Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

The Sandstone Landscape of Central Bohemia

Jul 06, 2016 - Tereza Zelenkova

  During the course of this project I’ve noted that the Czech Republic is home to a particularly large quantity of relief’s and sculptures carved directly into the rocks and stones of the landscape. These are predominant found in central Bohemia – the region found just north of Prague. Other examples can be found across the country, but it is the Bohemian landscape with its abundance of sandstone that seems to invite the most. Václav Cílek, writer and geologist, among other professions, observes that it is this sandstone landscape that reveals the special relationship of local people to nature, and describes it as “ a place where man, stone and tree meet and intertwine”. Cílek also notes that “through its medieval castles, stone sculptures and archeological findings, the sandstone landscape tells us way more about man than any other type of landscape”.   I’ve photographed many places where both important artists and self-taught amateurs left their mark in the landscape by sculpting sometimes fantastic ornaments and scenes into the rocks. Let me start with one such place, the most sublime one of all of them but unfortunately also one of the most damaged and endangered ones – the forest near Kuks castle filled with statues by one of the Baroque’s finest sculptures Bernard Matyas Braun. These statues have been carved directly into the sandstone found in the landscape and were commissioned by count Špork (there’s a lot to say about this figure as well but maybe some other time and somewhere else). It is commonly known as Braun’s Nativity Scene, referring to his largest work – a full-blown life-size nativity scene featuring a grotto with water stream carved into the sandstone. The Nativity Scene is, however, not the only work found here, nearby there’s also a large fountain with beautiful but now heavily damaged sculptures and a huge statue of a rather controversial hermit named Garinus, who according to legend raped the daughter of a Spanish count, and as a punishment, he supposedly crawled along the ground like a beast, until he was forgiven.   The statues were originally found in a thick forest in which many of the tree trunks were also embellished with various woodcuts and Biblical scenes accompanied by scenes from hell and rays of witches, revealing count Špork’s unsettled relationship with the Jesuits. Today, the area is waiting for possible funds from UNESCO or a similar organization that would facilitate their preservation for further generations. The forest around the works has very much changed and one has to employ a bit of imagination to understand the significance that the original presentation of these works (some argue that they could compete with Michelangelo in their mastery, only if they were carved into marble…) would have had in the past.   Another place that I’d like to point out, is a farmhouse by Vojtech Kopic in the Czech Paradise (yes, there is such a place in Czech) and the rock relief’s that he created in a nearby forest during the turbulent historical events of the 20th century. Kopic had spent time at the farm both during the Czech occupation by Germany in WW2 and thereafter, during communism and the Russian hegemony. During these times, as a form of silent protest, he kept carving symbols of Czechoslovakian nationality and history into the rock behind his farm, creating an impressive number of works, quite naive in their appearance but important in their message and in their power. In this small area we can find everyone from St. Václav to the first Czechoslovakian president T. G. Masaryk together with their most famous quotes encouraging people to believe in their nation’s strength and in its moral laws. This man’s quest proves to me that art can be political but also therapeutic and a way of dealing with great injustice and that the most important examples of such art are often found not in the contemporary art galleries but in places where they’re least expected.     The one last example that I’m able to fit in here, are a group of rather peculiar sculptures near a small town named Libechov. They are thought to be works of a sculptor Václav Levy, a 19th century pioneer of modernist sculptor, but some people (such as writer and historian Václav Vokolek – yes, yet another Václav!) believe that some of them might be older and are part of a masonic initiation trail. This is especially due to large quantity of masonic symbols that he claims to be misinterpreted by local people as folk references. I am not sure where the objective truth lies, but the works here are strange, and in their primitive-like appearance they point to something nearing the ancient sacred sites found in distant exotic places, leading one to question how they ended up here. It might be interesting to point out that one of the giant reliefs sculpted by Levy, commonly known as the Devils’ Heads, used to be the largest existing sculptural work up until Mount Rushmore was created. Who would have looked for something like this in the midst of Europe!   P.S.: I am currently travelling and don’t have all of my files here but once I get to them I will upload more images of the above-mentioned locations.