Collection of Old Masters
A newly conceived exhibition of mediaeval and early Renaissance art was opened in November 2000 in the authentic environment of the first convent of the Poor Clares in Bohemia, probably founded in 1231 by St Agnes of Bohemia, the daughter of Přemysl Otakar I.
The first part of the exhibition on the first floor traces the development of Czech art from the panel paintings and sculptures of the mid-14th century (Master of the Vyšší Brod altar, Master of the Michle Madonna) and the "soft" style of Master Theodoric, to the paintings of the Master of the Třeboň Altar and those executed in the International style (St Vitus Madonna, St Peter of Slivice, variant of the Krumlov Madonna). While Bohemia and Prague were important European art centres during the 14th century and around the year 1400, in the 15th century they were more inclined to receive external stimuli (Master of the St George Altar, Master of the Puchner ark, Master of the Litoměřice altar). Bohemian and Moravian works from the 15th and early 16th centuries are confronted with works from other Central European regions with which Bohemia enjoyed close cultural ties at that time. The painting of the Madonna and Child by Master IW thus finds a common dialogue with a work on the same theme by Saxon artist Lucas Cranach the Elder. The venerable Master of the Lamentation of Christ from Žebrák is represented at the exhibition with key works documenting the high standard of carving in Southern Bohemia, whilst the influence of the Danube school (for example, the painting by Albrecht Altdorfer) is reflected in the work of Master IP.
The recently opened exhibition in the Sternberg Palace was opened to all the art lovers after an overall installation in the years 2002 and 2003. The first part encompasses the works of art from the ancient Greece and Rome. The first floor exhibition halls further house the famous works of 14th - 16th century art that come from the Konopište Castle collection of Archduke Franz Ferdinand d´Este. It contains the works of older Tuscan masters (B. Daddi, Lorenzo Monaco), the works of Venetian school (Vivarini workshop) and the masterpieces of Florentine Mannerism (A. Bronzino, A. Allori). The impressive collection of older Netherlandish painting dominates the triptych by Geertgen tot Sint Jan and the monumental altarpiece by Jan Gossaert called Mabusse. The icons on display offer the examples of works from the most of the important Mediterranean and East European centres.
On the second floor of the palace are exhibited the works of Italian, Spanish, French and Netherlandish masters from the 16th to the 18th century. The paintings by the most famous European artists such as Tintoretto, Ribera, Tiepolo, El Greco, Goya, Rubens and van Dyck can be found here. The collection of Flemish and Dutch masters dominated by works of Rembrandt, Hals, Terborch, Ruysdale and van Goyen is characterized by an extraordinary quality. The separate cabinet installed in the first half of the 19th century style reminds us of the famous collector and patron Josef Hoser, to whom the National Gallery owes for the essential part of its collection of old masters.
The ground floor houses the exhibition of German and Austrian art of the 16th to 18th century. Besides many masterpieces by e. g. Lucas Cranach or Hans Baldung called Grien one can find here one of the most famous works of the European painting The Feast of the Rosary by Albrecht Dürer. The painting was completed in Venice in 1506 and later it was purchased and trasferred to Prague by Emperor Rudolf II.
The exhibition is supplemented by chamber collections of arts and crafts and small sculpture of the period. The drawings and prints of the past centuries are on display in the cabinet of prints and drawings. On the walls and ceilings of the exhibition halls can be seen again the original murals exposed.
On the three floors of the reconstructed building of the palace, the new permanent exhibition presents about 160 sculptural exhibits and 280 pieces of late Renaissance and Baroque painting, created in the territory of the lands of the Crown of Bohemia from the late 16th to the end of the 18th centuries.
As early as 2002, the interior disposition of the building of Schwarzenberg Palace and the distribution of the rooms designed for the needs of the permanent exhibition, „Baroque in Bohemia“ resulted in a decision to present the collections of sculpture and painting separately. The monumental stone sculptures „welcome“ the visitors when they enter the building. These include the renowned stone sculptures by Matthias Bernhard Braun from the attic of the Clam-Gallas Palace in Prague (1714-1716) and the two Angels from the hermitage near Lysá nad Labem, accompanied by the Moor figures from the gate of Kounice Castle, created by Maximilian Brokof. Three interconnected rooms present then en exhibition conceived according to traditional chronology and stylistic periods of the Early, High and Late Baroque. For the first time in such an extent, the adjoining space shows the best-quality surviving examples of everyday workshop practice of art studios, particularly those of the 18th century: sculptural and painting sketches, modellos, authorial and workshop replicas and copies.
The main installation on the 2nd and 1st floors of the palace is based on high-quality paintings, mostly known from the previous exhibition spaces in St George’s Convent. The collection was again conceived according to the accepted chronology in the sequence of stylistic cycles, spanning the time from the Late Renaissance, represented by the production of the artists active at the Prague court of Emperor Rudolf II, to the waning of Baroque culture in the late 18th century. The new exhibition includes all the great names of local fine arts of the 17th-18th centuries, with the emphasis on key figures. Well-balanced ensembles thus present the paintings by Hans von Aachen, Bartholomaeus Spranger, Roelant Savery, Michael Willmann, Johann Christoph Liška, Wenzel Lorenz Reiner, Anton Kern, Johann Peter Molitor, and Norbert Grund. The world of late Renaissance collections – cabinets of arts and curiosities – will be recalled in a partial reconstruction of such a collection with characteristic examples of small pictures and sculptures, and samples of the period crafts. The most important figures of Baroque painting in Bohemia – Karel Škréta and Peter Brandl – have intentionally been allocated prestigious spaces which will do justice to the qualities of both the ensembles of paintings, by right considered the gems of the Gallery’s Collection of Old Masters. One of the rooms on the 1st floor also presents in deliberate confrontation the portraits by Peter Brandl, and those by Johann Kupecký. Both painters explored similar (French and Dutch) sources of inspiration found in European portraiture. A specific form of „panel“ installation of paintings, with the principle of contrast and symmetry in mind, of the pendant pairs (compagnons) – be it landscapes, still lifes or figural compositions – is to recall the character of the period aristocratic picture galleries, most popular and wide-spread around 1700. It was precisely in the interiors of the city or country residences of local aristocrats that rare artifacts were also to be found, including cabinet sculptural pieces, made mostly of exclusive materials, such as bronze, ivory, tortoise-shell, marble and alabaster. Painting collections of 18th-century artists are accompanied by carefully selected samples of small-size carving of definitive character, coming from the Prague studios of Franz Ignaz Weiss, Karl Joseph Hiernle, Johann Anton Quitainer, and Ignaz Franz Platzer, installed in modern glasscases with perfect lighting.