A Hidden Face of the Baroque: 17th-century prints in the Czech Lands
The exhibition samples a richly varied, though little known, chapter in the history of European culture. "Bohemical" Baroque graphic prints - works linked with the Lands of the Bohemian Crown - are on display in the first solo exhibition of its kind in the Czech Republic. The exhibition's purpose is to present the foremost figures and genres of Baroque prints linked with the Czech Lands of the 17th century. Given the vast context of Bohemical prints, the exhibition presents artworks not only by engravers in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, but also by German graphic artists who worked using models drawn by artists in the Czech Lands. Designing engravings was a major part of the Baroque artist's work. Thus, the exhibition features graphic sheets designed by the founders of Bohemian, Moravian and Silesian Baroque painting: Karel Škréta, Antonín Lublinský and Michael Willmann and their followers and contemporaries, whose work was often of equal quality but who are forgotten today. Rare illustrated prints, model drawings and copper plates are also presented.
Prints connected with the university milieu - in particular thesis prints and the graphic decoration of printed dissertations - were characterised by their superior quality and original themes. This exhibition pays special attention to the university thesis prints ("theses") typical for this Baroque genre.
The main purpose of these usually large and sometimes exclusive prints was to announce and highlight a university defence. Their role gradually transitioned from the informative to the representative. Depictions of thesis prints were almost always a celebration of the patron (rulers, aristocracy, saints etc.) to whom the respective defence and engraving were dedicated. Contemporary reports and extant examples suggest they were enthusiastically used in the 17th-century Czech Lands. UNESCO recently affirmed the exceptional cultural and historical value of these prints by including the rare collection of theses of the National Library of the Czech Republic in its Memory of the World Register. The National Library has loaned one thesis print from its collection of thesis prints from the Prague, Olomouc and Wroclaw universities. Most are being displayed for the first time.
These university thesis prints also illustrate the high value attributed to their content. A "vocabulary" of Baroque symbols and allegories was created and established in graphic art in the Czech Lands in the 17th century. Baroque allegorical prints should be "read", a task made easier here by extensive captions and the accompanying publication 17th-century Baroque Graphic Prints in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown (2009) by Petra Zelenková.
Many 17th- and 18th-century engravings were featured in two large exhibitions last year - The Baroque in Olomouc and Karel Škréta 1610-1674: His Work and His Era. However, the wealth of Baroque prints is far from exhausted. This exhibition shows that public and private Czech collections still house a multitude of valuable and thus far neglected engravings and prints that deserve to be shown. Today's observers are now getting a peak at this "hidden face of Baroque culture", long neglected by researchers and mostly concealed in depositories, libraries and other collections.
The project was carried out under the Ministry of Culture research program Silesia, a Pearl in the Bohemian Crown, which facilitated, among other things, the restoration of some rare or unique works on paper.
The exhibition catalogue includes many reproductions.