‘Amateur’ restoration of Prague clock turned into controversy

The colors, the gender of the characters, the clothes… The version made of this monument is freely inspired by the original. To the extent that an investigation is opened and the city plans to resume work from scratch.

Changes that have gone unnoticed for four years but are being talked about more and more. In 2018, the Prague Astronomical Clock was restored and its astronomical calendar, made by the painter Josef Mance (1820-1871), was transferred to the City Museum. Instead, a copy made by a Czech artist was installed on the facade of the town hall. But the copy is not quite like the original, which is to the dismay of many experts. The case is now before the General Inspectorate of Heritage of the Czech Ministry of Culture.

The astronomical clock was established in Prague in 1410 by the clockmaker of King Mikulas of Kadács, and is one of the city’s attractions that marks the time and position of the sun as well as the position of the moon. Two holes set above its impressive dial come to life by introducing the characters of the Twelve Apostles who Hours pass in turn. The exhibition attracts nearly 700,000 visitors annually.

In its lower enamel, a circular calendar signed by the painter Joseph Mann allows knowledge of the saint’s day and the astrological signs for the month. The grandiose details to which the coat of arms of the ancient city of Prague should be added, located in the center of the work, as well as various scenes from peasant life in the region of Bohemia that represent the months of the year.

This group was restored several times, notably in 1948, when the watch suffered destruction during the withdrawal of the Germans. The last restoration dates back to 2018, when the building was completely renovated. The painter Stanislav Jercek was chosen to make a copy of the almanac.

But the liberties taken with the original work are not to the taste of experts and the Prague City Council. In particular, the changes made to the appearance, age, complexion and gender of the characters are called into question. The character of the Virgin, initially depicted as a young red-haired woman, is transformed into a modern-looking, gray-haired middle-aged woman with earrings. Here a mustache is added, there is a dog that changes its coat or details of clothing are removed.

The color and shape of the dog, like the one shown in the picture, has been changed. Martin Froze / City of Prague

According to the Old Prague Club, Stanislav Jersic deviated greatly from the spirit of the original painting. So much so that the association submitted a complaint to the Czech Ministry of Culture, with the support of restorers of the Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences. The National Heritage Inspectorate opened an investigation.

The Old Prague Club believes that the artist turned old calendar figures into portraits of his friends, including Kacina Tokova, the Czech novelist. The writer defended his friend in a Facebook post: “Mr. Stanislav Jersic was clearly not on a mission to restore the original Mánes, but to create a copy, or make it an entirely new artifact”indicated.

On the left, the original by Joseph Mann. Right, a copy by Stanislav Jersek. Martin Froze / City of Prague

According to the investigators’ preliminary results, the transcript will qualify as ‘Tricky and made by an amateur’stated Adam Shenhair, Deputy Mayor in charge of Transportation and Heritage. “I want to have a serious discussion with him and ask him what his inspiration was, if he studied Joseph Menes” In the past, the elected official has made it clear that he is clearly seeking to purge the municipality. It also specifies that a new order can be issued. “We have many sketches of the original work, so it is certainly possible to make a copy, Adam Sheenherr explained. The value of the astronomical clock is immeasurable to us, it is not a matter of cost.”

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