Martinic Palace at the Hradčany Square (in a nutshell)
One of the most beautiful late-Renaissance palaces in Prague, it was originally built in two stages separated by approximately eighty years, i.e. in 1550–1630, when a couple of older gothic houses were expanded and rebuilt.
In the second half of the 14th century, four gothic buildings used to stand where the palace is today. One of them was owned by the famous chronicler Benesch of Weitmile who was commissioned by Charles IV. to oversee the construction of the St. Vitus Cathedral. Another house was occupied by lady Ofka, Queen Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting. According to legends, lady Ofka sometimes appears after midnight, accompanied by a burning dog running away from the palace in the direction of the Nový Svět Street where it disappears.
In 1541, both the Malá Strana, and Hradčany quarters were affected by a huge fire which laid a complete waste to the buildings. Several years later, Andrew Teyffle of Zeilberg, a military commander of a Hungarian fortress, bought the premises and started reconstructing them in Renaissance style. In 1583, Teyffle sold the estate to George Bořita of Martinice, a provincial judge and later chief chancellor of the Kingdom of Bohemia, who immediately embarked on rebuilding the property.
At the time, the Hradčany Square was a seat for aristocrats from the king’s circle, e.g. members of noble families with representative seats near the Prague Castle (House of Rožmberk, House of Lobkowicz, etc.). The palace was owned by the House of Martinic until 1788 when the entire family became extinct in the male line. Their burial chapel is in the St. Vitus Cathedral – St. Andrew’s Chapel or the Martinic Chapel.
The Martinic Palace gained its current shape in 1618 when Jaroslav Bořita of Martinice, a nephew of the previous owner, began to rebuild it. However, since Jaroslav Bořita of Martinice was defenestrated in 1618 along with other governors, the reconstruction was suspended and finished only in 1730’s.
At this time, the building gained a new floor, north wing with a large hall, and painted beam ceilings. The front façade was enhanced with a red marble plate with the Martinice coat of arms – a star and waterlily stalks with roots.
The palace was completed in early Baroque style. It’s richly decorated with exterior sgraffiti; the side facing the Kanovnická street (on the left) features three scenes created at the end of the 16th century and showing Joseph of Egypt: Joseph’s Brothers Tear Off His Robe; The Temptation of Joseph by Potiphar’s Wife; and finally Joseph at Pharaoh’s Court.
Entering the Martinic Palace, we find ourselves at a courtyard with a sgraffito depiction of the Legend of Samson: Samson Ripping apart a Lion, and Samson Carrying the Gate of Gaza Up the Mountains, all on the first floor on the western wall of the eastern wing. The cycle was inspired by the illustrations from Luther’s Wartburg Bible (1534).
The left part of the wall features sgraffiti inspired by the deeds of Hercules: Hercules Carries a Column; The Punishment of Nessus the Centaur; and The Lernaean Hydra. Models for this décor haven’t been discovered.
It’s estimated that both cycles were created at the end of the 16th century. The décor continues on the northern wall of the south wing, above the balcony. Here, you can see a depiction of two warriors, with a tree between them and a plate with the inscription JOSVE above; this might be a scene depicting Joshua, the successor to Moses and a chieftain of Israelites who conquered first Jericho, and then Canaan.
In the first half of the 17th century, a main hall was built on the first floor of the south wing. Apart from an original working fireplace, the hall used to also have a cassette ceiling with 43 cassettes. However, the ceiling didn’t survive to this day, and thus only the preserved engravings tell us that the cassettes used to show church allegories: The Feast in the House of Tobias, and The Feast of Balthazar in Babel, along with secular subjects of temporal pleasures and hunting.
A chapel is attached to the hall, decorated both inside, and on its sides. The original appearance of the chapel is still preserved. Around the entrance, opening to the main hall, damaged paintings of Adam and Eve can be seen, probably inspired by the 1504 engraving of Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer. On the right, an original fresco of a unicorn is also worth noting.
What’s very interesting is the ceiling décor of chapel’s arch with 4 sectors. The eastern side depicts the Holy Trinity with the Virgin Mary (The Assumption of the Virgin Mary); the northern sector shows The Last Rites which suffered the most damage; the western side contains The Last Judgement; and the final sector features St. George Fighting a Dragon. As a point of interest, St. George was a patron saint of House of Martinic due to his connection to George Bořita of Martinice, the original owner of the palace.
The scenes with three theological virtues – Faith, Love, and Hope, portrayed on the ceiling in the former suite on the first floor – are also related in terms of subject.
Martinic Palace is noteworthy not only for its sgraffito décor, but also due to a high number of well-preserved beam ceilings which were created during the second construction stage, dating back to 1720’s and 1730’s. Such style elements can be found, too, on the painted beam ceiling in the Lichtenstein Palace in Prague.
Valuable mural paintings and painted beam ceilings in almost all rooms owe their well-preserved state to the order issued by Joseph II. which prescribed they be tamped with reeds and plastered due to frequent fires.
In 1799, the palace passed into the ownership of Josepha Weitenweber who wanted to set up as many rental apartments as possible in there. In 1814, the palace had 26 housing units, but also a police station. Its condition was decrepit, though, and there are even records suggesting that the building caught on fire after being hit by lightning in 1835.
In 1967–1973, the palace was reconstructed according to a plan developed by the architect Zdeněk Hölzel. The project was created for the Institute of the Chief Architect in Prague. During the reconstruction, the palace was partially rebuilt and the Renaissance and early Baroque parts conserved, along with arches, painted beam ceilings, and fresco or sgraffito décor. The project also focused on reconstructing the main hall which involved working with preserved sketches done by Felix Weitenweber, as far as the proportional layout of plates was concerned. New tiles from Vračan limestone and marble were created. A fountain sculpted by Josef Vitvar, still preserved, was left in its original state. The horse stable and its surrounding area used to feature illuminative glass sculptures by the glass-making artist René Roubíček which are now deposited at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague.