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6. 3. 2007 16:59

Hrzánský Palace

Hrzánský Palace does not stand alone but forms a part of a complex of adjoining buildings on the southern side of Loretánská Street, which runs along the edge of the Hradčany (Prague Castle) promontory. Neither the exact date of its construction nor the name of its architect are known. It is situated on the site of a 14th-century Gothic house which belonged to the St. Vitus Chapter and subsequently to the imperial porter Henslin. In 1359 it was purchased by Petr Parléř, the sculptor and principal builder of St. Vitus’ Cathedral, who however re-sold it some time before 1372. By the mid-15th century the site was no longer built up, and the City Council allocated it to a tailor called Mates. Another structure had not been erected on it until it came into the possession of the Meissen burgrave and Supreme Chancellor of Bohemia Jindřich of Plavno. The house which he had built was acquired from his heirs by Jindřich Mikuláš of Lobkovice, but it was its next owner, Adam the Elder of Šternberk, who refurbished it between 1588 and 1600. Further improvements were made by the Supreme Gentleman of the Chamber Oldřich Desiderius Pruskovský of Pruskov, who had it remodelled in Renaissance style and one storey added, facing Loretánská Street. In 1608 he extended it by the purchase of a small house in Úvoz Street from a certain Jiří Šimek.

Even after the Battle of the White Mountain (in which Czech protestant Estates suffered a crushing defeat), the house belonged to noblemen. One of them, Count Kolovrat-Krakovský († 1688) annexed another plot of land (in Úvoz Street) to it in 1657, and between 1658 and 1659 expended a large amount of money on building a five-storey house on its back side and a connecting western wing. The structure thus assumed the character of a palace. Large stables were fitted into the space below the courtyard. In 1688 Albrecht’s son Jan František († 1723) linked it up with the adjoining structure in his possession, today referred to as Dietrichštejnský (Dietrichstein) Palace. In 1708 Kolovrat conceded the resultant set of buildings to his creditor Zikmund Valentin, Count Hrzán of Harasov († 1726), as settlement of his many debts. But four years later the new owner had to divide the two houses again; Dietrichštejnský Palace went to Kolovrat’s sister Anna Polyxena, free lady of Písnice, as her inheritance share. The interior staircase – the only connecting element between the “upper” and the “lower” houses - thus became a part of Dietrichštejnský Palace and Count Hrzán had to build his own - steep spindle-shaped staircase of close to one hundred steps, which today belongs to the chief attractions of the palace.

Zikmund Hrzán, too, died a man sunk deep in debt. Though his widow Klaudia, born Count de Souchez, rescued the palace in an auction in 1728, ten years later she went bankrupt as well. Following complicated negotiations, the ownership of the mortgaged house passed in 1756 to the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus, which made it the seat of its provostry. As the legal restrictions imposed during the Enlightenment on the wealth of the church had been in force by then, the canons had to pledge that the palace would not be registered as church property and would be available to accommodate the Imperial Court during its sojourns in Prague. Other landlords both in the Hradčany area and in Malá Strana (Lesser Town) had a similar duty.

It was at this time, after it became the seat of the Chapter provostry, that Hrzánský Palace assumed its present-day appearance. Its essential remodelling took place during the provostship of František Kazimír Strachovský, Knight of Strachovice (1768 – 1786). That was when the well-preserved Baroque facade facing Loretánská Street was built. It is characterized by simple segmentation without any specially prominent architectural elements – only the main axis is accentuated by a segmental escutcheon bearing the coat of arms of St. Vitus provosts, and by an embossed portal, a reminder of the palace Renaissance reconstruction. Further preserved features of the original decoration include stuccos with figural, ornamental and heraldic motifs in the interior, and painted Rococo supraports.

In 1915, the “upper” house was purchased by the painter Ferdinand Engelmüller, a pupil of Julius Mařák, who used the rear wing as his studio. His commemorative plaque with a bust can be found in the courtyard. The new owner was fascinated by the palace and decided to have it thoroughly renovated. The extensive repair and conservation works, carried out in collaboration with experts of the Viennese authority for the restoration of historical monuments, were completed in October 1918. Fragments of sgraffiti but also exterior paintings dating as far back as the 16th century were uncovered in their course. The palace housed also Engelmüller’s renowned private painting school. After his death in 1924 the studio passed to another outstanding Czech painter Jan Slavíček, who portrayed Prague scenery as seen from its windows facing Úvoz Street, the adjacent terrace and another studio in the attic, which has been a part of Hrzánský Palace for many centuries.

From 1949 till 1954 the whole palace underwent a radical conversion, according to a project of Vilém Lorenz, to be used by the Ministry of Culture and later on by the Government Presidium for official functions. The reconstruction involved removal of the entire courtyard tract, and walls were pulled down on the first floor to create large halls. The layout of the right wing was changed as well, with the addition of a new staircase. To make things even worse, monumental “masterpieces” of socialist realism - such as Adolf Zábranský’s sgraffiti in tune with the regime’s slogan “With the Soviet Union for Time Everlasting” and mosaics depicting schoolchildren with red scarves around their necks demonstrating allegiance to the communist doctrine, which were designed by the one-time surrealist Vojtěch Tittelbach, were mounted. An exquisite relic of the Baroque period is the charming fountain with a statue of Hercules. Currently the palace is used for official functions by the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic.

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Loretánská 177/9,
Praha 1

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