The Art of Asia
In 2010, the Collection of the Arts of Asia and Africa was moved from Zbraslav Chateau to Kinský Palace on Prague’s Old Town Square. Located in the very heart of Prague, the exhibition offers a comprehensive overview of ancient and contemporary Asian art, prepared by the curators of the Collection. Visitors can admire superb examples of Chinese archaic art, Buddhist sculpture, Tibetan votive pictures known as thangkas, Islamic pottery and metalwork, Japanese woodblock prints and illustrated books, and early and modern Chinese painting. The Collection of the Arts of Asia and Africa of the National Gallery in Prague is one of the hundred collections that have published their best artworks on the international website of Asian art Virtual Collection of Asian Masterpieces.
The year 2015 marked the 63th anniversary of the existence of the Collection of the Arts of Asia and Africa as part of the National Gallery in Prague. Today, the Collection’s holdings comprise 13,574 objects from Japan, China, Korea, Tibet, South and Southeast Asia, the Islamic cultural region and Africa. Apart from the Náprstek Museum, a branch of the National Museum, the National Gallery in Prague is the country’s only public institution that specializes in the collecting, study and presentation of Asian art in the Czech Republic. In breadth and depth, the Collection of the Arts of Asia and Africa is one of the most distinguished of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe. In Western Europe, parallel collections can be found in such institutions as the Musée Cernuschi in Paris, Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst in Berlin, Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst in Cologne and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Ever since it was established in 1952 under the guidance of Dr. Lubor Hájek, the Collection has been systematically building its holdings of fine and decorative arts from the aforesaid regions around the world, expanding them further with targeted purchases, transfers from other public institutions, and bequests and donations from private collectors. The Collection is particularly noted for documenting, with a high degree of accuracy, the history of Asian art collecting in the Czech lands, approximately from the mid-19th century to the present day. The past and present cultural exchanges and contacts between the Czech lands and regions of East Asia are yet another field of seminal importance that the Collection’s specialists have been researching and presenting in their scholarly projects.
After relocating from Zbraslav Chateau that had been home to its permanent exhibition from 1998 to 2009, the Collection of the Arts of Asia and Africa was installed in Kinský Palace on the Old Town Square. On the first floor, visitors can explore displays showcasing the Collection’s most outstanding artefacts that include Chinese archaic art, Buddhist sculpture, decorative objects of China and Japan, Tibetan votive pictures known as thangkas, Islamic pottery and metalwork, Japanese woodblock prints and illustrated books, and early and modern Chinese painting. In featuring these ensembles, the Collection is not striving for an exhaustive historical and art-historical survey; its intention is to showcase unique masterpieces representing the individual cultures, with references to their original social contexts, on the one hand, and their reception in the European milieu, on the other.
Kinský Palace was built in 1755–1765 on the site of three houses with early medieval foundations. The southernmost building, first recorded in 1363, was preceded by a 12th-century Romanesque structure, whose ground floor, constructed of ashlar masonry, is still preserved in the palace’s cellars. After 1560, when the building was in the possession of the Lords Trčka of Lípa and later on of Příchovský of Hodějov, the structure underwent modifications in the Renaissance style. The north section of the palace was built in the second third of the 13th century. Due to the way of life in the Middle Ages, the original ground floor has been preserved in what are now the underground cellars, including an early Gothic groin vault.
The two buildings were first connected in 1508, when they were rented by Albrecht of Kolowraty. Around 1583, the north wing underwent major reconstruction that included the installation of a balcony on the main façade. At the latest in 1750, the north section was purchased by Count Jan Arnošt Golz, who, before 1755, bought and added to it the south wing, thus definitely joining the two. By the time the palace was sold to Franz Ulrich Kinský in 1768, the edifice had acquired its final appearance and was perhaps also decorated with statuary by I. F. Platzer.
In the 1830s, the palace was further extended when the north (left-side) building No. 607 (with preserved Gothic cellars) was attached to it and adapted in the Neoclassical style. The palace complex is comprised of the main building facing the square, a left wing, a transverse wing, a building on Týnská Street, and lateral wings. The rear building on Týnská Street dates from 1838, and so do the Late Neoclassical modifications of the façades. In the 1830s, both palace courtyards were adapted, with the rear courtyard originally serving as access to the outbuildings. A fountain with a rectangular cistern has survived there. The palace has been under the administration of the National Gallery since 1949.