New exhibition presents Silesia as a "Pearl in the Bohemian Crown"

Madonna on a Lion

A new exhibition at Prague's Wallenstein Riding School displays some 400 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints from the 14th to 18th centuries. Divided into three periods - the Golden Age of the Luxembourgs, the Glamour of Rudolfine Prague, and the Baroque Flamboyance of Monasteries and Palaces. Dita Asiedu toured the exhibition with its main curator Vit Vlnas.

"This exhibition is about Silesia, which is a very interesting cultural landscape and historical region in Central Europe that is divided into two states today - the Czech Republic and Poland. The exhibition is generally divided into three historical memories - the German, Polish, and the Bohemian."

Let's look at some of the highlights that you have here. Which part of the exhibition should we begin with?

"We will start chronologically, with the gothic art of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The highlights are on loan from museums in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. One example is the famous altarpiece from Vyssi Brod in southern Bohemia. The collection today is divided between Prague and Budapest. Our Polish colleagues have lent us a number of interesting art objects. These include Pieta sculptures of the Virgin Mary mourning for Christ. We can also see some 14th century sculptures of Madonnas seated on a Lion - a specifically Silesian iconographical topic. The dominant piece of the Gothic part of the exhibition is a monumental stone sculpture group from Olomouc showing Christ on the Mount of Olives - the Agony and the Garden."

Who were some of the main artists of the time?

"We don't know the names of these artists but we call them after their major masterpieces. We feature works by two great personalities of the gothic sculpture. One is called the Master of Madonna of Michle - the first great sculptor who was probably active in Moravia in the first half of the fourteenth century. His influence was also visible in Silesia and in Austria. The second great master is called the Master of the Calvary of the Tyn Church in Prague.

"Rudolph II was very well known as a patron of artists and scholars and Prague under his rule changed into a very flourishing and vivid centre of cultural life. In Silesia, in particular in Wroclaw, the contacts with Prague were very close and much of the nobility from Silesia visited Prague to be in the emperor's court. This is why the influence of Rudolfinian mannerism is very present in the pictures and statues in Silesia of this time. The highlight of this part of the exhibition is undoubtedly a sculpture by the most famous Rudolfinian artist Adriaen de Vries, a man from the Netherlands, who was a pupil of the famous Giambologna in Florence at the court of Medici. The sculpture of Christ is on loan from the National Museum in Warsaw and originally stood at a tombstone in a village near Wroclaw, Silesia."

Who were some of the other artists who were just as important?

"This part of the exhibition displays some commemorative plaques, tables, and epitaphs from Silesia and one of the most important personalities in the artistic life in Silesia was a painter called Bartholomeus Strobel. One of his most impressive paintings depicts a story from the Old Testament. 'King Solomon and Bathsheba' is one of the most popular paintings here."

It's definitely worth standing in front of the picture for a longer time and noticing some of the details...

"It's not very easy to narrate to listeners what the picture looks like. It's a picture of King David looking at Bathsheba washing herself by a fountain or well. This painting is full of exciting details showing the late renaissance gardens, for example. But maybe the story isn't just about King David but also the man to whom the painting was donated. The coat-of-arms of Andreas Jerin is in the painting and it may be a delicate commemoration of a love story. The dominant part of the painting is the well with an allegorical group of the triumph of love - the triumph of Eros - and the water from Venus herself trickles into the hand of a lady and is then presented to a small dog with the monogram of the man on his collar."

One of my favourite paintings depicts St. John of Nepomuk being fished out of the waters of the Vltava River...

"Yes, it's also worth saying that many of the art objects here are being presented to the public for the very first time. That's because they belong to churches, monasteries, or libraries and are not very often on loan to exhibitors. Close to thirty paintings and sculptures were restored just for this exhibition."

I understand you can tell when the painting was made by the way Charles Bridge is depicted here?

"The painting, which is your favourite, is work by an artist who is a half amateur. But what is very interesting is the iconography of Charles Bridge depicted and of the buildings that are standing on the right river bank. That's because it shows how this part of Prague looked in the mid-seventeenth century before the great period in which the buildings were turned into the baroque style. Examples are the Church of St. Xavier, the Monastery of the Knights of the Cross of the Red Star, and other buildings which changed rapidly at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries."

What part of the exhibition are we standing in now?

"We are standing in the baroque part, which displays paintings that will be very surprising and new to visitors. An example is paintings by the great Czech painter Petr Brandl that are here for the very first time. They originate from Silesian monasteries and churches, for which Brandl painted at the very end of his life. This part of the exhibition also presents a very magnificent collection of paintings by the most famous Silesian painter of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - Michael Lukas Leopold Willmann. His influence was very strong in Bohemia because of his paintings for Cistercian monasteries in Bohemia and Moravia."

The exhibition named "Silesia - a Pearl in the Bohemian Crown. Three periods of flourishing artistic relations," runs until April 8. 2007.