Frescoes Discovered in the Nativity Crypt in Prague

1. Crypt of the Church of the Nativity in Prague, 1664
Photo : CODART
Notre-Dame de Lorette

23/7/12 - Discovery - Prague, Czech Republic - Seventeenth century frescoes were discovered in 2011 in the crypt of the church of the Nativity in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Loretto in Prague by the curators Petr Basta and Marketa Bastova. The news was posted by the Codart website [1] to mark the occasion of an exhibition, being held from 4 May to 30 September 2012, at the same time as a catalogue in English offering a look at the present status of the decor after a restoration campaign. Due to conservation issues, the public is not allowed to go down and will only be able to view a 3-D reconstitution of the site.

2. Cosmas of Austria ?
after Rembrandt (1606-1669)
Resurrection of Lazarus, 1664
Prague, Church of the Nativity
Photo : CODART
Notre-Dame de Lorette/P. Bašta

Paradoxically, the opening of the crypt resulted from a mistaken interpretation of an archival document evoking a burial vault decorated with scenes from the Passion of Christ which was thought to lie under the church of the Nativity in Prague but which in fact alluded to the monastic church of Chrudim. Thus, a different sort of paintings was revealed under the Nativity, presenting the equally somber passing of life but also the Resurrection.

A very active patron at Our Lady of Loretto, Countess Elizabeth Apollonia de Kolowrat participated in the extension, also initiating the project of a crypt for the benefactors of the sanctuary which was completed in 1663 ; the frescoes (finished a secco) were painted between May and November 1664 then the site was consecrated by Cardinal von Harrach that same year. On the east wall, the principal composition represents the Resurrection of Lazarus (ill. 1 and 2), surrounded by allegories of Time and various vanitas. All of these frescoes were inspired by Flemish and Dutch engravings. Hence, the Resurrection of Lazarus, a direct reference to Rembrandt (B.73, 5th state), shows the spread of the master’s work in Bohemia during his lifetime ; however, the artist whom it inspired reversed the image and stretched the composition out horizontally. The figure of Christ, less monumental, appears on the same scale as the figures witnessing the miracle, an astonished or frightened assembly which integrates the spectator standing in the crypt.

3. Crypt of the Church of the Nativity in Prague, 1664
Photo : Notre-Dame de Lorette/P. Zuchnický

The other walls evoke figures also drawn from engravings, notably an angel taken from the Allegory of the Birth of Prince William Henry of Brandenburg (Potsdam, Sans-Souci), an engraving by Cornelis van Dalen after Govert Flinck ; two other silhouettes, a skeleton bending his bow and a sinister looking Time come from the Battle of Men and Animals against Time and Death by Boetius Adamsz. Bolswert after David Vinckboons (ill. 3) ; lastly, the Homo Bulla is a reference to the engraving by Hendrick Goltzius, Quis Evadet (ill. 3).
Nothing is known about the author of the iconographic program, perhaps the artist himself or the patron who commissioned it. The identity of the painter is not documented either but the name of Cosmas of Austria has been suggested. A converted friar, he entered the order of the Capuchin in 1659 and was a student of the painter Tobias Pock in Vienna. He was sent to Brno in 1663 to help in the decoration of the monastic church.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 27 juillet 2012


[1] In an article written by Anja K. Sevcik, curator at the National Gallery in Prague and who we would like to thank for the information she provided.

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