The repairs to the panel paintings from the Great Tower of Karlštejn Castle have taken place for several years now. At present it can be said that the pictures in the main part of the Chapel behind the grille have been restored, which means roughly 40% of the total number of paintings preserved 1. During the repairs the restorers have come up against the most varied problems and are constantly extending their field of knowledge. They devote attention not only to the actual painting technique, the pastiglia, the method of preparation of the panels and the grounds, the state of the wood, but also to the causes of damage. Some time ago a relatively extensive study by M. Hamsík and]. Tomek was published on the painting technique of Master Theodoric 2 which is significant in particular in the chemical analyses. Among the new discoveries there is, for example, the finding of remnants of gold foil on the X-ray photographs of some of the pictures. The pieces of gold sheet originally covered the area of the background with plastic decorations (pastiglia) and very probably also continued onto the slanting area of the original frame. This discovery by two restorers of the National Gallery in Prague – H. Kohlová and Z. Grohmanová – is very valuable 3. It confirms the report of the period chronicle by Beneš Krabice of Weitmile, written in the year 1365: »... On Sunday after the Feast of the Purification (9th February) he (Jan, the Archbishop of Prague), consecrated the larger Chapel in the Karlštejn tower. For the Emperor had this Castle built as a work of wonder with very strong fortifications, as can still be seen, and established in the upper tower a large Chapel, the walls of which he lined with pure gold and precious stones and also equipped with the relics of saints and vestments for the Dean and Chapter or Collegium which he established there, and decorated it with very valuable paintings... 4«

During restoration work and detailed inspections it came to light that all the paintings had a chalk ground applied to the entire surface of the painting. In the background of many paintings, as we suppose, the basic layer with the pastiglias and especially with gold sheet has been roughly torn off. For this purpose a rough cut was made with a blunt instrument around the paintings which in many places damaged not only drapery, hair or beards, but even the faces.

St Dionisus, detail. Old cutting around the halo – on removal of the original ground of the background – damaged the hair paint. (Photo before retouching.)

The impressed plastic decorations (Piasterrelief) of Theodoric 's paintings took two forms. They differed in the type of substance used. The pastiglia in the backgrounds and on the trame were prepared (stamped) from a substance composed of mountain chalk (Bergkreide) and leather glue. The pastiglia used for the decoration of brocades, the hems of clothing, mitres and attributes were of a white substance containing Bologna chalk (gesso) and leather glue. These were very well preserved. The pastiglia in the background and on the frames are, however, crumbling and deteriorated. The substance consisting of mountain chalk and leather glue is not very resistant to changes in atmospheric humidity-, the decorations therefore, had to be strengthened in the course time in various ways. The traces of these adhesives distort the results of the chemical analyses of binding agents. The photograph enclosed shows the disruption of an underlayer of mountain chalk bound with 796 leather glue, applied to sized canvas, after a period of 42 years. As is clear from the photograph shown here, the deterioration begins in the middle of the layer of chalk. The ground layer of white chalk bound in the same way remained without change under the same atmospheric conditions. This property of mountain chalk is little known today. Mountain chalk was used until recently in combination with boiled oil or varnishes for the creation of a perfectly hard base for painting on soft wood (imitation woods). It was so strong that it prevented the raising of the annual rings which occurs in the course of time due to the drying of the thinner parts of the wood. On Bohemian Gothic panels it was used as the lowest layer of the grounds under the white chalk. It proved its worth, however, only when a canvas interlayer was used.

A futher type of decorations on Theodoric 's pictures were jewellery, precious stones, crosses, etc., positioned on metal pins. Of these there remained only holes in the base layers and the wood and occasionally a metalpin. According to the placing of the remaining holes we can often guess the nature of the stolen jewellery. For example, in the case of the female Saint on the eastern wall behind the grille it was a crown, which left symmetrical holes in the hair. The coats of arms of the kings were probably similary adorned. A record of the finding of remnants of gold wire with which the coats of arms were held in place comes from the 19th century 5. All these objects were gradually removed. The dismantling was started, unfortunately, by King Sigismund himself in 1420. This dismantling then continued, according to the detailed records of the Margraves, throughout the period of the Hussite Wars and the money acquired in this way was used for the payment of the 200 mercenaries who protected and defended the Castle for a period of 14 years. If we consider what immense cultural damage was caused in Central Bohemia by the iconoclasm of the Hussites, in the end we are quite glad to do without the jewels and gold if they helped to save what is most precious of all – the actual paintings by Theodoric.

In spite of the fact that the original base layers have been removed from the background in the majority of pictures, a smaller number of panels did remain where the background preserved the undercoats and also remnants of the original pastiglia I estimate around 10-15%. These are the pictures which are particularly valuable to us. They enable us to acquire better knowledge of the original esthetic appearance and the nature of later repairs and their order. According to the remnants found and through mutual comparison it can be presumed that the gold sheet was not used to cover the entire surface of the frame, but only the sloping part round the pictures. On the flat surface of the simple frame, 7-8 cm wide, the oldest layer found is thin gold foil placed on an oil base. These remnants are best preserved on the edges of the frames as the plastic decorations were stuck around 5-7 mm from the edges, where a kind of step was formed. Here the shiny gold areas of the background are taken over by the mat gold on the flat surface of the frame. A further change was presented by the pictures whose background and entire frame was covered in mat gilding (foil placed on an oil layer). Gold was implemented for its colour, not its glitter. From these paintings the gold sheet was not cut away: the original chalk ground with pastiglia or their remains has been preserved over the entire background. The original pastiglia of mountain chalk, which have a great tendency to crumble, 6 have survived in a considerably damaged state. They were strengthened long ago during a major repair. The supplemented pastiglia were at that time again made of mountain chalk, but were even more fragile and impermanent than the original ones. Cross-sections of the material of both types of pastiglia show more marked cracks inside the newer ones. The later pastiglia were stuck on a layer of dark ochre and boiled oil they cover old escape holes made by woodworm. The original pastiglia were painted over with a relatively thin layer time covered up the joints. There followed a layer of oil ground which was, in the case of the picture of St Maurice, of a pinkish ochre colour. It was then covered in sheet gold which remained mat. The microphoto (a) shows the substance of an original pastiglia from the background of the picture of St Maurice across which is placed the substance of a newer decoration with cracks. On the cross-section of the pastiglia from the halo of the same Saint the procedure of repairs can be seen.

Mauricia Macro-photos of pastiglia on the picture St Mauritius:
A) remnants of green glaze above the gilding
B) remnants of pastiglia on the background:
the arrow a) points our original material of the lost ornament; the arrow b) the adhesive of later relief decorations
C) garnet-apple motif: gilding alternates with vermilion; the arrow points out the original adhesive of pastiglia, dark ochre coloured in this picture

The picture of the Bishops on the West wall behind the grille in the window recess were relatively little affected. There remained on them considerable deposits of oil varnishes in which remnants of the surface finishes of the pastiglia were preserved. This is the case, for instance, with the picture of the Holy Bishop (white No. III), which has the chalk ground preserved over the entire background Apart from remnants of the original pastiglia, also pastiglia from the period of the large repair were preserved, stuck on a darker ochre ground covering the old escape holes made by woodworm. On them there is then applied a blue-grey, relatively dark 25 to 35 mi thick, containing mountain chalk, black grains and blue pigment. A further layer is a dark oil base under silver. The remains of the silver have madder glazing, elsewhere blue. On the area of the robes on the same picture the original pastiglia have layers of polychrome from two different periods.

The remains of the repairs ascertained are very fragile and disintegrate at a touch after losing their oil varnish coating. During the repairs in the second half of the 19th century the original was not respected and the disintegrating parts were removed and replaced with new ones of various materials, with a prevalence of white chalk Major repair work in the distant past gave the pictures new esthetic elements – those of Renaissance. On the walls there was a prevalence of silver on the backgrounds, covered with colour glazing. Only gradually was it possible to perceive the total extent of this great Renaissance repair, which showed in the backgrounds, and also affected the paintings themselves. It is very interesting that the oldest fillings of areas that had fallen away were dark grey in colour. They have remained firm right up to the present and surprisingly they are bonded with beeswax.

Holy Prophet, detail during restoration. The old grey mastices pointed out by an arrow

The surrounding painting is also fixed more thoroughly than around the chalk fittings from the end of the 19th and from the 20th centuries. According to the findings on the technique of the pictures, painted in the 16th century in Bohemia, 7 dark grounds in cold tones appear in this country in the eighties of the 16 century. There is, for example, the Epitaph of Adam Hruška of Srbeč, the Assumpta of Bílá Hora, the panel of the Epitaph of Adam Stritzka of 1589 in the museum of Tachov. This style from the period of Emperor Rudolph II, strongly influenced by Spanish painting, ended in Bohemia in the forties of the 17th century. (The domestic tradition of white grounds on the panels ended in the nineties of the 16th century.)

I am led to the conclusion that the extensive repair to the pictures of Master Theodoric dates from the period of Rudolph II by comparison of the nature of the Prague Castle 8. The paintings from the 16th century and the first of the 17th century have the oldest fillings in dark grey; they then follow Baroque fillings which are already of burnt clays. Further it is necessary to pay attention to reports which have been preserved. From the records it is known that the Theodoric 's paintings were restored last century at Prague Castle (Markovský) 9. The extent of the Renaissance building repairs carried out in the years 1587-97 under the supervision of the conscientious and industrious Margrave Jáchym Novohradský was recognized after the removal of Mocker's plaster work on the Great Tower. It is unthinkable that during the reign of an Emperor so enamoured of the arts no work would have been done in the Chapel.
I am convinced that apart of these Renaissance repairs was the reconstruction of two heavily damaged paintings, St Peter and St Paul. The painter-restorer of that time, as I suppose, used the original damaged panel and painted the saints it the style of his own period on a dark-grey ground. Both these pictures are quite different from even the poorest paintings carried out by assistants. The fact that these two saints have a feast-day in common allows to one to assume that the pictures of St Peter and St Paul were taken out of the Chapel and carried in a procession on their feast-day. The sudden change in environment caused a climatic shock each time which considerably loosened the ground from the support. The pictures of St Peter and St Paul were therefore the first to disintegrate. The loosening of the ground from the wooden support is one of the main causes of damage in the paintings of Master Theodoric. It shows here to afar greater extent than in the other Bohemian panel paintings of the 14th century.

Macro-photo of paint-layer of one picture, painted in 1949 on a mountain-chalk ground.

The Renaissance repair of Theodoric 's paintings, studied in the course of restoration work, the traces of which we have followed in the preceding description, consisted of the following work:

a) the strengthening of the painting
b) the cleaning of the pictures, removing dirt and varnishes
c) the strengthening of the pastiglia
d) the mechanical cleaning of the cut-away background, removing remnants (traces of tools have been preserved)
e) the sticking on of new pastiglia of grey matter (on backgrounds, frames and haloes)
f) the (partial) painting over of their surface with mountain chalk. A further layer is formed of a grey-blue, quite dark layer of coloured mountain chalk - probably a consolidating filler
g) a coat of oil beneath the silver or gold
h) silvering with red and blue glazing
i) fresh gilding of haloes and repair of circles with pastiglia
j) the replacing of the damaged pictures of St Peter and St Paul with contemporary paintings
k) certainly attention was paid to the repair and disinfection of the wood, but all that can be proved are cements between the board and the frame bonded with oil. They are dark in tone, adapted to the surrouding painting. The age of these cements was ascertained according to the degree of swelling of the linoxyn.

The majority of these repairs to the background of the paintings and the frames has, however, been poorly preserved as they were more crumbly than the original pastiglia. The polychromes on the silver were preserved only thanks to the layers of old varnishes. Already in the middle of the 17th century, when Bohuslav Baibin visited the Castle the state of the Chapel of the Holy Rood was very poor once again. Not until the eighties of the 18th century did there begin to be an interest in this historical monument – some of the paintings were at that time lent to Vienna for research purposes and returned back in 1901. Karel Hynek Mácha gives us a  report on the desolate state of the Castle and the Chapel in his poem. The most essential repairs to the Castle itself began in the years 1815-1818. Major repair work began in the forties of the 19th century. A detailed report on the preparation and repair of the pictures exists in »Bohemia«, of 1839. Par t of this report is quoted by Professor B. Slánský in »Volné směry« (XXXIII, The Repair of Pictures from Karlštejn Castle). He draws attention to a very important record from 1839 according to which the pictures were already restored and in some places so washed away that the chalk base shines through. Conservation, the streng thening of the painting and the disinfection of the wood were carried out in these years with exceptional care, nothing at all was added. A strict commission controlled the work. By contrast the repair of pictures deposited in Vienna, carried out there probably during the second half of the 19th century, was renovation. All the missing pastiglia were replaced and the painting was also completed (for instance, on the frames of the entire area) 11.

Věra Frömlová, AHVT B 025 (J. D.)


1 As Balbín wrote in his »miscellanea...«, there were in the chapel 133 pictures together; he mentions one of them as damaged. Balbín uvádí celkový počet 133 obrazů v kapli »kromě těch namalovaných na zdi výše okna« (tj. mimo nástěnných maleb). Viz Bohuslav Bal bin: Krásy a bohatství země české, Výbor z díla Rozmanitosti z historie Království českého (Miscellanea...), český překlad, Praha 1986, str. 289 až 290. Tamtéž Balbín uvádí, že v základních řadách je 93 obrazů, »ačkoliv jeden obraz byl již poničen« (opadáním?). Dnes je obrazů 129. Viz též Sedláček, pozn. 11 (s. 31).

2 M. Hamsík - J. Tomek, Technika malby Mistra Theodorika, Umění XXXII (1984), s. 377-87
M. Hamsik, Addenda k technice malby Mistra Theodorika, Umění XXXrv(1986),s. 63

3 Z. Grohmannová; Mistr Theodorik - sv. Jan Křtitel, in: Restaurátorské umění 1948-1988 (katalog výstavy), Praha 1989, příloha str. 2. Též: Z. Grohmannová: Současné výhledy průzkumu Theodorikových desek, Umění XXXVIII (1990)

4 Kroniky doby Karla IV. Svoboda Praha 1987, s. 237

5 Augustin Sedláček: Tvrze, hrady a zámky království českého VI, s. 27

6 The plastic, originally gilded ornamental decorations of the frames, backgrounds and saints' halos have in great part fallen off and been crumbled. But other plastic decorations of saints' robes and mitras or in paint area itself (formerly also gilded) are of a different material, better preserved. »

7 Věra Frömlová, Technika malby Karla Škréty s přihlédnutím k malbě v Čechách v druhé polovině 16. století; in: Karel Škréta. Katalog výstavy, Národní galerie Praha 1974, s. 270-76, příl. č. 268-279.

8 Neznámý mistr z 2. pol. 16. stol.: Portrét Kateřiny Španělské, olej, plátno 148 x 85, PHO 322.
Španělský mistr z 1. pol. 17. stol.: Don Carlos. Olej, plátno 140 x 100 cm, PHO 287.

9 A. Sedláček, op. cit. str. 39

10 V. Frömlová, Klimatické podmínky v kapli sv. Kříže na Karlštejně. Sborník semináře »Obnova a prezentace hradu Karlštejna«, 1991.

11 A. Sedláček, op. cit. str. 31