Rare statue from medieval Bohemia acquired by National Gallery in Prague

The Madonna from Havraň

The National Gallery in Prague has acquired a particularly valuable item – a wood carving of Mary sitting on a heavenly throne with baby Jesus resting on her lap and surrounded by three angels. The object is being called the Madonna from Havraň and is believed to have been carved during the 1360s or 1370s.

The Madonna from Havraň | Photo: National Gallery

This Tuesday the National Gallery in Prague announced it had purchased the Madonna for CZK 4.5 million from a private owner. The purchase was made through the use of Ministry of Culture funds and the owner wished to remain anonymous.

The object is believed to have been carved by the same master who created the Bečov Madonna, another acclaimed piece of 14th century medieval art. The author most likely worked in Prague, which was then the residence of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. It seems that the city also possessed a sophisticated art scene at the time.

Olga Kotková, who is in charge of the National Gallery’s Collection of Old Masters, says that the statue may have been carved by the master of the workshop himself.

Olga Kotková | Photo: Adam Kebrt,  Czech Radio

“This was a truly exceptional workshop that seems to have been based in Prague, but delivered its products to Northern Bohemia. It’s possible that the workshop was located there as well at a certain point.”

The dating of the object to this period is supported by the instruments that the angels below the mother of Jesus are holding – a quintern and a vielle – which were used by musicians at the time.

The head of the National Gallery’s Department for Conservation and Restoration, Adam Pokorný, says that a polychrome analysis showed the statue was maintained long after it was finished.

“It is necessary to mention that the colours we see on the Madonna today are not what they would have been on the original.  The carving was repainted several times during the subsequent centuries.”

Martin Baxa and Alicja Knastová | Photo: Roman Vondrouš,  ČTK

The National Gallery states that, during the 19th century, the Madonna was located in the Church of Saint Lawrence in Havraň near the city of Most, hence her current name. However, it is unclear what happened to the carving thereafter. The object was found in the country cottage of the anonymous former owner in the Ústí nad Labem Region. Dr Kotková says that it may have originally belonged to a Sudeten German family.

The Madonna from Havraň | Photo: National Gallery

The general director of the National Gallery, Alicja Knast, said that the statue is a treasure that will be passed on to future generations and that it will be displayed to visitors soon.

“The Madonna is now set to be restored after which the carving will be displayed in the Convent of St. Agnes in Prague, where visitors will be able to see her.”

The carving will be part of a long-term exhibition focused on Czech and Central European art from 1200 to 1550 that is featured within the spaces of the convent.