The Lobkowicz family is among the oldest and most distinguished Bohemian noble families and has played a prominent role in Central European history for over six hundred years. Successive generations have held the highest of noble titles, including Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, High Chancellors of Bohemia, Dukes of Sagan and of Roudnice, and Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece. On a scale unimaginable today, they commissioned magnificent architectural projects and ground-breaking music and collected paintings, manuscripts, books, musical instruments and decorative arts that enhanced their numerous residences and increased their prestige in the courts and circles in which they moved and exerted power.
Early in the 17th century, prior to the start of the Thirty Years’ War, the Lobkowicz family began to assert its role in the Catholic inner circle of the Habsburg court. Zdeněk Vojtěch, 1st Prince Lobkowicz (1568–1628), served as Chancellor to Emperors Rudolf II, Mathias and Ferdinand II. Through the marriage of Zdeněk Vojtěch to Polyxena Pernštejn, numerous properties (including Lobkowicz Palace and Roudnice Castle), important Spanish portraits and books, and great political influence came into the Lobkowicz family. The crucial Catholic victory at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 solidified the family’s fortunes and enabled the purchase of Nelahozeves Castle in 1623.
Zdeněk Vojtěch and Polyxena’s only son, Václav Eusebius, 2nd Prince Lobkowicz (1609–1677), served Emperors Ferdinand III and Leopold I as a Member of the Imperial Council and became one of the most influential European statesmen of the 17th century. He raised his own regiment to fight in the Thirty Years’ War and subsequently held high appointments in Vienna as President of the Imperial War Cabinet (from 1652) and President of the Imperial Privy Council (from 1669). Among his most lasting accomplishments, however, were the family palaces he had reconstructed in the baroque style by Italian architects and artists, including Lobkowicz Palace in Prague and the immense Roudnice Castle, in Central Bohemia.
Josef František Maxmilián, 7th Prince Lobkowicz (1772–1816), was named Duke of Roudnice in 1786 by Emperor Joseph II. Though a talented singer, violinist and cellist, his greatest contribution to the history of music, and indeed world history, was in his role as great patron of the composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven. The generous annual stipend he provided allowed the musical genius to create some of his most significant and now famous works. In recognition of his patronage, Beethoven dedicated numerous important works to Josef František Maxmilián, including the 3rd (Eroica), 5th and 6th (Pastoral) symphonies; the Opus 18 String Quartets; the Triple Concerto and the song cycle “An die ferne Geliebte”.
The family and The Lobkowicz Collections were dramatically impacted by events of the 20th century. Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888–1967), a lawyer, politician and diplomat, provided crucial support to the newly formed democratic Czechoslovak state (1918), in spite of the government’s decision to disallow the use of noble titles and to redistribute inherited property. This collaboration, combined with his service as Ambassador of Czechoslovakia to Great Britain during World War II, led directly to the confiscation of the family’s properties and possessions by the Nazis in 1939.
Though returned to the family in 1945, all the properties and The Collections were confiscated again a short time later, this time by the Communist regime that took power in 1948. Maximilian and his immediate family were left with nothing and forced into exile.
After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the opening of Czechoslovakia, President Václav Havel signed three legislative acts that provided for the return of property confiscated by the Communists. Maximilian’s son, Martin (b. 1928), with his youngest son, William (b. 1961), together undertook the enormous task of tracing and reclaiming The Collections and the many properties in which those treasures had been housed.
With the successful restitution came an immense family responsibility: to preserve, protect and restore these newly returned cultural monuments in spite of greatly reduced resources. The family established Lobkowicz Collections o.p.s., Lobkowicz Events Management and the American Friends for the Preservation of Czech Culture with the overarching mission of making these important cultural resources available to the public.
Through bold vision, careful planning and great determination, the family has already opened three properties – Lobkowicz Palace, Nelahozeves Castle and Střekov Castle – to over half a million visitors, placing thousands of cultural objects on permanent display. Roudnice Castle, said to be the fourth largest castle in the Czech Republic, is open to the public while plans for its revitalization are being developed.
The oldest and largest privately owned art collection in the Czech Republic, The Lobkowicz Collections draws its significance from its comprehensive nature, which reflects the cultural, social, political and economic life of Central Europe for over seven centuries. With the passage of the restitution laws in the early 1990s, it became possible for the Lobkowicz family to reassemble most of The Collections, making them available to the public in a family context after more than 50 years.
Encompassing almost every field, The Collections feature world-famous paintings by Brueghel, Canaletto, Bellotto, Cranach, Rubens, Veronese and many others, medieval and Renaissance works of art, ceramics spanning five centuries and exceptional arms and armor.
It also includes the finest private library in Central Europe, as well as an unparalleled collection of musical instruments and autograph manuscripts by many of the greatest composers of the 18th and early 19th centuries, including Beethoven and Mozart.
In 1907, Max Dvořák, a prominent member of the Vienna School of Art History, created the first complete catalog of The Collections.
The Lobkowicz Collections are comprised of approximately 1,500 paintings, including iconic images by Brueghel the Elder and Canaletto; the finest collection of Spanish portraits outside Madrid and Vienna; representative works by Veronese, Velázquez, Rubens, Bellotto, and Cranach; Central European portraits by Hans von Aachen and the School of Prague; Dutch, Flemish and German genre paintings; and over 50 paintings and watercolors of Lobkowicz residences by Croll.
While not as well-known as the paintings, books and music associated with the Lobkowiczes, decorative and sacred art objects, dating from the 13th through the 20th centuries, form a significant part of The Collections.
During the forced occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis and the later period of Communist rule, the private chapels in the family’s principal residences were desecrated and their contents dispersed. Important artifacts survived, including a 12th-century reliquary cross of rock crystal and gilded copper. The gold reliquary head of a female saint, possibly St. Ursula, dated c. 1300, was found in a trunk of theatrical props and recognized for the ancient treasure it is. This treasure, today known as the Jezeří Bust, is on display at the Lobkowicz Palace Museum in Prague.
The spectacular Hassenstein altarpiece at Nelahozeves Castle is a masterpiece of decorative workmanship. Created by Hans Plock, it was originally commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz in 1522, and later adapted to commemorate the marriage of Bohuslav Felix of Lobkowicz (of the Hassenstein line) and Anna Fictum. Three-dimensional figures inspired by the style adopted from the school of Cranach are mounted against elaborate backgrounds of rich gold and silver thread embroidery set with seed pearls and semi-precious stones.
In the first decade of the 18 th century, the famous Meissen factory outside of Dresden finally discovered how to produce authentic hard-paste porcelain for the first time outside of Asia. The factory’s proximity to the Lobkowicz landholdings and castles helped encourage the prevalence of 18th- and 19th-century examples in The Collections, ranging from the earlier delicate chinoiserie motifs to the more traditional European elements and designs with fruits and flowers.
Some of the most refined cabinetmaking and marquetry in The Collections come from the Eger craftsmen who worked in Western Bohemia throughout the 17th century. Several Eger jewelry cabinets rank among the finest ever produced. Other remarkable pieces include caskets, tables and game boards, which are lavishly inlaid with ivory, mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell, depicting exquisite landscapes, animals and classical motifs.
The Music Archive, contained within The Lobkowicz Archives, holds over 5,000 items. Originally housed in The Lobkowicz Library at the principal family seat of Roudnice Castle, the entire archive was confiscated first by the Nazis in 1941, and again under the Communist regime, which sent it to the Museum of Czech Music. In October 1998, the Music Archive was physically returned to the family in its entirety and moved to Nelahozeves Castle under the auspices of the Roudnice-Lobkowicz Foundation.
The Music Archive, begun by Ferdinand August, the 3rd Prince Lobkowicz, was assembled over three centuries by principal members of the family who were not only great patrons but also enthusiastic collectors, and often talented performers. The Music Archive contains works by over five hundred composers and musicians. These include a rare collection of late 17th- and early 18th-century lute, mandolin, and guitar scores. This collection, regarded as the world’s largest private collection of baroque music for plucked instruments, is particularly rich in works by French composers, such as E. and D. Gaultier, J. de Saint-Luc, Ch. Mouton, J. de Gallot, and others. The Music Archive is most celebrated, however, for its late 18th- and early 19th-century collection, including works by Handel, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.
Philip Hyacinth, the 4th Prince Lobkowicz, and his second wife, Anna Wilhelmina Althan, were both distinguished lutenists and he was an accomplished composer as well. The Prince and the Princess were both taught by some of the finest contemporary lutenists including Sylvius Leopold Weiss and Andreas Bohr and their fine period instruments still reside in The Collections. Their son, Ferdinand Philip played the glass harmonica and championed the gifted son of one of the family's foresters, the remarkable opera composer Christoph Willibald Gluck.
The family member who had the greatest impact on the history of Western music, however, was undoubtedly the 7th Prince, Josef František Maxmilián. A talented singer, violinist and cellist, the 7th Prince was a great patron of Beethoven. Beethoven dedicated the 3rd (Eroica), the 5th, and the 6th (Pastoral) symphonies to the Prince, as well as other works.
It was the annual stipend provided by the Prince (and continued by his son until the composer’s death), supplemented by support from the Archduke Rudolf and Prince Kinsky, that allowed Beethoven the freedom to compose without dependence on commissions and time-consuming teaching.
In addition to the manuscripts and printed music, The Collections include musical instruments from house orchestras that performed in the various family residences at Jezeří and Roudnice in Northern Bohemia, but principally in Vienna where the Lobkowicz Palace was unparalleled in the quality of its performances and the sophistication of its audiences.
On display at Lobkowicz Palace in Prague are lutes from the 16th and 17th centuries by Maler, Tieffenbrucker and Unverdorben; a 17th-century guitar; violins of Italian, German and Czech origin (Gasparo da Salo, Stainer, Eberle, Hellmer, Rauch); contrabasses from Edlinger and Stainer; Guarneri and Kulik violoncelli; 18th-century Viennese wind instruments and a pair of copper martial kettledrums. A notable highlight of the collection is a magnificent suite of six richly decorated silver trumpets made in 1716 by Leichamschneider of Vienna – one of only two documented sets in existence.
The Nelahozeves Castle Music Room displays a spinet, a contrabass by Posch and other string instruments as well as two pairs of copper and bronze kettledrums.
The monumental Nelahozeves Castle, one of Bohemia's finest Renaissance castles, is situated on a gentle slope overlooking the Vltava River in the village of Nelahozeves (birthplace of the great Czech composer Antonín Dvořák), approximately 35 km north of Prague.
Nelahozeves Castle was built for Florian Griesbeck von Griesbach (1504–1588), a highly educated Tyrolean aristocrat and private secretary and close adviser to Emperor Ferdinand I. Florian commissioned royal master builder Bonifaz Wolmut to create the residence in the Italianate Northern Mannerist style.
Florian's ambitious new residence, which took over 60 years to build, was planned as a two-story building with four wings and four corner pavilions, intended to look like spur-shaped bastions. When Florian died in 1588, his son Blažej inherited the castle, and construction continued until the beginning of the 17th century. In 1623, the family's financial difficulties forced Florian's granddaughter to sell the encumbered estate to Polyxena, 1st Princess Lobkowicz (1566–1642).
During the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), the Castle was ransacked several times. Following the war, Polyxena's son, Václav Eusebius, 2nd Prince Lobkowicz (1609–1677), High Chancellor of the Czech Kingdom, reconstructed the building and used it for the administration and management of his numerous estates. Despite its great beauty and noble character, Nelahozeves Castle never served as the family's principal residence, unlike the Lobkowicz Palace in Vienna, and later, Roudnice Castle.
Nelahozeves is an example of the castello fortezza, a chateau-like home with faux architectural defenses such as decorative bastions and a moat-less entry bridge. This style, deemed very modern in the mid-16th century, is preserved today in the Castle's original and authentic appearance thanks to the limited number of structural changes made throughout the centuries.
Also preserved, and recently restored, are the elaborate sgraffito decorations covering the north wing of the building. These works, which depict scenes from ancient mythology and the Old Testament, are some of the building's most impressive features.
Of the castle interiors, the most noteworthy are the south-facing Arcade Hall and the Knight's Hall. The latter of these is a well-preserved Renaissance room dating back to 1564, with wall frescoes depicting larger-than-life military figures and ceiling decorations illustrating Titus Livius' interpretations of five Roman virtues. The room features a lunette vault with a center panel of nine sections, each boasting original stucco reliefs of delicate elongated figures. The nine sections are separated by elaborate stucco fruit festoons. The room is also dominated by a huge Renaissance stone fireplace.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Princess Wilhelmina Lobkowicz (1863–1945), daughter of Mořic, 9th Prince Lobkowicz (1831–1903), sponsored and maintained a religious institution at the Castle, The Order of the Sister’s of God’s Love, for unmarried and widowed noblewomen. Wilhemina, who lies buried in the village cemetery, was the last Lobkowicz to live at the Castle.
The Castle was confiscated by the Communist government in 1948. During the late 1970s and 1980s, the Castle was used by the Czech Regional Gallery to exhibit modern socialist art, as well as some of the Lobkowicz family's paintings.
In 1993, the Castle was returned to the Lobkowicz family and a temporary exhibition was immediately opened. From 1997–2007, a permanent exhibition entitled Six Centuries of European Art Patronage featured some of the most significant works from The Lobkowicz Collections.
In 2007, when certain works on display at Nelahozeves Castle were transferred to Prague to become part of the family's new museum at Lobkowicz Palace, Nelahozeves Castle was reinstalled with an exhibition of historical period rooms, Private Spaces: A Noble Family at Home. This exhibition illustrates in wonderful detail the lifestyle of this influential noble family in the mid-19th century.
Situated just below the Castle is the birth house of the great Czech composer, Antonin Dvořák. In this house, which is also owned by the Lobkowicz family, the National Museum operates a small museum, which honors the life of the composer.