Exhibition of great Baroque portrait painter opens at Prague Castle

On Friday, an exhibition featuring pictures by the famous Czech Baroque painter opened in the Royal Stables at Prague Castle. The exhibition goes under the name Jan Kupecky - master of the Baroque portrait. Alena Skodova reports:

The exhibition comes to Prague from the German town of Aachen, and it is an exceptional project because it is the first large exhibition of Kupecky's work, featuring some 60 portraits from the 17th and early 18th centuries. The previous Kupecky exhibition was held in 1913 at Prague's Rudolfinum, but it was only about a third of the size of the current one.

Jan Kupecky was born in 1666 in Bohemia, but spent most of his childhood in Hungary where his parents fled in order to be free to profess the Protestant faith. Although as an adult he only spent short periods of time in Bohemia, he continued to declare his allegiance to his homeland for his entire life, and that's why the words 'pictor boemus' or 'painter from Bohemia' were often added to his name in period documents. Kupecky left home at the age of 15 and after stays in Vienna and Venice he travelled to Rome where he settled in 1687. Here he saw works by famous Italian painters, and decided to follow the same path. But 20 years later he returned to Vienna and became a portrait painter, and was quickly in demand. I asked the man behind the exhibition, Professor Eduard Safarik, to explain why Kupecky was such a cosmopolitan man:

"It's closely connected with his private life. He was a portrait artist, and portrait painters always had to go out and find their clients, that's why they traveled from place to place. Moreover, in the Baroque period in Central Europe there was no problem about where you were born. There was a greater unity linking individual countries. And successful portraitists were always moving from one royal court to another - because it was kings who had the money, not ordinary people."

And that was certainly the case with Kupecky. Among those whom he portrayed was the Austrian emperor Charles VI and his family, high-ranking noblemen and rich Vienna burghers. He also painted a portrait of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great who personally requested Kupecky's services during his stay in the spa town of Karlovy Vary. Because of the rivalry among the Viennese painters and the constant fear of religious persecution, Kupecky moved to Nuremberg in Germany. After the death of his beloved son he rejected all commissions outside the town and never left it again, dying there in 1740.

Professor Safarik says although Kupecky painted so many portraits they don't resemble each other:

"Each human type requires a different kind of portrait - his portraits of rulers differ from the portraits of musicians, his friends or members of his family. The burghers, for instance, deliberately played the role of modest persons, while emperors and high nobility tried to underline their power and their royal pedigree. And Kupecky's portraits reflect outstandingly all these aspects."

The exhibition of Jan Kupecky's portraits is open till June 16th.