Východočeské muzeum v Pardubicích, Zámek čp. 2, 530 02 Pardubice vcm@vcm.cz
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The knights’ halls

On the first floor of the castle are three grand halls featuring original murals. William of Pernštejn built his residence in the late Gothic style, and it was later remodelled by his sons Vojtěch and Jan in the style of the early Renaissance. These later alterations included the addition of early Renaissance murals decorating the main halls. The murals were damaged during interior reconstructions during the 18th century, and they were not rediscovered until the 1920s, after the castle had been purchased by the Pardubice Museum Association.

The most extensive fragments of the original Renaissance murals have been preserved in three knights’ halls located in the castle’s south wing – known as the Maashaus, Vojtěch’s Hall and the Column Hall. The castle also hides another Renaissance treasure – the original coffered ceilings installed between 1520s and 1530 (consisting of ornamental sunken panels known as coffers). One of these ceilings has been preserved intact in the Column Hall.

Unfortunately, all three knights’ halls are currently closed to the public during renovation work. They will be re-opened in 2021 as part of a brand-new exhibition commemorating the Pernštejn dynasty.

the MAASHAUS

The largest of the knights’ halls is the Maashaus (a German word meaning a spacious hall taking up the entire front part of the ground floor). Here the original décor has survived in a small area. Besides the trompe l’oeil paintwork around the portals (a special technique which creates an optical illusion of a three-dimensional image), this hall is also dominated by its large mural depicting the antithesis between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The basic meaning of the allegory is explained by a well-preserved inscription in the upper part of the mural: “The Law is given by Moses; Grace and Truth are given by Jesus Christ.” The theme of the Law and Grace (in Latin, Lex et Gratia) was a frequently discussed aspect of Lutheran dogma during the first half of the 16th century. The mural in the Maashaus was produced under the influence of the workshop run by Lucas Cranach the Elder at some point after 1530, and it is the best-known artistic depiction of this common topic. Jan of Pernštejn probably commissioned the mural in the late 1530s or the early 1540s. At the time, Jan was one of the leading figures in the Bohemian estates’ opposition to King Ferdinand I’s attempts at centralizing power, and he was also one of the leaders of the Bohemian neo-Utraquist nobility – a grouping which supported the Lutheran reformation. There is no doubt that the castle in Pardubice was the scene of numerous political discussions and negotiations. Jan’s intense involvement in both political and religious activities may explain why such a huge mural depicting a prominent religious theme was surprisingly located in one of the secular parts of the castle, which was used for receiving guests.

In addition to these early Renaissance murals, the Maashaus also boasts valuable Gothic-Renaissance portals, which are the work of a master whose identity is still not known. The wooden coffered ceiling (consisting of ornamental sunken panels known as coffers) dates from the 16th century; the missing parts were replaced with replicas when the ceiling was rediscovered in the early 1920s.

VOJTĚCH’s HALL

The original neo-Renaissance interiors of the castle are most faithfully evoked in Vojtěch’s Hall. The walls are ornamented by fragments of trompe l’oeil paintwork around the portals and window niches (a special technique which creates an optical illusion of a three-dimensional image). The painted columns in the corners of the hall, inspired by ancient models, are also framed by trompe l’oeil décor. The plant motifs in the window niches (and elsewhere) create the illusion that the interior space continues outwards into the natural world beyond.

Vojtěch’s Hall is dominated by a huge mural depicting the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah, dating from 1532. It is the oldest known Renaissance mural in Bohemia. Although it has suffered damage in the intervening years, it still reveals the outstanding talent of the (unknown) artist and the excellent taste and cultural erudition of the man who commissioned it – Vojtěch of Pernštejn.

Another painting full of Renaissance symbolism is a female nude depicting Fortuna Volubilis (precarious fortune). The hall was used to receive important guests, as can be seen in its rich heraldic décor dominated by Vojtěch of Pernštejn’s family coat-of-arms (the black head of an aurochs – a type of bison – on a gold shield, with a ring through its nose) with two squires (armour-bearers) as the supporters of the shield.

The bay window at the south-west corner of the hall also undoubtedly served a specific function. Here the late Gothic vaulting has survived, dating from the era of William of Pernštejn. The vaulting was the work of Hans Spiess, a stonemason who worked for the royal ironworks of Vladislaus II. In the vaulting there are also remnants of the original late Gothic murals, which were covered over by early Renaissance murals commissioned by Vojtěch of Pernštejn.

THE COLUMN HALL

The last of the three knights’ halls is known as the Column Hall. It still retains fragments of the original figural and ornamental murals in the form of a broad band encircling the room at the top of the walls. The most valuable features of this hall are the original early Renaissance coffered ceiling (consisting of ornamental sunken panels known as coffers), the richly ornamented semi-nude figures, and the plant-motif ornamentation. A similar original coffered ceiling has survived in one of the halls on the second floor in the east wing of the castle.

The late Gothic period is represented here by valuable works of stonemasonry – a carved column in the space between the windows (from which the hall takes its name) and the stone surrounds of the door and fireplace.