Taken from the Cabinet of Antiques

hodiny2Taken from the Cabinet of Antiques
(A Glimpse at the Collection of Rudolf Just)

The aim of the exhibition is to present the phenomenon of collectioning by means of presenting the outstanding latterday Czech art collector Rudolf Just (1895-1972) as the Slovak National Museum – the Museum of History (SNM) managed to acquire (with the support of the Slovak Ministry of Culture) a part of his collection in 2001.
Choice of the exhibits from among the new acquisitions was conditioned not only by the nature of the Museum’s collections but also by their quality level. Purchased items can be classified into several groups in view of the material – those made of pewter in the 17th and 18th century, stoneware and faience that can be dated to the period between the 16th and 18th century and finally glass from the 17th and 18th centuries. SNM-the Museum of History also succeeded to purchase four solitaire pieces from Just’s private collection – playing box dated to 1625, two wood panels with Bible scenes and exceptionally ornate powder flask from the 17th century.
Pewter items belonging to the Just’s collection represent highly interesting and precious artefacts. Six pewter plates, two bottles and the kettle of the shoemakers’ guild, made in Česká Lípa, were purchased in all. The kettle bears an incised floral medallion with the motive of guild symbols, names of masters and date 1689.
It is known for certain that the pewter plate showing the double-headed eagle was made by Kašpar Ondřej Schödel in the Prague New Town, which is attested by the municipal and master mark on its verso.
Through lack of guild mark it is not easy to determine the place of origin of the remarkable pewter flask in the shape of the book although it bears an engraved armorial framed in a decorative medallion, year 1684 and names of presumed purchasers Wenceslaus Laichner and his wife Helena Leichnerová. Sides of the bottle show saint patrons of the couple (Saint Wenceslas and Saint Helena) that are surrounded by ornate medallions. Taking into consideration general character of the bottle, we assume that it was manufactured in Bohemia.
Same attention should be paid to pewter plates with lavishly decorative engravings of stylized floral scrolls and dedication inscriptions that served as so-called memorial plates offered at baptisms.
Purchase of a part of Just’s collection enabled the Museum to start a unique collection of hammered brass bowls as well. Though often labelled as baptismal bowls, their original liturgical function was liturgical washing of hands. And sometimes they had purely decorative function. Master metalworkers made the bowls from a thin sheet metal by modifying it into required form on a circular anvil. Half-processed sheet metal was afterwards decorated with chosen ornament applied by beating. It was usually a circular central medallion depicting floral or anthropomorphic patterns created by means of moulds serving as seals. Medallion could be bordered with simple or concentric ornate bands applied by hammering presumably according to the desire of the purchaser.
Not only pewter and brass items but also 31 stoneware, glass and porcelain exhibits can be classified as outstanding being unique products of European stoneware and glass production of the 17th and 18th century within Slovakia. Set of German Renaissance stoneware comprises examples of Raeren, Westerwald and Creussen manufactories, represented for example by stoneware bottle with hexagonal body and tin screw stopper “Apostelschraubflasche”. It is assumed to be made about 1648 as a wedding gift.
Collection of Habaner faience dates back to 1650-1750. Apart from older floral ornamentation the patterns of stylized architecture, plants (especially lily of the valley) and animals painted in blue cobalt on a white background became more and more common at this period under the influence of Delft. The tankard can be dated to the turn of the 17th and 18th century on the basis of the blue decoration depicting a man smoking a pipe and also thanks to the incised portrait medallion of emperor Joseph I (1705-1711) enclosed in ornate tin mounting. In addition, the high quality jug, produced by the Salzburg workshop of Thomas Obermillner (1615-1675), defies the average faience production by its overall character.
Acquired set of objects of the Just’s collection includes 19 glass items made in the territory of present-day Germany and Czech Republic. Perfume bottles and goblets with delicate zoomorphic and vegetal ornamentation represent an impressive collection of Silesian glass.
Indisputable art quality of the glass examples can be proved also by the memorial beaker “Humpen” dating back to 1653 and made at the occasion of the celebration of Peace of Westphalia. Though many enamelled objects from the 1st half of the 17th century have been preserved up to these days, scene depicting the signing of the Peace of Westphalia appears to be a rarity.
Beside the chosen exhibits from the Just’s collection, remarkable life of this one-off personality and art collector is also worth a mention. Being a successful businessman, Just started his collection in 1920s and 1930s but could not continue in his collecting activities because of the Second World War. He did not hesitate to put his life at risk for his beloved collection, worth 305 000 Czechoslovak crowns in 1946, during the Nazi occupation as well as at the beginning of totalitarian regime in the 1950s. Only the freedom-like 1960s did bring him the renewed possibility to publish scholarly articles and to meet connoisseurs from the Western Europe. Unfortunately, even after the fall of the Iron Curtain Just’s collection remained under the threat. Some 20 years after its owner’s death it was spoiled and damaged by theft and petty selling. Finally, the seal on its existence was set in 2001 by an immense auction at the Sotheby’s in London, at which its individual items raised a total of £1.5 million.