In Medieval times not only all human thoughts and behaviour, but also exploits, buildings and fashion were influenced by God and religion. The subsequent period, Renaissance, appears in comparison as an “awakening of the earthly world”. Renaissance Humanism was spreading all over Bohemia. This intellectual movement was based on classical ideals, encompassed human individuality and significantly influenced everything what was happening in Renaissance times.
The development of the Renaissance dates back to the end of 14th century. It started in Italy which drew on its classical history. The main characteristic of this movement was liberty and “airiness” in human thoughts. It showed itself in life style, in other fields of culture such as architecture, fashion, literature, fine art and sculptural art. All these fields became closer to human beings, it can be said that a certain human dimension was restored. Gone were the times of pompous gothic cathedrals which were driving human thoughts to God and nothing else.
Fashion didn’t restrict and hide the human body in shapeless frocks any more. People were not only searching for God but also trying to discover their inner sides. Bohemia was part of this movement, however, Renaissance arrived here more than century later, in the end of 15th century when Vladislaus II the Jagiellonian (Vladislav II. Jagellonský ) moved from the Old Town back to Prague Castle. Significant developments came in during the 16th century which is called High Renaissance and the Rudolph II epoch fell within the Late Renaissance period. This enlightened emperor moved his residency back to Prague and created one of the Later Renaissance centres (so called Mannerist court culture).
A typical sign of Renaissance architecture are graffiti – inscribed ornamentation on damp render which looks akin to envelopes. Another characteristic were straight windows, wide and spacious buildings, pillars, arcade galleries, cylindrical vaults, wooden compartment ceilings and many other features.
Prague Castle and its neighbourhood
One example of early Renaissance architecture can be found in Prague Castle - it is called the Hall of Vladislav (Vladislavský sál) and was build by Benedikt Rejt under Vladislaus Jagiellonian rule. It is adjoined by four wings, one of which, the so called Ludvik wing, is the very first Renaissance palace in Bohemia. Other buildings connected with the Castle are the Royal Summer Palace (Queen’s Ann Summer Palace), Rožmberk and Lobkovic Palace and Old Burgravery (residence of the castle’s burgrave). In the Archduke Ferdinand Tyrolsky’s time the Summer Palace Hvězda was built (“Hvězda” means Star in Czech which refers to the unusual star ground plan).
Hradčany, Lesser Town, New Town
In Renaissance times Vlach builders – masons, stone-cutters and plasterers - started coming to Prague. They were gradually settling down and teaching Czech craftsmen their art and in exchange they were influenced by the Czech building concepts. In the end this mixture led to the creation of the original Czech Renaissance. Examples of this style are Schwarzenberg and Martinice Palaces as well as many official and townsman’s houses such as the town halls at Hradčanské Square and Lesser Town or the Renaissance double house in Husova Street. Well know is a Renaissance window at the south part of the Old Town Square with the inscription Praga caput regni (Prague mother of reigns) and Old Town houses no.463 Teuflův and no.465 U pěti korun (At five crowns) or the house U minuty (At minute). Other interesting monuments include many technical buildings such as Lesser Town and New Town water-towers or Rudolph underground gallery which leads below Letna. Last but not least, there were also many Renaissance churches built – St. Salvator in Dušna Street, St. Roch in Strahov and Chapel of the Ascension of Virgin Mary.
Not surprisingly the new spirit was clearly visible in Renaissance art. Figures in paintings as well as in sculptures were, for the first time, given human proportions and form (the knowledge of anatomy was applied). This was likewise the time of the discovery of perspective, which completely changed the way sceneries and buildings were painted. Later on also chiaroscuro appeared and for the first time oil painting was used by artists. Naturally we have to mention that this was an epoch of many geniuses; the most famous being probably the painter and inventor Leonardo da Vinci or the sculptor, painter, architect and poet Michelangelo Buonarotti. Let’s us also remember Hieronymus Bosch and Sandro Boticelli. In Bohemia (namely in Prague) lived the painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo who became famous for his highly original fruit and vegetables portraits, among others was also a portrait of Rudolph II. From the other painters let’s name for example Hans von Aachen, Josef Heintz, Barttolomeus Spranger and sculptors Adrian de Vries and Hans Monte.
One part of Czech literature remained written in Latin – these were mostly educational books and their authors were catholic noblemen such as Jan of Rabštejn or Bohuslav Hasištejnský of Lobkovice. Books written in the Czech language drew from the Czech environment and had both an educational yet high-spirited character. The most significant writers were Viktorin Kornel of Všehrdy, Rehoř Hrubý of Jelení, Václav Hájek of Hájek, Mikuláš Dačický of Heslovo or Kryštof Harrant of Polžice and Bezdružice and a publisher Daneil Adam of Veleslavín.
Literature was also influenced by the Renaissance movement. One of the most significant changes was the use of the national language and the coming of a new hero, a person “with brain”. Reason was definitely at the forefront at those times. Love poems were full of lyrical phrases and comparisons, prose, on the other hand, was influenced by scientific discoveries. From the international authors let’s name Francoise Villone, Dante Alighiery, Francesco Petrarca, Giovano Boccaccio and above all Wiliam Shakespeare.
Clothing had a different appearance in each country. For its production two different materials were used. The first one was fine, mainly silk fabric, which were mostly colourful (because the white colour was precious and used only by the highest ranks). The other one, used for upper frocks, had different colours, and was stiffer and heavier often with decorative embroidery. The upper parts to frocks were altered by many cuts from which the silk lower fabric showed.
Short cloaks, in Bohemia called šuba, developed from an Italian cloak which looks like an Antique tunic. They were made out of brocade and belted. Šuba was used in Bohemia up to the end of 16th century. Afterwards it grew out of fashion and was used only by judges and some other clerks. This cloak was supplemented by eccentric trousers so called plundry. These outraged members of Czech Parliament, were banned, and those who were wearing them were punished with a fine (probably because they were too tight and clung to the male body). The Rudolphine era is also a period of the arrival of Spanish Mannerism and again there was a natural interaction between this foreign movement and Czech Renaissance. Trousers were gradually changing, became baggy or “balloon”, were padded and reached down to the middle part of thighs or above knees – they were nicknamed as Spanish poctivice by the townsfolk. Clothing was supplemented with various berets, so called fedrpuše, often lined with fur and decorated with feathers. These were hugely popular among lower ranks as well as aristocrats.