Controversial copy of Old Town Square astronomical clock calendar to be replaced

Old Town Square astronomical clock

Prague City Hall has commissioned a new copy of the Old Town Square astronomical clock calendar that will replace the heavily-criticised version that was created in 2018. The artist who created the copy was lambasted by art historians and heritage enthusiasts for changing elements of Mánes’s 1866 original, to give it a more modern look.

The controversial copy of the astronomical clock calendar was commissioned as part of a broader overhaul and renovation of the Old Town Hall tower, on which the clock is mounted, and was finished and unveiled in 2018. For a few years nothing was said about it, but in 2022, Milan Patka from the Club for Old Prague filed an 18-page complaint about the copy to the National Heritage Inspectorate.

“I noticed it sometime before last Christmas when I was walking past the astronomical clock. Although I had seen the calendar many times before, it suddenly struck me that the pair of lovers were sitting not by a flowering bush, but by a pile of straw. I have a copy of Mánes’s calendar from 2002 at home which luckily I hadn’t thrown away. So I started comparing and found 10, 15, 20 mistakes which I wrote down and sent to the National Heritage Inspectorate.”

After the story broke, cultural heritage enthusiasts, art historians and restorers were up in arms about the artistic licence that the creator of the copy, Stanislav Jirčík, had taken in his rendering of Josef Mánes’s beloved 1866 original calendar, which since 1882 has been housed in a museum to protect it from weather damage. Many of the faces from the original painting had been considerably altered, sometimes the gender of the figure had been changed, and in one controversial instance, the skirt that a character was wearing had been shortened into a “mini-skirt”, finishing above the knee.

Hana Bilavčíková, an art restorer from the National Gallery, told Czech Radio in June last year when the news emerged that she had been appalled to see the changes.

“When I saw the copy, I was shocked. These are not at all the materials used by Josef Mánes. I wouldn't call it a copy. It's completely different.”

Detail of the original and the copy of the astronomical clock | Source:  Prague City Hall

But Jirčík stands by his work, telling Czech daily Deník N that he was correcting “mistakes” in the original version, and that he wasn’t commissioned to make an exact replica. However, he now says he regrets taking on the project due to all the unpleasant media attention he received as a result.

After looking into the matter, the National Heritage Inspectorate ruled that Jirčík, City Hall, and the restorers were all to blame, but no one was punished.

Detail of the copy of the astronomical clock | Photo: Klára Stejskalová,  Radio Prague International

The new copy of the calendar will be produced by the Academy of Fine Arts this time. Vít Hofman, spokesman for Prague City Hall, told Czech Radio that the cost of replacing the unpopular copy, which comes to about CZK 2 million, will be divided between the contractor and the city:

“The costs are split roughly half and half. The contractor will pay for the production of the copper plate on which the new copy will be painted, the city will pay for the new painting, and the contractor will dismantle the current calendar and install the new copy.”