Was the reconstruction of Prague’s famous astronomical clock botched?

Prague astronomical clock

The Ministry of Culture is looking into a complaint regarding the 2018 reconstruction of Prague’s famous astronomical clock. Specifically the complaint targets the copy of the original calendar on the Old Town Clock by Josef Mánes. According to Milan Patka from the Club for Old Prague, some of the figures on the calendar have changed dramatically.

The original of the calendar plate made by Josef Mánes is stored in the Prague City Museum | Photo: Ltosnar,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

The unveiling of the reconstructed Old Town Clock in 2018, was accompanied by much pomp and ceremony, but it has only now come to light that the copy of Josef Mánes’ calendar, admired by millions of tourists all year round, is a far cry from the original, which is housed in the Prague City Museum.

At first glance, the bright and shiny new calendar on the lower dial of the Prague astronomical clock is a successful copy of the original, but a closer inspection reveals that the author of the copy -artist Stanislav Jirčík – took a lot of creative license in reproducing Mánes’ work.

According to Milan Patka, from the Club for Old Prague, which filed a complaint about it, the changes are considerable and there was no good reason for them.

Virginal figure in the sign of Libra  | Photo:  Prague City Hall

For example, instead of the virginal figure in the sign of Libra that is on the original, the new calendar depicts an older woman with grey hair. Similarly, a youth in a cloak has been replaced by a middle-aged woman with a different hairstyle. Other portraits have also been transformed and have different hair, beards or expressions.

According to Deník N, which broke the story, the copy of the calendar has been criticized by restorers from the Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences and a complaint filed by the Club for Old Prague is now being looked into by the National Heritage Inspectorate of the Ministry of Culture. The inspectorate has requested documents from Prague City Hall, which owns the astronomical clock, and has refused to comment on the case until it has arrived at some conclusion.

Photo:  Prague City Hall

The affair is a source of considerable embarrassment for Prague City Hall, which claims that the final appearance of the clock had been discussed repeatedly with experts ahead of the restoration and they had not voiced any reservations at the time.

Vít Hofman, spokesman for Prague City Hall, says there are no plans for further work on the astronomical clock in the coming years, except for regular conservation work.

Adam Scheinherr | Photo:  Czech Radio

However, Adam Scheinherr, Prague Councilor for Transport and Heritage Protection, told Seznam Zpravy that if the complaint is justified he is not ruling out further changes to the calendar.

"The reconstruction of the astronomical clock was completed in 2018, under the previous political leadership of Prague. The problem that has now emerged is really embarrassing," Scheinherr told Seznam Zpravy.

The author of the copy, Stanislav Jirčík, who alone could explain what happened, has so far refused to comment on the case.

Photo:  Prague City Hall