Prague, The Crown of Bohemia - New York City's Met features exhibition of Czech gothic art

On Tuesday, New York's prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art opened a new exhibition called Prague, the Crown of Bohemia 1347-1437. After Charles IV was crowned king of Bohemia in 1347, he strived to turn Prague into a cultural rival of Paris and Rome. Hundreds of artists came to the city and other towns in Bohemia during the reign of the last rulers of the Luxembourg dynasty in Central Europe - Charles IV and his two sons Wenceslas IV and Sigismund. The exhibition at the Met features over 200 examples of their work.

President Vaclav Klaus with curator Barbara Drake Boehm,  photo: CTK
At one of Prague's biggest tourist attractions, Charles Bridge, the statues of Saints Prokopius and Sigmund, who have been overlooking the city for hundreds of years, guard one of the bridge's towers. But these are just copies and the originals, which have been at the National Museum's depository for the last thirteen years, are now at the Metropolitan Museum, where the first world exhibition of Czech gothic art is underway. This is the first time in the country's history that art of such dimension was transported off to another continent.

The two 2m high limestone statues, each weighing one tonne, were first transported to Frankfurt and then flown to the Big Apple in a freight plane. A lion that's around 80cm high is also part of the group of statues.

"They travelled beautifully and they are very, very happy. They were in a special packing, which was designed by sculpture conservators that were engaged by the National Museum in Prague, under its direct supervision."

...says Barbara Drake Boehm, Metropolitan Museum curator.

The statues are tall, thin, and made in two parts, making them very fragile. It took five days to remove them from their pedestals. The metal cage in which they were transported was specially made and tested for a fortnight. It had an extra steel coating and was cushioned with foam and polystyrene.

But with the risk of them breaking so high, why did the National Museum agree to transport them across the Atlantic? The museum says it is because only few preserved gothic statues can be admired at public places. Although they are priceless, Saints Prokopius and Sigmund have been insured for 10 million crowns (around 420,000 US dollars); the lion for 8 million crowns (around 330,000 US dollars).

But besides these three priceless statues, over 200 other exhibits are on show. Curator Barbara Drake Boehm:

Photo: CTK
"There is an incredible range of objects. It's not just a paintings or sculpture exhibition. There is everything from manuscripts to illumination, to embroideries, to goldsmiths' work, to drawings on stained glass. So there is a very astounding array of very interesting things. Half of the pieces come from collections in the Czech Republic, whether it's museums, church collections, monasteries, and so on. The other half come from collections from other European countries and the United States. So that's a very exciting thing in that we're bringing together works of art that haven't been put side by side; some of them since the time they were made in the thirteen and fourteen hundreds. So that's exciting."

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk with Bishop Petr Esterka,  photo: CTK
Besides the Catholic Church, which owns half the works in the Czech collections, other institutions that loaned artefacts include Prague Castle, the National Gallery, the Czech Museum of Fine Arts, the National Library, the National Heritage Institute, and Brno's Moravian Gallery.

Highlighting the golden age of Czech gothic art, part of the country's priceless cultural heritage, Tuesday's official opening ceremony was attended by Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Prague Lord Mayor Pavel Bem, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, and Czech cardinal Miloslav Vlk.

And if you should be in the Big Apple some time in the next few months, you can visit the exhibition on the 2nd floor of the Metropolitan's special exhibition Tisch Galleries until January 3. Since the exhibition was organised in cooperation with the Prague Castle Administration, it will be travelling to Prague Castle next year, where it will be opened on February 17 and on show for three months.