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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – June 2009


Ladislav Šaloun (1870, Prague – 1946, Prague)
Model for the Rabbi Loew Monument at the New Town Hall, 1910,

plaster cast with patina, height: 172 cm, base: 92 x 50 cm
unsigned, no date
Jewish Museum in Prague, accession no. 1438 / 95

This large-scale fictional statue of the Prague Maharal, together with the Stone Knight, was created by Ladislav Šaloun, a major representative of Czech Art Nouveau, for Prague’s New Town Hall, which was built to a design by Osvald Polívka on Mariánské náměstí (Marian Square) in 1909–10. Polívka invited the young Art Nouveau sculptors Stanislav Sucharda, Ladislav Šaloun and Josef Mařatek to collaborate on the exterior decoration of this large building, which was supposed to symbolize Prague’s new confidence. Sucharda designed the high reliefs along the sides of the main entrance and the figures on the main cornice. Mařatka decorated the balcony over the entrance portal with the sculptural groups Strength and Perseverance. Šaloun was commissioned to work on the visually exposed corner niches of the main façade. Unlike his colleagues, he did not choose allegorical figures as his topic, but instead drew on local history and legends. He later gave the following reasons for his motivation:
“... on the corner of Platnéřská Street [I created] the Iron Man figure, which was well known to locals and foreigners, enveloped in myths and a typical feature of not only the picturesque medieval Platnéřská Street, in which the legend took place, but also of the entire Old Town. On the other side, I couldn’t have placed a better figure than that of the learned and mysterious High Rabbi Loew, who incorporated everything that the most noble old ghetto of Prague produced. Rabbi Loew was a symbol of the ghetto to me, and also a symbol to me was the figure of a little girl who is freed from the oppressive fetters of clothing and holds out to her great father a rose, from which breathes the breath of death. For just as this beautiful child caused the death of Rabbi Loew with her fragrant flower, so the new period of freedom unwittingly crushed with the breath of its young life the old relics of bygone days. This also marked the end of the Prague ghetto.”
Šaloun worked on a clay model of the monument (roughly one third the size) in 1910. The impressive figure of High Rabbi Loew stands on a high plinth; reaching up to him is a nude girl with eyes closed, who holds out to him the fateful rose. The artist’s composition managed to capture the moment of surprise when the rabbi realizes he has fallen victim to a treacherous death trap, drops the rose and mortal rigidity begins to take effect. The rose which has fallen from the rabbi’s hand lies on the base next to an infernal dog that is also connected with death, while the rabbi’s hand is still raised in a gesture of mute astonishment. Nothing substantial had to be changed in the composition, and the final version differs only in details. Comprising three pieces, the sculpture was carved from sandstone from a quarry in Dvůr Králové by the sculptor Eduard Zvelebil in the second half of 1914. The total height of the monument on the stone plinth is six metres in height; the actual stone sculpture is 360 cm high.
Ladislav Šaloun worked simultaneously on figural sketches of Master John Hus for his monument on Prague’s Old Town Square and in 1911–13 worked on the figure of John Hus for a monument in Hořice. Just as Master John Hus became a widely recognized spiritual symbol and religious leader of the Czech nation in this period, so the figure of High Rabbi Loew also became the most famous symbol of Jewish Prague, often appearing in the press, catalogues and encyclopaedias. A large photograph of the Rabbi Loew monument, for example, was printed alongside the prose of Max Brod and Franz Kafka in the 1917 anthology Das Jüdische Prag. The history of Šaloun’s statue of the Prague Maharal, however, does not end here. In April 1940 the large stone sculpture had to be removed from the building at the behest of the Nazis. After the war, however, it was returned to its original position in the south-west corner of the Prague City Hall building, where it remains to this day.

Exhibitions:
Jewish Traditions and Customs, Jewish Museum in Prague, 1968–76; Old Hebrew Printed Books, Klausen Synagogue / Jewish Museum in Prague, 1986–95.

Literature:
Das Jüdische Prag, Prague, 1917; Ladislav Šaloun: O pomníku rabi Loewa, Židovský kalendář [Jewish Calendar] 5599, 1938/39; Vladimír Sadek, Jiřina Šedinová, Klausová synagoga [Klausen Synagogue], 1989; Arno Pařík, Židovská Prague [Jewish Prague], 2002; Petr Wittlich: České secesní sochařství [Czech Art Nouveau Sculpture], 2000.


Picture captions:

004) Ladislav Šaloun, Model for the Rabbi Loew Monument at the New Town Hall, 1910
plaster cast with patina, height: 172 cm, base: 92 x 50 cm,
Jewish Museum in Prague

013) Ladislav Šaloun, Model for the Rabbi Loew Monument at the New Town Hall, 1910
plaster cast with patina, height: 172 cm, base: 92 x 50 cm,
Jewish Museum in Prague

007) Ladislav Šaloun, Front View of the Rabbi Loew Monument (detail), 1910
plaster cast with patina, height: 172 cm, base: 92 x 50 cm,
Jewish Museum in Prague

023) Ladislav Šaloun, Model for the Rabbi Loew Monument
– detail of the head of the woman rising, 1910
plaster cast with patina, height: 172 cm, base: 92 x 50 cm,
Jewish Museum in Prague

025) Ladislav Šaloun, Model for the Rabbi Loew Monument (detail of the head from the right), 1910
plaster cast with patina, height: 172 cm, base: 92 x 50 cm,
Jewish Museum in Prague

022) Ladislav Šaloun, Model for the Rabbi Loew Monument (detail of the head from the left), 1910
plaster cast with patina, height: 172 cm, base: 92 x 50 cm,
Jewish Museum in Prague

Maharal 01.TIF)
Ladislav Šaloun, Rabbi Loew Monument at the New Town Hall in Prague, 1914,
sandstone, stone plinth, total height: 600 cm, height of sculpture: 360 cm,
Archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague, photo by Dana Cabanová










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