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The Last Judgment - St Vitus Cathedral Prague
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© Christine Till - CT-Graphics
In 1370 Charles IV, King of Bohemia and The Holy Roman Emperor in Prague, ordered the creation of an unusual work of art on the exterior of St. Vitus cathedral's south potal. The entrance, which faced the emperor's residence and served as the entry point for coronation processions, was to have over its three portals a glass mosaic depicting the Last Judgment.
Thirty-one shades of colored glass, plus gilded tesserae, can be found in the approximately one million glass pieces that compose the mosaic. Originally, the entire background of the mosaic was gilded, hence the name of the southern portal of the cathedral - The Golden Gate. Who the mosaicists was who created 'The Last Judgment' is one of the lingering mysteries of this masterpiece.
The mosaic encompasses 84 square meters (904 square feet) and depicts the Last Judgment in triptych form. Christ, in the center of the mosaic, is encircled by a mandorla (an almond-shaped aura of divinity) surrounded by angels. Kneeling beneath this image are the saints of Bohemia and, below them, Emperor Charles IV and his fourth wife, Elizabeth of Pomerania. The panel to the left depicts heaven, while the right panel depicts hell.
When Charles IV died in 1378, St. Vitus Cathedral had been under construction for 34 years. But despite three and a half decades of work, the cathedral was centuries from completion. War, internal strife, and other problems interrupted the building's progress, and it was not until 1929, exactly a thousand years after the death of St. Wenceslas, that the cathedral was finally finished. By then, The Last Judgment mosaic had passed from sight numerous times, only to be resurrected by new generations seeking to recover and preserve Prague's medieval masterpiece.
Restored to its former glory in 2000 by the Getty Conservation Institute, the glass mosaic's colors are once again shimmering brilliantly in the sun. Its art history value, historical significance and scale of technical execution is outstanding.
May 19th, 2012
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