vases as well as Meissen and Viennese porcelain.

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The Red Drawing Room appealed to me due to the warm red color of the armchairs and sofa. A gold clock and huge white tiled stove also stood out. The library held 8,416 volumes, including Czech books such as Jungmann’s dictionaries and national songs. There were also British novels as well as volumes in German, Latin and French. I also adored the big sky blue-and-cream colored tiled stove in the space. Another artifact that enticed me was the tiny table from India.

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Telč’s chateau was certainly one of the most impressive I had ever seen, ranking up there with Vranov nad Dyjí, Hrubý Rohozec and Lysice, a few other favorites. I left the chateau with an even deeper appreciation for the Renaissance style. I had always been keen on the Renaissance, but now I was even more enthusiastic. The intricate, breathtaking ceilings appealed to me the most. They literally took my breath away. Rarely have I set my eyes on something that awe-inspiring. The park was amazing, too, with many rare woody species. The garden was another delight.

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We ate outside in the square at the hotel restaurant. It was an awful choice, as I had never experienced such slow and inept service. Even when there were few customers, the waiters were so slow. We were there two hours, one hour or less eating, the rest of the time waiting for the bill, which we were constantly promised. Finally, I went inside, where I actually found a waiter at the cash register. He asked me why I was in a hurry but allowed me to pay, luckily. Sometimes the waiters would just disappear. They were not inside or outside, nowhere to be seen.

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As we were leaving the town, we spoke with a long-time resident, who confirmed that the hotel was an awful place to eat. Our food was fine, but she said the meals were usually bad. People had come away with a terrible impression of Telč due to the service at that hotel.

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I saw many touristy shops on the square, but we did find one store selling wonderful ceramics. I bought some ceramic cat figures that are beautiful. Another shop had pretty, handmade mugs with colorful designs.

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The problem with getting to and from Telč is the D1 highway, which is under construction with only two lanes until at least 2020. It was a nightmare with so many trucks taking up both lanes, as we had no chance to pass them. Once a truck suddenly swerved into our lane, and my friend was able to break just in time to avoid an accident. The truck drivers were arrogant and aggressive.

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If there had been an accident when we were on the highway, the journey one-way could have taken up six hours or more. Luckily, we only had a half-hour delay on the journey to Telč. The big problem was, as always, the traffic in Prague. I had investigated how to get to Telč by bus, but the journey takes about six hours with Student Agency because the buses make stops elsewhere. I was not about to spend six hours or more on a bus.

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So, I look forward to 2020, when I will certainly go back to Telč to experience the splendor of the Renaissance once again.

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

 

 

 

Bassano del Grappa Diary

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During my four-day excursion to north Italy with the arsviva travel agency, we visited the picturesque town of Bassano del Grappa, located 65 kilometers from Venice. It is known not only for its vineyards and Venetian villas but also for its Palladian wooden bridge and for the impressive collection of paintings by Jacopo Bassano (also referred to as Jacopo dal Ponte) in its Civic Museum.

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First, a bit about the town: Bassano del Grappa was first mentioned in writing as far back as 998 AD. The symbol of the city, the Ponte Vecchio was designed by the renowned architect Palladio in 1569. A wartime casualty and a victim of floods, the bridge has been rebuilt several times, but the current structure remains faithful to Palladio’s original design.

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The town does not lack a castle or a cathedral, either. Ezzelini Castle has not been in use for six centuries. Hailing from 998 A.D., the cathedral now boasts a 17th century appearance, Two of Jacopo’s paintings adorn the interior. Historical monuments abound. The Civic Tower was constructed around 1312. The Loggia of the Mayor dates back to the 15th century. The elegant blue clock has decorated its façade since 1430, though the current one was built in 1747. The loggia features frescoes. The squares of the town are picturesque, though there was a large market on the main square while we were there. Intriguing churches of various architectural styles also dot the town.

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The Civic Museum captured my undivided attention for more than two hours. The museum boasts the largest collection of renditions by Jacopo in the world. There was much more to see than Bassano’s masterpieces, however. The art gallery displays some 500 paintings from the 13th to 20th century. Sculptures also delight. There is a 17th century cloister, too.

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Jacopo Bassano lived from 1510 or 1515 to 1592. He was a Renaissance Venetian painter whose later works fall into the category of Mannerism. Born in Bassano del Grappa, he resided in Venice during the 1530s before returning to his hometown for good in 1539. Often experimenting with various styles, Jacopo was influenced by Titian, Tintoretto, Durer, Raphael and Roman art, for example. The painting guru is known for his religious paintings rendered in natural landscapes. He also studied the role of light and created significant nocturnal scenes.

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Here are some examples of the artwork in the Civic Museum that kept me entranced for two hours. Some of the paintings, but not all of them, are by Jacopo Bassano.

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

Libochovice Chateau Diary

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

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

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

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

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

Mělník Chateau Diary

 

The Renaissance arcades of Mělník Chateau

The Renaissance arcades of Mělník Chateau

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

 

One wall of Mělník Chateau

One wall of Mělník Chateau

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

 

The elegant Renaissance arcades

The elegant Renaissance arcades

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

 

The sundial on the facade

The sundial on the facade

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

 

Another view of the sundial

Another view of the sundial

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

 

The town hall on the main square

The town hall on the main square

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

 

The picturesque houses on the main square

The picturesque houses on the main square

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

 

The Gothic Church of Saints Peter and Paul

The Gothic Church of Saints Peter and Paul

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

 

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

The gate dates back to 1500.

The gate dates back to 1500.

Častolovice Chateau Diary

 

The facade of the chateau

The facade of the chateau

I had visited Častolovice about 10 years earlier, but I did not remember many details of the interior, though I had fond recollections of the picturesque courtyard. For some reason I had fixed in my mind that the chateau was on rather large main square with a pub on one corner, so I expected that the direct bus from Prague would drop me off there.  It turned out to be a three-hour trek to Častolovice, located in northeast Bohemia near the Orlické Mountains, via Hradec Králové, but the trip didn’t actually take so long. There was a 40-minute layover in Hradec Králové, which is only 30 kilometers away.

When the bus arrived in Častolovice, I did not recognize it at all. “This is where I get off?” I asked the elderly woman sitting next to me. She answered affirmatively. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was no big square with a pub. The main square was hardly a square at all, just a few buildings along the main street with a small parking lot.  I got off the bus, feeling utterly lost. Luckily, a passerby pointed out how to get to the chateau. It was hardly more than a stone’s throw away. I walked by a decent-looking restaurant. I wondered if it was the only one in town. I hoped I would be able to get a table there later in the day.

The Baroque fountain

The Baroque fountain

I entered the main gate of the chateau, eager to become reacquainted with the place. A Baroque fountain charmed me in the chateau’s courtyard, where birds in an aviary fluttered while singing pleasant melodies. The gentle, soft tones of classical music also filled the air. The atmosphere made me feel at ease on this sunny, warm, spring day.  I noticed that the wall of the chateau facing the fountain was covered in what I would later find out were 16th and 17th century frescoes depicting six Roman emperors and a battle. Tourists sat idly at the courtyard’s outdoor café.

The 16th and 17th century frescoes of six Roman emperors and a battle

The 16th and 17th century frescoes of six Roman emperors and a battle

After going to the box office, where the attendant announced that I would have a private tour at 11:00 o’clock because I was writing about the chateau, I followed an arcade to the 19th century English park that featured a rose garden, pond and small animal farm with an intriguing combination of ostriches, pheasants and pigs.  I sat on a bench and read a David Hewson mystery in English for a while, feeling relaxed and enthusiastic, after walking to the pond with gazebo. The flowers in the garden were ravishing, in full bloom, bringing vibrant colors to the natural setting.

I still had time to kill, so I went inside the café, as all the outdoor tables were taken. The establishment featured plush couches and armchairs, one of which I sunk into. The pastel colors decorating the space were lively, vibrant. It was also very quaint. I sipped a cappuccino before heading for the box office to start my tour.

The guide told me about the chateau’s long history, much of which was dominated by the Sternberg dynasty. While the first written records of what was then a stronghold dated back to 1342, the chateau was transformed into Renaissance style in the 16th century, renovated into a Neo-Gothic style during the 19th century and then changed back to Renaissance style at the beginning of the 20th century.

The picturesque courtyard

The picturesque courtyard

The Sternberg family has owned the chateau for 11 generations, dating back to 1694, when Count Adolph Vratislav Sternberg, the Highest Burgrave in Bohemia, purchased it. From 1694 to 1948 – not counting the Nazi Occupation of the country – Sternbergs have lived here. During the 15th century, it was Zdeněk of Sternberg who guided the Catholics in their battles with the Hussites and their king, Jiří of Poděbrady (also a former owner of Častolovice).

I hadn’t realized what a mark the Sternbergs had made on Czech culture. Franz Josef Sternberg founded the National Gallery and, along with his cousin Casper Maria Sternberg, established the National Museum. The chateau was returned to interior designer Diana Phipps Sternberg in 1992, and at that time she was residing in one wing where she also had a pension. Even during Communism visitors had a chance to see the chateau’s interior as one wing of the chateau was open to the public while the other served as a school for refrigerator repairmen and repairwomen.

Soon it was time to see the interior of the Renaissance architectural masterpiece. It featured furnishings from the 16th to the 19th century, and the many family portraits attested to the significant role of the Sternberg dynasty.  To be sure, the interior was more than impressive: Take the Gallery of the Bohemian Kings, for instance. Or the Knight’s Hall, one of the largest of its kind in Bohemia. And I certainly didn’t overlook the small, though exquisite, chapel.

The view from the park

The view from the park

In the Dining Room overwhelming, mammoth portraits of four Bohemian kings filled me with awe. I felt so small compared to the vast portraits. These included the black-armor clad Jiří of Poděbrady, who was King of Bohemia, leader of the Christian Hussite movement and owner of the chateau during the 15th and 16th centuries. Breathtaking as well were the portraits of seven Habsburg Emperors who ruled from 1526 to 1705. Two portraits of the Spanish side of the Habsburg dynasty plus three others hung nearby.  What is more, the painted coffered ceiling, another architectural thrill, illustrated a biblical scene from the Old Testament.

The Knight’s Hall was decked with many portraits of Sternbergs, including one of Kateřina Sternberg, also called the Black Lady of Častolovice, because, as a result of an unhappy love affair, she became the chateau’s ghost. I was particularly drawn to her painting. I gazed up at the coffered ceiling, which shows 24 pictures from the Old Testament.  I noticed that the marble fireplace had a bronze relief in the middle; it showed a woman praying.  Another portrait depicted Emperor Charles V, a Great Dane by his side.  In yet another, a woman donning a serious expression and dressed in black stood next to blooming pink roses. I found the juxtaposition of her black attire and the pink roses intriguing.

The park

The park

The adjoining chapel was a real gem, too. The painted doors depicted the 12 apostles, and the painted pews were adorned with floral decoration, which immediately caught my eye. The green and yellow tiles on the floor were original, some bearing imprints of dogs’ paws. I thought this was an impressive, unique touch. The wooden altar dated from 1601, and one of the frescoes inside the chapel harkened back to the Late Gothic period.

While family portraits were scattered throughout the chateau, there were other intriguing paintings as well. Two noblewomen in shepherds’ attire were the work of Czech Baroque master Karel Škréta or one of his students. Škréta was definitely the artist of the 17th century work, “The Young Huntsman,” who gazed confidently at the viewer. Two small pictures of an elderly woman in the Coat-of-Arms Room were from the Peter Paul Rubens’ School, possibly executed by Jacob Jordaens. A copy of a portrait by Rubens, depicting his second wife, Helen Fourment, hailed from 1640.

One painting that drew me into its artistic power was the head of Medusa, with bulging eyes and blue and golden snakes slithering around her head; it was another painting after Rubens. The gem “The Temptation of Anthony” by Flemish artist David Teniers was painted on wood in the Empire Room.

One huge portrait shows a red-robed Vilém Slavata, who was thrown out a window of Prague Castle during the Defenestration of Prague in 1618, when Protestant nobleman rebelled against the Catholic hardliners in an event that would in part trigger the Thirty Years’ War. Slavata lived through the ordeal as he landed on a pile of manure, but was then arrested. The ordeal reminded me of the black humor in the stories and novels by Czech legendary writer Bohumil Hrabal.

Another shot of the frescoes

Another shot of the frescoes

Paintings of Venice, specifically of St. Mark’s Square, the Doges Palace and the Rialto Bridge, decorated the Tower Room and brought to mind my happy days as a tourist in that jewel of an Italian city. Realistic paintings from the Netherlands adorned the chateau, too. I have been fascinated by art from that country ever since taking a course about it in college. In one small portrait, a poor man is eating fish, the bones and head left on the plate he is holding. This work captured the man’s miserable existence – the despair and hopelessness of his life. Another picture from this era depicted a man reading, though he seems lost in thought.

The guide pointed out four portraits of women representing the four seasons. Dating from the middle of the 18th century, they included a woman holding grapes for autumn and one holding a flower for spring. If you look closely, the guide explained, it was possible to discern that one woman was the subject of all the portraits, and she aged as each season went by. I was intrigued by these four unique works of art.

Numerous other objects of interest cropped up in the chateau.  There was a 150-year old Mignon portable folding typewriter and a portable, folding Napoleonic desk in the Empire Room, both of which caught my attention. The Biedermeier Room boasted furniture of that style. I noticed a small statue of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Elizabeth of Austria along with a large portrait of General Leopold M. Sternberg. I was impressed by the many military medals that the general donned.

The frescoes and the arcades

The frescoes and the arcades

The State Bedroom featured a stirring portrayal of a figure bringing a drink to his guest in the Flemish tapestry “Welcome to Guests” from the end of the 16th century. I loved Flemish tapestries! Two mirrors seemed to be decorated with small gem stones in the frames, but it was just imitation, painted under the glass. In the Ladies Sitting Room, I noticed that Meissen porcelain birds were suspended from the wall. I found it to be a nice, elegant touch to the interior.

The Wallpaper Room gets its name from gold-and-black wallpaper that imitated leather, though it was made of paper. In the library, which contains political and religious books as well as novels and poetry written in Latin, English, German, French and Czech, I saw a tapestry showing Cleopatra and Mark Antony. It was Flemish, from around 1600. Another thrill for me!

 

The flowers bursting with color in the garden

The flowers bursting with color in the garden

The Renaissance arcaded Gallery, with its vibrant dark pink walls and flourishing plants, featured lavish silver-framed mirrors that dated from the Second Baroque period.  I marveled at the elegance of the elaborate silver frames. The Ladies Sitting Room also was home to an intriguing item – a small watercolor, on the back of which is a note of condolence by Empress consort of the Holy Roman Empire and Queen of Bohemia Maria Theresa of Austria on the occasion of the death of Francis Phillip Sternberg’s wife. The Children’s Room also moved me. It was almost all white, with dolls, portraits of children and a dollhouse, exuding a sense of purity.

After the breathtaking tour, I walked to the only restaurant in sight and found a table outside. Again I was able to order my favorite – chicken with peaches and cheese – plus a Diet Coke. After a delicious lunch, I made my way to the bus stop to wait 20 minutes. I always arrived early because I was always nervous I would miss my  bus. I stood at the small ČSAD sign, watching cars and trucks drive by.

The chateau from the park

The chateau from the park

Finally, after two o’clock, it was time for the bus to come. And it did. I watched it whiz by the other bus stop, without even slowing down. I was at the wrong stop! I chided myself for being so stupid. I had thought the bus would come to this stop and turn around. I sure felt like an idiot!

Then I thought that maybe it was a blessing in disguise. There was another bus in two hours, so I went back to the chateau and sat outside at the café. I read about another murder in front of the Baroque fountain.

The bus was slated to arrive after four o’clock. So, I got there at 3:30, determined not to  miss this bus as it was the last direct one to Prague. Shortly after I arrived, five others with big duffle bags and shopping bags gathered there, too. Then, a little after 3:30, a bus to Prague showed up. Bewildered at the timing of its arrival, I got on and made my way back to Prague. I wondered if it was a bus run by a private company that wasn’t listed on the schedule posted on the Internet.

Curiously enough, the bus driver told me that no bus comes through the town after four o’clock.

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

 

The stunning chateau from the park

The stunning chateau from the park