This year Prag and Nuremberg celebrates the birth of Charles IV (1316 – 1378) with two major exhibitions and a number of other events.
Charles IV was definitely a man of extraordinary talents as well as a curious and creative mind. Eldest son of the Duke of Luxemburg and a Bohemian Princess he was at first not destined for more than a middling career in a Europe filled with minor princes vying for power on the grand scale. Furthermore, he was forcibly removed from his mother at the age of four and later taken to France where he was brought up at the royal court (his aunt was the queen). However, at fourteen he was sent to Italy by his father to learn how to conduct the mixture of diplomacy, feuding and war, which any successful prince had to be able to take part in. Three years later, at seventeen, he finally returned to Bohemia, where his mother had died two years ago. Here he had initially to fight for his inheritance while at the same time learning once more to speak Czech. However, he must have been successful in this as the next years were obviously spent ruling Bohemia as well as taking part in the adventures of his father.
One of his more advantageous contacts was the Pope, whom he had forged a spiritual friendship with in his youth in France. Through his instigations, the German electors contentiously chose Charles as King of the Romans in 1346. After the death of his father at Crecy he was crowned as king of Bohemia in Prague as well as King of the Romans, first in Bonn and later in Aachen. Even later, he travelled to Milan and Rome and was crowned as Italian king with first the Lombardian Iron Crown and later as Holy-Roman emperor in St. Peter’s.
He was a gifted diplomat who was able to forge a series of diplomatic alliances through his own four marriages and those of his children; also, he was deft at keeping contact with a wide variety of people in his wider realm, which he continued to travel through from one end to the other again and again.
However, he was first of all a creative person, who invested in literature, art and architecture to an extent, which must be considered quite remarkable. Notable was his total reconstruction of Medieval Prague, which was turned into a huge commercial and artistic centre as well as a prominent stage for the many feasts and religious festivals, Charles was so fond of staging. Here, he also created a new “home” for the many relics, which he so vigorously tried to lay his hands on and which he proudly presented to his people at special shows. But he also attracted numerous gifted artists, who worked on his behalf “selling” his vision of a dynastic continuity, which was at the core of his worldview.
Of this we know much more than is usual for his time, since he fell ill in 1350 and seemingly spent his time recuperating with writing an extensive autobiography. Even though it ends in 1347 with his first coronation – and three thirds were obviously written after he got up from bed – and still provides us with insight into his emotional and personal world. Rare indeed!
One Anniversary and two Exhibitions
No wonder, Charles IV plays an extraordinary role in the history of Czechia and is regarded as the most prominent Czech of all times. And no wonder the City of Prague and Czechia has mounted a couple of extraordinary exhibitions together with Nuremberg, his other hometown.
Currently (31.08.2016) the exhibition in Prague is running. Presenting more than 170 exhibits, the exhibition not only presents the highlights of his artistic and crafty projects, but also seeks to gauge the extent to which life at the imperial court was different from the more mundane existence of petty nobles, burghers and peasants. Other questions focus on the influence of the climatic and environmental events of the 14th century – floods, poor harvests, famines, pestilences – as well as social events like the Jewish pogroms and the financial crisis. But the question is also raised of how he financed all his enterprises and what kind of people he liked working together with.
The exhibition is also the occasion to explore the results of numerous research projects, which have been carried out by both archaeologists, historians and arthistorians since the last great exhibition in 1978 (organized to commemorate his death). To some extent, this was marred by the political climate where communism dictated specific scholarly lenses through which the sources should be read and interpreted. However, since then, a vast amount of new insight has been gained by copious collaboration between European scholars and scientists.
This is one of the reasons why the two exhibitions have been mounted together. Presumably, they intend to present the man from two slightly different perspectives. Exactly how this is going to play out, we cannot as yet know. The exhibition in Prague is still up and running until the 25th of September, while the exhibition in Nuremberg is scheduled to open on the 20th of October.
Finally, beware: Both cities have decided not only to curate two major exhibitions; they have also appended various minor shows. Here is a list of the most important
- Emperor Charles IV 1316 – 1378 – at the Wallenstein Riding Hall
- The Sceptre and the Crown – Prague Castle
- The Crown of the Kingdom – Prague Castle
- Charles IV and Prague Castle – Prague Castle
- Architecture and Building at the time of Charles IV – Technisches Museum, Prag
- The Karlstejn Treasure – At Karlstejn Castle
- Emperor Charles IV 1316 – 1378 at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum
- Lauf auf der Pegnitz – Castles and castle- construction at the time of Charles IV
The exhibitions are accompanied by two catalogues. The first on concerning the Prague Exhibitions has been published, while the second is planned to be published in October 2016
Emperor Charles IV 1316–1378
Jiří Fajt (ed.) in cooperation with Helena Dáňová
The exhibition guide of the first Czech-Bavarian Land Exhibition presents the multifarious historical personality of Charles IV as both a ruling strategist and art benefactor. Charles IV’s court presentation in the context of 14th century Europe is illustrated with 200 examples of works of art which were produced in Prague, Nuremberg, Aachen, Frankfurt, and other Holy Roman Empire centres of art. Moreover, the cultural and historical aspects are presented, describing the adverse effects of climate changes such as crop failures, floods, famines, Jewish pogroms, financial crises, and plague epidemics causing a drastic population decline on the one hand, and the unprecedented boom of art and architecture at the sovereign courts on the other.
Czech, German, and English versions, 188 pages, 176 reproductions
Weiser Herrscher in einer Zeit der Katastrophen – Auf den Spuren Kaiser Karls IV. zwischen Prag und Nürnberg
Jiří Fajt-Jan Šícha (edd.)
This travel-guide, richly furnished with photographs and documentary material, presents locations along the route between Prague and Nuremberg, which have been associated with Charles IV. This so-called Golden Route had great political and strategic importance for him. It provides information on a number of castles and other monuments and contains maps, basic information on the individual architectural vestiges, reflections of people on the legacy of Charles IV And interviews with art historians Milena Bartlová and Jiří Fajt and the historian René Küpper.
Czech and German version, 128 pages, 132 reproductions
This study explores medieval art during the reign of the House of Luxembourg, but in a wider geographical and comparative context. From the Luxembourg or rather Prague perspective, it seeks to analyse the artistic situation in four selected regions and localities of diverse political entities, and therefore different relationships to the imperial government of that time
– in the March of Brandenburg, which was part of the personal union falling under the sovereign power of the King of Bohemia and the Margrave of Brandenburg,
– in Havelberg, an important trade centre and one of the most sought-after pilgrimage sites of the Holy Roman Empire
– in Saxony, which was connected with Bohemia through a lively cultural and artistic exchange
– in Magdeburg, the easternmost archiepiscopate of the Empire. These four examples show that the Prague court art of the Luxembourg era cannot be recognised in its complexity without the knowledge of art in the wider Empire.
Czech and German versions, 256 pages, 375 reproductions