Collection of paintings
Since the establishment of the monastery, statues and paintings have been an indispensable part of its interiors. However, the majority of the oldest art which was created specifically for Strahov has not been preserved because of the turbulent events between the 15th and 16th centuries. The number of paintings increased during the first three decades of the 17th century, mainly thanks to commissions of the painter Jan Jiří Hering. At that time a great number of hanging paintings were created, the majority of which have been preserved. In the second half of the 17th century, Anton Stevens of Steinfels, Michael Willmann and Jan Kryštof Liška painted for the Strahov Canonry. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Canonry buildings outside Prague were adorned with works by Michael Václav Halbax and Petr Brandl. They were followed, in particular in Strahov, by Václav Nosek/Nosecký and his son, a local Canon and painter. After the damage caused to Strahov by bombing in 1742, prominent sculptors and painters of that time such as Jiří Vilém, Josef Neunhertz, František X., Karel Palko and Franz Lichtenreiter participated in the renovation of the monastery. In 1794 Franz Anton Maulbertsch worked on the fresco for the new library hall. At the beginning of the 19th century Josef Bergler, the first Chancellor of the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, designed a new sarcophagus for the remains of St. Norbert, and Jan Březina supplemented the paintings which decorated the Abbot's refectory.
Works by the authors mentioned above are also included in the collection of the Strahov Picture Gallery. The collection of paintings was enriched by gifts from nobles who used the basilica’s vaults as the final resting place for their family members; other works of art were brought back from their travels by the superiors of the monastery or received as gifts from other prelates. The acquisitions were connected with the need to decorate not only the representative premises, but also the country residences, rectories and, last but not least, the administrative offices.
The Enlightenment brought the destruction of many monasteries, including their equipment. However, it provided an impetus for the Premonstratensians to broaden their collecting activities. During the time of Abbot F. M. Daller (in office between 1764 and 1777), after the abolition of the Jesuit order, the Apostolic Cycle created by Ignác Raab in 1751 for the Clementinum was acquired, along with a large painting on canvas by Jan Jiří Heinsch titled Christ after the Fast Served by the Angels (1684), which came from the professional house in the Lesser Town of Prague. The acquisition in 1793 of two important paintings on board (currently missing), titled Madonna Della Sedia and considered as originals painted by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, was of fundamental import for the further development of the collection. This was also the case with the acquisition of The Feast of the Rosary by Albrecht Dürer, obtained by Abbot V. Mayer from court councillor and head postal inspector, Ignatz George Fillbaum. At that time Bohumír Jan Dlabač, a revivalist and collector of graphic art, was the librarian.
Abbot Jeroným II Josef Zeidler (in office between 1834 and 1870), a year after being elected, decided to create a picture gallery in the billiards hall of the convent. Four hundred paintings were hung on the walls and on panels. The son of Josef K. Burde, the inspector of the Picture Gallery of the Society of Patriotic Friends of Arts, helped with the selection and installation of the paintings. At the same time, the Main Catalogue of the picture gallery was prepared in which the paintings placed in the gallery hall were recorded. In 1840, work began on the second volume of the catalogue. A great quantity of other paintings were brought to the monastery, mainly donated by the members of the order and the estates of the Canons (1833 P. Gilbert Kerner, 1835 P. Siard Hladký, 1860 P. Emerich Petřík). Other works were acquired directly from painters (Josef Bergler, Dominik Kottula, Jan Gruss), collectors (gubernium councillor Franz Janko) and art dealers (Fanny Procházková), as it was public knowledge that paintings were being bought for the newly established picture gallery. Some were installed in the balcony room facing in the direction of the city. About 150 pieces were displayed in the representative and private premises of the Abbot in the building of the prelature.
The majority of acquisitions by the Strahov Picture Gallery took place before the end of the 1840s, with quantity usually yielding to quality. In the second half of the 19th century, the collection was significantly supplemented by the estate of the Premonstratensian Hugon V. Seykora (1793–1856), including his own works as well as some high quality paintings by Baroque painters, such as Brandl’s self-portrait. However, details regarding the origin of the paintings are mostly missing.
At the end of the 19th century, the acquisition activities of the Picture Gallery almost ceased and as it was located in the reclusion premises, it was only visited occasionally. At the beginning of the 20th century, the intention was to build a separate building for the picture collection. However, that did not happen and the exhibition was only reinstalled by the director of the Rudolphinum, Pavel Berger, between 1906 and 1907.
In 1934 The Feast of the Rosary was sold, along with the mineral collection, to the Czechoslovak government and placed under the care of the Picture Gallery of the Society of Patriotic Friends of Arts. Their first chair after the creation of independent Czechoslovakia was Abbot Method Zavoral. Thanks to his efforts between 1920 and 1928, the Strahov summer refectory, over which the Picture Gallery was situated, became the interim depository for the Society’s paintings which had to be stored after the Rudolphinum was emptied. The paintings were returned there for the second time shortly after the creation of the Protectorate when, for safety reasons, part of the collection of the Bohemian and Moravian Federal Gallery (nowadays the National Gallery in Prague) was relocated. During the 1930s, a new and more precise catalogue of the Picture Gallery was created when monk, historian and archivist Cyril J. Měcháček (1884–1935) was the supervisor of the collection.
On the night of the 13th of April 1950, as part of "Action VK", People's Militia and State Security members invaded the monastery. After imprisoning the monks, they categorized the paintings, which were then transported to the National Gallery, to the depositories of the National Cultural Committee. Some of the paintings were given to charity "to expire". The fading awareness of the Strahov Picture Gallery was partly revived by two exhibitions, held in 1973 and 1974 in the former church of St. Roch at Strahov. Only the restitutions after 1990 facilitated the retrieval of part of the collection and the return of the paintings to Strahov. However, hundreds of paintings were never retrieved. Some of them were not found and a great number were sold by the conservation authorities in the 1960s.
In 1993 a selection of the most valuable paintings was made accessible to the public in the upper cloisters in an exhibition titled "From Gothic to Romanticism. Selected works from the collection of the Strahov Premonstratensian Monastery." (Ivana Kyzourová and Pavel Kalina, architect Josef Dvorský), in 2006, the exhibition was reinstalled (Libor Šturc, architekt Zdeněk Heneš). At present the collection is expanded occasionally by sponsor’s gifts and by acquisitions. In co-operation with prominent Czech and foreign galleries and institutions, the collection is currently being processed by scientists. The paintings are on loan to many exhibitions and the collection is being gradually presented to the public in brief exhibitions.
The catalogue of the picture collection (electronic and file cards) and restoration reports concerning the paintings are accessible by prior arrangement with the administrator of the art collections, in accordance with the Research Rules of the Strahov Picture Gallery.The collection is registered in the Central Register of Collections with the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.