In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Renaissance and Rudolphine Art of Bohemia and Moravia

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Art History Renaissance and Rudolphine Art of Bohemia and Moravia
Ondřej Jakubec
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0085


Bohemia and Moravia, along with parts of Silesia, consist of autonomous historic lands that currently make up the territory of the Czech Republic. These lands have not only had their own distinct cultural, social, and national identities, but also, up until the 20th century, their own evolving political and national autonomy and distinctiveness. Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia—the last of which, from the middle of the 18th century, involving only a smaller part of so-called Czech or Austrian Silesia—made up the core of the Czech Kingdom as of the Middle Ages. The region had the status of a Crown Land of the Austrian Empire up until the beginning of the 20th century. Several political formations have existed within the territory of today’s Czech Republic, starting with the Great Moravian Empire in the 9th century, the first political body of western Slavs with a distinct and complete “artistic profile.” The stable form of the Czech Princedom later took shape with (from the 12th–13th centuries) the Bohemian Kingdom, with Prague as the capital; the Margraviate of Moravia (from the 12th century), with its main centers in the towns of Brno and Olomouc; and several independent princedoms within Silesia. Traditions of artistic links and cultural exchanges were also typical for all of these areas with somewhat differing regions. The neighboring German Empire and its pertinent areas (from the perspective of cultural relations, southern Germany and Saxony in particular) were key for Bohemia and its regions. Moravia logically developed links with the Austrian environment in particular, often to a greater extent than Bohemia. Silesia was naturally focused on the terrain of Poland, as well as Germany (Saxony). Apart from personal contacts, certain constant aspects had an influence, in particular the majority population of the German-speaking ethnic group, particularly in the elite burgher society and town governments in Moravia and in Silesia. Art in this Central European environment was constituted on the basis of distinct artistic exchanges, including the migration of artists, forms, and styles, and their transformations and adaptations. From 1526 until 1918, Bohemia and Moravia were a part of the Habsburg monarchy, which had not only political, but also logical, cultural consequences. One significant example of such connection of Bohemia with Habsburg rulers as Czech kings, and also emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, is that in 1583 Emperor Rudoph II moved his seat from Vienna to Prague. The city became again an international cultural center of Central Europe, as it was during the times of Luxembourg emperor Charles IV. Such an extraordinary situation reflects the significant impact of Habsburg rulers and their court culture on Bohemia and Moravia. Although the first connection with Renaissance culture and art, around 1500, was mediated through Corvin’s and Jagiellonian courts in Hungary, the main activity was carried by Italian artists, stonemasons, and masons from northern Italy and, especially, Ticino canton in today’s southern Switzerland, who came to Bohemia and Moravia through Austria. The same situation can be continuously observed till the end of the 17th century. Despite this transcultural and international character of Renaissance visual culture in Bohemia and Moravia, nationalist intellectual circles at the end of the 19th century created the idea of a so-called Czech Renaissance as autonomous “Czech (slavonic) style” that was intentionally aimed against the contemporaneous concept of a so-called German Renaissance. Besides the royal court, the Renaissance style was accepted already around 1500, and then, especially since the 1530s and 1540s, by a group of elite aristocrat families. Nevertheless, the environment of Bohemian and Moravian cities and towns also provided a fruitful background for assimilation of the new style, partly thanks to the fact that the Italians (Welsche leute in Gerrman/Vlaši in Czech) used to become members of the towns’ communities. Renaissance art in Moravia is far from uniform. From the royal and aristocratic circles to small towns, a variety of forms of different origin can be observed and studied.

General Overviews

Several overviews by German-language authors exist from older works that are typified by an analytical-positivist approach to the accumulated data, with a tendency toward German nationalist interpretations and synthetic conclusions, as in Prokop 1904 and Leisching 1932. The German historians are of greater interest from this perspective because of their narrative historiographic value as opposed to their factual contribution. They also provide valuable documentation of the artifacts, though some of them (e.g., Prokop 1904) were already criticized by contemporaries for factual errors. Another useful resource is the series Dějiny českého výtvarného umění (“Academic History of Visual Art”), especially Volume II/1–2, (Dvorský and Fučíková 1989), which is the basic compendium, and completely up-to-date in the final volumes, for art history in Bohemia and Moravia. This “academic history” was published from the 1970s to 2007 at the Art History Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, and it currently consists of six completed works (in the form of eleven volumes). Despite certain minor varying conceptions, the aim of all of the volumes has been to provide a complete survey of all artistic genres, including the decorative arts, stage design, design, and so on. The publications are supplied with notes and quality bibliographies. In the first volumes of the series, Dvorský and Fučíková 1989, the formal approach prevailed, especially in comparison with later ones.

  • Dvorský, Jiří, and Eliška Fučíková, eds. Dějiny českého výtvarného umění: Od počátků renesance do závěru baroka. Vol. 2/1–2. Prague: Academia, 1989.

    The follow-up two volumes covering the period from the 16th century, from the beginning of the Renaissance to the end of the Baroque, including the period of Classicism at the turn of the 19th century. Apart from synthetic chapters mapping out architecture, painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts, special attention is also paid to the court art of Rudolph II.

  • Kalina, Pavel. Praha 1437–1610: Kapitoly o pozdně gotické a renesanční architektuře. Prague: Libri, 2011.

    An interesting attempt to deal with the long period at the turn of the Gothic and Renaissance era. The example of Prague serves as starting point to demonstrate the stylistic change or transition of this period. The author focuses not only on the court environment, but also on bourgeoisie architecture. This is part of a series of volumes from the renowned Prague publishing house Libri that consists of publications covering chronologically the architectural heritage of Prague. Includes numerous illustrations and planning documentation.

  • Kratochvíl, Petr, ed. Velké dějiny zemí Koruny české: Tematická řada: Architektura. Litomyšl, Czech Republic: Paseka, 2009.

    This history of architecture in the Czech lands covers in summary fashion the history of architecture from the 8th to the 21st centuries. The publication was prepared by leading historians from the Art History Institute. The book is not only factual, but also an ideal synthesis in terms of interpretation of the history of Czech architecture. The pictorial documentation is extremely limited, however, in light of the format of the book. The thorough bibliography is also valuable.

  • Leisching, Julius. Kunstgeschichte Mährens. Brünn, Czech Republic: Rudolf M. Rohrer, 1932.

    A brief outline of the history of art in Moravia, with a special focus on descriptions of the situation in the main political and cultural centers—the cities of Olomouc, Brno, Kroměříž/Kremsier, Znojmo/Znaim, and some others, especially of ethnically German status related to rather nationalistic basis of the author.

  • Prokop, August. Die Markgrafschaft Mähren in kunstgeschichtlicher Beziehungen: Grundzüge einer Kunstgeschichte dieses Landes mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Baukunst. 4 vols. Vienna: R. Spies, 1904.

    This synthesis by the architect and director of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Brno did not have ambition to be a total historical survey. Instead, it provides an introductory outline of art history in Moravia from prehistory till the present time, with a special focus on architecture, especially the formal and stylistic aspects.

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