A Quiet Museum in Prague
I knew I would love this place on seeing the sour-faced guards. It was late on a rainy afternoon, and they so obviously wanted to be elsewhere.
I, however, did want to be here. The Schwarzenberg Palace Museum is in the palace precinct in Prague, in one of the many sgraffiti- decorated Renaissance palaces on Hradčanské Square, beside Prague Palace. This area around the Palace was once a second home to the nobility who wished to be near the seat of power; now it proved a perfect place to go where my feet took me.
I began in the gardens, the lawns and trees washed to a luminescent green by the rain. Statues beckoned at every turn, leading me past beds of flowers and so, vis a stone tunnel, to the gallery itself.
Once past the stare of the guards, I entered to marble staircases and elegant corridors. The museum was virtually deserted, with many of the rooms empty. Beautiful blue and white pieces of Renaissance ceramics adorned the stairs. From the walls to the floors and ceilings, each part of the palace’s architecture is a work of art. Even the windows offered amazing views over the city.
Compared to the crowds on Charles Bridge or gathered to watch the chiming of the astronomical clock, (not to mention the beer halls) it seems that even on a rainy day the place is overlooked by most visitors to Prague.
Schwarzenberg Palace Museum is part of the National Museum, which is housed not in one place but in a few buildings across Prague, each with their own specialities. The Schwarzenberg concentrates on European art from antiquity to the end of the Baroque period, with a special emphasis on the Bohemian Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque periods.
Had I arrived in the morning, most likely I would have wandered these rooms until, turning to a window, I’d find the world outside suddenly dark. Art from the Italian Renaissance has always spoken to my heart, even before my first visit to Florence at the impressionable age of ten. Here I could walk through its evolution, from its soft beginnings until it flowed into other styles and schools.
The Venetian school is heavily represented, while one room was filled with works by Rubens. I walked from one painting to the next, entranced, having them all to myself. then there were the bohemian works, of which I knew so little. A perfect combination.
Much I recognised from reproductions in art books, such as Rembrandt’s The Scholar in his Study, or the famous and twin paintings by Agnolo Bronzino of Cosimo I de Medici and his betrothed, Eleonora di Toledo.
Hers was the more splendid portrait, her resplendent clothes highlighted by a luxurious blue background. (The painting was used to advertise both her wealth and her royal blood to the Florentines, not only in her poise and expression, but also by the amount of lapis lazuli needed to produce the blue backdrop. At the time the semi-precious stone was prohibitively expensive.)
Lorenzo’s portrait, by contrast, is darker and simpler; by this marriage his social status rose from banker to Grand Duke of Tuscany.
As the official court painter of Cosimo I, Bronzino reproduced this style of painting in his portraits, which was to influence portraiture painting across the courts of Europe. His famous painting of the Duchess in a sumptuous gown with her second son Giovanni (now in the Uffizi) became the most iconic image of the Duchess.
Another day, another time, and I’ll return. Perhaps once more late in the day to be alone with the works, or at first opening, to spend a day wandering the palace.