Set high upon a bluff that overlooks the Vltava, under one hour to the north of Prague, sits the splendid Renaissance Nelahozeves castle that houses one of the best collections of private art in central Europe. Masterworks by Canaletto, Velázquez and Bruegel hang inside its historical halls, and these paintings alone should merit the brief trip out of the city. Nonetheless, the castle’s story and its’ art collection are also intriguing tales of aristocratic hoarding, communist rule and returning royalty. This adds a modern political dimension to its’ current significance in the history of art.
The castle was commissioned around 1553 by Florián Griespek of Griespach, an influential court official for Ferdinand the 1st. His role as an overseer of Bohemia’s royal buildings enabled him to employ the best builders, like Bonifác Wohlmut, who was the court architect. The castle that resulted resembles an Italian palazzo on the River Vltava, combining Bohemian and Italian architectural characteristics. Featuring rusticated stonework, a real moat, and corner bastions, this building encompasses elements found in previous fortified constructions from medieval times, which implies strength and a powerful, lengthy lineage. But, it is also intricately decorated with amazing sgraffito work depicting allegorical scenes, which reflects its’ main purpose as a luxurious noble residence.
Soon after the castle was completed, the Griespeks were on the losing end of the Czech Estates revolution in 1618, and all of their property got confiscated. The aristocratic Lobkowicz family were on the side that won the revolution, and the Nelahozeves was bought, in 1623, by Polyxena of Lobkowicz (1566 to 1642). The Lobkowicz family became 1 of the most influential Bohemian families and remained so right into the modern Czechoslovak era. Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888 to 1967) was the ambassador to Britain during the 1930s and, subsequently, the foreign secretary for the exiled government throughout World War Two. During this time, the Nazis had seized the numerous properties and art collections of the Lobkowicz’s and intended to incorporate the best works into Hitler’s Reichsmuseum. In 1945, many were restored, but just 3 years afterwards, the Communists gained control, and the Lobkowiczes had to leave the country empty-handed. It was not until the 1990s, when President Havel introduced the ‘restitution of property act, that the Lobkowiczes could reclaim most of their estates. Lobkowicz family members have been major collectors of art, and the masterpieces confiscated and displayed in the Czech National Gallery since 1948 (along with the works that had remained in storage) are now back together at Nelahozeves.
Visitors can access the castle using a moat bridge, which takes you to a courtyard that has a gift shop, ticket office and restaurant. To see the collections, you have to take the guided tour (2 different tours are provided). Guided Tour 2 takes tourists to the splendid Renaissance Knights Hall, and to 9 galleries adorned with landscapes, family portraits, tapestries and furniture. The Lobkowicz collection masterpieces can be viewed on Guided Tour 1, in a permanent exhibition named: ‘The Lobkowicz Collections: 6 Centuries of Patronage’.
The art collections can only be viewed on the guided tours, available in numerous languages (including English).
The expert on British art, John Somerville, designed the exhibit. Every room is arranged to reflect the relationship between the collector and the artwork and portray the cultural and political tale of the Lobkowicz family (and Bohemia) in time-order from Renaissance times to the 1940’s. The paintings are showcased with modern furnishings, and some rooms are displayed as standard picture galleries, whilst others are presented as cabinet picture rooms or drawing rooms. This is all an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the previous Lobkowicz estates, where these works used to hang.
Nelahozeves is 27km/16.5 miles northwards of Prague, off the E55 highway. Trains depart the train station at Masaryk (Masarykovo nádraží) numerous times each day, and the journey lasts around sixty minutes. Catch the Roudnice nad Labem train and get off once you reach Nelahozeves Zámek, at the bottom of the castle.
Minibus Prague – Nelahozeves. Quickest way how to travel between Prague and Nelahozeves. Book online.
09:00 to 17:00, Tuesdays to Sundays. Shut Mondays, Xmas & New Years Day.
Nelahozeves Castle, 277 51 Nelahozeves, (www.lobkowicz.org).