Prague’s Orloj clock at the center of a row on the artist’s “amateur” restoration | Czech Republic

One of Prague’s most famous landmarks, a 15th-century astronomical clock, is at the center of an embarrassing row amid claims an artist endowed it with portraits of his friends and acquaintances as part of a an expensive restoration project, perhaps in jest.

The 600-year-old Orloj – long a magnet for tourists who marvel when the 12 Apostles are set in motion by the clock striking the hour – reopened with fanfare in 2018 after a $2.1 million renovation pounds from the city. old medieval town hall which included an upgrade to the complex clock machinery.

Among the masterpieces of the work was a supposed reproduction of a 19th-century calendar painting by Josef Mánes adorning the clock’s astrolabe and depicting the months of the year as the signs of the zodiac.

Detail of the astronomical calendar, showing the original scene and the restored version. Photography: Martin Frouz/City Hall / City of Prague

Now the work has been engulfed in controversy after a local heritage preservation group alleged that its painter, Stanislav Jirčík, had strayed from the spirit and detail of Mánes’ painting, which dates from 1866 and is now kept in the Prague City Museum.

Discrepancies that initially went unnoticed were belatedly brought to light after a member of the Old Prague Club filed a complaint with the Czech Ministry of Culture, which has just opened an investigation.

The plaintiff, Milan Patka, said the reproduction drastically changed the appearance, age, complexion, dress, and even gender of the characters portrayed by Mánes.

In one depiction, intended to depict the Virgin, the original of a girl with red hair and a distinctive ribbon is replaced by a middle-aged, modern-looking woman with gray or highlighted hair and an earring . In another case, a smiling Aquarius woman was transformed into a man with short hair.

Another figure and the updated version
Another figure and the updated version. The artist made no comment and did not respond to phone calls from reporters. Photography: Martin Frouz/City Hall / City of Prague

Jiřčík also changes Mánes’ original painting from a predominantly black dog to one with a brown and white coat and a raised tail.

Jirčík, an academic painter and restorer, reportedly even featured figures of his friends, including Kateřina Tučková, an award-winning Czech novelist.

Tučková seemed to recognize the resemblance in a post on Facebook, writing: “As an art historian, I would first like to point out that Mr. Stanislav Jirčík clearly did not have the task of restoring the original of Mánes, but to create a copy, or make it a completely new artifact.

Deník N, a Czech news site that published the story, quoted experts saying the changes were so drastic they must have been intentional, perhaps done as a joke.

Renovation works on Prague Orloj
Renovation works on Prague Orloj. Photography: Martin Frouz/City Hall / City of Prague

The artist made no comment and did not respond to phone calls from reporters.

Patka said the effort was lower than that of amateur artists on Prague’s Charles Bridge, who produce portraits of passing tourists on site. “I expected an honest approach to copying the calendar – even the fast Charles Bridge painters [make] an effort to capture the look of characters and hairstyles,” he wrote.

Adam Scheinherr, deputy mayor in charge of transport and heritage for Prague City Council, which owns the clock, said preliminary investigations showed the painting was “unremarkable and amateurish”.

He said a replacement would likely be ordered, but he would speak to the artist first. “I want to have a serious discussion with him and ask him about the quality of the painting, what was his inspiration, he studied Josef Manes,” Scheinherr said. “We have many sketches of the original work, so it is certainly possible to make a copy. I want to know if he was trying. The value of the astronomical clock is incalculable to us, so it’s not a matter of cost.

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