The transition from the Renaissance captivation by the art and philosophy of the ancient world to Baroque pomposity wasn’t easy at all. Between 15 th, 16 th and 17 th century many historical events took place and these significantly changed not only Europe. One of them was the discovery of America. This happened due to Spanish royal court whose influence at the end of 15 th and especially in the 16 th century significantly increased. Christopher Columbusoriginally thought that America was in fact Asia and his journeys and discovery were documented in detail by Amerigo Vespucci and it was after him that the continent was named. Columbus’s discovery was nevertheless a cause of many changes. The bigoted rulers of catholic Spain were sending missionaries to christen “savages” and these expeditions mostly ended in the merciless annihilation of the original population. Thanks to these voyages Europe received unknown spices, potatoes and unfortunately also gold and other precious natural raw materials that even more encouraged pillaging of new countries. The enormous wealth that was brought by ships was a reason why Spanish power and fame grew. The Thirty Year War was a turning point. Spain lost Portugal, its country’s position was weakened and its decline was final when the Spanish Hapsburgs died out in 1700.
The Thirty Year War however started in Bohemia and the original conflict had nothing to do with wealth and desire to conquer. The first conflict was to do with religion.
With catholic Spain becoming richer, the church that was supported by this country grew richer as well. The church had a main say in religious matters and catholic interpretation was presented as the only correct one. Apart from that, the church had a growing influence on political decisions taken by rulers. Protestantism which had been gaining more supporters in some countries including Lands of the Crown of Bohemia was a thorn in church’s side. When the revolution of estates started in Bohemia and the so called Eighty Year War in the Netherlands it became clear that Europe was going to change once again. The War ended with the Peace of Westphalia that brought Absolutisms (that was in Bohemia called the age of darkness), strict observance of the Cuius regio, eius religio regulation (those who rule also set religion) and Baroque, a new style influenced by religion that was much more pompous than the style of Protestantism.
Prague is full of Baroque architecture. Many Gothic buildings were during 17 th century converted according to the new fashion and rules. New and mighty fortifications were built because of the Swedes’ siege on Prague. As a result of the War the city became depopulated; newcomers were buying lands and built houses in the new fashion. Prague was gradually changing into a big Baroque fortress.
To build and convert was however possible only for those with means, which is the aristocracy, rich townsfolk and mainly the church. Therefore there were lots of church buildings and only a few town houses as their development started many years later.
Design rules of religious architecture were firmly set. A fundamental principle is the use of space whose spaciousness had to astound and make a strong impression of people’s inner feelings. An important role was also played by light, shadows and rich colours accompanied by gold mosaic or paint. Vital were various types of vaults, onion shaped domes with a strong layer of brick or stone wall and rich stucco decoration on both inner and outer sides. Houses and churches had quite often a Gothic ground plan. One example is e.g. St Tomas Church at Lesser Town. The famous Baroque master builder Kilian Ignac Dientzenhofer participated on its renovation, painting and sculpture decoration was done by Vaclav Vavrinec Reiner and Ferdinand Maxmilian Borkof. One of the most famous Baroque buildings is the St Marketa Church in Brevnov (1708–1712) that was built in the style of imperial illusory Baroque and is a part of a big monastery complex whose origins date back as late as 10 th century. Its Baroque appearance was designed by Krystof Dientzenhofer and later on also by his son Kilian Ignac. Another important building is the St Nicholas Church at Lesser Town Square that was built by de Orsiny and after his death finished by Francesco Lurago. And we shouldn’t also forget Strahov Monastery and Loreta.
Gardens also underwent a significant change. Many plots were bought and united and that gave a rise to several large baroquely designed gardens. The most famous in Prague is Wallenstein Garden with a palace that was founded between 1627 and 1630 and was named after its original owner Albrecht von Wallenstein. This building is currently the seat of CR Senate. An interesting design has a garden at Troja Chateau that served as a summer retreat for the family of Sternberks. These days the chateau and gardens are open to the public and various cultural events take place here. Some other Lesser Town gardens such as Vrtbov, Palffy and Ledebur were designed in the same style as well and fortunately they are currently open to public.
Prague Castle underwent some changes as well even though it happened in the time of late Baroque during the reign of Marie Theresa of Austria.
The original Jesuit school was changed to the National Library (Klementinum in Old Town). It is one of the biggest complexes of Baroque buildings and was founded because of standing support from the Hapsburgs probably as a proof of a firm anti reformist movement oriented against none Catholics. It is grouped around five courtyards, there is also St Salvator Church and you can walk though it, starting at Marianske Square right to Charles Bridge.
When walking through Brogue Prague we can’t miss a big quantity of palaces and town houses. Let’s name e.g. Czernin Palace at Hradcany (modified in the twenties and thirties by the architect Pavel Janak) and some other objects standing at Hradcany Square (Toscan Palace, St Mary’s Column), Castle Riding Hall and in Baroque style the converted Martinic Palace, Morzin and Thun Palaces, Invalidovna, houses in Neruda and Tomas streets and quite a few estates at Smichov, Kosire, Brevnov, Vinohrady, Liben and Vysocany. Some of the best preserved dominant buildings is e: Sklenarka in Troja, Ladronka (newly renovated and modernised) at Vypich and Kotlarka at Smichov. Some of them that were in the beginning of nineteen nineties still in use and which were returned to their original owners during restitutions, such as Kajetanka at Brevnov, they are these days almost demolished.
Art and Literature
A distinct personality of world Baroque music was the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi whose music also reached Bohemia. Between 1726 and 1736 six Vivaldi operas were staged in the aristocratic theatre Na Porici that belonged to the Earl Frantisek Antonin Spork. Two of them were premiers. His music also inspired Czech masters such as Bohuslav Mateje Cernohorsky and another top Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
Czech Baroque music didn’t have very good conditions for development because of the after White Mountain battle situation. Most famous was probably Adam Michna of Otradovice and P. Vejmanovsky. Literature was in even bigger decline. The time of Absolutism didn’t allow hardly any cultural life and the number of Czech texts was decreasing. Jan Amos Komensky who became a symbol of the era ended in exile where he spent the biggest part of his life and later died. Sculptures and painters had more options to develop their art. Matyas Bernard Braun created sculptures whose replicas are on Charles Bridge as well as in Chateau Kuks and Plasy. Ferdinand Maxmilian Brokof participated with his father and brother on Charles Bridge, Klementinum, St Jilji Church and Mozarin Palace’s decorations. Jan Jiri Bendl created St Mary’s Column at Old Town Square which was pulled down in 1918.
Out of Czech painters and graphic artist the most distinguished person was Vaclav Hollar. His engravings are precious documents and up to this day provide invaluable information about the time of Brogue lifestyle. Other famous personalities were Karel Skreta, Petr Brandl, Jan Kupecky and already mentioned V. V. Reiner.
Baroque fashion was similar to Baroque architecture. It was magnificent, eccentric and decorative. Dresses had complicated designs, were flowing and decorated with all kind of staff. Laces, ribbons, braids, hems, golden threats, jewellery, brocade fabrics with pattern, silk, lace…The first wigs with crimpy locks also appeared in this time. Luxury and pomposity were apparent not only among aristocracy and France became a leader of fashion for many centuries.
Women in Baroque
Skirts were reinforced by hoops, upper layers were draped open at the front, richly decorated with ribbons and artificial flowers and they had low necks. Women wore richly decorated wigs, fans, floating cloaks, veils and a huge number of ribbons. Baroque women were in fact buried under a huge number of textiles and accessories. On top of that they were obliged to wear corsets to achieve hour-glass waistlines. This was quite an expensive item because it was rather complicated. It was made from whalebones and for one corset one kilogram of these was needed. For home negligees they used half kilo of whalebones. Women would do almost everything for fashion! With the reign of Filip Orlean came a softening of lines and the use of silk instead of brocade. Silk was not only more comfortable but also more expensive. Dresses were however still reinforced by whalebones and they were accompanied by a special upper dress which was sewn on the lower dress at the back of neck and from there hung loosely down.
Men in Baroque
A typical part of male outfit was a coat called just-au-corps. It was usually made of brocade and had big rolled cuffs on sleeves from which either a white or embroidered shirt was sticking out. Coats were opened and revealed a waistcoat which was knee length and covered narrow, short trousers. These finished bellow the knee and the rest of the leg were covered by stockings and low shoes with a buckle. Monarchs wore also rich cloaks lined with ermine that often had a coat of arms on the front side (e.g. French lily). A wig was a necessary part of the outfit.