Prague of the National Revival

The beginning of the 19th century saw increasingly urgent need for a large dictionary that would preserve the entire existing linguistic wealth of Czech and at the same time significantly broaden its vocabulary. But for whom did Jungmann and his collaborators intend their five-book dictionary? The advertising notice names three group of targeted subscribers: writers, preachers and officials. These people were the main bearers of revivalist ideas, and many of them wrote and published in Czech.

The 19th Century in Us

František Palacký died on 26 May 1876. The next day, the sculptor Josef Václav Myslbek removed the deceased’s death mask and the casting of his right hand which “had written the history of the Czech nation”. That evening, Palacký’s body was embalmed, and the following day it was moved to the small meeting room of the Old Town Hall, where the public was able to pay its respect for the next two days. An autopsy was performed on the evening of May 30th during which his brain was removed. The following day the remains were transported by funeral processions to the family tomb in Lobkovice.


A Mácha Intermezzo

Anthropological research of skeletal remains carried out in late 1938 and early 1939 brought new findings, which largely differed from the generally accepted idea of the poet’s fragile physical constitution. Scientific analysis revealed that he was a large man, 174 cm tall, with strong facial features and a slightly crooked, aquiline nose.


The tension between the artist and the civilian is most heightened in the realm of acting. An actor transforms into a character and, through their performance, directly embodies the dramatic idea, thus enabling it to manifest. Among the Czech actresses of the turn of the 19th and 20th century, Hana Kvapilová, famous for her sophisticated and modern acting style, managed this more successfully than others. In fact, her case introduces complexity to the ostensibly clear demarcation between mask and face. After she died, her husband Jaroslav Kvapil attested that her theatrical craft and her life constituted a unity, that her life was a work of art – a reflection of how she perceived the world and engaged with people.

Theatre director, playwright and poet Jaroslav Kvapil regarded his wife as one of those souls “capable of transforming everything they touch into a beautiful rhythm of artistic values”. Such souls perceive the world fully, not just through the poet’s words on the stage, but also as they move through life, seeing everything clearly and shining brightly. So it is natural that we are unsure who it is we see in these photographs. Is it Ibsen’s Ellida, or is it Hana herself, playing this role in which she “fell in love with the sea, the endless, mysterious sea”? By singling out this role as the pinnacle of his wife’s oeuvre, he seems to have confounded the two women: “At that point, she was already gazing into infinity, into which she herself departed so soon after.”

Music of the Springs

Admiration for Otokar Březina’s work and other inspirations sparked a collaboration between publisher, printer, and collector Josef Portman and artist Jan Konůpek. Their profound and enduring partnership resulted in many (bibliophilic) prints of Březina’s oeuvre. In these prints, Konůpek offered insightful interpretations of the poet’s work, devoid of any tendentious dogmatism. Drawing from his rich and dynamic imagination, he blended the established techniques of symbolism with expressionism, elements of cubism, and abstraction.

A pinnacle of their cooperation was a set of distinctive large-format volumes, released in a single copy and featuring artistic and graphic decoration, including drawings on the binding.

Among these is the poem The Sleepers Speak with Death (1930) from Březina’s fourth collection, The Church Builders (1899). It stands as a visionary (poetic) structure – the work of brilliant creators, but also the result of the toil of “millions of sufferers”. It is a hymnic celebration of the energy of the cosmic elements, a portrait of the world in which the tragedy of death and pain coexists with the reverence for life and earth.

For a frontispiece, Konůpek created an etching that portrays a fantastical architecture, above which an elongated figure hangs on a cross, surrounded by flying creatures and a sphinx; at the base of the cross lies a vast linear body.

The ABC of Poetism

The book Abeceda (Alphabet, 1926) is a seminal work of the Poetist movement. It is a multimedia collaborative work combining various artistic disciplines presented by leading avant-garde artists. The poems of Vítězslav Nezval, inspired by the shapes of letters of the alphabet, were choreographically interpreted by Milča Mayerová. Photographs of her dance compositions taken by Karel M. Paspa were worked with based on the principles of new constructivist typography by Karel Teige. The impression of spatiality was created by combining photography and typography (typofoto). In expressing the form of the letters through modern dance, the borders of art were expanded by another element of performativity.

A Woman in the Pantheon

Mluvící pásmo (The Talking Zone) refers to both the avant-garde poetic genre and to the radio of that period. The polyphonic, polythematic composition can also be read as an inventory of European civilization as it ends, as an archive of images intended for future generations. Among the exhibits reminiscent of the extinct culture there is also a spokesman for the poem, “a man with a pen in hand”, whose name was forgotten: “Nobody remembers my name, / the dead world lives in my blind eyes.”

In the Network

Continuation without a magazine. Where did the writers go after the dissolution of Měsíčník (The Monthly) and what did Václav Černý think about their ensuing direction.


An original contribution to the relationship between font and text is Váchal’s Koruna bludařstva to jest: Postyla kacířská. Sbírka nekřesťanských kázání, glos a básní na všechny neděle a svátky v roce (The Crown of Heresy Is This: A Heretical Postil. A Collection of non-Christian Sermons, Glosses and Poems for All Sundays and Holidays of the Year). This artist book is 321 pages long and is decorated with fifty colour woodcuts. Josef Váchal worked on sixteen copies (six people ordered the book through a subscription) for over a year (1924-1926). It is an experimental work both in terms of content (Váchal gives his own interpretation of mostly biblical and theological subjects) and form. Although Váchal applies historicisms in some places, they are originally interpreted. From a typographical standpoint, the book is a showcase of various types and sizes of fonts that deliberately complicated the reading process. The blocks of text on the individual pages differ in colour, with the basic black-red combination referring to the appearance of old prints from the origins of book printing in a Baroque spirit, while the arrangement of letters in the shape of a cross evokes future lettrism.

One Literature?

Český snář (A Czech Dream Book), the story of the lives of the “parallel city” and dissident literature of the hard-line communist years of the 1970s, was begun by Ludvík Vaculík on the impetus of the artist Jiří Kolář on 22 January 1979 as a series of diary entries with the subtitle Dreams of 1979. Zdena Erteltová, a transcriber of manuscripts of banned writers and one of the characters of the “novel”, transcribed the text for Vaculík’s Petlice samizdat series. In 2017, the editor Vladimír Karfík donated Český snář in two versions. Vaculík had hid the first version with Karfík, who had made suggestions to it.

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