The “Highlights of the National Gallery in Prague” presents a rich diversity of works by Czech artists and others linked to the nation’s cultural background, dating back a millennium – in just a dozen videos.
Art historian Veronika Wolf, responsible for the gallery’s external affairs, presents them all. Although it is a labor of love, she says, choosing which artwork to showcase was not easy. So they decided to focus on royalty.
“The National Gallery has collections from the old masters of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art, including the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
“It was obviously very difficult to make a selection of works of art that should represent the collection as a whole. So we had to make some tough decisions.
“But there were some key points that we decided to do. We wanted to focus on two major figures in our history.
“The first is Charles IV, who was a very important king and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th century.
“And then we focused on another emperor who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries, Rudolf II, who was a great art collector.
“Prague was truly a center of artistic movements, and many artists even moved to Prague to stay at its court. So we made the second focus on the era of Rudolf II – or, say, his taste for collecting.
“And then we moved more to modern art, the highlight is the new republic of Czechoslovakia, which was established in 1918, and the culture and collecting strategy of this new country.
“We also wanted to present some Czech artists, or born on Czech lands, and become internationally known.
“So that was the idea behind it all. Originally, in fact, the first idea was to only feature Czech artists, but later we decided to include artists like Albrecht Dürer, whose works have been in Prague since 1606.
“His works have influenced many Czech artists, so we decided to include him in the selection as well.”
Albrecht Dürer, Rose Garland Festival
Prague National Gallery Highlights Video – Albrecht Dürer, Rose Garland Festival
Originally, the “Highlights of the National Gallery in Prague” project was designed with the Asian audience in mind, but it has gained momentum as other Czech centers around the world have embraced the project, explains Veronika Wolf.
“So, first of all, we, the National Gallery, were contacted by the Czech centers in Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo, Japan, to make short series of videos for those countries.
“This is why the original idea was for the Far East, and why we were thinking in great detail about how to do it because people who will watch the video series might not be so familiar with the story. European, and therefore the Czech aspects or European art.
“Later, the project developed and was accepted by many other Czech centers around the world.
“So it’s good that the project was done in a way that it didn’t focus on one culture but did it so that it was internationally applicable.”
Japonism in Czech Art and Emil Orlik (Model)
Video of the Highlights of the National Gallery Prague – Japonism in Czech Art and Emil Orlik (Model)
Art historian Veronika Wolf herself has a wealth of international experience. Before joining the National Gallery Prague, she worked at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (where she also studied Italian art at Ca ‘Foscari University) and studied art law at Sotheby’s Institute of Art from London.
Besides the choice of works of art and collections, she told a conference organized by the Czech Center in New York, the project “Highlights of the National Gallery in Prague” also partly involved the choice. buildings.
“The question is actually where is the National Gallery? Because it is not a building as such.
“If you name the Louvre, or other museums, you know exactly the signature building. But the National Gallery Prague has seven places with collections or exhibitions.
“So we also had to think about which collections or which buildings we would choose. “
Among the buildings is the exquisite Schwarzenberg Palace – where many video episodes were filmed – which hosts an exhibition of Old Masters, Renaissance and Baroque paintings.
There is also the Palace of Exhibitions (Veletržní palác), built in the 1920s, which houses most of the gallery’s modern works of art, and the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, which houses a collection of works by art dating from the Přemyslid dynasty.
“So this is actually our oldest building. It is a 13th century convent, and there is an exhibition of medieval art in Bohemia and Central Europe between 1200 and 1550. Thus, from this place is the first episode on Charles IV.
“We wanted to include artwork from medieval times, and I thought a lot about what to present. For people from different countries and cultures, a complicated Christian iconography or iconology, this can be very difficult.
“So we decided to focus on the personality of Charles IV. I selected a work by an anonymous artist by Jan Očko from Vlašim, because on a panel the emperor is depicted exactly as people of his time described him. He had black hair and was not really tall.
Charles IV and the votive panel of Jan Očko from Vlašim
Video of the highlights of the National Gallery in Prague – Charles IV and the votive panel of Jan Očko from Vlašim
During the reign of Charles IV, Prague became the center of the Holy Roman Empire and many exceptional works of art were created there. Jan Očko’s votive panel from Vlašim has been presented as an outstanding example of Gothic panel painting.
The National Gallery Prague also has a huge collection of works of art assembled during the reign centuries later of Rudolf II, an influential patron of the arts, but an ineffective ruler whose missteps largely sparked the Thirty Years’ War. Art historian Veronika Wolf again:
“Rudolf II was a Habsburg emperor, and he decided to move the court from Vienna to Prague, in part because he feared the danger of the [Ottoman] Turks. He therefore settled there in 1583.
“Some historians say that Rudolf II was not such a successful politician, but from the point of view of art history he was an extremely important figure – not only for Bohemia, but for all of Europe.
“He was a very passionate art collector and made Prague the center of many artists, but also guest sculptors, astrologers, goldsmiths and gem cutters. And truly Prague the cultural center of Europe.
“Not only did he invite many artists to his court, but he also tried to collect the best works of art he could find. “
For the project “Highlights from the National Gallery Prague”, art historian Veronika Wolf and her colleagues have chosen – from the vast collection of Rudolf II – a painting by the aforementioned German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer.
This huge painting, called the Feast of the Wreaths of Roses, was created for St. Bartholomew’s Church in Venice, and in part through Dürer’s use of bright colors, immediately became a sensation.
Prague National Gallery Highlights Video – Toyen
In addition to the panel paintings from the time of Emperors Charles IV and Rudolf II, the project features Czech artists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who marked the international scene, including Alfons Mucha, František Kupka and Toyen.
The 11 videos, with English subtitles, are available on the Czech Center London YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/CzechCentre).