Friday, June 20, 2014

Art, time after time

Karlovy Vary park sculpture
There is no excuse in either Germany or Czech Republic to be late because no matter where you look there’s a clock tower. These lovely towers are part of the art that abounds in Bohemia. Most of what I saw was architecture and sculpture. I only visited one museum, which was surprising since I am such a museum addict.

While clocks are on many buildings, towers, and street corners, they represent different periods in history. Some, such as the one advertising Mercedes Benz, is modern while
Clocks in Stuttgart, Strasbourg, and Prague
the sundial on the side of the church and the two astrological clocks are substantially older. The Strasbourg astronomical clock, in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg, Alsace, France is the third clock located here, dating from 1843. The first clock was built in the 14th century and the second in the 16th century. The clock has a computus (perpetual calendar), an orrery (planetary dial), the current position of the sun and moon, including solar and lunar eclipses, and a rooster that crows three times at noon. At 12:30PM Christ and the Apostles march out of one door and into the other at the top of the clock. In Prague, the Orloj, installed in 1410, is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. This is particularly impressive since it is on the southern wall of Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square. Again, there is a computes, an orrery, and the current position of the sun and moon. Each hour the figure of Death, a skeleton, strikes the time the Apostles parade past two open doors, but don’t venture outside.

Like the clock towers, architecture in Bohemia runs the gamut from Gothic to modern. The
Strasbourg, Karlovy Vary, Library, and Prague
cathedrals in Strasbourg and Prague display the Gothic style including flying buttresses and gargoyles that carry rain from the roof. Karlovy Vary architecture is a pleasing mix of everything from Baroque to Art Nouveau, with the Grand Hotel Pupp a good example of the neoclassical style. However, in Stuttgart we visited the city library which is a fine instance of modern design. From the almost exclusive use of white, it is easy to see that this project was the brainstorm of architect Eun Young Yi who was born in Korean and is now living in Germany. On the upper levels, the perimeter is shelving for books with offices and a nice restaurant on the top floor. The chess board-like cube is actually a skylight for the lower multi-storied entryway and its sapphire colored pool. Adding a Star-Trek feel to the building is the robotic book mover running on a track delivering materials to the correct floor to be re-shelved by ordinary humans.

Karlovy Vary, Strasbourg, Prague, and Old Jewish Cemetery
Where ever we went in Bohemia, I was reminded of the settings from the Harry Potter movies. The churches and landscaped provided this atmosphere and this particular gargoyle put me in mind of the dragons that played a predominant role in the ‘Goblet of Fire’; the rather serpentine fountain head had me looking around Karlovy Vary for the members of Slytherin house. Although I didn’t find wizards, I did see that the artists had used their skills to design the calendar that pointed the way to the Elizabeth Spa with its many statues and reliefs reflecting the healing powers of the mineral waters. In Prague, the sculptured headstones in the Jewish cemetery revealed a delicate artistry while paying tribute to those laid to rest in the 1400s and reminding us of the thousands lost during World War II. Also in Prague are a plethora of sculptures depicting Good King Wenceslas (and now you have that song playing in your head) who ruled the area in the early to mid-900s. Raised by his sainted grandmother, he was also given sainthood and at least one of the legends about his life was ruled fact by Pope Pius II. Prague sculpture was also influenced by Alphonse Mucha, the father of Art Nouveau. Not only do statues in this style adorn many buildings, but painted façades, light fixtures, and furnishings dating from the late 1800s to early 1900s can be found throughout the city.

Art Nouveau and Art Deco are two of my favorite styles so I was very excited to get to visit the Mucha Museum in Prague. Mucha started his career as a decorative painter, eventually becoming a graphic artist. His illustrations appeared in magazines and as advertising until his big break came when he was the only illustrator available to design a poster for a play staring Sarah Bernhardt.  She was so enamored with his spontaneous work that she hired him to produce all of the posters advertising her plays. Later in his life he was able to do what he
Queen Hyacinth 
considered more serious art, creating The Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej), a series of 20 very large paintings showing the history of the Slavic people in general and the Czech people in particular. Since his work is now out of copyright, his images are found on everything from bookmarks to t-shirts to housewares.

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