He wanted to honor Comenius. He erected a monument to her at home in the form of a bevelled grain field

“I look forward to leaving the station together and stopping in front of your house and seeing your beautiful work, which I have heard and read a lot about,” wrote poet Otokar Březina on April 14, 1926 to sculptor František Bílek , when he received drawings and a postcard with a reproduction of the monument to JA Comenius. Bílek created the statue in the garden of his house. However, the path to its implementation has involved many twists and turns.

Since 1909, when the architect and famous sculptor František Bílek began to prepare an architectural and intellectual design of his own family home with a studio in Prague in Hradčany, he was determined to build a “spiritual fortress or church” symbolizing “life like a field full of ripe ears, providing the daily nourishment of the brethren”.

In his conception he relied in part on the observation of nature, which he loved to surround and observe abundantly, and on his favorite gospel of John on Christ as the bread of life. Another source of inspiration for him was Březin’s poem Apotheosa klasů from the Temple Builders collection.

The floor plan of the house, derived from a scythe trace in a cornfield and inspired by a cornfield both outside and inside, forms an east-facing ring. Growing knotted sheaves of ears surround the building in the form of columns, ties can be found on furniture (especially in the dining room), door frames, windows, handles, hinges, etc In 1911, Prague received a bold building, carrying the message of Christian symbolism.

At the same time, with a specific conception of the architectural work, the artist tries to win against “the emptiness and the absence of soul” of Viennese architecture which, according to him, extends far beyond our borders. He described it in the article my architecture.

In the test Building, which was rewritten from the father’s manuscript by the artist’s daughter Berta Mildová-Bílková during the postwar administration of the Bílek Gallery. “One of the main architects (J. Kotěra) came and asked: ‘I have to present something special and new in Berlin, let us set up your office in our Austrian department.’ One of the best (Plečnik) takes the tram and sketches the buildings only briefly and sends them to the Style: “Print the house at all costs and in the first place”.

When Bílek moved into his villa in Hradčany on January 20, 1912, Otokar Březina wrote to him from Jaroměřice: “Only works created in this way, out of spiritual necessity, out of danger of death, if not done, have the power to give the life.”

For Bílek, architectural work meant knowing the place of construction in detail and thus being close to nature. All of human creation was just nature’s temple hall. The artist not only designed the Procházka villa next to his house, which embodied the idea of ​​an oak tree, but also counted on creating his own “temple vestibule”, which was to be symbolized by a pair watchful dogs. He did not implement the idea – mainly due to the scale and cost of construction.

Moses as head of the Old Testament household

Only in Bílek’s thought concept of the building did the statue of Moses – the governess from the Old Testament also remain. It originally counted on a pedestal in the center of the ellipse, which describes the curved eastern facade of the family villa with the workshop. The artist’s clear idea of ​​the statue’s location is evidenced by surviving plans from September 1910.

Moses, the great ruler and lawgiver by whom God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, made them a nation that would serve him and bring them to the borders of the land that God had promised their fathers, is captured in Bílek’s vision in as a representative of the “new way, vision of the promised land and closeness to real life”. The sculptor worked on the work in 1904, in the lithograph design Moses was in the cycle of the spiritual history of mankind Way published in 1909.

But as art historian Martin Krummholz points out: Bílek changed his original intention in early 1915 at the latest and decided to place a monumental sculpture by Jan Amos Comenius on a pedestal in the visually exposed slope of the garden.

The statue of Moses remained in the studio. Until Bílek’s sixties, the Ministry of Education and National Enlightenment obtained the artist’s statue, cast it in bronze, and sought a suitable location for it. In 1936, the work was dedicated to the city of Prague. After favorable negotiations with the Jewish religious community, the city leadership decided to place the sculpture in the Old-New Synagogue in Prague.

The inauguration in the avenue de Paris took place discreetly in the summer of 1937. The municipality did not let the character be engraved on the granite base, placed on the lawn among the trees. Many passers-by had no idea they were looking at an Old Testament figure. Nevertheless, the statue did not survive the Nazi occupation in its place and was only rediscovered in 1948.

Comenius says goodbye to his homeland

František Bílek began to emphasize the theme of the Czech Reformation, especially in the second decade of the 20th century. After modeling his first small plaster sketch of Jan Hus in 1900, he was increasingly inspired by the heritage and motifs of the Czech Reformation and its personalities: Tomáš Štítný de Štítný, Jan Hus, Jeroným Pražský, Petr Chelčický, Jan Žižka, Prokop. Holý or Martin Huska.

With the same spiritual and non-political zeal, he took an interest in the figures of the Unity of the Brothers: Jean Auguste, Jean Blahoslav and his last bishop, Jean Amos Comenius. In 1914 he dealt with the design of a monument to JA Comenius for Růžový palouček near Litomyšl, which was not realized. A year later, he is working intensively on the third model of the monument JA Comenius says goodbye to his homelandwhich finished in 1916 at half size.

The following year, Bílek continued to work as a “teacher of the nations”. He incorporated him as a truth-preserving personality in his unrealized monument of Czech history Our national dowry. In the following years he carved for the Jan Amos Comenius Museum in Uherský Brod (oak) and in private collections (alder, ash, oak) replicas of the sculpture of JA Komenský saying goodbye to his homeland.

At the turn of 1922/1923, Bílek refused to properly participate in the competition for the monument to JA Comenius in Amsterdam (first prize went to the design of sculptor Jan Štursa and architect Pavel Janák). Nevertheless, he expected the jury to be contacted directly about the proposal, as he said in an open letter. However, the president of the jury, Jan Kotěra, refused to submit the letter to the hearing because the competition was anonymous.

Graphic work by František Bílek on JA Komenský

Bílek’s graphic work did not lack subjects related to the personality of JA Comenius. He made the first woodcut in 1906 (“In memory of the brothers who kept good wine to the end”). In 1915 Umělecká beseda ordered the creation of a bounty for its members for a theme repeated several times JA Comenius says goodbye to his homeland. In an album of ten portraits (five Czech Reforms and five Czech cultures) from 1917, he depicts the face of JA Comenius in a woodcut From the monument to Jan Amos.

In 1918, he drew on the cover of The Sad Voice of Comenius, which he accompanied with four illustrations in chalk and white. At the request of the Comenius Association, in 1918 he also illustrated and designed a leather binding with a gilt vignette to the Comenius Shaft of the dying mother of the Unity of Brethren.

In the text, the sculptor Bílek underlined the bishop’s chosen statements of the unity of the brethren in his typical handwriting in order to highlight their significance. He accompanied the same work with four woodcuts at the end of his life in 1940. Last woodcut: “I also believe in God that after the winds of wrath the rule of your affairs will return to you, O Czech people!” but the German censor did not publish it. Four of Bílek’s lithographs accompany III. Špalíček, published by Karl Reich in 1928 with the work Songs of a Religious by JA Comenius.

Wonderful celebration in Chotkovy sady

It took a decade before the Comenius monument in sandstone was solemnly unveiled. Bílek expected public financial support, which was repeatedly not granted. It was not until 1926 that she organized a monumental sculpture on the occasion of the inauguration Comenius says goodbye to his homeland The Czechoslovak Church (Czechoslovak Hussite Church since 1971), together with the Unity of Constance of the Czechoslovak Evangelical Headquarters in Prague, is an unprecedented celebration for František Bílek.

The magnificent birthday of Comenius (March 28) began at 2 p.m. at the Hus monument in the Old Town Square. Crowds of believers of non-Catholic denominations then set out in procession, led by the state flag and two white Hussite banners from the Czechoslovak Church religious communities of Prague I and Nusle. At 3 p.m., the procession gathered in front of the artist’s villa, where guests were already waiting for it.

In addition to František Bílek, the new Agriculture Minister Juraj Slávik, for example, the Czechoslovak Church was represented by Bílek’s friend and supporter, Patriarch Karel Farský, and pastor André Monod attended the Federation of French evangelicals.

After a series of speeches, the ceremony ended with the singing of the national anthem, after which František Bílek was enthusiastically welcomed by the entire assembly. Until October 1941, when a stately funeral was held in Chýnov Bílek, the artist did not meet with the same public recognition.

According to a period article, the monument was illuminated by the spring sun at the end of the celebration and highlighted the text that accompanied Bílek’s work: “In memory of the brothers who kept the good wine until ‘at the end”. The author was inspired here as many times as by the text of the Gospel of John (Jn 2, 10). The departure of the last bishop from the Unity of the Brothers with a group of faithful in exile became the mainstay of Bílek’s work. They are symbolically represented by the figures of a woman with a painful facial expression, an older, determined man, significantly resembling Bílek, and a child. Comenius, ravaged by stormy weather, is pushed “to the ends of the earth”, but he continues to seek hope from above.

When František Bílek underlined the selected passages of Comenius Kšaft with his “Gothic” writing, he chose at the very end of the book the words: “Live, nation consecrated to God, do not die!”. As the Czech historian František Žákavec has rightly recognized, Bílek was never concerned with capturing the world pedagogical significance of Comenius, but with emphasizing the national religious significance which, in its universality, brought to Comenius and Bílek answers to fundamental questions about the meaning of being: how should we live here?

The author is a historian of ÚSTR and ÚAM CČSH.

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