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The Mosaic "The Last Judgement"
Time and environmental influences over the centuries are destroying this wonderful memorial. The dilapidation of the mosaic is mainly caused by surface damp, the polluted atmosphere and mechanical damage. So in the spring of 1993 a monitoring station was set up on the cathedral, whose records show the influence of the environmental agression on the stability of the mosaic and make it possible to decide on the conditions necassary to evaluate the suitability of protective coating.
In summer 1998, after the thorough analysis started the work of restoration headed by the professionals from the Office of the President, Prague Castle Administration and the Getty Conservation Institute from Los Angeles (USA). The restoration, including cleaning, supplementing the missing cubes, putting on a protective coating and where necessary gilding, will be followed with a regular maintenance and monitoring of the mosaic.
History of the mosaic
At the time of Charles IV, Bohemian king and Roman emperor, Prague became a shining jewel of the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor had built a magnificent cathedral in Prague Castle. On his journeys in Italy he had seen beautiful mosaics and he decided to decorate the Golden Gate of the cathedral with the same technique. The work was started in 1370 by unknown mosaicists, who completed it in a year later.
The mosaic is one of the most precious artistic memorials in the Czech Lands. It is the most important medieval example of this technique north of the Alps, a unique value of graphic art, of historic importance, in the extent of its technical execution. It is composed of almost a million glas cubes and little stones of more than thirty shades of colour.
The mosaic was several times cleaned and restored even during the 15th century, soon after its completion. But in the following centuries it became even more dilapidated, despite numerous attempts to save it. By the eighteen-eighties it was in really critical state. In 1890 a great storm damaged the mosaic so badly that it had to be entirely taken down from the Golden Gate. Stonemasons and mosaicists from Venice, working for two months, cut it up into 274 pieces, and these they brought on panels into the store-room beneath the Vladislav Hall, where they restored them. In 1910 the renewed mosaic was one more placed over the southern entrance to the cathedral.
Forty years later the surface of the mosaic again became corroded owing to the adverse effects of the surroundings. In 1953 Czech restorers and scientists prepared an extensive study, on the basis of which it was cleaned, restored, regilded and given several layers of polymer coating. But without regular maintenance by restorers not even this protective layer prevented the work from deteriorating further.
Restoring the Central Field of the Mosaic of the Last Judgment on the Golden Gate in 1998
The Golden Gate on the southern side of the St. Vitus' cathedral, dating from 1371, is decorated by a mosaic composed of three fields on the theme of the Last Judgment. The medieval compositions on the Last Judgment were often created as sculptures in cathedrals in France, Germany and England, as monumental paintings they are known in the first place from Italy. Charles IV probably had the mosaic made under the influence of his second coronation journey to Rome in 1368. The emperor may have chosen the theme in connection with building the cathedral as the burial ground of Czech rulers, and especially because he planned this church as his own last resting place. The Emperor Charles and the Empress Elizabeth are shown in the composition as petitioners not only for the salvation of their own souls, but for the salvation of all the saints, rulers and spiritual leaders buried in the chapels and choir of the cathedral.
Owing to the unfavourable conditions after the latest restoration in 1980 the mosaic had become almost invisible. So in 1992 a work group was set up, consisting of the restorers, academic artist A. Martan and Dr. M. Necaskova, art historians led by E. Fucikova PhD., CSc. and Dr. D. Stulik of the Getty Conservation Institute in the USA, to suggest the most suitable method of restoration.
Dr. D. Stulik and the Czech restorers systematically followed and evaluated samples of conserving materials, and after five years of observation and numerous tests they proposed, in collaboration with American laboratories, the technique of restoration that was applied in the summer months of 1998 to the central field of the mosaic.
First the Czech restorers took off all the corrosion from the glass cubes with the aid of finely powdered glass, blown in through jets by compressed air. This enabled each cube-tessera to be cleaned perfectly, without disturbing the surface of the glass. After further mechanical cleaning, two coats of conserving material were applied that had been tested in the laboratories of the Getty Conservation Institute, and developed in cooperation with the Materials Science Department in the University of California in Los Angeles. The gilding of the background of the mosaic and the rays of sunshine were done by sticking gold foil only on those cubes on which no trace of the original gilding had been preserved. After the gilding a further two conservation coats were applied on the basis of a technical process previously proposed and approved, designed to protect mosaics from an aggressive anvironment and acid rain.
On 29th October, in the presence of Czech experts and leading American specialists and representatives of the Getty Conservation Institute, the restored central field of the mosaic was ceremonially unveiled. The upper part of it illustrates, according to the text of the gospel of St. Matthew (25, 31), Christ the son of God in his glory, emphasized by the golden rays of the sun, reflected from the red background of the aureole, come to judge the living and the dead. At the same time we see Christ as the son of man, with wounds in his side, on his hands and feet, enthroned on a double rainbow, the Old Testament symbol of the agreement between God and man. The aureole surrounding the angels, the two cherubs looking on at the top, is mainly in tones of red, and at the sides of the aureole there are always three angels carrying the Arma Christi - the instruments of Christ's torture - the cross and the crown of thorns, the club, hammer and nails, the reed and sponge, the pincars and atake with whips. The angels with their girlish faces, tiaras, clothing and the colouring of their wings show the direct influence of the style of their Italian models.
The second sphere of significance is represented by the intercessors - the Czech patron saints. Kneeling on the left, on a prism of greenish-brown terrain are SS. Procopius, Sigismund and Vitus, and on the right SS. Wenceslas, Ludmila and Adalbert. Through the medium of the Czech intercessors the donors kneel and pray to the Saviour in the lower part of the picture - Emperor Charles IV and his wife Elizabeth of Pomerania. The imperial couple, placed under the inscription and on a blue background, express their plea in close proximity to the actual scene and at the sides of the Gothic arch of the door through which the church was entered.
The mosaic of the Last Judgment is bordered at the sides and above by a decorative motif, that in the upper strip frames the central "true face of Christ" - Veraicon, pictured on the kerchief of St. Veronica. The greenish-brown flesh colour of "the true face of Christ" evidently recalled the picture that Charles IV brought from Rome as a relic. The golden background of the mosaic is usual in Italy and can be supplemented by the words of the Apocalypse - after God's judgment the New Jerusalem will descend from heaven and the city will be of pure gold.