THE 1913 COMPETITION FOR THE JAN ZIZKA MONUMENT IN PRAGUE
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In 1882, a society was formed with the goal of building a monument to Jan Zizka on top of Vítkov Hill in Prague. It was only in 1913, however, with the approaching 500th anniversary of the death of Jan Hus, that the society decided to announce a competition for the design of the monument. The competition was not preceded by any general intellectual discussion. As a result, the parameters of the task were undefined, requiring only that the proposed structure be monumental. The restricted budget imposed an important limit, raising the controversial question of the use of reinforced concrete as a cheap material. The intention was to build a monument that would be imposing from a great distance, as well as from close up; until then, no such work had been built in the Bohemian Lands. In the broader context, of course, the Zizka monument fit in with developments elsewhere in Europe, in particular Germany, where there was on ongoing debate about methods of building large monuments in the landscape. The special characteristics of the Zizka monument required the participation of architects. These included representatives of architectural cubism, which was at that time on the ascendant: Pavel Janák, Josef Gocár, Vlastislav Hofman and Vladimir Fultner. Because of their attempts to apply the cubist style in the architecture of monuments, the 1913 competition was later regarded as the most extensive presentation of the range of possibilities of that style. In addition to the radical designs based on an architectural concept, to which the sculptural element was entirely subordinate (Janák-Gutfreund), there were also designs that addressed the issue of balance between a cubist base and a more traditional sculpture (Fultner-Kofránek). Jan Kotera and the sculptor Jan Stursa also submitted a cubist design. In the end, almost sixty designs were submitted to the contest. In addition to the most eminent artists, a great many mediocre artists also participated. Their designs reflected a conventional concept of monuments; intellectually, they corresponded to the schematic, popularised depictions of the famous commander based on the works of the painters Mikolás Ales and Adolf Liebscher, and the writer Alois Jirásek. In the end, the competition jury did not choose a winner, awarding only three second and one third prize. The awards went to designs that were conceptually and formally very diverse, even at opposite ends of the spectrum. As a result, the jury did not come up with a fundamental unifying idea that could serve as the basis for a new competition. In accordance with the negative verdict of the jury, vehement criticism of the competition designs appeared in the specialist and non-specialist press. Aside from the mixed reaction to the cubist forms, the designers were more often reproached for imitating foreign, especially German, models and for failing to produce a kind of national artistic style.
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