Restorers examine unique Gothic paintings in Prague’s Emmaus Monastery 

Prague’s Emmaus Monastery 

Restorers from the University of Pardubice, along with colleagues from Germany, have started to examine a unique cycle of paintings in the Emmaus Monastery in Prague, dating to the reign of Emperor Charles IV. During the next three years, they will determine the state of the frescoes, and only then will they start to restore them.

The bombardment of Prague in 1945,  Emmaus Monastery | Photo: Archive of JUDr. Jaroslav Lašťovka

The Emmaus Monastery in Prague is known for its unmistakable white towers with gilded spires from the 1960s, which replaced the original ones, destroyed in February 1945 in an accidental air raid by the Allies.

The former Benedictine monastery is also known for a unique cycle of Gothic wall paintings, made during the reign of Emperor Charles IV, that is between the 1460s and the 1470s.

The entire cycle originally had 33 paintings, but only 26 have been preserved to this day. However, the series is still remarkable for its extent and high artistic quality.

The paintings were mostly damaged in the bombing raid, but they were also affected by leakage into the building and inexpert restoration carried out in the 1950s.

Prague’s Emmaus Monastery  | Photo: Radio Prague International

Jan Vojětchovský, head of the restoration team from Pardubice University, points to interventions done by two different groups of restorers:

“The painting on the left has richer colours, which means that more reinforcing materials were used. On the other hand, you can also see it is a bit blurry in the upper part.

“The scene on the right seems to be paler, greyer, and the touch ups are less intense. Each of these interventions has its advantages and disadvantages. We have to identify them and learn a lesson for the future.”

To ascertain the current state of the frescoes, the restorers are planning to use the latest methods in the field, some of which have not been used in Czechia before. They started with a detailed photo documentation of the frescoes. Jiří Vidman is the man responsible for this part of the project:

Prague’s Emmaus Monastery  | Photo: Archive of UPCE

“For each object, in this case a field of paintings, we take a larger number of photographs. From these, a special program creates a dimensional model of the area. The result is a photo map of the entire wall.

“We have to take the photos from different angles. For this wall, which is over six metres high, we use a telescopic pole with a remote control camera, which allows us to take photos from a height of eight to eight and a half metres.”

One of the restorers’ goals is also to determine what techniques were used to create the frescoes back in the Middle Ages, says Mr. Vojtěchovský:

“It is certainly not the traditional lime technique, which was common in the Gothic period. It seems that either an oil binder or perhaps milk protein could have been used in the paintings.”

The exploration work in the cloister of the Emmaus Monastery will continue until 2026. Only then it will be clear what kind of restoration will they receive in the future.

Author: Ruth Fraňková
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