300 years since death of great Czech architect Jan Blažej Santini Aichel
The Prague-born architect of Italian descent commonly known as Santini is famous for his Baroque-Gothic style. Among his most famous works is the UNESCO-listed church of St John of Nepomuk on Zelená Hora near Žďár nad Sázavou.
Jan Blažej Santini Aichel was born in Prague on 3 February 1677 to a Czech mother and Italian father, his dual heritage apparent in his name. However, many people make the mistake of thinking he has two last names, one from his father and one from his mother, says tour guide Lada Křehlíková.
“His full name was Jan Blažej Santini Aichel, but nowadays we call him Santini – which, however, wasn’t his surname. It was his father’s first name, and he and his brother later took the name in honour of their father.”
Baptised as Johann Blasius Aichel, he was the oldest son in a respectable family of Prague stonemasons. His grandfather, Antonio Aichel, had moved from Italy to Prague in the 1630s, and his father, Santini Aichel, had made a successful career as a stonemason. However, Jan was prevented from following in his father’s footsteps by a physical disability, says Křehlíková.
“Santini wasn’t in very good physical health – we don’t know exactly what was wrong with him, but he couldn’t properly breathe or walk. Therefore, he couldn’t work as a stonemason like the rest of his family, so his father sent him to study painting and later architecture. Thanks to that, he was able to go abroad, where he was exposed to a lot of the influences that he later used in his work.”
It was while travelling in Italy in the last few years of the 17th century that he incorporated his father's first name, Santini, into his own name. Italy was also where he was exposed to the connections between the two architectural styles which he later combined with great success in his work, and for which he is known today, says Ondřej Vobejda, site manager at the church of St John of Nepomuk on Zelená Hora – Santini’s most famous building thanks to its UNESCO World Heritage status:
“Santini lived in the Baroque era, but he often combined two distinct architectural styles in his work: the Baroque and the Gothic. You can see the influence of the Gothic in the tall windows on the second floor. Santini used the windows to great effect. Although the whole interior is illuminated by 38 windows, they aren’t really visible to visitors. That applies especially to these tall Gothic windows, through which most of the light enters. Santini tried to create the illusion that the light was coming from behind the walls and pillars.”
As well as light, Santini often played with symbolism and symmetry in his architectural designs. Although he is most remembered nowadays for the church on Zelená Hora, he actually designed a huge number of buildings, and his unique style can be seen in churches and chateaus around the country. Many of them, however, can be found in the Vysočina region, the Highland area on the border between Bohemia and Moravia.
He died in Prague on 7 December 1723, aged 46.