Hello, darlings! We finally made it to Prague, which means we’re diving headlong into Section IV of the Real-Time Reading of Shadow of Night. This chapter is a monster, so I’m dividing it in two parts between this week and next.
After we’d lived out of saddlebags and a single shared trunk for weeks, our belongings had arrived three days after we did at the tall, narrow house perched on the steep avenue leading to Prague Castle known as Sporrengasse.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find a street in modern Prague called Sporrengasse. I assume that it was likely renamed something lovely and Czech that isn’t mentioned in the pages of Shadow of Night. Nonetheless, I had a very pleasant Google Maps street view wander through the neighborhood of Mala Strana. Mala Strana, or the “Little Side of the River,” is a district in Prague dominated by the city’s German and Italian citizens. The neighborhood has mostly Baroque architecture after a series of fires destroyed the original buildings. Even today, Mala Strana is one of the most popular neighborhoods for tourists because of its “charming” cobbled streets and cluster of cultural sights. After researching, I have marked out Mlýnská Kavárna for my next visit because it boasts Czech beer and freshly-baked bread. Yes, please.
“Is that… a Bosch?”
Oh, Bosch. You were such an odd duck. Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) was a Dutch artist famous for his colorful, bizarre, and exquisitely detailed triptychs. Apparently, we know very little about Bosch — he did not leave behind any indication as to the meaning of his work, so we’re essentially left to goggle at it and come to our own conclusions.
Artstory describes him as a “visionary apocalyptic painter;” it’s the best short description of his work I’ve ever read, so I am keeping it. Bosch was the first painter to introduce surreal and fantastical imagery into his paintings; the rest of Western artwork from this period is either very religious or very realistic.
You can explore Bosch’s oeuvre using this fascinating series of projects by ColourLex, which analyzes works of art by the pigments used to create them. There’s a couple of interesting choices here, including the Audio Experience of Bosch’s Ship of Fools and a close exploration of The Garden of Earthly Delights.
Oh wait. Remember when I told you guys that I went to dance performance based on the Garden of Earthly Delights and there were artists throwing potatoes? I found a video. The potatoes appear at 0:18. You’re welcome.
I bet you thought I made that up.
“Rudolf hasn’t seen me. Rumor has it that Kelley is in the uppermost reaches of the Powder Tower blowing up alembics and God-knows-what-else.”
In the real historical timeline, Matthew and Diana arrive in Prague right as Edward Kelley’s star began to fade in the court of Rudolf II. Kelley first traveled to the Continent from England in the company of John Dee, another famous alchemist. Kelley and Dee made all sorts of mischief together (and people threatened to throw them out of windows) right up until Kelley told Dee that his alchemical spirit guide required them to swap their wives. Right around the spring of 1590, Rudolf II became frustrated that Kelley could not produce the Philosopher’s Stone. He knighted him to encourage his progress, then imprisoned him after a duel to make him work harder. Kelley attempted to escape by jumping out the window — an escapade which required the amputation of his leg. This happened again several years later and Kelley lost the use of his remaining leg, too. I am sensing a pattern. If you want to know more, check out the Alchemy Podcast’s episode on Kelley. On a related note, did you know there was an opera about John Dee? Wonders never cease.
The Powder Tower, or Prašná brána, was built in 1475, is the beginning of the Coronation Route to Prague Castle.
“Why is the handwriting so ornate?” I wondered.
“The Hoefnagels have arrived from Vienna and have nothing to occupy their time. The fancier the handwriting, the better, as far as his Majesty is concerned,” Pierre replied cryptically.
According to the Getty Museum, the invention of the modern printing press made it more common for people to own books, noble collectors like the Holy Roman Emperor turned to hand-made works of calligraphy for their rarity and beauty.
In 1590 or so, Rudolf II commissioned Josef Hoefnagel to illustrate a book of calligraphy written by Georg Bocskay called Mira calligraphiae monumenta. You can visit this work at the Getty, or via their website. The image on the left demonstrates Hoefnagel’s incredible skill for texture and detail in plant and insect life. The calligraphy in the book is stunning, as are the images.
Most impressive of all? The fact that Hoefnagel and Bocskay never met.
“I told you to hook him with Titian’s great canvas of Venus that Grandfather took off King Philip’s hands when his wife objected to it,” Gallowglass observed. “Like his uncle, Rudolf has always been unduly fond of redheads. And saucy pictures.”
Titian painted his famous Venus of Urbino in 1538. The original hangs in the Uffizi in Florence. No wonder Philippe had his hands on it.
“Among my people it’s a great compliment to be likened to a raven. I’ll be Muninn, and Matthew we’ll call Huginn. Your name will be Gondul, Auntie. You’ll make a fine Valkyrie.”
Huginn and Muninn are the two ravens who assist the god Odin. Every morning, the two ravens fly from Odin to gather information about the Norse World and report back to him at night. Gondul, a valkyrie warrior, decided who would dwell with Odin in Valhalla from amongst the fallen on the battlefield. In other myths, she may or may not have started a war.
I’ll see you again next Monday for Part II of Chapter 27 of Shadow of Night. In the meantime, you can find us in our Facebook group or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to find the rest of the Real-Time Reading posts, you can check out our Episode List.
Until next week,