Jiri Mucha, the son of the founder of Art Nouveau wrote the fascinating words concerning his father´s life and work in the book "Alfons Mucha":
"These few notes were the beginning of a practise which Flammarion introduced to him, which he relied on for the rest of his life, automatic writing. Flammarion suggested that what he wrote might not come from his own thoughts, but might be dictated by separate beings expressing themselves through his person.......That was why he always addressed his dead relatives with questions when he needed answers."
The book describes many incredible and little known facts about the famous painter of the Art Nouveau period (Secession), a noble character who was not only an enthusiast of the occult and automatic writing, but was an important freemason.
Alfons Mucha was accepted as a member of Les Inséparables du Progres in January 1898, and became a mason of the highest order upon his return to Bohemia (Czech Rep.). He was active in Prague lodges by communicating with the public, along with the Minister Alois rasin, politicians M.R. Stefanik and Edvard Benes, etc.. Mucha became on of the most famous Czech mason, renowned throughout the world.
Alfons Mucha´s extraordinary interests also found their place in his artwork, as he said himslef, the paintings he did which he felt "compensated for light-headed and fashionable sins" contained ecstatic figures, expressing ideas similar to those of medium Lina de Ferkel. Ornamental elements contained astrological , Rosicrucian and Masonic symbols. It is possible to say that Secession , or Art Nouveau, in Mucha´s interpretation embraces esoteric themes, which will surprise many admirers of this genius.
text - Jiri Kuchar - "Praha esotericka"
The stunning Art Nouveau building of the former U Nováků department store can be found a mere few steps from Wenceslas Square. The architect Osvald Polívka - of Municipal House fame - chose a number of floral and figural motifs to decorate the facade, which bears the handiwork of the finest craftsmen and artists of the early 1900s. Of special note is the front-facing mosaic by Jan Preisler, depicting allegorical figures of Industry and Trade.
The Slav Epic is a series of twenty monumental canvases, the largest of them is measuring over 6 by 8 metres, depicting the history of the Slav people and civilisation. Mucha conceived it as a monument for all the Slavonic peoples.
The idea of the work was formed in 1899, while Mucha was working on the design for the interior of the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian government for the Paris Exhibition of 1900.
Between 1904 and 1909, Mucha visited the United States five times in hopes of finding a benefactor who would support his ambitious project and eventually, on Christmas Day 1909, he secured sponsorship from Charles Richard Crane, a wealthy Chicago-based businessman and philanthropist.
Between 1911 and 1926 Mucha’s energy was taken up with the creation of the Slav Epic. For this project he rented a studio and an apartment in Zbiroh Castle in Western Bohemia to benefit from the spacious studio enabling him to work on enormous canvases. In the series, he depicted twenty key episodes from the Slavic past, ancient to modern, ten of which depict episodes from Czech history and ten on historical episodes from other Slavonic regions. The first canvas in the series, The Slavs in Their Original Homeland, was finished in 1912 and the entire series was completed in 1926 with the final canvas, The Apotheosis of the Slavs, which celebrates the triumphant victory of all the Slavs whose homelands in 1918 finally became their very own.
In 1928, Mucha and Crane officially presented the complete series of the Slav Epic to the City of Prague as a gift to the nation, coinciding with the 10th Anniversary of its independence.
The Municipal House facade is eyecatching not only due to its monumental architectural composition but also because of the unique profile created by its collection of the sculptural art of the time. Monumental allegorical figures, displayed all over the facade of the building, which were created by some of the greatest artists represent particular historical and classical cultural symbols (allegories of the nation, Prague, legendary characters and events, personification of art, philosophy, science, etc.), but they are also inspired by modern day symbols (allegories of industry, trade, transport). Anthropomorphical sculptures are accompanied by decor with Art Nouveau floral ornaments as well as other classical architectural elements. Above the tops of attic gables and on the tips of the spires there are sculpted vases, cartouches, tombs, stylized battlements and other decorative elements.
The front facade in line with the cupola axis is dominated by the main entrance portal with a representative semicircular balcony which is accessible from the Mayor’s Hall on the 1st floor.I
The large exedra under the main cupola is decorated with a semicircular scene on the glass colorful mosaic Apotheosis of Prague according to a painting by Karel Spillar. The picture is adorned with a golden sign with a quotation by Svatopluk Cech which is still relevant today : ”Hail to you Prague ! Brave the time and malice as you have resisted all the storms throughout the ages”.
The Municipal House is special for the mutual harmony of all the decorative elements with architectural features which provide with their shape and form a suitable background for the wonderful sculptural display. Richly ornate, colorverdigried stucco ornaments and artificial stone cover all the facades and continue similarly on the roof in copper, zinc and zinc alloy. All these metalwork elements are, with the exception of the roof area, provided with gilding and ochre paint which is intended to imitate stucco. Some sculptured figures are partly made of stone (sandstone), partly of artificial stone, while others are bronze and copper. The whole monumental look is completed by the painted and gilded, highly decorative metalwork elements of the balcony handrail, portal sun roofs, etc
The sculptures on the Municipal House facade were created by a number of renowned artists of the day. Two central stone sculptural groups called Humiliation and Revival of the Nation (featuring a copper eagle), placed alongside the central cupola’s exedra were created by Ladislav Saloun. Karel Novak created a pair of huge copper atlas figures — torchbearers carrying the ”Laterna Magica” on the portal pylons. Novak is also the creator of the unique and artistically remarkable ”Mascarons” placed in the voussoirs of the fifteen semicircled windows on the 1st floor of the front facade. These are large stuccoed allegorical heads provided in addition to floral ornaments together with a variety of tributes to the fields of Painting, Poetry, Science, Philosophy, Trade, Agriculture, Industry, and also Motoring and Aeronautics. The latter two are represented by two heads with hoods and protective glasses located above two side windows. Karel Novak is associated with other facade stucco work, these being colored and gilded city emblems, plastic floral ornamentation, vases and tombs, etc. on the front facade. Evidence of the same hand can be seen in the sitting figures of ephebs made of artificial stone and located above the sidefacade window ledges, etc. (not confirmed for all of the sculptures and elements). Other stucco elements on the side facades were created by Antonín Mara (south facade), Eduard Piccart, Bedrich Simonovsky and Frantisek Kraumann (north facade). A conspicuous feature which forms a continuous circle alongside the facade at the level of the 1st floor window ledges are plaques with deep threequarter reliefs of semifigures in folk costumes. This artificialstone decoration showing the folklore of individual regions of Bohemia was created by a group of artists, which included J. Pekarek, A. Zoula, E. Piccardt, F. Kraumann, B. Simonovský, A. Strunc.
What most reminds one of an exhibition gallery is the line of huge figures erected along the building above the cornice. On the left corner of the front facade there is a symbolic sandstone sculpture of the Spirit of History with a sword by Frantisek Rous, on the right corner beside a spire there are figures made of artificial stone representing allegories of Literature, Building trade, Sculpture and Painting by Antonín Strunc. The north facade is enlivened by an artistically interesting stone allegorical figure of a semireclining naked male ”Drama” and a naked female ”Music” by Josef Maratka. The south facade is decorated above the attic window gable with a pair of stone figures depicting Sower and (female) Harvester by Antonín Mara. The exhibition of sculptures continues also on the lower levels of the building : At the level of the 1st floor on the front facade’s left corner there is a portrait stone figure representing the Powder Tower’s builder Matej Rejsek by Cenek Vosmik. The same corner just one floor below bears a memorial plaque from 1918 with a pair of allegorical figures by Ladislav Saloun. The Westernside facade features a round turret with a spire on the corner which is enhanced by two fairytale figures ”Rusalka” and ”Dudak” of artificial stone by Frantisek Uprka. Another wonderful part of the facade is the stone decoration of the NeoGothic corridor connecting the Municipal House with the Powder Tower by Antonin Strunc and Josef Pekarek.
The Municipal House has been one of the most significant public buildings in Prague for over a hundred years. After the city administration had purchased the plots where the Royal Court, the medieval seat of the Bohemian kings, used to be located, they announced an architectural competition for the Municipal House in 1903. Unsatisfied with the results of the competition, the city administration awarded this project to architects Antonín Balšánek and Osvald Polívka. They designed the Municipal House, following instructions from the city council, as a multifunctional building, which included areas for ceremonial purposes, exhibitions, concerts as well as restaurants and shops.
From an architectural perspective, the Municipal House is interesting due to its usage of the irregular triangular shape of the parcel it is built on, being arranged around the monumental space of Smetana Hall, stretching up from the first floor to the large glass-panelled dome. The architects achieved organic completeness and rhythmical proportions, which were significantly inspired by the Art Nouveau style, in a building essentially based in a historicizing style with baroque elements. This tendency is particularly apparent in the sumptuous decoration, especially in the stucco and metal work dominating the magnificent marquee over the main entrance. All of the marks of the new decorative style are evident in the interior of the grand staircases and also other areas with their supple vegetable forms.
In addition to a numerous army of artisans and craftsmen, many prominent Czech artists spanning several generations participated in the Municipal House’s decoration. Karel Špillar chose the theme of the celebration of Prague for the central mosaic above the main entrance. The ceremonial halls of the festive first floor are the work of Alphonse Mucha, Max Švabinský, Jan Preisler, František Ženíšek and many other painters. Among the many sculptors who excelled in the decoration of the Municipal House, we should mention particularly Ladislav Šaloun and Karel Novák.
Karel Špilar’s lunette mosaic above the main entrance, Apotheosis of Prague, completed with allegorical sculptures of the Resurrection of the Nation and Humiliation of the Nation, represents the centrepiece of main façade, which faces the square. František Rous’ (1872 – 1936) sculpture entitled the Spirit of the History is also deeply symbolic, placed on the main cornice of the Powder Gate corner. A sitting figure, leaning on a sword, has his eyes fixed on Na Příkopě Street, perhaps looking at the nearby club building of Prague’s Germans.
The historical significance of the place seems to have been affirmed by history itself: the Municipal House areas witnessed the coming to life and even the birth of the independent Czechoslovak state, which was declared here several years after the building’s completion. The establishment of the republic is commemorated by a bronze plaque, situated on the same corner as the Spirit of the History.
After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Prague's municipal authorities perceived it as one of their primary tasks to restore the dilapidating ceremonious building to its former lost glamour and fame. The extraordinarily demanding reconstruction took place between 1994 and 1997. All areas were restored with meticulous care to their original appearance, based on original plans and photographs from the period. As part of the reconstruction, which fully respected the nature of this monument of national heritage, it was fitted with modern technology in order to facilitate high-quality services. Thanks to the sensitive approach and the effort to preserve the institution’s original purpose, the Municipal House can fulfil its social, cultural and ceremonial roles with dignity. It is a venue where Prague meets its domestic and foreign visitors.
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