Without Borders. Art in the Ore Mountains between the Gothic and the Renaissance

During the high and late Middle Ages, the Ore Mountains and the adjoining inland territory was a region whose prominence was determined by economically-powerful and culturally-rich royal and subject towns that were themselves strongly influenced by the mining activities that thrived on both sides of the frontier lands – in Bohemia and Saxony. Starting from Prague, the centre of the Bohemian Kingdom, two trade routes linking Bohemia and Saxony passed through towns that formed the economic infrastructure which supported life in the mountains. (Specifically, they were the royal towns of Litoměřice, Ústí nad Labem, Louny, Žatec, Most and Teplice, and the subject towns of Chomutov, Děčín and Kadaň.) One was the so-called Elbe Route to Dresden and the second, known as the Land Route, ran through Louny, Žatec and Most to Freiberg. Conceptually organized along these two routes connecting Bohemia and Saxony, the exhibition will showcase unique objects of the Gothic period’s visual culture, both from the above towns and the Ore Mountains region as a whole. Ore mining and the towns associated with mining will be presented in separate sections that will explore the culture of the Jáchymov and Krupka mining towns and the mining activities pursued by the Cistercian monastery in Osek.

The Ore Mountains borderlands were marked by an intensive commercial and cultural interaction between the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Duchy of Saxony during the high and late Middle Ages, a development referred to today as artistic and cultural exchange.

The unprecedented wealth of these centres in the late Middle Ages – i.e. in the 15th and 16th centuries – was shown by the strong desire of the towns, nobility, monasteries and individuals for artistic self-representation, with the material outcome meeting the highest criteria of art-historical evaluation. In its individual sections devoted to the culture of the above-mentioned towns, the exhibition will feature sculpture and painting (altars and their preserved fragments), objects made of noble metals for liturgical purposes (chalices, monstrances and reliquaries), liturgical books and examples of decorative architecture (portals). Mining in the Ore Mountains will be explored through objects used for ore extraction (mattocks, hammers and lamps), as well as coins (Jáchymov thalers) and medals struck in the Jáchymov mint.

The approximately 200 works of art to be displayed at the Without Borders exhibition will offer visitors the extraordinary artistic experience of a five-hundred-year period of history that left an enduring imprint on the appearance of towns in Northern Bohemia (urban planning, road networks, etc.). The overall impression the viewers form from the medieval art will be further intensified by the exhibition’s division into sections devoted to Northern Bohemia’s individual towns, whose historical memory has been virtually obliterated in many of its areas (communities that gave way to mining, towns rebuilt in the 19th century with the onset of the technological revolution, population displacement after World War II, and so forth). The revival of society’s cultural memory, together with the artworks’ aesthetic impact, will help to enhance people’s identification with the space they inhabit and thus also with the broader region, while reinforcing their understanding of the historical context – essential to fully appreciating the present. In this regard, Without Borders can be of major importance in promoting Northern Bohemia’s sense of identity and the interrelations between the various towns in the hills and foothills of the Ore Mountains. The significance of the historical borderland region is also being brought to prominence through financial assistance from the Czech Ministry of Culture, which has been supporting the exhibition’s organization and the research preceding it via the NAKI programme. In future, the ongoing process of promoting this cultural heritage will be underscored by the planned inclusion of the Ore Mountains region in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The exhibition titled Without Borders, Art in the Ore Mountains between the Gothic and the Renaissance, to be held from November 26, 2015 at the Wallenstein Riding School in Prague, will be the outcome of many years of scholarly pursuits conducted by historians and art historians from Northern Bohemia and Prague, who are professionally active at the Faculty of Philosophy of Jan Evangelista Purkyně University (FF UJEP) in Ústí nad Labem and the Faculty of Arts of Charles University (FF UK) in Prague. The findings of the research undertaken by more than twenty scholars will be published in a catalogue to accompany the exhibition: a bilingual, printed guidebook presented in a popularizing form (in Czech and English) and a scientific catalogue complementing the exhibition (in Czech with an English summary).

Authors of the exhibition concept:

doc. PhDr. Michaela Ottová, Ph.D. – Department of Art History, FF UK in Prague

in collaboration with History Department, FF UJEP in Ústí nad Labem and Department of Art History, FF UK in Prague

Exhibition curators on behalf of the National Gallery in Prague: PhDr. Jan Klípa, Ph.D. and Mgr. Štěpánka Chlumská