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Palace Theatre in Nové Hrady

Franz von Werschafeld

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Important events

(detail)00. 's 19. century | Castle construction

Construction site of today’s castle was chosen in 1801, architect Franz von Werschafeld built it up allegedly with appliance of French designs. Construction started in 1802. Raw building was completed in 1806, utilities of building finished in 1810.

(detail)1822 | Opening

The only known report about beginnings of castle theatre is from local historian Anton Teichl; according to him small family theatre was founded in 1822, rebuilt in 1836 and augmented to today's size in 1846. County family draughtsman Taraba painted set pieces for theatre; Prague painter Schulz painted in 1849–1855 other directly in castle.

(detail)1855 | Reconstruction
Thea theatre was rebuilt between 1849 and 1855.



Count Johann Nepomuk Buquoy (1741–1803) was occupied by the idea of a new castle construction in South Bohemia Nové Hrady since 1860s, when the old castle nor Baroque residence on the square did not meet the period requirements of comfort and representation anymore. Future construction balance sheet was worked out in 1768, however, first unrealized design of the new castle came into existence not until 1794. Construction site of the present castle, which was allegedly built with utilization of French design by architect Franz von Werschafeld, had not been stipulated until 1801. The construction works were launched in 1802, after the count had died in the following year, the construction works continued under his widow, countess Terezie née Paar, and later on under nephew Georg Franz August Buquoy (1781–1851). The carcass was completed  in 1806, interior furnishing was prolonged up to 1810. 

The only so far known information about the beginnings of Nové Hrady castle theatre are the data of local historian Anton  Teichl, according to whom a small home theatre was established in the castle in 1822, rebuilt in 1836 and enlarged in 1846 into the present size. Theatre decorations were provided by count draughtsman Taraba at first: brilliant academic painter and artist Shulz from Prague was painting splendorous sceneries directly in the castle between 1849-1855.

The very majority of Nové Hrady archive sources are inaccessible and Teichl’s data, often repeated in the literature, was not possible to verify. Therefore we know nothing about theatre appearance and about events in it until 1840 and we can only speculate, if its alleged foundation could have been related to the visit of Sachsen-Veimar grand duke Karel August in Nové Hrady in May of the same year.

Theatre hall in its present extent is located in two rooms of the original castle, which are marked as Musicksaal and  Billiardzimmer on the design from 1816. Teichl mentioned specifically small theatre for year 1822. For its later enlargement, it is highly probable that the theatre occupied only one of mentioned rooms (and its fly loft did not reach the second floor of castle) and it was enlarged into present extent in the course of the later reconstruction. The castle design  from the time between  alleged theatre construction and its enlargement, which could verify it, has unfortunately not been preserved.

We have a clearer picture of the events around the half of the century. Count Georg Franz August abnegated fideicommissum after turbulent events of year 1848 and resorted to seclusion. Still during his life, his son Georg Johann Heinrich Buquoy (1814–1883) initiated the reconstruction of the  castle and large adaptation  of its interior, which understandably did not evade the theatre. There are detailed listings of expenditures of castle theatre reconstruction and its furnishing with decorations and properties among count’s personal accounts from 1849, 1852, 1853 and 1855. It clearly follows from them that the theatre acquired present size and appearance not until 1849–1855.

Bricklayers were paid for demolishing and plastering in January and February 1849 (perhaps tearing down the partition by hall enlargement? ), castle employees manufactured benches in February, court joiner frames for sceneries in March. Purchases of various items from costume textile and canvas for sceneries to ropes, nails and oil for lamps were being made throughout the whole year. Salaries were given to the gilder for proscenium decoration and to lacquerer for painting the balcony in October. It continued by expenditures on costumes, joiner's works or material for decoration painter and there appeared already disbursements on music and the help by productions. Bricklayers were still laying paving in January 1853 and they were paid several more times in the course of this year; major part of the expenses consisted of the payment for  products and services by productions  including for instance the delivery expenses of  invitations into the theatre to neighbouring domains.

According to Jan Pömerl, a collection of costumes and props was being assembled since 1822. Handwritten play scripts, which were being produced in the castle theatre in 19th century, should be stored in Nové Hrady castle library, only partially catalogued, apart the collection of Baroque opera librettos and other sources.

Theatre hall with rectangular ground plan of 8.5 × 18.75 m size is located in northwest part of the   castle first floor. Its space is lighted by five high windows, three in the auditorium and two in the stage.

The auditorium has a square ground plan of 8.5 × 8.5 m size, it is 4.6 m high and could accommodate up to 320 spectators according to the literature. The orchestra pit, which was originally separated from auditorium by a partition with doors on sides and where a stove originally stood, is 1.7 m wide and it is recessed from the auditorium floor only by a small step. There is a modern wood-block flooring in the auditorium and the orchestra pit. The auditorium is illuminated by modern lighting units on walls and a chandelier on the ceiling.

The entrance to the auditorium is provided by three doors under the balcony: one leafed from the staircase, two leafed from the former castle dining hall and from the main castle hall.

Rear auditorium wall is filled by 1.9 m wide balcony, carried by five prismatic columns with capitals and bases. Four equal columns and two pilasters by walls, which carry profiled entablature under ceiling, bear on to flat profiled balcony parapet. The balcony is entered through a narrow staircase in the semicircular recess behind the two leaf door in the middle of the rear auditorium wall, in which a stove was located before the conversion into a theatre. Couple of doors leads from balcony into small technical rooms.

White auditorium walls are articulated only by almost unnoticeably projecting plinth, by smooth   panelling above it and by the setback of the cavetto. The articulation is emphasized by gilded lines; there are gilded parts of columns footing and capital and moulded parapets on balcony.

The portal mirror is as well equally white, only with gilded decorating. Its sides, convergent into depth of the stage, are architecturally articulated and topped by volute capitals carrying lintel of the portal. There are rosettes with look through, enabling concealed view from the backstage into the auditorium, in the middle of central rectangular fields between acanthus decoration. The cornice of flat lintel of the portal with rosette in the middle is decorated by gilded leaf work. Portal opening is 3.7 m high and 6 m wide. Limelight has not been preserved.

The stage, occupying west part of the hall, has a dimension of 8.5 × 8.5 m. It is possible to enter into it from the auditorium through doors in the right side of the portal mirror or by a couple of doors from two rooms (Theater Zimmer) being adjacent to the rear  wall  of the stage. These are mutually interconnected and there is an entrance  partly from a corridor, partly from a small staircase in northwest edge of the castle.

In Nové Hrady similarly as in Kačina theatre, there appears a high fly loft above the stage, into which the sceneries were pulled out without stacking or rolling. It occupies the whole height of the second floor of the castle; the height of the ceiling from stage floor is circa 8.1 m. It is rimmed by wooden service footbridge from all four sides in the height of the auditorium ceiling and the portal mirror lintel. Another two windows lead here (above the windows in the ground floor) and a two leaf door from corridor in the second floor of the castle.

The castle design  from 1889 schematically depicts on the stage four pairs of side sceneries, which (certainly in contrast to the real state) did not converge towards the depth and are placed   at a 45° angle to the ramp. The stage has a modern floor, probably from the time after the half of the 20th century, no traces of a machinery  for scenery exchange has been preserved. The method of their change is not clear: more probable is the movement on wagons crossing floor, against which a small height of under stage area testifies; on the other hand for shifting in grooves on the stage (groove system),  there is not a construction, into which the upper end of sceneries had to be inserted. The only trace is so far a historical photograph of the alpine landscape scenery depicting a part of side sceneries set on the stage collinearly with the ramp.

Distribution of pulleys under the ceiling corresponds to four pairs of sceneries. These are fixed on the lower side of the wooden ceiling in three longitudinal rows for three ropes for each scenery. Another two rows of pulleys for ropes gear are located along the both sides of the stage with service footbridges. We are familiar with the identical system from Kačina theatre or from Austria castle Wietra (which is only in 15 km distance from Nové Hrady and Buquoys were in close contact with  its owners). Preserved pulleys enable to hang up 34 sceneries (drops and borders) in total on the stage and in all probability the smaller sceneries on smaller pulleys set apart the basic rows.

From two last groups of pulleys, on which the most heavy sceneries and rear drops were hanged up, ropes lead into wall apertures above the footbridge on the right side of the stage. There are fixed, originally designed shafts for balance weight, which counterbalanced the weight of sceneries and facilitated their handling. There is an access to the two shafts with pulleys for two groups of weight from corridor next to the theatre as in the second floor in the level of footbridges as in first floor in the level of the stage floor; manipulation area is covered by a wooden door. Ropes from sceneries in front part of the stage could be conducted though openings in footbridge on the right to the stage floor, where were fixed by tying onto rod mounted on the wall.

The painter from Prague, who painted decoration for the theatre after its reconstruction and whose performance so fascinated Teichl, was without doubt Alois Gustav Schulz (1805–1860), a landscape painter and a stage designer of Estate Theatre in Prague in 1850s; in detail documented disbursements for material for his work indeed appeared  among the accounts from 1849 up to 1855. Photograph of the part of the decoration has been preserved, taken probably at the end of the 19th century. There has been published pictures of drops, hanged up on the stage, of village square,arched rustic and already mentioned the Alpine landscape. So far unprocessed historical collection in National Museum probably contains pictures of another scenes. Sceneries, allegedly stored in the castle loft, has been destroyed in  the highest probability. The last fragment of decorating collection, a drop depicting a view into open landscape with birch tree, to which a standing coulisse of a tree, stored on the stage, could belong, is hanged up on the stage.

The children, who fled the Greece due to the local civil war, were accommodated in the castle after 1948. The theatre was allegedly adapted already in this time and served as a motion-picture theatre for some time; after 1960, it was again being adaapted for the needs cow college, which used the castle up to the beginnings of 1990s. The castle is the property of Academy of sciences in the present and it serves to Academy University Centre of South Bohemia University. The theatre is used as a lecture hall.


Sources and literature:

– State archive Třeboň, Rodinný archiv Buquoyů

– State archive Třeboň, Velkostatek Nové Hrady, Collection of maps and plans

– National museum Prague, Theatre departement, photos of stage sets (beginning of 20th century)

– Anton Teichl, Geschichte der Stadt Gratzen mit theilweiser Berücksichtigung der Herrschaft Gratzen, Gratzen [=Nové Hrady] 1888, s. 181

– Jan Port, Jihočeská theatralia: III. Buquoyské zámecké divadlo v Nových Hradech, Jihočeský přehled VI, 1931–32, n. 3, pp. (17)23–24 and n. 4–6, pp. 25–30(38) (+ fig. after p. 20)

Dějiny českého divadla, II, Praha 1969, p. 296 and fig. 127–129

– Jan Pömerl, Zámecká divadla v Čechách a na Moravě, Divadelní revue 3, 1992, n. 4, pp. 3–17

– Helga Turková, Nové Hrady v jižních Čechách, Handbuch deutscher historischer Buchbestände in Europa. Bd 2. Tschechische Republik. Schloßbibliotheken unter der Verwaltung des Nationalmuseums in Prag, Hildesheim – Zürich – New York 1997, pp. 151–154

– Jindřich Vybíral, Století dědiců a zakladatelů. Architektura jižních Čech v období historismu, Praha 1999

– Martin Krummholz, Buquoyské Nové Hrady: Počátky krajinných parků v Čechách, Praha 2012

– Jiří Bláha, Zámek Nové Hrady, zámecké divadlo: Průzkum a návrh rekonstrukce historické divadelní techniky, Liberec 2016




Tags: Palace theatre, Empire style, Austrian Empire


Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: Jan Purkert

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