Unique ‘Pilsen Madonna’, protectress of the Bohemian city, to be displayed for first time since WWII

Pilsen Madonna

The medieval statue of the Pilsen Madonna, the town’s most treasured artefact, goes on display at the Gallery of West Bohemia on Thursday. The rare work of art, considered a masterpiece of European Gothic sculpture, will be showcased as part of the ongoing exhibition More Beautiful than the Sun, along with several dozen medieval Madonnas.

The Pilsen Madonna is one of the earliest and finest examples of an artistic school known as the “Beautiful Style,” a variation of late International Gothic. It came into prominence in the 14th century and celebrated beauty and sensuality in the form of applied art and sculpture.

It was commissioned by the Teutonic Order for the Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Pilsen some time before the year 1384, during the reign of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. The marlstone statue was intended for the new church’s main altar, where it has been worshiped ever since.

Pilsen Madonna | Photo: Lukáš Milota,  Czech Radio

Now, visitors to the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen will have a rare chance to admire the passionate expression on the Madonna’s face from up close, says its director, Roman Musil:

“The exhibition is truly unique because it presents the Pilsen Madonna in the context of another 43 Madonnas, which were created around the year 1400. The Pilsen Madonna is among the oldest ones.

“The statue was made in the Petr Parléř workshop at Saint Vitus Cathedral in Prague before the year 1384. Evidently, it served as a prototype of the so-called Beautiful Madonnas, which were made until the 15th century.”

The statue, which measures a little over 125 centimetres but weighs nearly 130 kilos, was transported to the Gallery of West Bohemia in early May to be cleaned and restored before going on display.

The last time it left Saint Bartholomew’s Church was 76 years ago, during the Second World War, when it was hidden in the nearby Plasy monastery to escape bombardment.

Pilsen Madonna | Photo: Lukáš Milota,  Czech Radio

The Pilsen Madonna is not only an exceptional work of art, but also the patron of the Pilsen Diocese and the protectress of the city. Its cult originated during the Hussite Wars and the statue has been worshipped to this day, explains Mr Musil:

“The Pilsen Madonna is not regarded only as a work of art. It has become an object of worship and has always been part of the main altar at Saint Bartholomew’s Church.

“The Madonna was regarded as a protectress of Pilsen during the Hussite Wars and during the plague epidemic, so I believe the topic of the exhibition is something that can resonate these days.”

The exhibition More Beautiful than the Sun got underway in Pilsen at the end of last year but had to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the showcase has been prolonged until June 6, the unique Pilsen Madonna will only be on display for ten days – from May 20 until May 29.