Friday, 12 December 2008

The Ales South Bohemian Gallery – Collection Of Medieval Art

The other day my husband and I decided to play the tourist and go on a trip to the Castle at Hluboka, well not the castle as such but the Gallery which is to be found attached to it. So we joined the hoards of German schoolchildren as they wound their way up from the town below. The zigzag way offered good views across the Vltava and the fish ponds towards the blue hills and mountains of the south. The castle is built in the English Gothic style of Windsor and other Victorian palaces, a white confection of crenellations and faux gargoyles standing in beautiful gardens again of the English style. Unlike the Germans our way took us to the left into a conservatory of flamboyant cast iron and glass, then left again and into the Collection of Medieval Art of the Ales South Bohemian Gallery.

The collection was a revelation and one, which had it been say at the Tate in Liverpool, we would have made an overnight visit to see and thought it worth the money. There were two large galleries filled with medieval statuary (calvaries, saints, Madonnas with and without child, and pietas) and religious paintings from altar screens. The pieces had been gathered from all over South Bohemia, and featured the work of both local craftsmen and others working in nearby Bavaria. What was particularly striking to us was the familiarity of the places from which the art works had been taken, not only were they from large wealthy towns and abbeys such as Ceske Budejovice and Kajov, but from small local villages and churches such as Boletice and Novosedly, a sign of the wealth perhaps of this fertile region at the time. The oldest exhibit is a statue of St Bartholomew from Horni Drkolna from before 1300 – the saint is simply but effectively carved from a lump of limewood with a head out of proportion to the body. The Gallery allows one to move through the development of Czech Gothic art from that simple piece. As time goes by the artistic style evolves, developing more natural proportions, and even movement. The facial features change and vary, some show the influence of Byzantine art, others the become individualised.

Throughout our visit we were alone in the Gallery apart from the two gallery attendants that followed us round. The tourist hoards clearly preferred the excesses of 19th Century English Gothic to the sublime purity of the original medieval Gothic of Central Europe. It is a shame that this is so, this is a collection of international importance.

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