The Magic of Image: Astrological, Alchemical and Magical Symbolism at the Court of Wenceslas IV
By Milena Bartlova
The Role of Magic in the Past: Learned and Popular Magic, Popular Beliefs and Diversity of Attitudes, edited by Blanka Szeghyova (Bratislava, 2005)
Introduction: The Czech Renaissance man of letters Vaclav Hajek of Libocany explained the representations of kingfishers and half naked bathmaidens that he saw painted on some Prague buildings, as records of saucy affairs from the life of the King Bohemia Wenceslas IV. He developed in this way the image of a bad and immoral ruler, coined by the many political and religious enemies acquired by Wenceslas during the almost forty years of his turbulent rule around the year 1400. Three and half centuries later, Julius Schlosser, the art historian writing in Freuds Vienna in the 80s of the 19th century, recognized an extensive group of similar symbolic images in the margins of Wenceslas’ illuminated codices. He called them emblems and explained them as a form of aesthetic sublimation of the erotic relationship between the king and his second wife Sophia of Bavaria. In the 1960s, the Czech art historian Josef Krasa recognized the deepest sense of the complex symbolic meanings of these images in a celebration of natural life, as opposed to the fetters of social conventions.
What can we learn about our own times if the current scholarship prefers to interpret the emblems in the context of the king’s politics and his public role? It is, at least, far less romantic: the knotted veil has been recognized as the badge of a court order of the King of Bohemia and the letter E as a symbolic signature for a lawful bond.