Sunday, 9 April 2017


“I go to Prague every year if I can, value my relationships there like gold, and feel myself in a sense Czech, with all their hopes and needs. They are a people I not only love, but admire.” - Ellis Peters 

František Ženíšek (25 May 1849, Prague – 15 November 1916, Prague) was a Czech painter. He was part of the “Generace českého Národního divadla” (Generation of the Czech National Theatre), a large group of artists with nationalistic sympathies.

He was born into a family of merchants and displayed an affinity for art at an early age. Reluctantly his father agreed to let him pursue his interests and allowed him to take lessons from Karel Javůrek while he was still in school. From 1863 to 1865, he was at the Academy of Fine Arts, studying with Eduard von Engerth. After a brief stay in Vienna, assisting Engerth with work at the State Opera, he was back at the Academy in Prague, working with Jan Swerts and the history painter Josef Matyáš Trenkwald.

In 1875, he received his first major commission; painting murals at the city hall in Courtrai, Belgium. Then, in 1878, while making a study trip to Paris, he gained an important friend and supporter in Josef Šebestián Daubek, a well-known patron of the arts, who engaged him to decorate his home in Liteň. He later accompanied Daubek on his honeymoon to Holland, and painted a portrait of the new couple.

Soon after returning from Paris, he and Mikoláš Aleš won a competition to decorate the foyer of the National Theatre with historical and allegorical designs. Ženíšek went on to decorate the auditorium ceiling and design a curtain, although the curtain was destroyed by a fire in 1881. He also designed windows at the church in Karlín and lunettes at the National Museum as well as over 80 portraits.

From 1885 to 1896, he was a Professor at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design, where his assistant was Jakub Schikaneder. Then, from 1896 to 1915, he was a Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, where his students included Jaroslav Špillar and Jan Preisler. In 1898, he was one of the founders of “Jednota umělců výtvarných” (Creative Artists), in an effort to strengthen the Czech nationalist viewpoint in the arts. His son, František (1877–1935) was also a painter of some note.

Above is his painting, “Oldřich and Božena” of 1884. Božena (Křesinová - died after 1052) was the second wife (and probably earlier the mistress) of Duke Oldřich of Bohemia and mother of Bretislaus I of Bohemia. The historian Cosmas of Prague recorded the legend of Oldřich and Božena, in his Chronica Boëmorum (“Chronicle of the Bohemians”). According to the legend, the young (and married) Oldřich set out on a hunt and travelled to Peruc. There, he spied a beautiful peasant girl, Božena, by a well known today as Božena's Spring and was immediately entranced by her. Oldřich abandoned his hunt and took Božena back to Prague, where she eventually gave birth to his illegitimate son Bretislaus. In the legend, Oldřich's first meeting with Božena took place in sight of the Oldřich Oak.

Božena was indeed the saviour of the Czech House of Přemysl. Oldřich had two brothers, but one of them, Jaromír, was castrated by the eldest sibling, Boleslaus III. Boleslaus himself was imprisoned in Poland, possibly having only a daughter. Thus Oldřich was the one Přemyslid able to have a son and heir. His first wife is thought to have borne no children. Božena’s low birth is alluded to in the chronicle of Cosmas, which states that Oldřich first met her “riding through the village”. The illegitimate birth of her son Bretislaus to a low-born mother is believed to have made it necessary for him to resort to abduction when he later sought to marry a noble bride (Judith of Schweinfurt). At any rate, she was held to be a peasant woman already by the author of the early 14th-century Chronicle of Dalimil.

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