Prague Castle Picture Gallery Diary

Joseph Heintz the Elder – The Last Judgement

The permanent collection of the Prague Castle Picture Gallery has been closed since 2019 due to an air-conditioning defect and a lack of financial means for repairs. A special exhibition of about half of the collection’s works opened at the Castle’s Imperial Stables during July of 2022 and will last for three months.

Veronese – Saint Catherine of Alexandria with an Angel

The Picture Gallery originated during the reign of Emperor Rudolf II, at the end of the 16th century. Rudolf II chose Prague as his residence when he was Holy Roman Emperor. The ruler was passionate about collecting works of art – paintings, curiosities, statues and more. For almost 30 years, Rudolf II amassed artifacts, and inherited other pieces. He exhibited his vast art collection in the then newly constructed north wing of the Castle, the part of the complex where he built the Spanish Hall. The majority of his painting collection was Italian in origin.

Joos van Cleve – Altarpiece with the Adoration of the Shephards, Saint Jerome with the Donor and Three Sons and Saint Lucy with the Donor and Three Daughters

Stellar artists worked as court painters in Prague: Hans von Aachen, Bartholomeus Spranger, Pieter Stevens and many others. First, allow me to mention Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a portrait painter serving Emperor Maximilian II and Emperor Ferdinand I. Arcimboldo began serving the emperor in 1562. Rudolf, the son of the emperor, was very taken with his work. He composed still lifes for Rudolf, and, after Arcimboldo returned to Milan in 1587 due to illness, he had a now famous portrait of Rudolf, called Vertumnus, sent to Prague. Arcimboldo’s portraits were allegorical, often composed of various objects that would make up the person’s head, for instance.

Lucas Cranach the Elder – Saint Catherine, Saint Barbara and fragments of the figures of Saint Dorothea and Saint Margaret, from Prague Altarpiece

Hans von Aachen was Rudolf II’s favorite when he was emperor. He began painting for Rudolf II in 1592 and wound up making Prague his home, where he created his best portraits. The painter became good friends with Rudolf II, too. The picture gallery still has von Aachen’s portrait of his daughter Maria Maxmiliana. His style was a precursor to the Baroque features that would later dominate Czech art.

Bartholomeus Spranger – Allegory on the Triumph of Fedelity over Destiny

Spranger’s tenure in Prague lasted from 1580 to 1590. His often complicated and ornate works displayed Mannerist features. Spranger created numerous paintings for the Rudolfine collection. In 1607, Spranger created Allegory on the Triumph of Fidelity over Destiny – Allegory on the Fate of Hans Mont, referring to the sculpture to worked for Rudolf II until an eye injury prevented him from doing so. Mont’s whereabouts were unknown. This is one of Spranger’s paintings that has remained at the Castle throughout the centuries. He also created a masterful portrait of Jacob König, a German goldsmith who was selling antiques in Italy.

Pieter Stevens – Forest Landscape with a Water Mill

Pieter Stevens was another masterful court painter. He resided in Bohemia with his family and excelled at landscapes, influenced by Paul Brill and Hans Bol. He often portrayed village scenes or rendered forests and mountains in his unique way.

In 1585, Rudolf II’s collection was comprised of 3,000 paintings, including many Italian, Dutch, Flemish and German works, not to mention the numerous curiosities and statues.

Lucas Cranach the Elder – The Ill-Matched Couple

After Rudolf II died in 1612, his successor Emperor Matthias had many of Rudolf’s paintings taken to Vienna, where he had his imperial residence. The Bohemian Estates sold some of Rudolf’s works so they had enough money to pay their soldiers. After the Catholics defeated the Protestant nobles in the Battle of White Mountain during 1620, Archduke Maximilian of Bavaria confiscated many of the works. Others were destroyed. During 1630, while the Thirty Years’ War was raging, Saxon soldiers took over Prague Castle and stole much of the artwork.

Bassano – The Good Samaritan

When the Swedes occupied Prague Castle in 1648, they took some of Rudolf’s collection to Queen Christina in Stockholm, but the most significant works had already been sent to Vienna. The queen sold some of the artwork and gave away others. She also took her favorites to her residence in Italy. Part of the collection was destroyed in a fire at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. Some works stayed in Prague when the Swedes took control because they were hidden.

Tintoretto – Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery

A few paintings made their way to England, becoming part of Lord Buckingham’s collection. Several were returned to Prague from Vienna. Other paintings were sold in Europe. Empress Maria Theresa had the picture gallery at the Castle shut down. In 1782 many of the Rudolfine artworks were sold at auction.

Domenico Fetti – Saint Jerome

Some paintings have perhaps miraculously remained at Prague Castle throughout the trials and tribulations of history. Paolo Veronese’s Portrait of Jakob König and Christ Washing the Feet of his Disciples as well as The Adoration of the Shepherds became property of the gallery in the middle of the 17th century and never left. Titian’s Young Woman at Her Toilet has called Prague Castle home since the 18th century. Several of the paintings by the Bassano brothers have remained in Prague, though many were transported to Vienna.

Bassano – September

In 1796, Czech aristocrats and burghers organized the Picture Gallery of Patriotic Friends of the Arts in Prague, which would later become the National Gallery. Some paintings were not sent to Vienna because they were on loan at the time to this Prague society. The year after its creation, the group was able to get 67 of Rudolf’s paintings back from Vienna. Gradually, they obtained more and more paintings from Vienna.

In 1918 Czechoslovakia was formed, and Prague Castle became the office of the president. In 1930 the Masaryk Fund began to purchase paintings for Prague Castle. During the Nazi Occupation some of the paintings hung at the president’s summer residence of Lány and others stayed at Prague Castle.

Peter Paul Rubens – The Annunciation to the Virgin

Much reconstruction took place at Prague Castle from 1960 to 1961. The National Gallery Commission brought many paintings to the National Gallery and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. Many paintings were stored in a depository at Opočno Chateau during 1961. After the reconstruction, the Prague Castle Painting Gallery was established, taking up six rooms and including works of Titian, Rubens, Veronese and Tintoretto. German masters and Baroque artists from the Czech lands and the Netherlands also made up the collection.

Titian – The Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist

The Velvet Revolution of November of 1989 triggered the downfall of Communism. A few years later, in 1993, the Prague Castle Administration was set up. One of its purposes was to organize new exhibitions at the painting gallery. From 1995 to 1998, much reconstruction took place at the Castle, and the Prague Castle Administration bought more paintings from Rudolf’s collection.

Lucas Cranach the Elder – Portrait of a Lady with an Apple

There has not been such a vast collection at Prague Castle since Rudolf’s death. It is impossible to faithfully recreate the Rudolfine collection because there are not enough inventories. Many of the paintings taken during the Thirty Years’ War have disappeared. Still, the Prague Castle Picture Gallery houses 120 outstanding works, including ones from the original collection.

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

Veronese – Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples
Johann Heinrich Schonfeld – Battle of Jericho
Peeter Snayer – An Ambush in a Village

Bassano del Grappa Diary


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




























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

National Gallery of Le Marche in Urbino Diary


One of my most memorable experiences of my trip with arsviva to Le Marche and Umbria was my visit to the National Gallery of Le Marche in Urbino, a medieval town with steep, romantic streets, a stunning cathedral and the intriguing museum at the birthplace of master painter Raphael. The gallery is located in a majestic building – the Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, built in the 15th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We entered a elegant porticoed courtyard. The collection focuses on the Renaissance period, with works by Raphael, Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello and Titian, for instance. Raphael’s masterpiece La Muta, Uccello’s six-panel Miracle of the Desecrated Host and Titian’s The Resurrection are three of the many gems in this collection. The building also includes a small study that is decorated in trompe-l’oel style. The intarsia work is this room is remarkable. I especially love the squirrel! The doors boast latticework.


























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

Churches of Naples Diary


The cobblestoned, narrow streets of the Gothic quarter; via San Gregorio Armeno, where so many shops sell Nativity scene figures; youngsters riding motorbikes with helmets pushed back on the nape of their necks; laundry hanging from clotheslines on balconies overlooking Baroque churches; the steep, picturesque streets of the Spanish Quarter; pizzerias with modest décor where the best pizza in the world is made; 27 centuries of history packed into the historical centre – I found all these features of Naples bewitching.


The cloister of Santa Chiara

The history of Naples intrigued me, too. Of Greek origin, the region was first called Parthenope and later reestablished as Neapolis, meaning “new city,” during 6 BC. Naples played a dominant role in European culture throughout its history as capital of the Kingdom of Naples from 1282 to 1816 and the capital, along with Sicily, of the Two Sicilies from 1816 to 1861, when Italy was unified. During World War II it experienced dark days as it was the most bombed city in Italy. Now the historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Facade of the Cathedral

What I liked best about Naples were the museums and the churches, especially the San Severo Chapel, the Cathedral, the Church of Gesù Nuovo, the Church and cloister of Santa Chiara and the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore. In this post I will concentrate on the churches that influenced me the most. It would take a hundred pages to describe everything that impressed me in Naples.


Interior of the Cathedral

The San Severo Chapel was my favorite with its Veiled Christ and other dynamic sculptures seeping with symbolism. It was created during the 18th century by Prince Raimondo di Sangro as a burial place for his family. Prince Raimondo’s resume fascinated me. He was not only a leading authority on architecture and the military but also made a name for himself as a writer and inventor. For instance, he came up with the idea of a single-barreled shotgun that was fired using gunpowder and compressed air.


Chastity from
I marveled at all the sculptures in the chapel, but I will focus on the three that I was most intrigued with: Chastity, Disenchantment and the Veiled Christ. Raimondo had the sculpture Chastity built for his mother, who died at a young age. I marveled at the female figure’s close-fitting veil adorned with roses. The figure held a broken slab, symbolizing the impossibility of attaining her dreams and goals because her life was cut short. I thought about young men and women killed by drunk drivers, the victims of terrorist attacks and gun violence – all lives tragically cut short, all people who carried broken slabs.


Disenchantment from
The tomb of his father with the dramatic sculpture Disenchantment also caught my undivided attention. Raimondo’s father was a traveler and later became a priest. The sculpture portrays a man freeing himself from a net, which stood for sin. I marveled at the exquisite details of the net, which, according to my own interpretation, could stand for negative energy and bad situations. I sometimes found the need to free myself from negative energy and problems by making changes in my life, thus getting out of the “net.” I freed myself from this sort of “net” by reading and writing, but first and foremost by traveling and learning about various cultures as well as by going to classical concerts and to the theatre.

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Veiled Christ from

For me the highlight of this chapel was Veiled Christ by Sanmartino. The tight-fitting veil was so realistic, draped over the lifeless body. I marveled how the artist could capture the sense of the material so well. I valued other details of the sculpture -. Christ’s hands pierced by nails and the vein on his forehead that seemed to be throbbing. I could actually feel the suffering and the torment.


Veiled Christ from
Downstairs were two skeletons of a man and a woman encased in glass. I could see the veins and arteries that had been preserved for two centuries. The skeletons presented a detailed study of the circulatory system. How this was done remains a mystery. According to a legend, the corpses were injected with some sort of liquid that made the veins and arteries harden.


Then there was the Cathedral that paid homage to Saint Januarius, who freed the city from the plague in 1527. It was constructed by Charles II of Anjou in the late 13th century. Phials with the dried blood of the saint are kept here, and there are big celebrations twice a year, in May and September, when the phials of blood liquefy If they do not liquefy, it means that catastrophe will come to the city. I was enthralled with the frescoes in the central nave and the inlay and gilt work of the 17th century ceiling. There were frescoes galore in the cathedral on the floors and walls, dating from the 14th to the 16th century. The Santa Restituta Chapel boasted some fantastic fifth century mosaics on its cupola. I particularly liked the one depicting a lion. I could practically hear him roaring.


The Church of Gesù Nuovo used to be a palace during the 15th century, which is why it has such a unique façade made of piperno gray rock. The structure was transformed into a church during the 16th century. It took 40 years to decorate the stunning interior, Baroque in style. Designed in the form of a Greek cross, there are three naves surrounded by side chapels. The frescoes in the vault were marvelous, and I loved the marble in various colors that decorated the church. The main altar was made of marble, adorned with bronze and semi-precious stones. I was fascinated by the chapel devoted to Saint Joseph Moscati, a doctor who had worked as a university professor. A bronze statue of the physician stood to the left of the altar where his urn was kept.


The Chapel of the Crucifix was another delight in the Church of Gesù Nuovo. The wooden statue of the crucified Christ was stunning, and the ceiling frescoes amazed. No less than 70 busts of saints and martyrs, sculpted in golden wood during 1617, decorated two reliquaries. The frescoes in the sacristy also held my attention.



Built from 1310 to 1328 in Gothic Provencal style, the Church of Santa Chiara has a single nave with nine chapels on each side and boasts artistic treasures from the 14th to the 18th century. The double lancet and three-mullioned windows were breathtaking. The church also featured the tomb of Robert I of Anjou, erected from 1343 to 1345.


However, the highlight for me was the cloister with its remarkable 18th century majolica ornamentation. It was the most beautiful cloister I had ever seen. The majolica tiles adorned the pillars and benches in the garden and showed off landscapes and mythological scenes as well as scenes from village life. I loved the complimentary yellows and blues used to portray a lively country dance. The village scenes remained me of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Other tiles showed villagers bowling.


The cloister also included the Opera Museum made up of nine rooms of artifacts from antiquity to the 20th century. I saw the remains of a Roman spa that once was part of a patrician villa, dating from 1 AD. Marble objects and reliquaries also made up the collection.



Last but not least, the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore also took my breath away. It was built on the site of a Romanesque church from 1283 to 1324, but from the 15th to 18th century underwent many architectural changes. St. Thomas Aquinas taught for a year in the monastery that had adjoined the church. There are three naves in the basilica gushing with superb frescoes and impressive paintings. Two side naves have chapels adorned with frescoes and tombs.

In the Chapel of the Frescoes, the frescoes on the walls portrayed Christ on the Cross, Mary Magdalene and the apostles. In the Chapel of St. Anthony Abbott, it is possible that one fresco was even created by Giotto. The Chapel of the Crucifix was adorned with frescoes dating from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, and the altar boasted a 13th century crucifix.

I was dumbfounded by the ceiling fresco, hailing from 1707, in the sacristy. It celebrated the Dominicans’ triumph of faith over heresy. But I was not only intrigued by what was above me but also by what was below. A slab in the floor announced that Irish-born Richard L. Concanen, the first Bishop of New York, was buried in the basilica during 1810. In the apse there were tombs of Aragon rulers. The pulpit dated from 1559, and the organ from 1751, with 1,640 pipes. There was a painting by Jusepe de Ribera in the basilica as well as copies of creations by Titian and Caravaggio.

For me these churches – as well as the Archeological Museum and the Museo di Capodimonte – represented Naples. The San Severo Chapel ranked first on my list with its stunning, symbolic statues and the breathtaking Veiled Christ. I had never seen anything like the cloister at Santa Chiara. The San Severo Chapel, the Cathedral, the Church of Gesù Nuovo, the church and cloister of Santa Chiara and the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore with their unforgettable splendor were highlights of my trip.

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