“MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE SUN”. The Pilsen Madonna and the Beautiful Style

27/11/2020 to 06/06/2021
výstavní síň Masné krámy
Petr Jindra, Michaela Ottová
Petr Jindra

The Pilsen Madonna is Pilsen’s most precious artwork, and for centuries its most venerated one as well. Dating from the first half of the 1380s, this unique marlstone statue was commissioned from the cathedral workshop in Prague by the Teutonic Order, which was responsible for St Bartholomew’s Church in Pilsen; the statue was intended for the new church’s recently completed choir, where it has remained ever since. The exhibition presents this internationally important artwork in its broad religious, cultural and historical contexts as one of the prototypes of the so-called Beautiful Madonnas and one of the earliest examples of the Beautiful Style, a variation on late 14th-century International Gothic.

The Beautiful Style was created in Peter Parler’s cathedral workshop in Prague, in the religious, political and cultural milieu at the end of the reign of Charles IV and the early years of Wenceslas IV’s reign. The Pilsen Madonna was commissioned in Prague at some time before 1384 for St Bartholomew’s Church in Pilsen, where it has been worshipped on the main altar ever since. This is an artwork of exceptionally high quality, and it soon inspired variations, replicas and devotional copies produced from the early 15th century onwards. After the Hussite Wars it was thought of as the palladium of Pilsen, and the statue’s cult continued to grow: during the Baroque it became a thaumaturge, a miracle worker, and in 1681 a gilded replica was mounted on top of the Marian column erected on Pilsen’s main square in thanksgiving for the end of a plague. The veneration of the Pilsen Madonna even continued in the communist era, despite the suppression of the cult and religion in general, and it is currently experiencing a revival. The Pilsen Madonna is the patron saint of the Pilsen Diocese and the protectress of the city.

This exhibition, prepared in collaboration with a number of specialised institutions, will trace the broader contexts of the creation of the Madonna in the religious climate of the royal court and the archbishop’s court in Prague and the intellectual circle at Prague University. It will also showcase this cult and its influence within the Kingdom of Bohemia and further afield, and will examine the statue’s “second life”: the worship of the Pilsen Madonna and the forms this took in art. A separate section will be devoted to the creation of the Beautiful Style as a complete visual form in cultural and religious circles in Prague in the third quarter of the 14th century. The exhibition will also present the statue’s cult and compositional variations in subsequent periods, focusing primarily on works from the 15th century. The Baroque and modern-day cult of the Pilsen Madonna will be illustrated with her reflections in local art. The exhibition will also include a banner depicting Saint Wenceslas and the Pilsen Madonna, below which Pilsen’s townspeople marched to Saint Wenceslas’s tomb in St Vitus Cathedral on 5 October 1672 at the invitation of the Archbishop of Prague, Matouš Ferdinand Sobek z Bílenberka, as part of the celebrations following Saint Wenceslas’ feast day.

The significance and uniqueness of this exhibition will be reflected in the temporary loan of the original statue itself, which until now could only be viewed from a considerable distance on the main altar of St Bartholomew’s Cathedral in Pilsen.
A monograph by a collective of authors will be published to accompany the exhibition. It will present the results of a long-term interdisciplinary study by a broad team of researchers, in a form that will be appreciated by scholars and the general public alike.