The Pernštejn family, who in the 16th century were among the most powerful and richest Czech families, are behind the unique painting. “The Pardubice manor was bought in 1491 by Vilém from Pernštejn and he chose it as his ancestral seat,” explains local guide Milena Kvasničková. He rebuilt the local castle into a magnificent Renaissance palace and spared no expense in its fortifications.
“The ramparts are six meters high, and at the same time, Vilém from Pernštejn had an enormous amount of soil brought here, 230 thousand cubic meters, from which a defensive rampart was created. In addition, in the event of a threat to the castle, it was possible to fill the ditches with water. At the same time, there was only one entrance leading inside,” says our guide. Thanks to this, the object was never conquered.
Following the famous pattern
“The defense system has not been preserved in this form anywhere in Central Europe. That’s also why the castle with its fortifications was registered as a Czech national cultural monument in 2010,” adds the guide. Today, however, we are mainly interested in interiors.
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We arrive at the largest of the knights’ halls, called the Mazhaus, i.e. the Great Hall. “Here, the paintings were preserved on a smaller area. We have to imagine that at the time of their creation they covered the entire walls,” explains the guide. This room was probably decorated by Jan z Pernštejn, the son of the aforementioned Vilém, in the late 1630s or early 1640s.
“It was a chamber or a reception room, but the theme of the painting here is religious,” our guide points out. “The author of the painting is unknown, but he based his work on the painting Law and Grace by Lucas Cranach the Elder. It represents the biblical Old and New Testaments, and the inscription in Czech corresponds to this: The law was given through Moses, grace and truth through Jesus Christ,” we listen. Anyone who looks closely can recognize Adam and Eve, Moses or the Lamb of God in the historical painting.
Jan of Pernštejn subscribed to the ideas of the Reformation, which were also held by Martin Luther. He was at the head of the non-Catholic estate opposition, which may be why he had a religious scene placed in the meeting room.
Reach for your luck
Another room is named Vojtěch’s hall. It is named after another son of Vilém Vojtěch, who ordered the decoration of this room. Here, on the wall, we can see the biblical story of Samson, who excelled in extraordinary strength and was able to defeat even a lion in a duel. As seen in the painting, Delilah, the woman he fell in love with, was able to rob him of his power. She had the locks of his hair, the source of his power, shaved off and delivered him to his enemies.
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“The date of the work, the year 1532, is also painted here,” the guide points out. It should thus be the oldest known Renaissance wall painting in the territory of Bohemia. Another “most” in this hall is Fortuna Volubilis, Fickle Fortune, the oldest act in the history of Czech fine art.
Of course, we cannot touch it, but since 2010 there has been a bronze relief by the sculptor Bohumil Eliáš in front of the painting. It depicts the same motif of a woman on a fickle ball. “You can touch that for luck,” smiles the guide. It is not difficult to guess which parts the visitors touch most often – the most shiny are the bosoms of the fickle Fortuna after numerous touches.
The famous bison
On the wall there is also immortalized a bison with a snot in its nostrils, a symbol of the royal family of Pernštejn. “According to legend, a certain Vaněk from the village of Ujčov overcame a bison in 564, put a hose through its nostrils and brought it to the king. There he cut off the bison’s head with one blow and stunned the king,” says guide Milena Kvasničková. The coal miner thus became a free lord and got a bison with a horn in his nostrils in his coat of arms.
Finally, the third of the halls is called the columned hall, where we can see the beautiful coffered ceiling in addition to the column between the windows. “Soldiers apparently occupied these rooms in the eighteenth century. On the one hand, they placed a door in the wall where the painting was located. They also lowered the ceilings here to better heat the space,” he shows.
“Sometimes visitors tell us why fragments of Renaissance paintings are not finished. However, that would completely lose their originality,” adds the guide. Nevertheless, people can now see what the paintings might have looked like in all their glory.
This is made possible by a new tour of the castle called Pernštejnská residence – the oldest renaissance in Bohemia. This has only been on offer since the end of September and, in addition to the knight’s halls, visitors can be taken to the armory, where they can try out armor as well as cold and firearms, naturally in the form of faithful replicas.
In addition to the portraits of the individual Pernštejn family, you can also view contemporary reconstructions of the paintings as they might have looked in all their beauty when they decorated the castle walls. All the more reason to go to Pardubice.
Where, when and for how much
- Pardubice castle, new Pernštejnská residence circuit – the oldest Renaissance in Bohemia (knight’s halls, large Gothic hall, armory)
- entrance fee 220 CZK, reduced 110 CZK, possible separately or as a guided tour (every full hour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
- open all year round, daily except Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.