Prague Castle – Prague Castle Picture Gallery (Obrazárna Pražského hradu)
The Prague Castle Picture Gallery is the oldest continuously existing collection of paintings in our country – its roots date back to the late 16th century. The permanent exhibition presents visitors with a representative selection of more than 100 of the highest quality paintings from the Prague Castle treasury of art, which contains over 4,000 works. Despite considerable artistic losses which took place during the collection’s eventful history, the quality of the art owned by the Picture Gallery is comparable to that of other major European art collections.
November – March
- Whole week
- 09.00 – 16.00
April – October
- Whole week
- 09.00 – 17.00
Prague Castle Picture Gallery
If we enter the Castle via the Northern (Pacassi’s) gate, then we can see the former stables on the Western side of the Northern wing, on the right of the passage way behind the gate, which Rudolf II had re-built in 1583 into two beautiful stables for his Spanish horses. At the end of the 50s, it was decided that the Prague Castle Picture gallery would be established here on the ground floor of the Northern and the Western wing. A new gallery has thus been realized according to the project of architects František Cubr and Josef Hrubý, opened in 1965. It encompassed the remains of the masonry of Virgin Mary Church dating back to the end of the 9th century, which was built by the Přemyslid prince Bořivoj I. The church burnt down in the middle of the 13th century, and has never been restored. The remains of the church, moreover damaged by the construction of the Castle wing in the 18th century, were discovered by dr. Ivan Borkovský during an archaeological research in the 50s. He found out that there were actually two churches, where the younger one dated to the 11th century. In the church, he discovered the tomb of prince Spytihněv I, who died in 915, and his wife. This was the oldest princely funeral we know of in our region.
Back then, the Picture gallery was a part of the visitors’ tour round the Castle, and so it was not a problem that the entrance directly from the Pacassi’s gate remained sort of concealed. However, the installation gradually became unsatisfactory due to technical and safety reasons, and when the picture named Old man in love by Lucas Cranach was stolen in 1990, the premises were closed immediately and the pictures moved to safe depositories. The decision was made not only concerning the improvement of the existing resolution, but also concerning the necessity to newly resolve the entire area and installation. The Picture gallery got its new image in the 1990s according to a project of Bořek Šípek. The entrance to the Picture Gallery was moved to the 2nd courtyard, and the interior was modified, as well as the area of Virgin Mary Church. The adapted premises were open for the first time in 1997 during an extensive exhibition Rudolf II and Prague. Finally, the Picture gallery was opened up after reconstruction on the 1st June 1998.
The beginnings of the Picture gallery’s collection funds were connected with Emperor Rudolf II, who was the last ruler to have his seat in Prague. He acquired an immense and rich collection, which included around three thousand paintings, yet nearly nothing was preserved. When Rudolf II died in 1612, his successor Matthias gradually started to move the collection to Vienna. What was left in Prague at that time was taken by the Swedish armies during the Thirty Years’ War. There are only a few paintings in the Picture gallery today which belonged to Rudolf’s collection, for example Portrait of Jakob König by Veronese, The last judgement by Heintz, or the Feast of the rosary by Dürer, which, however, was not left at Prague Castle back then. Withal there were pieces of art of Italian, German and Dutch 16th century painting, a collection of Dürer’s paintings, and a large number of paintings of Rudolf’s royal painters, such as Hans van Aachen, Josef Heintz or Bartoloměj Spranger.
The year 1650 saw a start of the second stage of the existence of the Prague Castle Picture gallery, when Archduke Leopold Wilhelm bought more than 500 paintings from the collection of the Duke of Buckingham in Antwerp for his brother Emperor Ferdinand III. The new collection included, apart from the 16th century artists, also painters from the 17th century, for example Domenico Fetti, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Nicolas Poussin, etc. The collection had a great value namely for the Czech painters, such as Karel Škréta, Jan Rudolf Bys or Petr Brandl, who found guidance and inspiration in it without having to travel around the world. The most valuable was the collection of paintings from the following authors: Vezellio Tizian, Paolo Veronese, Jacop Tintoretto, Domenico Fetti, Quido Reni and Peter Paul Rubens. Each of them has at least one painting represented in the Picture gallery today. After 1737, the decline continued; paintings from the collection were again taken to Vienna into the official imperial gallery, others were used as decoration in the Castle halls, and the collection was completely abandoned during the Theresian reconstruction of the Castle. Only the pieces left in the depository due to their bad state remained in Prague, and paintings borrowed by the Society of patriotic art lovers founded in 1796. When the republic was declared, the wasted collection was enriched by purchases of Baroque paintings and 19th century Bohemian art made with money from the so called Masaryk’s fund (Jan Kupecký, Petr Brandl, Jan Kašpar Hirschely, Norbert Grund, Josef Mánes, Adolf Kosárek, Jan Preisler, Antonín Slavíček). Some paintings were also purchased after World War II. In 1961, most pieces from the historical collection were taken to the depository at Opočno Castle due to complete unfamiliarity with the matter. Nevertheless, they were soon returned to the Castle, when prof. Jaromír Neumann recognized precious, excellent pieces of art in them. These were restored and displayed in the Prague Castle Picture gallery, which was open for public in 1965 and now includes nearly four thousand items and continues to grow. New exposition from 1998 only exhibits 107 most valuable paintings and three sculptures. The pieces are divided according to the classification into the individual schools: Italian, German, Dutch, Flemish, and so on. The first hall offers several paintings which were a part of Rudolf’s collection and returned to Prague via different ways. The latest of these is the Tripple portrait on a denticulated foundation by Paul Roy, purchased in 1995.
Prague Castle has been a National Cultural Monument since 1962.