Sunday, November 16, 2014

Petřín Hill and the Musaion (Prague, Czech Republic)

Lego Museum

On our fifth day in Prague, we walked to Petřín Hill, a large public park. On our way, we looked in at the Lego Museum. While we didn't actually go in to see the museum exhibits, we ogled the Lego kits in the shop and admired this mural, made entirely of Legos. 

View from the Legion Bridge (Most Legií) over the Vlatava River

On our way to Petřín Hill, we crossed over the river via the Legion Bridge, which was virtually empty of pedestrians (compared to the crush of the Charles Bridge). This photo is looking toward the Charles Bridge.  You can see beautiful pictures of the Legion Bridge here.

Shop display

After crossing the Vlatava River, we walked along Vítězná street toward Petřín Hill. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed, but I was intrigued by this display of fabric and notions along the street. The display was quite extensive (this is only one portion of it), and was an interesting way to showcase wares (as distinct from shop windows). Plus, I'm always fascinated by sewing-related paraphernalia.

Memorial to the Victims of Communism

As we entered Petřín Hill, we saw this haunting sculpture, memorializing the victims of communism (installed in 2002). Bronze male figures are shown in increasing fragmentation to reflect the human toll of communism. A plaque is inscribed with the following: 
"The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims, not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism."  
A bronze strip on the ground states that the victims of communism included 205,486 people who were arrested, 170,938 driven into exile, 248 executed, 4500 died in prison, and 327 who were shot while trying to escape across the border. A terrible toll, indeed.

Petřín Hill has much to offer -- there are hiking trails, a funicular that goes up to the lookout tower (with great views of the city), and old churches, to name a few. But we were going to Petřín mainly to visit the Musaion, the Ethnographic Museum, to see folk art and costumes.

We had the entire museum to ourselves until close to the end of our visit (seriously -- the staff were turning on lights for us, because no one else was visiting the exhibits). The museum began with an interactive exhibit about traditional farm life -- we had fun looking at all the different tools and milking the wooden cow (it had a rubber udder that dispensed water when milked). I'm pretty sure the exhibit was mostly meant for children, but we enjoyed it quite a bit. 

Pharmacy door

The next exhibit featured Czech folk customs surrounding death. One tradition was to stop the clock when someone died, so that the soul could leave the room. There is something deep there about the connection between the soul and mortal time, but I haven't quite puzzled it out. There was a strong fear of revenants (the dead returning), a theme which recurs in Czech folklore.

The photo above shows a door from a pharmacy in the Capuchin monastery that led to the room meant for the exclusive use of the pharmacist.  The skeleton, with a basket of medicinal herbs, represents the "gardener of the Good Death."  The imagery and the Latin inscriptions remind people that they cannot be protected from death even by medicinal herbs.  (I'm trying to imagine a similar sentiment posted at my local drug store  -- medicines for all ailments available here, but don't forget that death is inevitable; somehow I think it wouldn't go over big as an advertising strategy.)  

Musaion (Ethnographic Museum)

The photo above shows carnival masks from Bohemia (mid 20th century), the Easter figure of death (Moravia, 19th century), and samples of mourning clothes (Bohemia, 19th century). The exhibit also included amulets, exorcism formulas, votive paintings, and the imaginary length of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary (it was considered good luck to carry a length of ribbon or cloth that was the height of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, which seems like an example of magical thinking). 


This tableau depicts a woman grieving for the death of a child.  The signage noted that it was important for babies to be baptized immediately (sometimes done by the midwife) so that they could be buried in the cemetery proper, rather than beyond the wall.  Infants were buried with toys and holy pictures; girls were buried with an apron so that they could collect flowers in heaven.

It is also worth noting that mourning clothes have not always been black. Prior to the 19th century, the color of mourning in Czech countries was white, "symbolizing light, day, and innocence" (according the museum signage).  White shirts, aprons, bonnets, scarves, and ribbons were worn by those attending the funeral.  Single young boys and girls were buried dressed as bridegroom or bride, with those single young people in attendance at the funeral dressed as bridesmaids and groomsmen.  The dead were often dressed in their best clothes, folk costumes or dark suits (to appear well-dressed in front of God), but did not wear shoes, apparently because Jesus walks barefoot in Paradise. 

The small pieces above and below are from Moravia and Bohemia (19th century).  They may have been considered protective against death and disease.  They also reflect the re-catholization of the Czech countries in the 17th and 18th centuries, when there was an increase in the cult of the Virgin Mary and other saints.  While folk art depictions of the Virgin Mary typically focused on her Ascension, depictions of Jesus Christ and the saints emphasized their death (or methods of their torture, in the case of the saints). 

Interesting combination of stitching, beads, lace, and trim -- I think this would qualify as "mixed-media" in today's art terminology. 

In addition to the exhibit on folk beliefs and customs related to death, the museum also had a collection of various examples of folk art, such as this large double mermaid carving. 

I like the busy nature of this small religiously-themed tableau.  There were quite a few examples of religious carvings on display. 

Of course, I was mainly interested in the folk costumes at the Musaion.  (I know that this comes as no surprise.)  There were extensive displays of folk costumes, as well as ceremonial garb for religious holidays.  I took lots of photos, so check back tomorrow for a selection of holiday-themed costumes. 

Next up:  Czech holiday folk costumes at the Musaion

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