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The House at the Minute

This building, part of the Old Town Hall complex, is a typical example of Czech Renaissance townhouse architecture. The facade, decorated with sgraffito, depicts scenes drawn from biblical and mythological sources, as well as contemporary Renaissance legends. Franz Kafka and his parents lived here from 1889 to 1896.

The House at the Minute, Staroměstské náměstí 2, Praha 1 - Staré Město, 110 00

Object history

The house can be found in the neighbourhood of the Old Town Hall area. In core, it is late-Gothic from the beginning of the 15th century; it was modified in Renaissance style after 1564. At the end of the 16th century, the owners added a low third floor to the originally two-storied house, terminated by a mighty lunette cornice. In late Baroque, the position of windows was changed several times. The house is a typical example of Bohemian burgess Renaissance architecture. Before 1712, the house was owned by MatÄ›j Bartl, who ran a pharmacy here. Back then the house was called At the White Lion. From the end of the 18th century on, there was a house emblem in a form of a Classicist sculpture of a white lion. The sculpture of the lion still decorates the corner of the house today. The later name, At the Minute (U Minuty), is derived from the word minutious, i.e. very small, tiny, and it documented the fact that “minced” tobacco used to be sold here.

The house was about to be demolished, together with the neighbouring Pecoldovský House, in order to align the block of houses between the Old Town Square and the Small Square (Malé námÄ›stí). Luckily, a Committee for listing the constructional, artistic and historical monuments of the Capital City of Prague was against it, and when some sgraffitoes were discovered on the neighbouring house in 1905, a decision was made that both houses would remain where they were. Sgraffitoes in the House at the Minute were only discovered in 1919 when it was being repaired. The richness of Renaissance sgraffitoes was surprising, also due to the fact that the house back than was not interesting at all, and it wasn’t even inhabited by important people. Figural and ornamental sgraffitoes came into existence in two time stages - the first part before the end of the 16th century, when the house was owned by Karel PÅ™ehoÅ™ovský of Kvasejovice, and the second part in the years 1603 - 1610, when it was the property of Tito Cantagali. In 1919 it was restored by academic sculptor JindÅ™ich ÄŒapek. The sgraffitoes in the cornice’s lunettes, broken by four windows, depict the busts of the contemporary rulers, Philip II of Spain, Maxmilian II and his son Rudolf II and some other members of the Habsburg family. There is also, for example, a figure of the Ottoman ruler Selim, with whom the Habsburgs signed a peace treaty in 1568 in order to protect its empire from Turkish incursions. Sgraffito decorations in the bands above the windows depict, for example, a Bacchian procession in which Bacchus rides in a cart, pushed by a soldier in drifty clothes. The procession is accompanied by dancing and singing Satyrs. There is a picture of Adam and Eve with a roe buck under the tree with forbidden fruit. Further on, there is a picture of a popular Renaissance moralist theme - a dispute of several sons about their father’s inheritance, which is resolved by the sons shooting arrows to the father’s dead body, the winner being the one who strikes closest to the father’s heart. There are two arrows in the man’s body, with the figures of two sons with bows standing nearby. Yet the winner is the third son, who begs the judge to relieve him of this terrible task, because he is the closest to the father’s heart. There is a figure of a soldier with his arm in a fire, which represents the Old-Roman hero Mucio Scaevola, who proves his contempt for pain and death. There is also the figure of Hercules, and then lots of allegoric figures in the spandrels, such as Justice, Bravery and Wisdom, Fertility and Motherhood. Sgraffitoes were engraved from a fine gray-white surface plaster into the lower layer, coloured by a finely ground coal, which form the background to the light pictures.

During extensive adaptation works in the years 1937 - 1938, the endangered statics of the houses was enforced via an internal ferro-concrete skeleton, the shabby enclosure walls were strengthened by a brick wall, and the house’s front was broken via an arbour with wagon vault. Besides some original fragments, such as the stucco ceiling or remains of wall paintings, also some Renaissance painted ceilings were discovered. In 1896 the house was purchased by the Prague Community. It was interconnected with the neighbouring houses named Pecoldovský and At the Rooster (U Kohouta), and it was annexed to the town hall. In 1889 - 1896, Franz Kafka lived in this house with his parents.


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