Renaissance Prague Architecture
The Prague Renaissance period saw a lot of social and technological change but it did not come with groundbreaking architectural design ideas as had been noted in the Romanesque and Gothic periods. It was more about artistic ideas and decorative styles to aesthetically improve the appearance of a building and not the integrity of the structure itself. It was largely driven by Italian style and included a fairly even mix of secular and religious tones. Note that I now run a Prague Architecture Tour for people who want to really get into who built this city and why.
A Renaissance Prague style was late to find general acceptance mainly due to the Hussite Wars in the 15th Century and a suspicion of anything Papal. It started with the Catholic aristocracy embracing the new decorative style and later spread to all Czech lands. The last king of Bohemia to build in Late Gothic style was also the first to embrace Renaissance. King Jagiello is credited with allowing the very first Renaissance style residence in Prague. The rebuilt Old Royal Palace contained the long rectangular windows in the Vladislav Hall and was decorated in the latest Italian style of “sgraffito” (pictured above).
Renaissance Prague really takes off with the advent of King Ferdinand I of the Habsburg Dynasty. Under his rule the Prague Castle Imperial Gardens were created and two buildings added. One of these was the Queen Anne Palace (also called the Belvedere). With arcading to support the large balcony and sgraffito relief work it is now seen as a pure example of Italian Renaissance.
In 1541 a great fire destroyed a large part of Mala Strana. This single event caused the biggest reconstruction period since the end of the Hussite Wars and it was all Renaissance so to this day the Mala Strana and Hradcany areas of Prague have the greatest number of Renaissance style buildings.
In 1572 another leap forward occurs with the ascension of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II. Politically his reign was a disaster but for the Renaissance Prague period it was golden. Rudolph raised the profile of art, design-decoration and science (occult science as well). In the Prague Picture Gallery you’ll find paintings of him that use fruit and vegetables by an artist called Giuseppe Arcimboldo who was the family artist and himself influenced by Renaissance period ideas (including Mannerist art). Where you find ceiling frescoes from this period look to see if there is an illusion to make you think the ceiling is higher than it actually is.
Places to see Prague Renaissance Architecture
Well as I said above, this period was largely decorative and you’ll find that the later Baroque period resulted in the loss of much of the Renaissance building decoration. You’ll want to head to the area in front of the Prague Castle main entry as the two largest examples of “whole building” Renaissance Prague design and decor are at the Schwarzenberg Palace and Salmovsky Palace so if you are thinking of visiting either of those then also check the Prague National Gallery page. An example of Neo-Renaissance can be seen on the Powder Gate where essentially a plain Gothic Tower has been decorated. Star House in Brevnov Park is also a Renaissance style and whereas the “star” shape is well associated with defensive formations of the period, in this case it was built as a summer palace. Buildings with Sgraffito decor are often from the Renaissance period.
We see different types of Renaissance architecture on the Old Town and Jewish Quarter walking tour.
The Prague Architecture Tour
I spent so long reading, learning and presenting architectural details of the city that I decided to offer a specialised tour. This is mainly for people who want to understand why the central part of Prague looks the way it does. Read more about the Prague Architecture Tour.
The next era – BAROQUE