Bílek Wall, Cemetery complex, Poděbrady, Czech Republic
|Address:||Bílkova ulice čp. 57, 290 01 Poděbrady – Kluk|
|Description of work:||Restoration of perimeter wall designed by J. Fanta, with sculptures by F. Bílek|
|Investor:||The Town of Poděbrady|
|Contractor:||GEMA ART GROUP a.s.|
|Implementation:||2001 – 2002|
The cemetery in Poděbrady’s district of Kluk is an important example of funereal art from the turn of the 19th and 20th century and has been listed as a state protected monument since 1958.
The original Poděbrady cemetery had been in the past located in a different part of the town. Its oldest site, dating back to the end of the 11th century, was in what is today Na Vinici street. During the 14th century the burial ground was adjacent to the Catholic Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. During the 17th century further capacity was needed and the cemetery was extended to the Church of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary.
Changes took place during the reign of the Emperor Josef II (1780 – 1790), when burials in the vicinity of churches were forbidden. As a result a new cemetery was established towards the end of the 19th century in the area of today’s Purkyně park. The cemetery was not used for very long – already in the 1890s new houses were being built in its immediate neighbourhood. Their inhabitants were opposed to having a burial place so close by and the cemetery was moved to its present location in Kluk. The park was established on its site. The tombstones were finally moved to the Kluk location in 1903. The Kluk district originally had a Protestant cemetery founded in 1896 and this was extended by a Catholic and a Jewish area during rebuilding in the years 1902 and 1903.
The building plan was the work of the architect and designer Josef Fanta (1856 – 1954), a foremost representative of the Czech Secession (Art Nouveau) style. Among his best known projects are the entrance hall of The Main Train Station and the building of the Ministry of Trade and Industry Na Františku, both in Prague. The landscaping of the cemetery was carried out according to a design by František Thomayer (1856 – 1938), one of the best known landscape architects of that time. Other examples of his work are the park in Charles Square, the gardens near the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic and Letná Park, all in Prague.
The artistically most impressive part of the Poděbrady cemetery is its north wall leading from the chapel and the original mortuary. The wall is divided by 47 posts with 42 stone bas-reliefs in between, with regularly repeated motifs on the themes of “The Angel of Death and the Redemption”, “St Mary Magdalene”, “Christ Bearing the Cross” and “The Virgin Mary Weeping”. Individual medallions are connected by bands of sgraffito inscriptions of religious texts. Both the bas-reliefs and the sgraffiti are the work of the Czech sculptor and well known representative of Symbolism in Art Nouveau František Bílek (1872 – 1941). His art often reflects religious motifs with subjects of despair at man’s original sin, as well as redemption, hope and faith. He is best known for his sculptures titled “The Blind Men”, “Life is a Struggle” and “Moses”. Bílek also worked as an architect and his own villa at Hradčany in Prague is a unique example of the architectonic style of Symbolism in Art Nouveau. The building underwent extensive reconstruction between 2008 and 2010, in which GEMA ART GROUP a.s. played a significant role.The combined talents of Fanta, Thomayer and Bílek created in the cemetery complex a work of exceptional artistic quality. The Bílek wall and the sgraffito inscriptions were completely restored in 1971 and no further repairs took place until 30 years later. The wall with its bas-reliefs and inscriptions was by then in a state of serious decay and complete building reconstruction and restoration were called for.
Restoration work led by the GEMA ART GROUP a.s. expert workforce involved a complete restoration of the cemetery wall. Previous more extensive renovation of the wall took place in 1971. The wall was even then in a poor state of repair, mainly due to extensive overgrowth of creeping plants which entirely covered the masonry and maintained high levels of dampness, and for this reason a reconstruction of sgraffito inscriptions and bas-reliefs was carried out. Further comprehensive restoration work took place in 2001 and 2002, when the wall, by then in a state of advanced decay, was entirely reconstructed. One of the factors in the decay was the proximity of a busy road and resulting degradation of the wall surface caused by traffic emissions.
The work carried out by the company GEMA ART GROUP a.s. comprised of restoration of the wall masonry, stone bas-reliefs, flap pantiles covering the top of the wall and reconstruction of the sgraffito inscriptions. In order to select the most suitable procedures a restoration survey and chemical analysis of the bas-relief stone were carried out. All work undertaken complied with Act 20/1987 Coll., on State Conservation of Monuments.
Restoration of plastering and stone parts of the wall:
Both the plastering and the stone masonry were very dirty. Plaster around the sgraffiti was severely weather-worn. The stone post caps and the base of the wall were affected by algae and vegetation growth. Surfaces of the plastering and the stone parts were first carefully cleaned using pressurized water. Loose parts of the plaster were removed, and better preserved areas strengthened. New plaster was then applied on the reinforced base: first a layer of lime plaster and then a layer of outdoor stucco.
Defects in the stone were sealed and the stone was then consolidated using organosilicates.
Renovation of the pantiles:
The crown of the wall is covered by glazed flap pantiles, whose function is more decorative then practical. The tiles were in many places cracked or altogether missing and the experts decided to replace them with identical copies, manufactured from moulds following exactly the shape of the originals. To finish the new tiles were coated with a layer of glaze.
Restoration of the sgraffiti:
The sgraffiti, which complement the František Bílek bas-reliefs, consist of three inscriptions repeated along the whole length of the cemetery wall: “Grant them – a place of repose – a light of peace”, “Holy Mother, show us the mercy of Jesus after our journey is at an end”, “Vanquished is the victory of the death – death where is your domain, your sting”.
A restoration survey carried out before the work started revealed fragments of the original from 1903, but most of the plaster bearing the sgraffiti was reconstructed during the restoration undertaken in 1971. No further repairs took place in the next thirty years and the sgraffiti were in a state of serious decay.
The surfaces were first cleaned of any additional layers, strengthened by repeated saturation by lime water and the top layer was then restored. The sgraffiti were reconstructed with the help of archive documentation and preserved fragments. The colour scheme was selected in accordance with the original appearance of the sgraffiti at the beginning of the 20th century, that is black lettering on a white background. The techniques implemented for cutting the letters into the stone and for application of the Venetian plaster were also based on those used originally.
Restoration of František Bílek bas-reliefs:
The cemetery wall bears in all 42 medallion-shaped bas-reliefs, work of the sculptor František Bílek. All bas-reliefs were removed from the wall and transported to a workshop. Before the restoration commenced a chemical analysis of the stone material was carried out in order to select the best methods for the task. The results of the laboratory analysis were also consulted with geologists. The experts came to the conclusion that 95% of the stone mass of the bas-reliefs consists of silicon oxide. The bas-reliefs were created from Dinas quartzite and not from Kufstein lime, as was originally presumed.
The bas-reliefs had been seriously damaged and exhibited extensive cracks in places. Partly detached segments had to be glued back using polyester resin. Retouching was carried out using sealants with the addition of fine grained sand. Colour retouching was applied using iron oxides.
The bas-reliefs were then refitted into the cemetery wall and anchored with anti-corrosive pegs. To conclude final visual adjustments were made.
Hřbitov v Poděbradech je otevřen denně od 9:00 – 17:00 hod.