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Provisional Theatre

Ignác Vojtěch Ullmann

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Important events

(detail)1862 | opening
The Regional Commission announced a decision at the beginning of 1862 that a provisional building would be erected still in the same year for theatrical performances designated for Czech spectators, who could already see the first performance on 18th November of the same year.
(detail)1881 | closing

The National Theatre, opened in 1881, incorporated the Provisional Theatre into its structure.


(detail)Ignác Vojtěch Ullmann |main architect

A Czech architect, one of the early pioneers of the Czech Renaissance revival architecture. His work was inspired by the north Italian Late Renaissance palaces and first Renaissance revival buildings in Vienna. The most important of his works are  Palác Lažanských or the building of contemporary Akademie věd České republiky .

Source: Wikipedia

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Despite its short existence, the Provisional Theatre became an important milestone of the cultural development of the Czech society within the process of the Czech national revival.

The first building in Prague, intended for  theatre, the Špork Theatre in na Poříčí, was operating from 1725, however, the first play in Czech language was introduced not before 1771 in v Kotcích Theatre. A more dignified space for cultural events was provided by Nostitz (presently Estate) Theatre, built at the beginning of the 1780s, when plays in Czech were taking place regularly during Sunday afternoons. Yet several decades had passed between first programmes designated for Czech audience and foundation of a  separate stage.  An attempt to construct the National Theatre in the Czech capital was initiated by a petition of eminent personages with Josef  Frič at the head of it in 1845. Five years later, it was resumed by foundation of the Society for the Establishment of a Czech National Theatre in Prague with František Palacký as its chairman. The entire process was significantly delayed by issues related to selection of a suitable construction site, an acquisition of a suitable architectural design and understandably with securing adequate finance for the enterprise.

Because the construction had not made any substantial progress for a long time, an idea of establishing at least a provisional theatre emerged. The Regional Commission announced a decision at the beginning of 1862 that a provisional building would be erected still in the same year for theatrical performances designated for Czech spectators. The building with a somewhat pejorative name the Provisional Theatre should have solved the thorny problem for a transitional period.

The concept of the intended building contained two completely contradictory  tendencies, united at the same time by the mutual ambition, how to reach the most imposing effect at the lowest cost possible. However, the visual impact of the planned building was radically different. The first tendency was the effort to demonstrate the provisional character of the building in its appearance, structure and by usage of building materials. The supporters of the opposing view intended to select majestic expression even for a provisional structure. The leading representative of the second attitude was František Ladislav Rieger, who was at  the same time able to enforce the final selection of the construction site on a relatively prominent parcel by the river. He simultaneously held a rather unconventional opinion from architectural point  of view that the provisional building should become the first phase of the future National Theatre. So the first structure was going to be incorporated into the final concept of the theatre, which indeed happened.

The construction of the Provisional Theatre was carried out in an extremely rapid succession. The initial plan of construction of theatre background that would be at least provisional was presented during the session of the Regional Committee on 21st April 1861. A binding decision about its actual construction was taken at the beginning of 1862 and the first spectators could see the first performance on 18th November of the same year.

The author of the architectural design was Vojtěch Ignác Ullmann, who selected Neo-Renaissance style, fashionable at that time, for his project. The Provisional Theatre was inserted into the south side of the selected plot on the riverbank of Vltava river. The architect was allowed only to use a layout of irregular, oblong plan due to the dimension of the plot. The building 's front facade, from which also the majority of spectators poured, was oriented towards Voršilská Avenue (later Ferdinand’s,  Národní in the present days), but the main entrance was paradoxically located on the side of the building.

The limited financial means were manifested not only in the distinctly elevated volume of the building, but especially in its interior layout as well. The reality of low financial strength of the investor should have been veiled in representative forms. Despite it, the interior was distinguished by quite reduced space. Its relative narrowness was obvious for actors, because the stage was not provided with sufficient technical background and the orchestra pit was sized for the lowest number of musicians possible. Likewise the spectators had to be settled for mere eleven rows of seats in the stalls, a bunch of side boxes and a significant number of standing rooms. The theatre was not equipped neither with social facilities, cloak rooms, nor heating, which is puzzling considering  the  theatrical season, taking place in the colder part of the year.

The Society for the Establishment of a Czech National Theatre in Prague concluded a contract for the project of a National Theatre with Josef Zítek in the course of the 1860s. His monumental concept could carefully incorporate the Provisional Theatre into the final appearance of the building.


–  Karel Šípek, Vzpomínky na Prozatímní: Osm kapitol z minulosti českého divadla, Praha 1918

–  Zdeněk Wirth, Antonín Matějček, Česká architektura 1800–1920, Praha 1922, s. 32–40

–  František Černý a Ljuba Klosová (eds.), Dějiny českého divadla 3, Praha 1977, s. 45–54

–  Josef Šnejdar (ed.), Národní divadlo 1983: Rekonstrukce a dostavba okolí, Praha 1983

–  Marie Benešová, Česká architektura v proměnách dvou století: 1780–1980, Praha 1984, s. 172–173, 177

–  Ernst Schremmer, Theater, in: Ferdinand Seibt (ed.), Böhmen im 19. Jahrhundert: Vom Klassizismus zur Moderne, München, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, 1995, s. 67–69

–  Růžena Baťková (ed.), Umělecké památky Prahy. Nové Město a Vyšehrad, Praha 1998, s. 258–262

–  Jiří Hilmera, Česká divadelní architektura, Praha 1999, s. 25–26

–  Michaela Marek, Kunst und Identitätspolitik. Architektur und Bildkünste im Prozess der tschechischen Nationsbildung, Köln – Wiemar – Wien 2004, s. 79–209

–  Mojmír Horyna, Architektura přísného a pozdního historismu: Čechy 1860–1890, in: Taťána Petrasová, Helena Lorenzová (eds.), Dějiny českého výtvarného umění: 1780–1890 III/2, Praha 2001, s. 133–202, zde s. 135–136, 151, 302


Tags: Neo-Renaissance, Austrian Empire, detached building


Author: Vendula Hnídková

Translator: Jan Purkert

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