L’enigma di František e la corte di Venceslao IV

La conferenza di MARIA THEISEN (Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien) dal titolo L’enigma di František. Rintracciare un pittore di corte e i suoi collaboratori a Praga al tempo di re Venceslao IV, ca. 1380–1410, si è tenuta mercoledì 14 dicembre 2011, alle ore 17.00, presso l’Aula Magna del Dipartimento di Scienze Documentarie, Linguistico-Filologiche e Geografiche dell’Università di Roma “La Sapienza” (Sezione di Scienze del Libro e del Documento, Viale Regina Elena 295, Roma). Conferenza organizzata da Francesca Manzari.


František’s Puzzle. Tracing a Court Painter and His Colleagues in the City of Prague at the Time of King Wenceslas IV, c. 1380–1410

Frana: a name carefully written in golden letters at the foot of two folios of the Wenceslas Bible stands at the beginning of our search for the man who has decorated great many manuscripts in the service of the Bohemian King Wenceslas IV (1378–1419) and his court. What a coincidence, that for this illuminator a name is handed down to us, moreover, by an entry that was not noted merely for reasons of payment: the golden letters leave no doubt about the self-esteem and social prestige of this artist.

František was truly an illuminator of a particular format. His miniatures show not only his excellent understanding of the text, he also took the opportunity to combine the emblems of the king with the surrounding texts in an ingenious way that reveals his high level of education. His artistic work shows that he had taken stylistic inspirations from southern Germany as well as from art he may have seen in Prague during the 1380s. But in fact, nothing is known about his year or place of birth. The name Frana, a Czech abbreviation of František, was an argument for seeing him as a genuine Bohemian illuminator. On the other hand, the fact, that Frana was only one of two illuminators in the king’s service to spell the royal motto as toho bzde toho instead of thoho pzde thoho does not make matters any easier. Since he always worked together with others, the question also arises as to the origin of his colleagues, to their workshops in the town and their possible form of cooperation.

His wonderful contributions to the extensive miniature-cycles of  the Willehalm Codex (1387), the Wenceslas Bible (c. 1390), and the prayer book for bishop John of Litomyšl (c. 1390) are the first tangible evidence of Frana’s art and his very existence. The first written reference of our master as Frana illuminator domini regis is given in 1397, when he had received from the king a spacious studio close to the Jewish town. The illuminator’s subsequent datable work was no less than the design of the title page of the Golden Bull for Wenceslas IV (1400). With this stylistically and iconographically demanding folio Frana would have seemed to disappear at the beginning of the fifteenth century, were it not for documented evidence that he was still in town until at least 1414.

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