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Kuks: A Celebration of Baroque Art

The former hospital Kuks in east Bohemia is a celebration of Baroque art. The 24 Late Baroque statues by master Matthias Bernard Braun (1684 – 1738) depict the Vices and Virtues. A Baroque pharmacy, a pharmaceutical museum, a lapidarium, a garden with statuary, a chapel and a church are also on the premises.

Braun is a household name in the Czech lands in regard to Late Baroque creations. In fact, he started off as a success with the statuary “The Vision of St. Luthgard,” which adorns the Charles Bridge in Prague. He was noted for having the biggest workshop in Prague, too.

After mineral waters were discovered in Kuks, Count Franz Anton von Sporck founded a spa on the site. A hospital, theatre, church and pharmacy were constructed as well. Imagine it is the early 18th century. The spa is thriving. Musicians entertain the satisfied guests as a well is filled with wine. Some visitors are just returning from a successful hunt. Guests gaze at Braun’s masterpieces, which were commissioned by Count Sporck. Statues of Despair, Love, Faith, Virtue and Jealousy leave the guests pondering. Still, the atmosphere is festive; everyone is enjoying life. Visitors also linger over the immense collection of books in the library of the Baroque villa called the Philosophers’ House, Sporck’s residence.

Then, in 1740, a flood ravages the land, destroying the spa. Later on, the village of Kuks was inhabited by mostly Germans. Hitler would annex it to the Sudetenland, and after the war, due to the Beneš decrees, the Germans would be expelled. In 1946 the place was transformed into a museum.

However, the original statues are not the ones lavishly decorating the exterior. They are inside a lapidarium. Faith leans against a cross. Hope features an anchor. Patience shows a girl and a ram. Wisdom has faces on both sides of the head, one looking forward while the other looks backward. A girl holding a heart represents Sincerity.

In the Chapel of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, there are two stunning reliquaries plus a huge tabular of Bethlehem that was created in the 19th century. The Holy Trinity Church next door has a main altar showing the resurrection of Lazarus. The pulpit is gold, Rococo in style, while the organ is Baroque. The coffins of the Sporck family are located in the crypt.

A Baroque pharmacy is another delight at Kuks. The pharmacy has a counter adorned with a figure of a tree that has golden apples. Weighing scales and jars made from glass, ceramics and wood make up the décor as well.

Not only does Kuks feature an old-fashioned pharmacy, but it is also possible to visit a pharmaceutical museum. Don’t miss the eye drops prescription for first Czechoslovak President Tomáš G. Masaryk or the poisons displayed on the shelves. Visitors are allowed to stir medicines in bowls. Machines used in pharmacies long ago are also on display.

Three kilometers from Kuks is Braun’s outdoor Bethlehem called “The Nativity,” statues situated in the forest. The immense Baroque statues, created from 1726 to 1732, were chiseled straight into the sandstone rocks.

Getting to Kuks can be a problem. You can go by bus with one change from Prague, but a better alternative might be to rent a car. However you travel there, you will find the experience unforgettable as your appreciation for Baroque art grows at this unique, dazzling sight.


CITY


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A resident of Prague since 1991, Tracy A. Burns has published articles and stories in English, Czech and Slovak. Her work in English has appeared in The Washington Post, for instance. Her travel blog is at taburns25.wordpress.com. She also writes book reviews and essays for the Czech and Slovak academic journal Kosmas. Her writings in Czech have been published in Reflex and Listy, among others. Her articles in Slovak have been printed in SME, for example. She has edited an art catalogue for Prague's National Gallery and is a contributing author to the book The Arena Adventure, about Arena Stage theatre. Her passions are writing, reading and traveling.



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