The Lobkowicz Collections

Hygieia and the Sacred Serpent, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1614

Hygieia and the Sacred Serpent, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1614. This painting was added to the Lobkowicz collection by Ferdinand August, 3rd Prince Lobkowicz.

Inconcussa manet (“It withstands the storm“).
–Lobkowicz family motto

A sense of responsibility should be […] the foundation of family life.
–Václav Havel, Letters to Olga

A sense of responsibility not only at the centre of family life, but at the centre of political and cultural life. Havel, a playwright turned-political dissident-turned-president, knew the importance of culpability and engagement when he passed a series of legislative acts rescinding laws enacted by the previous communist government. From 1948 to 1989 the property of anti-Socialist Czechoslovakians was nationalized, stripping Czechs of land, art, and other precious records of their families’ histories and culture. Even prior to this, during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia the Nazi army deported or murdered many Jewish Czechsoslovkians, stealing their land and property as well.

After the Velvet Revolution and the democratic election of the new Czech president, Havel enacted the Act on Judicial Rehabilitation, allowing the stolen property to be returned to the rightful owners, or the heirs of the former owners. This Czech legislation and similar acts have not been executed without criticism. A 2001 Human Rights Commissioner of the Government of the Czech Republic recognized certain discriminatory policies in relation to this legislation. David and Choi (2006) report other disagreements aroused by the property restitution laws, such as property administrators reluctance to put the law into practice (347).Despite this, there are incredible success stories of property reclaimed and the Czech culture retained.

William Lobkowicz stands in front of a banner of his grandfather, Maximilian Lobkowicz.

William Lobkowicz stands in front of a banner of his grandfather, Maximilian Lobkowicz.

For five hundred years generations of Lobkowiczes were at the centre of Central European politics. Long linked with the Habsburg court, generations of the Catholic Lobkowicz rulers built up their wealth in land, property holdings, and ornate treasures. Through battles, travels, and friendships the Lobkowicz family accumulated an astounding collection of paintings, books and sheet music, arms, and decorative arts. This congregation came to an abrupt halt during WWII, when the Nazis appropriated the Lobkowicz family’s lands, palaces, and art collections.

Although not Jewish, Maximilian Lobkowicz had his possession taken because he far preferred the Czechoslovak state, established over twenty years earlier, despite the fact that the recent republic invalidated his hereditary title. Disgusted with the Nazis, Maximilian elected instead to accept a position as the ambassador for the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in England, the home country of his wife Gillian. Maximilian was exiled a second time as a result of the Socialist government that rose after the Nazi defeat. The current heir of the Lobkowicz Collections is William Lobkowicz, who details the harrowing story of his grandparents’ losses here and here.

Zdeněk Vojtěch, 1st Prince of Lobkowicz. Portrait by Bartholomeus Spranger, c. 1600.

Zdeněk Vojtěch, 1st Prince of Lobkowicz. Portrait by Bartholomeus Spranger, c. 1600.

Despite the significant cost and time necessary to reassemble these collections, William and his wife Alexandra have regained the majority of it and have opened the art and palaces to the public. For the Czech cultural and tourist scene, the collections have been opened in the nick of time. As New York Times contributor Evan Rail noted in 2009, while one stumbles upon great architecture, the trek for art galleries and museums can be considerably longer. Happily, despite “the minor place” Prague holds in the history of the art museum, Czechs maintain a strong connection to the visual culture (Carrier 227).

Very welcome then is the Lobkowicz Collections. Only royalty can have such a time-intensive and extraordinary family album. This tradition began with Zdeněk Vojtěch, 1st Prince of Lobkowicz, and his wife Polyxena. Incidentally, the royal couple had all of their property confiscated when the friction between Catholic Habsburgs and the local Protestant nobility reached a fever pitch. Polyxena enraged the Czechoslovakian Protestant aristocracy when she protected a pair of Catholic leaders (whom the Protestants had just tossed out of the windows of the Prague Castle) (The Lobkowicz Collections 8). During the 1620 Battle of White Mountain the Lobkowiczes overcame the Protestant rebels and increased their collections, “most notably in the library” (The Lobkowiczes Collections 10).

Saint John Devouring the Book, by Albrecht Dürer. This woodcut appears in the 15th century St. John's Account of the Apocalypse and is one of only five complete copies known to exist.

Saint John Devouring the Book, by Albrecht Dürer. This woodcut appears in the 15th century St. John’s Account of the Apocalypse and is one of only five complete copies known to exist.

Over generations the family travelled extensively, collecting art and artists. During the nineteenth century German artist Carl Robert Croll made pen and ink and watercolour paintings of many of the rooms at Jezeří Castle, some of which picture the Lobkowicz princes and princesses. Joseph František Maximilian, 7th Prince Lobkowicz, funded Ludwig van Beethoven’s music until Beethoven’s death in 1827… and the Prince died in 1816! The Lobkowicz musical collections in turn benefited from such patronage, and now possesses manuscripts and sheet music by Beethoven, Joseph Stadler, Jacques Gallot, Haydn, and many more. As mentioned, the Lobkowicz Collection includes an extensive library. A bibliographer’s dream, this collection includes a complete copy of St. John’s Account of the Apocalypse, only one of five known to exist. The library also boasts the only manuscript of Plato’s Dialogues in the Czech Republic. The Lobkowicz Library includes hundreds of manuscripts and incunabula (books printed before the 16th century). Many of the books are first editions and cover a wide range of languages and topics (i.e., history, natural science, architecture, theology, literature, etc.) (The Lobkowicz Collections 53).

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Lobkowicz Collections and how you can support their efforts, sign up for their mailing list here. You can find out about current and past projects, as well as how you can check out the collections yourself if you plan to be in the Czech Republic. The Lobkowicz Collections also holds numerous festivals and events, which marry the family’s historic collections with the Czech Republic’s current culture-makers. Truly a labour of familial and national love, surely the Lobkowicz Collections will weather any storm the future might have in store.

References

Carrier, David. “Art and National Identity: Some Museums in Prague.” Curator: The Museum Journal 55.2 (2012): 227-232. JSTOR. Web. 4 Jan. 2013.

Choi, David and Susanne Y. P. Choi. “Forgiveness and Transitional Justice in the Czech Republic.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 50.3 (2006): 339-367. JSTOR. Web. 4 Jan. 2013.

The Lobkowicz Collections. The Lobkowicz Collections. Ed. Sandra Pisano. London: Scala Publishers, 2012. Print.

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