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Palace Theatre in Žleby

František Schmoranz

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1754 | baroque renovation
The theatre is situated in the first floor of a commercial building, which was built in the time of renovation in the Baroque style  after 1754 under count Jan Adam of Auersperg.
(detail)1868 | reconstruction
The castle acquired today´s appearance under count Vincenc Karel of Auersperg in 1849–1868. Monumental reconstruction of the Baroque castle to the Romantic residence in the English Gothic revival style was lead by Chrudim architect František Schmoranz with cooperation of architect Benedikt Škvor.
(detail)60. 's 19. century | reconstruction
It is only possible to assume that the theatre hall was converted as soon as the 1860s, probably including paint ornamentation of the auditorium and perhaps including an older unpreserved version of the stage construction and decoration. Today´s theatre equipment is for the most part the result of younger modification that was finished not before the 1910s.
(detail)2003 | reconstruction
Theatre went under complete reconstruction in 2003, during which a new depository of decoration was built. The theatre is accessible to public. The theatre is not used for theatre operation.


(detail)František Schmoranz |main architect

He is a representative of the Neo-Gothic style, in which he designed several new buildings. He reconstructed the Žleby castle and built several houses in Chrudim.

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(detail)Benedikt Škvor |architect

Architect and builder. He participated in construction of the Žleby castle (Kutná Hora), where he designed the Neo-Gothic Veliká věž (Big Tower).

In: Vlček, Pavel a kol.: Encyklopedie architektů, stavitelů, zedníků a kameníku v Čechách. Praha 2004, pg. 664


Karel Dušek |painter
(detail)Josef Spudil |painter

Director of the technical secondary school in Čáslav, who also worked as a builder and stage painter. An original theatre building was erected according to his designs in Čáslav in the historicizing Gothic Revival style.


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(detail)Robert Holzer |painter

Stage scenery painter in the Theatre an der Wien (to 1883) and Prague National Theatre. (1883-1924). His work is mostly made in the late Romanticism style.

In:  Tvrdíková, Lada: Divadelní život v Čáslavi v letech 1869-1923, Bakalářská práce, Masarykova universita,  Brno 2007

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(detail)Alois Vraný |painter

Czech painter, mainly dedicated to landscape painting.



Castle Žleby Theatre is located in a storey of an economic building that was built in the period of its baroque adaptation – under Jan Adam of Auersperg, after 1754. It should have been one wing of a planned, but unfinished honorary yard facing the city. Stables were in the basement of the wing, offices and flats in the first floor. The castle acquired the contemporary appearance not until 1849–1868 under prince Vincenc Karel of Auersperg. Majestic reconstruction of the Baroque castle into a Romantic residence in the English Neo Gothic style was conducted by Chrudim architect František Schmoranz (1814–1902) in cooperation with Auersperg´s court architect Benedikt Škvor and they employed mainly models from John Nash´s book about English manor houses.

The chamber theatre was built up probably in the end of this adaptation. We do not know the precise time of its emergence; contemporary theatre equipment was made for the most part around the beginning of the 20th century. Some decoration is dated back to 1907; electric lighting has been preserved from the same period (Castle Žleby was equipped by electricity as one of the first  in the Czech Republic).

Building accounts give only few information concerning the theatre. The entire economic wing including the ground floor was converted into flats after 1861, two rooms in the storey were merged into one in the process – it concerned almost certainly the space of the contemporary theatre. Another data that is possible to connect with theatre is not available until 1895: a theatre corridor, without further specification, was being modificated.

The date of theatre emergence, 1865, stated in literature, came from incorrect older information about the date of construction of the entire economic wing, in which the theatre is located. There has been submitted no evidence of theatre emergence or initiation of its operation concerning precisely this year.

It is only possible to assume so far that the theatre hall was structurally adjusted already in the 1860s- probably including decoration of the auditorium and even a perhaps older, unpreserved version of the stage framework and set pieces. Contemporary equipment of the theatre is for a large part an outcome of later reconstruction, finished not until the first decade of the 20th century.

This theatre had its forerunners in the castle already in the 18th century; even the castle inventory from 1859–1870 states that a theatre and an old cloakroom was in the ground floor of the main castle building. A preserved set of costumes is the evidence of older theatrical life, the oldest of them already comes from the first half of the 18th century. 

Construction of the contemporary theatre in a storey of the economic wing required considerable alteration of older rooms. Two older rooms were utilized for its construction, interconnected by having pulled down the separating wall, together with a part of the corridor, which lied along the entire length of the wing. The corridor was transferred in the location of the newly emerged hall into the extension rooms, which were relocated out of the existing building onto brackets. The ceiling of the room was uplifted to a roof-truss so the upper parts of the lateral wall are bevelled. A simple stage was built in the theatre with beam structure for placement and attachment of the sceneries, a proscenium arch with painted ornamentation and a simple gallery in the auditorium.

A rectangular hall with dimension of circa 10,5 x 8,5 m has a flat ceiling, bevelled on longer sides because of lifting of the ceiling into the beam structure. The stage has a depth of 4,5 m, and the acting area roughly 4,5 m width and 3,5 m depth. The proscenium arch is 5,3 m wide and 3,5 m high.

The theatre auditorium is accessible through one leaf door in the rear wall and a two leaf door in the lateral side. The gallery, into which one enters through a separate door from the corridor in the front of the theatre, is erected on columns by the rear wall. The windows are furnished by shutters.

Simple benches have been  preserved in the auditorium for roughly 40 persons; the theatre with a gallery might have been able to accommodate perhaps 50-60 spectators. Removable steps were leaned to the front edge of the stage.

Walls and ceiling are adorned by decorative mural painting, which pedestal  imitating wooden cladding extends even on the front edge of the stage. The auditorium is lit by a chandelier, hanged in the centre of the ceiling.

The stage, circa 65 cm high, is accessible through one leaf door from the corridor by the theatre, another two one leaf doors lead from the rear part of the stage into a room behind the theatre.

Simple trabeated structure of the portal is coated by a painted canvas: there is painted a couple of fluted columns on sides on a blue background, a couple of so far not identified  blazons on  a lintel (a black shield, with an eagle in the central silver third and a red shield, in which a silver lion stands on silver balk). A door is inserted into left side of portal, interconnecting auditorium with stage.

Limelight by the front edge of the stage is formed by two boards with lamps inserted onto a simple corbel. Two triads of lamps are distributed on outside parts of limelight; the central part is empty. The limelight casing is comprised of  separate wooden frames coated by cloth.

Very simple theatre equipment is a rustic variant of the so called English system or Groove system. This system did not utilize any device under the stage to change the scenery, but lateral ground rows were set onto grooves or rails in the stage floor and fixed in the similar rails under ceiling. Scenery was interchanged manually without any more complicated mechanism. This allowed to put sceneries not perpendicularly to the stage axis, but obliquely to the stage depth – as it is just in Žleby. Usage of the English system in Žleby, albeit simplified to the utmost degree, is possible to explain particularly by small size of the theatre that supports such a kind of solution. Noticeable orientation of the builder, prince Auersperg, for the English culture played a very minor part- similar stage equipment in the castles Kozel (1830) and Mnichovo Hradiště (1833) proves that this system was neither unknown nor unusual in our surroundings.

The stage of the Žleby theatre was furnished by four pairs of side set pieces and one pair of stable sideboards with painting of drapery directly behind the portal. Two side sceneries were always located together in one broad track between a couple of baseboards.

Single set of seven borders with painting of drapery is stably nailed to the joist.

The curtain was raised with the help of a rope onto a wooden cylinder, hinged behind the portal lintel, drops were coiled with the help of ropes onto a carrier bar. The two-piece curtain was used atypically, it was hanged on an iron bar between borders in the style of a curtain on rings (roughly in the middle of the stage); it was drawn manually from sides to the centre of the stage.  Two leaf doors were inserted into drops; one leaf door was being inserted between side sceneries.

A similar system, also simple, but in comparison with the Žleby theatre in a much more professional manner,  is to be found in the abovementioned castle theatre of Valdštejn –Vartemberk in Mnichovo Hradiště or in a more simple form in the Valdštejn castle theatre in Kozel .

All the constructions on the theatre stage are manufactured very rustically without any exigent craft details. The solution of  change of scenery is maximally simplified and corresponds to the late emergence of the theatre and to its purely private character.

There is an array of secondarily used elements in the stage construction and in decoration. This concerns especially a canvas with a painting on the lintel of the proscenium arch where an older painting , with a similarly coloured layer, is concealed under the contemporary one (perhaps it was the older appearance of the portal, perhaps it was from the older castle theatre). Several coatings were detected on the majority of sceneries as well; limelight boards and a prompt box, shaped differently than the opening for it in the stage floor, are used secondarily as well.

Lighting of the theatre is electrical, from the time of electrification of the entire castle at the beginning of the 20th century. No trace of any older lighting system has been  preserved in the theatre therefore it is probable that the contemporary appearance of the theatre emerged not until the period when the electricity was installed. There has been preserved surface electrical wiring in the auditorium and stage as well, a chandelier in the auditorium, lights on a limelight ramp and on boards between the sceneries and a distributing box with an unique rheostat for regulation of light intensity in the backstage. Separate switches regulated limelight on the ramp and between sceneries.

A part of original decoration has been  preserved in the theatre. It is possible to assemble today only four complete sceneries from a fragmentally preserved collection, remaining drops lack lateral coulisses. 

A large part of the collection is painted by Alois Vraný (1851–1907) who worked as an occasional decoration painter for the Dusík Theatre in Čáslav since the 1870s; Vraný signed two set pieces and added the date 1907 (perharps 1902?)in one case. The decoration, which is not possible to ascribe to Vraný, is partly older- that come from the older theatre in the castle –, partly it was being replenished in the course of operation for the needs of individual performances. It is possible that some of it was created by other painters, participating on decoration  for the Čáslav stage (Robert Holzer, the author of the stage setting among others for the National Theatre in Prague, Josef Spudil, Karel Dušek, Vojtěch Vančura and others).

No information has been found about theatre operation so far – relevant archive files are not accessible in the long term. The only so far known evidence is a list of used decoration for an unspecified performance that has been found under the stage- apart the valuable information about utilized scenery, it is evident that some kind of a podium was used by some scenes on the stage. It is, however, probable with regard to the dimension and overall character of the theatre that it served solely to family entertainment without large ambitions for decor and probably without any art ambitions.

The theatre underwent complete restoration in 2003, during which a new scenery depository was established. The theatre has been  accessible to the public for tours since 2004. It is not used for theatre operation.


Employed sources and literature:

- Olga Novosadová & Milada Vilímková & Marie Heroutová: Státní zámek Žleby – Stavebně-historický průzkum, nepublikovaný strojopis, Státní ústav pro rekonstrukci památkových měst a objektů, Praha 1979.

- Hana Bělinová & Jiří Bláha & Magdalena Slavíková: Restaurování divadelních dekorací na zámku Žleby, nepublikovaná restaurátorská zpráva, Praha 2003.

- Lada Tvrdíková: Divadelní život v Čáslavi v letech 1869–1923, bakalářská práce, Ústav pro studium divadla a interaktivních médií, Filozofická fakulta Masarykovy Univerzity, Brno 2007.

– Antonín Bartušek, Zámecká a školní divadla v českých zemích (ed. Jiří Bláha), České Budějovice 2010, s. 263–264


Tags: Palace theatre, Austrian Empire


Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: Jan Purkert

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