Italian Court – Restoration of the interior of the Audience Chamber, Kutná Hora, Czech Republic

vlassky dvur

Address: Havlíčkovo náměstí 552/ 1, 284 24 Kutná Hora
Description of work:
Restoration of the murals in the Royal Audience Chamber
Restoration of the wooden painted ceiling in the Royal Audience Chamber
Examination by restoration experts of the painted wall décor in the stairway of the south wing
Restoration of the rear portal of the Royal Audience Chamber
Contractor: GEMA ART GROUP a.s.
Investor: Town of Kutná Hora
Implementation: 01/2008 – 02/2010


Overall view of the Italian Court Overall view of the Italian Court Restoration work in progress Infilling of the crack Detail of the wall painting Overall view of the wall painting of the Audience Chamber Overall view of the wall painting of the Audience Chamber The flap ceiling The flap ceiling The flap ceiling The flap ceiling The flap ceiling

  • History
  • Restoration work
  • More information

The history of the Italian Court is closely connected to the expansion of silver ore mining in the Kutná Hora region. The silver ore had been mined here for a very long time but a marked expansion occurred in the 1380s and 1390s. The first written document about the silver mining dates back to 1289 and the renewed mining activity brought about the very founding of the town of Kutná Hora, which grew rapidly from the first years of its existence. Some kind of fortified dwelling already stood on the site of the Italian Court towards the end of the 13th century. The impulse for the building of the Italian Court came from King Wenceslas II (1283 – 1305). Because of the poor economic situation in the lands of the Czech Crown, the monarch decided to carry out a monetary reform. In 1300 he issued a new mining code of law, the Ius Regale Montanorum, which created a state monopoly on the holding of silver, centralized all minting activities in one location and introduced a new currency.
The aim of the reform was the cancellation of all payments by means of un-minted metal and the demise of the so-called Brakteat (from the Latin 'braktea' for thin tin foil) currency which required periodic exchange of the coins for new ones (the so-called renovatio monetae). All the minting activities were thus transferred from the existing 17 mints into one central mint: the Italian Court in Kutná Hora. The reform is described by the Cistercian monk Petr Žitavský in the so-called Zbraslav Chronicle from the years 1305 to 1339. The new code of law was the effort of the Italian lawyer Gozzo of Orvieto and the economic guidance was provided by Florentine financiers Rinieri, Appardo and Cynon. Apart from following the Italian model, the code of law also arose from the mining regulations of King Wenceslas I issued in 1249 for the town of Jihlava. The new unit of currency was the Prague Groschen, "a coin ever-lasting and never-changing", which was divided into 12 coins of lower nominal value, the so called 'parvs'. The Prague Groschen was based on the Tourain Groschen struck by the French King Louis IX since 1266. The first Prague Groschen were struck in the Italian Court in July 1300. The fundamental design of the coin with a double tailed lion on the reverse side and the Czech Crown with the inscribed name of the reigning monarch on the right side survived for almost 250 years. After the abolition of the Groschen currency by the Emperor Ferdinand I Habsburg (1526 - 1564) in 1547, the new Thaler coinage was minted in the Italian Court, which maintained its function as the country's chief mint until the beginning of the 17th century. The mint had not been called 'the Italian Court' till the beginning of the 15th century, when a high number of Italian craftsmen was given employement there. The mint had a structure of a fortified castle with an irregular ground plan, a square tower and mighty walls. In the first century of its existence its main function was as a mint; accommodation for the Mint Master and for the so-called 'urburéř', the Royal official responsible for the management of the proceeds of silver mining and the workshops for striking (so-called 'šmitna'), and stamping (so-called 'preghauz') of the coins were all located here.
During the reign of Wenceslas IV (1378 – 1419) the Italian Court was more frequently used as a Royal residence and from the end of the 1370s extensive rebuilding took place. The existing structures of the mint were modified and a new Royal Palace in the High Gothic style built. King Wenceslas IV stayed in his Kutná Hora residence quite frequently and for this reason also commissioned the building of a Palace chapel. The Italian Court thus became a place of importance where significant political, economical, religious and administrative issues of the Czech Kingdom were decided. During the reign of Wenceslas IV, on 18th January 1409, the Decree of Kutná Hora, which stipulated the ratio of votes at Charles University in Prague, was proclaimed here. The decree changed the ratio of the votes in favour of the Czechs, who gained three votes, while all the foreigners working at the university (such as Bavarians, Saxons and Poles) had only one vote between them and their influence was diminished as a result. The impetus for the issue of the decree came from the church reformer Jan Hus himself and from his friends Jeroným Pražský and Jan of Jesenice. As a consequence of the decree, many university masters and students left for abroad.
At the outset of the Hussite wars the Italian Court became a place of refuge for the Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg from the Hussite army. The Italian Court, unlike the town of Kutná Hora itself, was spared devastation by the Utraquist soldiers and was as a result often chosen as a venue for various meetings and occasions. It was here, in 1444, that Jiří of Poděbrady was chosen as an Eastern Bohemia county marshal, prior to his becoming a Czech king. After his death the Italian Court saw the election of the new king, Vladislav Jagello (1471 - 1516) on 27th May 1471. During the Jagellonian rule the fortifications of the court were partially removed, the ornamentation in the Palace chapel extended and in 1488 the King's chambers re-decorated, with participation from unknown Italian craftsmen.
An important event of the Jagellonian era connected to the Italian Court was the so called Kutná Hora Proclamation of Religious Tolerance, signed there in March 1485. The proclamation brought about an official reconciliation between the Catholics and the Utraquists and is often regarded as the act of law that finally ended the Hussite wars.
With the arrival of Habsburg rule in 1526 the Italian Court lost its political significance but continued to function as a mint. During the years 1578 to 1582 the mint underwent a Renaissance reconstruction and after that remained practically unchanged and
slowly deteriorating until the second half of the 19th century. In 1622 it was a victim of a destructive fire, the consequences of which were only peremptorily repaired. The mint was finally moved out of the Italian Court in 1727. Parts of the building continued in use as offices, the rest lay mainly empty. No building activity took place on the site, except for an erection of a fountain in the centre of the Court in 1740; the fountain was originally decorated with a sculpture of a crested lion, work of the stonemason Vojtěch Kulhánek. During the Wars of the Austrian Succession (1740 – 1748), with Bavaria, Prussia and Poland on one side against Maria Theresa of Habsburg, the Italian Court served as military headquarters of the brother-in-law of Maria Theresa, Karl of Lotring. Later the building served as a military hospital, a prison, a munitions store and a grain store. From the end of the 18th century until 1945 part of the mint building was converted into a school.
The Italian Court deteriorated to such a degree that its demolition and the building of a new structure was contemplated. This plan was abandoned due to its high financial cost. Between the years 1892 and 1898 the court was given a Neo-gothic makeover under the direction of the architect Ludvík Lábler. During reconstruction the west wing was brought down and the interior of the Gothic chapel underwent significant changes. During this work the Gothic flap ceiling in the Royal Audience Chamber, which had been covered over in the first half of the 15th century, was discovered. Among the valuable furnishings of the Chamber are the benches of the aldermen from 1511, the work of the woodcarver Jan Nymburský. The benches had a very unusual mechanism which allowed the aldermen to express their disagreement by flipping them over and sit with their backs to the proceedings. The Royal Audience Chamber was completely refurbished during Ludvík Lábler's alterations and as a result the vast majority of the furnishings comes from the 19th century. The newly discovered flap ceiling was repainted in 1900; Jan and František Vysekal were the artists responsible for the décor with floral motifs. At the same time new wall paintings were executed on the south and north walls according to the design of the painters Karel Ladislav Klusáček and the brothers Karel and Jaroslav Spillar. Decorative elements were again the work of Jan and František Vysekal. The south wall painting depicts "The Signing of the Decree of Kutná Hora", the north wall "The Election of Vladislav Jagello as the Czech King". Both paintings are historically inaccurate – for instance the south wall includes a depiction of Master Jan Hus, who due to illness was not actually present at the signing.
After World War II the school in the Italian Court was abolished and the place was used as offices of the Town Council. Since 1962 the Italian Court has been listed as a National Cultural Monument.
Further extensive reconstructions of the building took place in the years between 1956 and 1969 and in 1981. More complete repairs of the exterior were carried out in 2001 and three years later the restoration of the wall paintings in the Chapel of St Wenceslas commenced; in 2006 the courtyard was renovated.
GEMA ART GROUP a.s. was responsible for the restoration work of the wall paintings, the ceiling and the portal in the Royal Audience Chamber from January 2008 till February 2010.

Restoration work concerned the renovation of the Royal Audience Chamber and took place from January 2008 until February 2010. In the course of the several stages that the project had been divided into, the conservationists under the management of GEMA ART GROUP a.s. restored the decor and the surface of the flap ceiling as well all the wall paintings including the door scuncheons. The Neo-gothic portal connecting the Royal Audience Chamber to the entrance hall of the Italian Court was also renovated. All restoration was as a matter of course carried out in compliance with the Statute of State Care of Monuments and after prior consultation with the Heritage Institute officials.

Restoration of the wall paintings in the Royal Audience Chamber:
Restoration of the wall paintings in the Royal Audience Chamber was divided into several stages. During stage one, from December 2008 till February 2009, restoration of the south and north walls were undertaken. The south wall mural depicts "The Signing of the Decree of Kutná Hora", the north wall "The Election of Vladislav Jagello as the Czech King". The artists responsible for the paintings of these historic events were Karel Ladislav Klusáček and the brothers Jaroslav and Karel Spillar. The decorative elements of the wall painting were the work of father and son team Jan and František Vysekal. All the glue paint wall décor comes from 1900.
Restoration research had already been carried out in the past and showed evidence of some former repairs during which the painting had been fixed using egg oil emulsion and dispersive agents. Under the existing colour arrangement an older, slightly different painting was visible, probably executed using stencils. In the sloping scuncheon around the entrance door of the south wall the painting was more damaged, pulverized and had in places fallen off.
During the restoration work the surfaces were first cleaned using water, pH-neutral soap and also dry-cleaned with a special sponge. The surfaces were then comprehensively fixed by egg oil emulsion and other suitable preparations. Mechanical damage was dealt with by applying lime based filler and retouching. The most damaged areas of the entrance door scuncheon were injected with fixing agent. The areas where the plaster had fallen off were repaired. Finally retouching was carried out using water colour and tempera.

The Painting - cleansing Infilling of the crack Detail of the wall painting Detail of the wall painting Detail of the wall painting Detail of the wall painting Restoration work in progress The wall painting before restoration Restoration work in progress Overall view of the wall painting of the Audience Chamber The wall painting of the Audience  Chamber The Audience Chamber
The flap ceiling:
Restoration of the paintings on the flap ceiling took place from January till March 2008. The paintings date back to 1900 and are the work of the artists Jan and František Vysekal. The surface of the ceiling was dirty and in places covered by a darkened layer of coloured varnish. Due to the use of an unsuitable glue based paint the paintings were in a poor state, the paint in places pulverized or altogether missing. Cracks in the ceiling had been filled in the past, but the inserts were loose in places or had fallen out. During the restoration work the dirt was removed using water and soap and the layer of dark varnish was gradually thinned out by solvents. Unsuitable repairs of cracks were completely removed and replaced with a new material, which was colour retouched using wood stains. The whole surface of the ceiling was treated with beeswax.

The flap ceiling - detail of the painting The flap ceiling - detail of the painting The flap ceiling The flap ceiling The flap ceiling The flap ceiling
Rear portal of the Royal Audience Chamber:
As part of the restoration work the Neo-gothic ogival arch from the end of the 19th century was also renovated. Hořice sandstone had been used as building material and now its surface was covered by dust and greasy deposits. The casing was in places mechanically damaged, with small parts broken off; some of the pointing was also missing.
Prior to cleaning work, tests had been carried out to ascertain the most suitable and considerate restoration method. Grease deposits were removed using distilled water together with a tenside solution and organic solvents. Damaged areas were reconstructed using mineral based fillers. Soft pointing mortar was used during the re-pointing. Finally, colour retouching was carried ou