Unique "Italian Chapel" in Prague undergoes restoration

15-04-2005

Prague architecture has been influenced by the cultures of different nations for centuries. Especially German and Italian architects have left their mark in the Czech Capital. In the 16th century - during the reign of Emperor Rudolph II many Italian builders and masons came to Prague to help to extend Prague Castle. And they were followed by other Italian craftsmen and traders, says Italian ambassador Giorgio Radicati.

"We can say that since the 16th century there were many Italians in Prague and under the reign of Rudolph II more and more arrived. When the Jesuits came in the mid 16th century the Italian community centred around them."

The growing Italian community looked for a place to accommodate their social and religious needs. The Jesuits built their college called the Klementinum and a chapel - called Italian Chapel was attached to it. You can find it just a few steps from the Charles Bridge, on the right side of the Vltava River. But even though the small chapel is not one of the best known Prague monuments, it is a unique piece of architecture - built on the cusp of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

"Many art historians researched this chapel. This chapel is the last example of renaissance architecture and at the same time the first example of baroque architecture here in Prague. So there is a combination of baroque and renaissance in this small building. This is what makes the building really unique - in Prague - but probably also in the whole of Europe."

The chapel which belongs to the Italian state is not in good condition and has been closed to visitors for years. Since the chapel is an important witness of the long history of Czech-Italian cultural relations, the Italian government has now decided to have it completely restored. Even though the work has only just started, the chapel has already revealed a number of secrets.

"We found a crypt. We always thought there was one, but weren't sure. But eventually we found the crypt. Then we established that the paintings on the surface are not in such a bad condition as we had imagined. This means the restoration of the paintings will be much easier than we had first thought."

Apart from that, they have probably also discovered the name of the architect of the chapel as well as the painter of the frescos.

"The architect could have been Mascherino. He was an architect to the Pope in the end of the 16th century. The name of the painter of the paintings on the ceiling is probably Scotti. He was a painter who worked here in the 18th century and decorated three other buildings around this chapel."

The chapel restoration has two aspects. The first is architectural - structural engineers have to ensure the stability of the building - the second is artistic; art restorers will try to clean the frescos that are covered by thick layers of dirt. Restorer Tomas Berger:

"We are now in the first part of restoration - the research period. We are currently researching the buildings architecture, and the paintings inside. The fresco paintings come from the beginning of 18th century. At that time frescos in Prague were painted on the plaster of flat walls. The artist would paint on shadows and lights, colours and fake marble. Everything was fake - it was part of the architecture."

On this part of the wall I can see that it is already a bit lighter than the rest. Is this a piece where you've already started the restoration?

"Yes. In the time of research we conducted some cleaning tests on the wall. We wanted to know what sort of state the chapel's original decoration was in. Now we know that the walls are just darkened and dirty."

The restoration works that have just started will continue until the end of the year and the whole project will be co-financed by a number of different Italian companies.

15-04-2005