Former Jesuit “Professi” House, Malá Strana, Prague - Malá Strana, Czech Republic

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Address: Budova Matematicko-fyzikální fakulty UK, Malostranské nám. 25, 118 00 Praha  
Description of work:
Restoration survey
Renovation of the wall paintings in the former Jesuit refectory (Room 208)
Consolidation of Romanesque tiling
Restoration of Romanesque plastering and argillite masonry
Restoration of metal and stone elements
Installation of new flagstones and wooden flooring
Refitting of wooden parapets
Restoration of marble cladding
Contractor: GEMA ART GROUP a.s.
Investor:
Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Charles University /KONSTRUKTIVA KONSIT a.s
Implementation:
10/2005 – 04/2007 

 

 

 

  • History
  • Restoration work
  • More information

The company's specialists also participated in professional conservation of one of the oldest preserved examples of ceramic tiling found in the country. The bas-relief Romanesque tiling with the motifs of lions and griffins was found during an archaeological survey in April 2004. Following a thorough analysis it was established that the tiling was of the so-called Vyšehrad type. Some scientists believe that this kind of tiling was manufactured in Ostrov monastery between the years 1130 and 1250. The tiling had been laid down in the Romanesque rotunda of St Wenceslas, on the site on which the Jesuit Order "Professi" House was later built. Because of the extensiveness of the interior wall paintings and the variety of skills required for the task and due to the high cultural and historic value of the Romanesque tiling, this was for GEMA ART GROUP a.s. an exceptional project of this period. All specialist work was completed by 23rd April 2007.
The Jesuit "Professi" House at Malá Strana Square in Prague was built during an era of massive expansion of the Jesuit Order, which played a significant role in Bohemian recatholization after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Supported by the Emperor and by high ranking Catholic nobility, many buildings administered by the Jesuit Order appeared in Prague at that time. The most important of them is undoubtedly the imposing complex of the Jesuit Clementinum College. In contrast to Clementinum, the Jesuit "Professi" House was built in an austere style, without unnecessary ornamentation. The original plans were the work of the Italian architect Giovanni Domenico Orsi de Orsini; after his death the architect Francesco Lurago took over the project.
The construction work lasted from 1676 to 1690, when the west wing was finished. The two-isle building had three wings and an enclosed rectangular courtyard. The forth side of the courtyard was formed by the neighbouring Church of St Nicholas. As the name of the building suggests, its purpose was to house the members of the order who reached the highest position in the order's hierarchy and gained the title "professi".
The Church of St Wenceslas was incorporated into the north west corner of the building and became part of the complex. The church replaced the original Romanesque rotunda of St Wenceslas in 1684. The interiors of the "Professi" House are richly decorated by fresco-secco and oil wall paintings with religious motifs. The wall decorations in the refectory, work of the painter Josef Kramolín created in 1771, are highly valued examples of Rococo art. After the abolition of the Jesuit Order in 1773 the complex was used for administrative offices: during the 19th century the Gubernial archive and the High Court of Justice of the Land were located there. To serve the purposes of these institutions the complex was rebuilt according to designs by Antonín Haffenecker and Josef Jäger.
In the years between the two World Wars the republic's Financial Directorate resided in the complex, which also contained Czechoslovakia's gold reserve. During World War II the German occupying forces took over the building for army purposes. From the 1960s until the present time the complex has housed the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of Charles University.

GEMA ART GROUP a.s. was the general contractor for all craft and artisan related work within the overall reconstruction of the Jesuit "Professi" House, which took place in the years between 2005 and 2007. The most extensive part of the project was the reconstruction of the collection of wall paintings from the 18th century in the interior of the house.
The company's expert workforce also participated in the restoration of stone and metal elements, wooden parapets and stone tiling. Renovation of the marble cladding in one of the rooms of today's Faculty of Mathematics and Physics was also part of the restoration remit.
Complex conservation of historically valuable Romanesque ceramic tiling, uncovered during the archaeological research on the site of the former rotunda of St Wenceslas, was carried out under the management of GEMA ART GROUP a.s. The company also supervised the provision of additional restoration surveys and blueprints.

Restoration of paintings in the former refectory of the monastery:
The premises of the former refectory are decorated with fresco-secco and oil wall paintings. Individual ceiling paintings are divided into six octagons bordered with ornamental stuccoes. The corbels of the vaulting are also painted, as are the eight pillars of the refectory room. The north wall of the refectory bears the most extensive area of the wall painting. The smooth plaster was applied to the refectory walls during the last stage of the construction of the east wing of the Jesuit "Professi" House in 1683. The paintings by Josef Kramolín were added 88 years later, when the artist resided in Prague.
Research into the surviving paintings in the premises on what is today the second and third floor of the building had been carried out in the years 2000 and 2002. Both invasive (taking of samples) and non-invasive (infrared reflectography) techniques were then used. The probes and the sample testing both confirmed the presence of the original wall paintings from 1771. Further examples were uncovered on the vaulting and on the north wall of the refectory in 2003 and on the basis of these discoveries it was decided to completely restore the Rococo wall decorations.
The restoration took place in several stages and segments of the paintings were divided into 5 groups according to the level of intricacy involved in their restoration.
The wall paintings were covered by several layers of later overpainting with a surface layer of lime wash. Based on the results of stratigraphy research it was established that up to ten layers covered the originals. In some areas only fragments of the wall paintings remained and provided guidance for reconstruction. The paintings on the pillars were the most damaged. The painting Winter on the vaulting corbel was in a poor state due to the effect of dampness.
The first rough uncovering was done mechanically using restoration hammers, scalpels, glass paper and horsehair brushes. The surface of the revealed paintings appeared pulverized and in the case of the north wall of the refectory rather grainy. The most damaged area was noted at the sopra porta level and due to the extent of the deterioration this segment of the painting was consolidated with organosilicates prior to restoration.
It was also necessary to remove some secondary additions such as metal wall-hooks, iron anchors for cabinets and cupboards and cable consoles, most of them installed in the walls during the 19th century when the premises were used as an archive. They were removed using restoration hammers to minimize vibrations and possible damage to the paintings.
The secondary final cleaning of the wall paintings was carried out using nylon brushes and metal needles. Where it was necessary to remove soot and lime dust the work was done with a special inert chalky sponge and a gel designed to capture fine particles.
Cavities and loose parts were then injected with a deep consolidation agent. Special attention was given to the extensive defective area at the sopra porta level. The level was saturated with an aqueous acrylate suspension and the whole area was subsequently consolidated with organosilicates.
Deeper cavities in the walls were in-filled with brick fragments and sealed with core aerated lime mortar. Small defects were in-filled with a mixture of mortar, ground marble and silica sand.
Colour retouching was carried out using mineral pigments. Ground mica in golden and copper shades was used as mock gilding. Reconstruction of the original wall paintings was undertaken by several methods. Missing parts of the painting were recreated using images transferred with the help of tracing paper. Gaps in illusive marbling were restored by painting with wide brushes in three shades of blue-gray paint with darker veining. The trompe l'oeil socles were restored by the use of imitative painting. Unpainted areas were finished using the technique of brush stippling in several shades of green stain. All blueprints for the reconstruction of the wall paintings were prepared by restorers in possession of a Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic licence after initial consultation with experts from the National Heritage Institute.

Restoration of the stone portal in the north wall of the Church of St Nicholas in the courtyard of the Jesuit "Professi" House:
The High Baroque portal was originally the main west entrance to the complex of the Jesuit "Professi" House. During reconstruction of the complex in 1784 it was probably relocated and became the entrance to the former crypt of the Church of St Nicholas, where the Gubernial archive was being transferred. The archive was moved to the church and the premises of the Jesuit "Professi" House from its location in Prague Castle on orders from the Emperor Josef II. The portal is built from coarse Žehrovice sandstone. The tympanum with its sculptural decorations is most likely carved from Hořice sandstone.
The stone was well preserved with only small defects and surface dirt. The decorative tympanum was affected by the growth of mosses and lichens due to dampness. The edges of the tympanum were also damaged.
Dust deposits were removed from the surface using distilled water and pressurized steam. The more persistent deposits were treated with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and ammonia water. Moss and lichens were eliminated using biocides. Damaged areas were then strengthened locally with organosilicates. Where required, a mineral based artificial stone sealant was applied. Finally, colour retouching was carried out.
As part of the remit, the decorative metal gate with a black finish and pewter-coated ornaments, fitted into the portal, was also renovated. The gate was affected by rust and the pewter coating had faded. The gate was dismantled and taken to the restoration workshop for a complete overhaul. Bent small metal parts were removed and the ornaments re-coated in pewter. The state of the hinges and the door handle and lock were also checked.

Conservation of the original tiling in the Romanesque rotunda of St Wenceslas:
During the archaeological research carried out in 2003 in connection with the reconstruction of the complex of the former Jesuit "Professi" House, remains of a Romanesque rotunda of St Wenceslas were uncovered in the area which in the 17th century became the construction site of the new Jesuit complex. The most important archaeological discovery constituted the fragments of Romanesque tiling with the motifs of lions and griffins. The ceramic tiling, which is of the so-called Vyšehrad type, was found in April 2004 and the need for the preservation of this valuable find for future generations was obvious.
Because of the significance of the tiling the plans for restoration were discussed with a number of experts. The tiling was affected in several ways and two kinds of strengthening agents were selected. Reaction of the ancient tiling to these agents was first tested on fragments found outwith the main area. Before the agents could be applied it was necessary to remove fine dust deposits. The actual pre-consolidation was carried out selectively in several stages and to different degrees. In-depth strengthening with organosilicates was carried out both on the tiles and the underlying layer of plaster. During the work special attention was paid to the application of the consolidant and careful removal of any residue to eliminate an undesirable shine effect.
Restoration of the plastering and the argillite masonry in the remains of the Romanesque rotunda
Remnants of Romanesque argillite masonry of the St Wenceslas rotunda were also discovered during the archaeological research into the former Jesuit "Professi" House. The masonry was incorporated into the later Baroque structure. The plaster and the masonry were first wrapped in cellulose and consolidated. The wall face masonry and the plaster were then cleaned and again consolidated. Re-colouring of newer masonry with lime plaster was carried out to achieve visual harmonization.