The "amateur" restoration of the Prague clock turns into a controversy

The “amateur” restoration of the Prague clock turns into a controversy

Colors, sex of the characters, clothes… The copy made of this monument is very freely inspired by the original. To the point that an investigation is opened and that the city plans to resume work from scratch.

Changes that went unnoticed for four years but which are more and more talked about. In 2018, Prague’s astronomical clock was restored and its astronomical calendar, made by the painter Joseph Mánes (1820-1871), transferred to the city museum. Instead, a copy made by a Czech artist has been installed on the facade of the town hall. But the copy is not perfectly similar to the original version, which displeases many experts. The case is now brought before the General Heritage Inspectorate of the Czech Ministry of Culture.

Created in 1410 by the watchmaker of King Mikuláš of Kadaň, the astronomical clock of Prague is one of the attractions of the city giving the time, the position of the sun as well as that of the moon. Two openings, placed above its impressive dial come alive by presenting the figures of the twelve apostles who pass in turn over the hours. The show is such that it attracts nearly 700,000 visitors a year.

In its lower dial, a circular calendar signed by the painter Josef Mánes, allows to know the Saint of the day and the astrological signs of the month. Sumptuous details to which must be added the coat of arms of the old town of Prague located in the center of the work, as well as different scenes of peasant life in the Bohemian region, which represent the months of the year.

This set has been restored many times, notably in 1948, the clock having suffered from destruction during the retreat of the Germans. The last restoration dates from 2018, when the building was completely renovated. Painter Stanislav Jirčík was chosen to make a copy of the calendar.

But the liberties taken with the original work are not to the taste of the experts and the town hall of Prague. In particular, the changes made to the appearance, age, complexion and sex of the characters are called into question. A figure of the Virgin, initially depicted as a young red-haired woman, was transformed into a gray-haired middle-aged woman of modern appearance with earrings. Here a mustache is added, there a dog changes coat or clothing details are removed.

The color and figure of the dog, like those of the woman depicted, have been changed. Martin Frouz / City of Prague

According to the Club for Old Prague, Stanislav Jirčík has deviated too far from the spirit of the original painting. So much so that the association filed a complaint with the Czech Ministry of Culture, supported by the restorers of the Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences. The National Heritage Inspectorate has opened an investigation.

The Club for Old Prague believes that the artist transformed the old calendar figures into portraits of his friends, including Kateřina Tučková, a Czech novelist. The writer defended his friend in a Facebook post: “Mr. Stanislav Jirčík was clearly not on a mission to restore the original Mánes, but to create a copy, or make it a completely new artifact”she pointed out.

On the left, the original version by painter Josef Mánes. On the right, the copy made by the artist Stanislav Jirčík. Martin Frouz / City of Prague

According to the initial findings of the investigators, the copy would be qualified as “banal and made by an amateur”reports Adam Scheinherr, the deputy mayor in charge of Transport and Heritage. “I want to have a serious discussion with him and ask him what was his inspiration, if he studied Josef Mánes” in the past, explained the elected official, visibly seeking to clear the municipality. He also specifies that a new order could be made. “We have many sketches of the original work, so it is certainly possible to make a copy, explained Adam Sheinherr. The value of the astronomical clock is incalculable for us, it is not a question of cost.”

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