The City of Prague Museum’s depositories encompass a rich collection of items documenting the history of the capital. The objects of arts and crafts, which are known to exist in Prague, are numerous in museum depositories. From ceramics and glass to wood and metal products, this collection is a varied mosaic of objects giving evidence of the everyday life in our capital from the early Middle Ages to the recent past. The collections of applied art are most valuable including the products of Prague blacksmiths, locksmiths, gunsmiths, pewtersmiths, goldsmiths and watchmakers. The blacksmith collection comprises quite remarkable bars from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. But the collection includes the Art Nouveau bars as well, which arrived in the museum in recent decades when some Prague buildings were demolished.
The collection of guild items, one of the largest in Central Europe, is also significant. It documents the existence as well as the art and skills of Prague guilds from the 15th century until 1859 when modern craft and trading fellowships replaced the guild system. The collection of textiles, clothing, uniforms and fashion accessories presents the development of Prague fashion mainly in the 19th century. Most unique is the collection of textiles from the grave of Tycho Brahe, the famous astronomer active at Emperor Rudolph II’s court ( 1601). Furthermore, the museum depositories keep the largest collections of Prague earthenware manufacture products from the turn of the 19th century and later Prague porcelain from the Smíchov factory. Products made by scultptor Arnošt Popp in the 1850s represent the top of figural porcelain works.
The collection of graphic art is large and of prime quality, the most valuable part of which are vedute, i.e. cityscapes of Prague, its parts, squares, streets, significant structures or emerging suburban villages and environment surrounding the municipal Baroque fortification. Thus, the collection documents the changes of the town and its vicinity from the late 15th to the 20th century; most vedute date from the 19th century. The collection encompasses all originals of the earliest vedute (e.g. the Sadeler’s prospect by Philip van den Bossche and Georg Wechter d. J. from 1618, the Large View of Prague by Václav Hollar from 1636, the panoramatic bird’s eye view by Folpert van Ouden-Allen from 1685). There are also copperplate engravings inspired by Friedrich Bernard Werner from the first half of the 18th century and collections by Jan Jiří Balzer and Filip and František Heger from the end of the same century. The 19th century is represented by engravings and drawings of Karel Postl, Antonín Pucherna, Josef Šembera, Vincenc Morstadt – who won the greatest fame – and others.
The museum collections encompass other objects of art: collections of paintings, sculptures and medals. Oil paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries, which depict Prague and vicinity, dominate the collection completed by the portraits of Prague personages. The painting by Lucas van Valckenborch from the time of Emperor Rudolph II depicting the historic towns of Prague around 1580 is among the most valuable ones. Many times, the documentary aspect of things prevails over the artistic. Yet the names of authors such as Ludvík Kohl, Karel Postl, Antonín Machek, Antonín, Václav, and Josef Mánes, Bedřich Havránek, and Ferdinand Lepié prove the high artistic quality of this collection. Many of these famous names also appear in the collection of watercolours. The collection of about 120 items done by painter Václav Jansa, whose watercolours render Prague shortly before the major changes at the turn of the 20th century, is the largest. The collection of paintings by Jan Minařík from the 1910s depicts the disappearing aspects of Prague during its redevelopment. The 20th century works are fewer; e.g. ten paintings from the works of Karel Holan who mostly focused on the outskirts of Prague.
The works of Josef Mánes are the most precious solitaires within the collections of paintings and drawings. Shortly after the museum was established, the collection of designs to embellish the Church of Cyril and Methodius in Prague – Karlín expanded the collection of drawings purchased from the Lehmann gallery. Mánes is best known for his original of the calendar panel from the Old Town Astronomical Clock, an oil on copper sheet from 1865–1866, which over time was replaced by several copies in the Old Town Hall. The designs of the National Theatre painting decoration are of the national importance. They include works by Mikoláš Aleš, Vojtěch Hynais, Felix Jenewein, Adolf Liebscher, Emanuel K. Liška, Maxmilian Pirner, Josef Tulka, and František Ženíšek.
The Baroque painting is represented by only several prime-quality works, e.g. Saint Luke Painting the Virgin by Karel Škréta or Brandl’s Virgin and Child. Regarding medieval painting, the museum keeps valuable mural paintings transferred from demolished houses. Three royal figures from the demolished Church of Our Lady of the Pool (house No. 102) on Old Town are unique relics of Late Romanesque era; yet, only one remained compact.
Moreover, the collection of paintings includes 179-piece collection of targets of Prague sharpshooters. Oil paintings on wood from almost a hundred-year period rounding off in the 1880s, mostly by unknown authors, not only are valuable historical documents of life in Prague but also a unique collection of works at the border of naïve and knowledgeable painting. Sporadically, works of renowned authors are found among these targets (Karel Postl, Josef Führich, Josef Mánes, Mikoláš Aleš).
The collection of sculptures is rather important, although it is not as large as the collection of paintings. It comprises a small but valuable collection of Gothic woodcuts with the remarkable figure of Christ the Sufferrer from the New Town Hall and Pieta from the Church of Our Lady before Tyn. The sandstone Madonna from the corner of Old Town Hall differs only in material, not the value. The bronze Hercules sculpted by the Netherlandish artist Adrien de Vries (c. 1556–1626) is a rare sculpture of world importance. Adrien de Vries first worked at the court of Rudolph II, later for Albrecht of Waldstein. It is one of the few original works of this artist to have survived in Prague.
The collection of Baroque woodcuts, mostly acquired from the cancelled Prague churches, is wide and diverse. Ferdinand Maximilian Brokoff and his workshop, Jan Michal Biderle (Brüderle), Jan Antonín Geiger, Jeroným Kohl, Ignác František Platzer, Jan Antonín Quitainer, Jan Jiří Šlanzovský, and Jan Petr Venda are the woodcut authors. In addition, the museum owns the rare and unique collection of early Baroque sculptures by Jan Jiří Bendl. The original statues from the early Baroque era, which embellished the Old Town Astronomical Clock after the mid-17th century, have a great artistic value and are valuable to Prague. Similar to the Mánes calendar panel, the woodcuts by an unknown author have been replaced by copies.
The collection of medals and plaques belongs to the collection of sculptures and documents the history of Prague from the 16th century to the present. Most of the medals date from the 19th and 20th centuries and respond to the important events and their anniversaries or are awards granted to significant personages living in Prague or having credit for its development. The numismatic collection also gives evidence of the Prague development from the early medieval denarii to the currently used Czech coin. Naturally, coins struck in the Prague mint have an important position in this collection.
The house signs of Prague may also be included in the collection of sculptures. The oldest house signs that survived attract most attention such as the marlstone head of Christ from the late 14th century, the Late Gothic Stone Virgin from the corner of Benediktská and Rybná Streets, and the Iron Man from Platnéřská Street, both made of sandstone. However, the collection of house signs is rather varied, including the newer house signs in the form of stucco reliefs, smithery work or paintings on wood.
Among the historical collections, the collection of prints is the widest. It encompasses leaflets, public notices, posters, advertisement prospects, holy images, and other printed material of all kinds. The collection records economical, political, social, and cultural life of the city of Prague from the 16th century to the present. It also includes the collection of postcards. Among the most valuable sets of this large collection, there are political and satirical leaflets from the time of the uprising of the Czech estates (1618–1620) and the Thirty Years’ War, official notices and other printed material from the revolution period (1848–1849) and lithographs presenting scenes of the June uprising in the streets of Prague in 1848. The collection of maps and plans is of great importance to learn about the changes of the city of Prague.
After the mid-19th century, the changes of the town and life in its streets are best documented in the collection of photographs and negatives. Quite naturally, the oldest ones are most valuable and were taken by František Fridrich, Jindřich Eckert, Karel Maloch, Rudolf Bruner – Dvořák, Jan Kříženecký and others. Many of them were discovered in the bookshop and archives of Zikmund Reach on Skořepka Street in Old Town. The collection of negatives includes the negatives of Rudolf Bruner – Dvořák and his brother Jaroslav. Their pictures from the period of Czechoslovakia’s origin are of great value. The amateur photographer František Dvořák created an interesting collection of photos documenting the everyday life of Prague during World War One. They also render the First Czechoslovak Republic era (Národní politika daily archives), World War Two and the Prague uprising. The negatives from the archives of Prague photographers Josef Ehm, Zdenko Feyfar, Svatopluk Sova and Bohumil Střemcha are valuable acquisitions from the most recent time. Hand-coloured glass slides from the early 20th century are technical relics.
In recent decades, the museum showed efforts to document the history of Prague and its inhabitants in the 20th century by gathering three-dimensional collection objects. Thus, interesting collections documenting the two world wars and the Prague uprising in 1945 were created as well as the collection of advertising objects from the First Czechoslovak Republic prior to the Münich Agreement. Collections of badges, medals and state decorations are associated with the 20th century.
(Source: Z. Míka, Průvodce, Muzeum hlavního města Prahy, Praha 2001)