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Czech Architecture History: Gothic, Baroque & Renaissance

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, we will explore six centuries of Czech architecture, starting from Gothic architecture, the Renaissance, and finally the Baroque style. We will learn about the main characteristics and some examples from each of these periods.

Czech Architecture

In the Lands of Bohemia— today's Czech Republic— architecture was in constant evolution and change. As styles for constructions developed, these lands saw one beautiful work of art after the other. Let's find out more about its architecture history.

As happened all over Europe, starting from the late Middle Ages, this area saw three major periods of architecture: the Gothic, the Renaissance, and the Baroque. Even though they shared some similarities, each had different characteristics that made them very unique.

Czech Gothic Architecture

Gothic architecture developed in Bohemian lands from the first half of the 13th century until the first years of the 16th century. During that time Bohemia became a stable country, and the kingdom gained political and economic importance, thus allowing for many construction projects.

Religion was an important theme in Gothic architecture. A distinctive characteristic was the sense of verticality, which was emphasized in every religious building. It was an interpretation of the search for God, and the taller the building, the closer to God the visitor would feel. Gothic churches used a Latin cross and symmetry for the layout. The central area along the axis of symmetry was given a big importance and it was the tallest part of the building.

Constructions used the pointed arch both as a constructive and a decorative element, making it very characteristic of this period. The flying buttress is another defining Gothic element that was incorporated to support the weight of the ceilings, allowing for lighter walls and more room for larger windows.

The cross-ribbed vault was used to distribute the weight of the roof. It emphasized the sense of verticality, and although it was a constructive element, these vaults also became pieces of art and decoration, with very intricate layouts that were completely stunning.

Church of Saint Bartholomew (Kolin, 1378)

The Church of St. Bartholomew is a great example of Czech Gothic architecture. It clearly shows the sense of verticality. The pointed arch and the flying buttresses were used for the construction, in a symmetrical composition with a Latin cross plan layout.

Church of Saint Bartholomew in Kolin
Church of Saint Bartholomew in Kolin

Saint James Church (Prachatice, 1513)

This building is one of the most exquisite examples of elaborated cross-ribbed vaults and it clearly shows how Gothic interiors were conceived.

Interior of Saint James Church in Prachatice
Interior of Saint James Church in Prachatice

Czech Renaissance Architecture

The Renaissance focused on recovering the values of classical arts from Greece and Rome, trying to bring architecture to a more human scale. It developed in Bohemia from the 15th century until the first half of the 17th century. At that time, the Bohemian Reformation struggle, which sought to change the Catholic Church, weakened the position of religion, so the architecture of the time was not only religion but also secular constructions.

Churches went back to a Greek cross layout and compositions continued to be symmetrical, as they had been in Greece and Rome. Designs used simpler shapes, and the buttress disappeared as constructions became lower. Walls became more solid, and the buildings contained fewer windows. The new proportions of religious and civic buildings lead to more cozy interiors. The search for God was now through perfection and details, and no longer through verticality.

The central tower began to be used, and it was the Czech interpretation of the dome that became characteristic of Renaissance architecture in other parts of Europe. Classical elements were incorporated and the use of columns with classical capitals became frequent for both constructive and decorative purposes.

Stribro Town Hall (Stribro, 1543)

An example of Czech Renaissance architecture, this civic building was designed with human proportions and a simple rectangular shape with a central tower. The building has few openings for windows and columns with classical capitals are used as decorative elements.

Stribro Town Hall
Stribro Town Hall

Church of Saint Rochus (Prague, 1603)

This church shows the use of classical columns and arches. It was designed using a symmetrical, Greek cross layout. Walls are solid, with few windows and no buttresses.

Church of Saint Rochus in Prague
Church of Saint Rochus in Prague

Czech Baroque Architecture

Baroque architecture was seen in Bohemia from the beginning of the 17th century until the second half of the 18th century. Baroque was an exuberant combination of arts, giving origin to highly ornamented facades and interiors, which incorporated painting and sculpture as part of the decoration. Following the return of Catholicism, the church and the nobility had abundant resources, so a lot of the architecture produced during this time period was for churches and palaces.

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