Charles IV: Emperor by the Grace of God sees successful first weekend

Already it is being called the cultural event of 2006 as well as one of the most important exhibitions in Prague ever: Charles IV: Emperor by the Grace of God, now open at Prague Castle. The exhibition, which had a first leg run at New York's Metropolitan Museum in the autumn, brings together rare works from more than 90 galleries, museums, and private collections in 15 countries, capturing the period between 1347 and 1437 - the time of the Luxemburg dynasty.

The rule of the Luxemburgs, including the legendary Charles IV, was one of the golden ages of Czech history. Now, Czechs interested in the life of their famous monarch can learn much more in an unparalleled exhibition bringing together many famous as well as lesser-known works. Here is how the Metropolitan Museum's Barbara Boehm-Drake summed up the show on its US leg, seen by around 175,000 people in the US in the fall:

"I can tell you that the exhibition in New York shared great critical and popular success. I would share an anecdote with you. I had some good friends who were travelling, they had the good fortune of being on a little boat in the Caribbean and there was this English couple that they didn't know, who had just been to New York and seen the show. They couldn't get over how fabulous the Prague show had been and that it was the most beautiful exhibitions they'd seen in a long time. It makes it clear how important this sort of cultural project is."

In Prague, there are some differences in the exhibition, namely an additional twenty pieces not shown in New York. But, because the exhibition space at Prague Castle is considerably more limited, this has also made some restrictions necessary. Tickets are time-linked, for conservation reasons, allowing a limited number of people into the halls at a time. But visitors on Sunday said they had no complaints: some of them told me it was well worth the wait:

"I would like to see the famous Czech Emperor Charles IV. It's very important."

"So far we've heard only good things. The exhibition is supposedly the most detailed and therefore unique."

"I came because I am interested in the history of the Czech nation. I wanted to be one of the first. {laughs} Everyone should learn something about the history of their people."

As for what visitors will be able to see? Co-curator of the show Jiri Fajt agrees there is certainly a lot:

"In have of course 'more' favourites. As the first, I would mention Kaufman's 'Crucifixion', coming from the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin, which was painted probably in Prague in around the year 1340. Then I would underline the whole section on St Vitus' Cathedral, such fabulous statues made by Peter Parler himself. Then, discussing the later period which we cover, I would point to 'Christ from the Mount of Olives' from Malburg, which is a stone statue. Just fabulous and one of the most precious sculptures one can ever see."

If past projects at Prague Castle have been any indication, Charles IV: Emperor by the Grace of God should be a run-away success. A great many Czechs have more than a passing interest in their country's history and Karel IV - as he is known in Czech - is still widely considered one of the greatest monarchs to have ever ruled the Bohemian kingdom. As king, he left a very tangible legacy: redesigning the centre of Prague, founding the country's - indeed one of Europe's - oldest universities; and commissioning the construction of the famous stone bridge that still bears his name.

Now, he and his descendents can be appreciated more than ever at Prague Castle. The exhibition lasts until May 21st.