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Phasma Dionysiacum Pragense

alias Prague Dionysian Apparition
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(detail)1617 | Opening
A theatre space was established at the Prague Castle for festive performances organized to give honour to the Emperor Mathias and his wife on 5th and 7thFebruary, 1617.


Prague Castle, Phasma Dionysiacum Pragense Performance – this was originally a theatre space established at the Prague Castle for festive performances organized to give honour to the Emperor Mathias and his wife on 5th and 7th February, 1617. Scholars are not unanimous on where exactly the performance took place. Historical records refer to two places, either „Landstuben“, thus the Old House of Parliament or „groβer Saal“, thus the Vladislav Hall. According to the event depiction on an engraving from the period we can infer information which clearly speaks for the second alternative. The Old House of Parliament would be simply too small for such an undertaking.

The depiction is considered to be the oldest known one of a baroque style from a region to the north from the Alps. Looking at the stage portal formed by two rock pillars, the stage was covered with clouds-like decoration with floating Mercury in front and only behind it a deep scene revealed lined with side decorations (rocks and trees). The backdrop had a depiction of an early Baroque style garden on it. Pairs of fabulous and historical rulers were seated in front of the props. Behind them there were two groups of four mythical and classical poets in standing positions. Eros was revealed in the cloud-like decoration above the stage at the start and initials placed under the Imperial Crown of the ruling couple were presented at the end together with an allegorical figure of Victory referring to the Habsburg house celebrated by a hymn and accompanied with a harp. During this scene performance, representatives of the royal couples descended to the parterre to ballet dance in ornamental grouping. The poets grouped up in a colour-guard style on both sides of the stage portal. Considering the auditorium we could infer from the analogies with similarly designed staging of that historical period that there was sort of an amphitheatre solution enabling the audience to observe the last ballet production from elevated steps. A special box or a tribune in the centre of the amphitheatre arch was probably set up for the celebrated Imperial couple.

Jiří Hilmera


Recent literature does not agree with above mentioned and is convinced that the performance took place in the Old House of Parliament. Up-to-date knowledge has been presented during the conference Phasma Dionysiacum Pragense 1617–2017 on February 4th and 5th 2017; the proceedings will be published before the modern reconstruction of the performance, which will take place on July 4th 2017 in the Lichtenstein palace (HAMU) in Prague.

Jiří Bláha



– Petr Maťa, "Phasma Dionysiacum Pragense" a počátky karnevalového kalendáře na císařském dvoře. Divadelní revue 15, 2004, č. 2, s. 45–55 , incl. sources and older literature. Available online (in Czech): http://host.divadlo.cz/art/clanek.asp?id=5333

– Marc Niubò, heslo Phasma Dionysiacum Pragense. In Alena Jakubcová et al., Starší divadlo v českých zemích do konce 18. století: Osobnosti a díla. Praha 2007, pp. 456–458, incl. sources and older literature. Available online (in Czech): http://host.divadlo.cz/art/clanek.asp?id=3603




Tags: Baroque, Habsburg monarchy


Author: Jiří Hilmera

Translator: Hana Atcheson

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