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Kačina Château Theatre

Joseph Philip Jöndl /Joendl

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1796 | Project for the château

(detail)1822 | Construction of the château roughly completed
1816 – Beginning of the construction of the pavilion at the end of the left (northern) wing of the château with a theatre and chapel 1822 – Construction of the château roughly completed
(detail)4. 11. 1851 | First performance in the new theatre
1823-08 The Chotek family moved to Kačina from their previous seat in nearby Nový Dvůr. 1851-11-04 First performance in the new theatre
(detail)70. 's 20. century | Research on the theatre

(detail)2005 | Restoration research on the theatre
New research on the theatre, in the meanwhile the auditorium repaired


(detail)Joseph Philip Jöndl /Joendl |main architect

Czech architect, a co-worker of J. Fischer, participated on  the recostruction of the Místodržitelský letohrádek in Prague, inspired by Gothic revival architecture.

Source: Vlček, Pavel a kol. : Encyklopedie architektů, stavitelů, zedníků a kameníků v Čechách, str. 32, Praha 2004.

(detail)Anton Arche |architect

His works were mainly built in the style of late Neoclassical architecture or later of Gothic revival architecture. The main work includes reconstruction of Podzámecká zahrada in Kroměříž , listed on World heritage of UNESCO.

Source : Vlček, Pavel a kol. : Encyklopedie architektů, stavitelů, zedníků a kameníků v Čechách, str. 32, Praha 2004.

(detail)Jiří Fischer |architect

Is considered as a representative of czech Neoclassicism  and Empire style . His main contribution is considered the reconstruction of former monastery Hybernů na Celnici in Empire style.

Source: Vlček, Pavel a kol. : Encyklopedie architektů, stavitelů, zedníků a kameníků v Čechách, str. 175, Praha 2004.

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Jan Rudolf hrabě Chotek |Commissioned by


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Kačina Château, one of the most significant examples of the Empire Style of architecture in the Czech Republic, was built at the instigation of Count Jan Rudolf Chotek (1749–1824) on his estate in Nový Dvůr. The design for the château was prepared in the year 1796 by the Dresden architect Christian Fridrich Schuricht (1753–1832). Adaptations to the locale and the future château park were carried out starting in the 1790s while the foundation stone of the château building was laid in the year 1806. The architect for the first two years was Jiří Fischer (1768–1828). The position of main architect was consequently taken over by the architect Joseph Philip Jöndl (1782–1870) who over the following years adapted and completed Schuricht’s design; the commissioner himself actually carried out minor changes in the plans. Jöndl was replaced near the end of the construction process by Anton Arche (1793–1851). The building, at least in terms of its rough features, was completed in the year 1822 and in August of the following year the Chotek family moved to Kačina from their previous seat in nearby Nový Dvůr.

The château theatre is situated at the end of the left (northern) wing of the château in the middle of the pavilion which was built from the year 1816, it was still far from completion, however, by the year 1823. The intended chapel, originally planned to take up the remaining southern part of the pavilion, was actually never completed.

The rapid completion of the château theatre was complicated by the troublesome financial situation of the commissioner. The preserved bills allow us to observe the expenses for the gradual building and equipping of the theatre up until the 1850s; the first documented performance in the theatre took place in the year 1848.

Gradual changes in the planned appearance of the theatre and its furnishings are well documented by a collection of plans from the first half of the 19th century, the oldest of which date back to the year 1821 and are signed by Jöndl. It cannot as yet be determined if Jöndl designed the later changes in the design, and thus consequently also influenced the actual realized appearance of the theatre. It would seem, however, that the comments on drawings of certain details were actually suggested by ‘ his grace the Count himself’.

The construction of the theatre in the new château was the culmination of long theatrical activity in the Chotek homes. The theatre hall as well as the summer garden theatre were part of the château in Nový Dvůr as early as the second half of the 18th century. There is also information existing regarding theatrical performances at the château in Veltrusy. Theatre began in Kačina as early as the 1820s; prior to the completion of the new theatre, theatrical performances took place in the provisional space of the main château hall. A collection of children’s theatre costumes, currently housed in the theatre department of the National Museum, is connected with the activity prior to the opening of the current theatre. This is also the case with the mechanical little theatre (‘panorama’) which had been preserved in the inventory of the Kačina château and which is presently on exhibit in the puppet theatre museum in Český Krumlov.

The pavilion with the theatre and the uncompleted chapel, in the same fashion as the entire château, faces out on the west with its main façade. It connects up with the main château via a colonnade wing, from the end of which one enters the corridor leading along the chapel to the theatre. The central part of the main façade of the pavilion is enhanced by a Doric portico with four columns, entamblature and a gable with acroteria. A short staircase leads to a group of three doors between the columns. The central one is blind while the right doors lead to the theatre auditorium. The rear part of the stage is accessible by additional doors in the northern wall.

The oblong hall with a concave shaped back (southern) wall is 15.5 metres long, 12 metres wide and 9 metres high in the auditorium part. The stage is 9 metres deep and 12 metres wide. The stage portal is 6.8 metres wide and 5.8 metres high. The grid is 10.5 metres above the stage.

There are two half-circular windows at the height of the fly galleries leading from the west onto the space of the stage (the windows are situated above the large blind windows with shutters when viewed from outside) as well as one window above the doors in the northern wall. The auditorium section of the theatre is without windows.

The auditorium is accessible either from the outside through the doors in the western side of the pavilion or from the two doors on the opposite side leading from the corridor, with one of them leading to the upper part of the pit and the other leading to the orchestra pit. Separate doors lead from the corridor to the spiral staircase providing access to the gallery. The auditorium can be reached through doors from the corridor or from outside through the large doors in the back wall.

Several service rooms are connected up to the theatre hall on the northern (on the right when viewing the stage) side. A small changing room is located at the back part of the stage and is only accessible from the auditorium. In front of this is the spiral staircase leading to the first floor and the room which served as a storeroom for props along with the larger changing room accessible from the corridor.

The auditorium floor declines slightly in the direction of the stage. The wooden construction of the Count's box is situated in the rear part of the pit. Two floors of galleries with dimensions of 2 x 12 metres were built above this along the concave shaped rear wall. A simple bench has been preserved in the first gallery while the original area for four rows of standing room still exists in the second gallery. The auditorium could have held approximately 300–350 people.

The slightly deepened orchestra area, separated from the pit by a low parapet, is 1.6 metres wide, and 1.2 metres high. Parts of the original counters for notes and candlesticks have been preserved there.

The walls of the auditorium are decorated with attractive artistic work, the ground floor and columns of the gallery with imitation marble and the side walls and parapets of the gallery with decorative panels with acanthus motifs developing symmetrically from the central rosettes.  The cavetto beneath the ceiling has a painted profiled moulding with festoons and mascarons in frieze. The Chotek coat-of-arms is placed in the rosette in the middle of the ceiling, with acanthus and laurel once again around the panels. The interior of the Count's box is lined with wallpaper.

At present the auditorium is lit up by a range of modern lamps and a crystal chandelier in the middle of the ceiling. The theatre also contains preserved parts of the original hot-air heating system.

The stage portal bears a decorative painting similar to the wall of the auditorium. Two painted fluted pilasters are situated on both sides while a panel with acanthus décor is on the lintel. There are additionally acanthus lyres on both sides and imitation marble on the side front-stages. A painted canvas drapery is fastened onto the upper part of the portal from the stage side.

The upper edge of the stage and the dividing wall of the orchestra pit were convex shaped in the oldest plans (parallel to the rear wall of the auditorium), this design was only altered in later designs.

The Kačina theatre has been preserved including the technical equipment of the stage which were adapted with changes to the traditional flat painted decorations – the side scenery, borders and back-cloths. Despite the loss of certain part one can still determine the method in which it functioned and how it was served.

There are slots along the sides of the horizontal stage for four pairs of scenery frames, always three after one another (the number of side scenes differs on the older plans from the finally realised state). The slots are created in parallel fashion with the edge of the fore-stages and converging in the direction of the depth of the stage. The frames under the stage were set into tracks on wooden tables above the floor. Unfortunately, most of the frames were burned up several years ago. Movement of the side scenes was carried out manually, each separately. A centralised system through the use of pulleys did appear on one of the plans, but was apparently not introduced.

The majority of the plans also show a pair of fore-stage side boards, apart from the side scenes, which (as we know it from other theatres as well) were permanently installed on to the stage and were not replaced: older plans actually show these side boards turned to the depth of the stage. It is not at present clear if these fore-stage frames of the stage were actually carried out.

The space under the stage is accessible by a stairway from the back part of the stage. Smaller stairs in the front part lead to the prompter's box.

A significant innovation appeal in the Kačina theatre which had been continually equipped for a larger audience starting in the beginning of the 19th century:  high flies which the decorations could be connected to without complicated storage or winding up. The ties which the back-cloths, borders and of course the curtain were connected to above the stage led across a row of pulleys on the bottom part of the grid roof to a catwalk on the right side of the stage. An additional 27 decorative parts could be hung onto the stage in addition to the curtain.

The view of D. Wilmor (see the literature) that the decoration lifting with badly accessible pulleys situated under the roof was unusual and in all probability designed by an untrained dilettante, must be rejected – almost the same design can be seen at present in the château theatre in Nové Hrady in South Bohemia (1822, adaptations 1836 and 1846) or only in details in a different form in the Austrian château Weitra (date of origin not determined).

The wooden catwalk where the lifting and dropping of decorations took place is only accessible at present by ladder (perhaps originally by no longer extant stairs?). A board with hooks for fixing of ties runs along the entire length of the walls above the catwalk, with writing and numbers underneath for easier orientation. Five shafts, each with two cables for counterweights, hang from the catwalk along the wall all the way down to the floor, serving to balance the weight of the decorations.  The counter-weights were made up of wooden boxes containing the needed amount of stones – part of both have also been preserved in the theatre. Although a similar system was employed for a major period of time in the majority of theatres, Kačina is the only locale in the country where these shafts have been preserved.

Approximately in the middle of the wall opposite the catwalk are doors leading to the rooms on the first floor where the decorations were stored. A subtle winch is situated at the lower edge of these doors from which a wide board is placed downward in the wall to the doors from the stage to the corridor.

The lighting ramp has not been preserved – the front part of the stage was seemingly reconstructed at an undetermined point of time. Based upon the evidence of two shafts and small pulleys, preserved beneath the stage, it would seem they were controlled from the prompter's box; other variations for their movement can at present be only seen in the historical plans.

The wings were lit up by lamps on rotating stands which were placed into openings in the floor. The remains of these stands have been preserved in the theatre and their original function and appearance are also attested to in the historical plans.

A range of wooden hooks are placed on to the back wall of the stage where back-cloths not in use were situated.

The collection of original stage decorations had only been preserved in fragments. A complete production can not be put together from the preserved pieces (the collection green room and blue Gothic room have been best preserved, both with a back-cloth and four wings); only partial pieces exist for the majority of the productions.

The origin of part of the decorations can only so far (when being conscious of the long period of construction of the theatre) be vaguely established in the second quarter of the 19th century. Certain pieces certainly come from one of the older Chotek theatres (Nový Dvůr, the provisional stage in the main Kačina hall): several back-cloths for the present day stage were later enlarged by sewing on new strips of cloth. In similar fashion new decorations over the course of the theatre operations certainly came about. It cannot as yet be determined if the creation of at least certain decorations was connected with the information that the painter Eduard Tichý was paid to carry out work for the theatre in the year 1851.

A more valuable artistically part of the collection would seem to be older back-cloths (perhaps at the beginning or the first half of the 19th century: a fragment of the richly decorated columned hall, several variations of rooms, landscape); of primary interest from the newer parts of the collections are the characteristic for the time blue Gothic room with rich décor, paper applications and gilding.

The theatre was ceremonially opened on the 4th of November 1851. Intensive operations of the theatre lasted almost twenty years, wherein among other things the plays of Rudolf Karel Chotek (1832–1894) were performed, the great-grandson of the commissioner of the château and the main force behind the local theatre activity. According to period reports additional members of the family acted in the theatre, also working as musicians and decoration artists.

During World War II the château served as a recreation centre for the Hitlerjugend, with the theatre functioning as a storage area; at that time the original theatre curtain and in all probability the chandelier from the auditorium mysteriously disappeared. In the 1950s the theatre functioned for a short time as a cinema. From this time a workplace of the National Museum of Agriculture has been located in the château and houses an exhibition here up until the present time. The theatre was opened for viewings at the time around the year 1950; under the supervision of PhDr. Ema Charvátová the State Monument Administration installed a group of figurines on to the stage representing modest peasant petitioners in front of caricature portrayals of the château lords.

Thorough research into the theatre begun at the beginning of the 1970s determined its poor condition and the need for reconstruction; up until the time of new research and documentation in the year 2005, however, only the auditorium was repaired while further losses of the original equipment occurred on the stage. At present the theatre is used for occasional performances and is further accessible to the public as part of the guided tours of the château.


Employed sources and literature:

- Původní plány divadla z 1. pol. 19. stol. (Ústav dějin umění Akademie věd ČR, inv. č. 04022 WDIII/614–615, 618–623, 625–626).

- Kopecký, Jan: Zámecké divadlo na Kačině. Zpráva o dnešním stavu, dějinách stavby a repertoáru kačinského divadla, nepublikovaný strojopis; Scénografický ústav, Praha 1972.

- Vadlejchová, Ivana [=Kopecký, Jan]: The Theatre at the Kačina Château (1821–23); Interscaena’73 – Acta Scaenographica 2/III [roč. III, č. 2], 1973, s. 20–26.

- Pömerl, Jan: Zámecké divadlo v Kačině; Zprávy divadelního ústavu, září–říjen 1994, s. 14–16.

- Hulec, Mikuláš & Špička, Daniel (& kol.): Dokumentace historické jevištní techniky divadla na zámku Kačina, nepublikovaný strojopis; Centrum pro ochranu a restaurování architektury CORA, Praha 2006 (obsahuje samostatné texty Davida Wilmora o jevištní technice a Jiřího Bláhy o dekoracích a kostýmech).



Tags: Palace theatre, Empire style, Austrian Empire


Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: David Livingstone

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