Curator: Ladislav Moučka
Photographs: Věroslav Škrabánek
His face is unknown; he has no gravestone, and only his work remains.
Since a great deal has already been written about Jan Blažej Santini Aichel (Johann Blasius Santini Aichel), I will only briefly recapitulate what we know about him and how I imagine him. His short life (he died aged 46) was divided into two halves on either side of the year 1700, and the second half was filled with work. He seems to have been of slight build, and he had a limp. He knew that people were pointing at him furtively, and sometimes he heard children jeering behind his back. His own sons all died. Buffeted by the heavy blows of fate, his only consolation was his remarkable talent, which won him the favour of religious orders and an according social status. Even when among people, however, he was always alone with his thoughts. His was a genius born of suffering and innate talent. His correspondence reveals an almost tangible clash between hell and the heaven of knowledge, an almost Faustian conflict between “the limping devil and the great light of architecture”. Though the first appellation is meant ironically, it suggests something profoundly painful.
Santini’s work has transcended the bounds of his day. His buildings are so exact that if we know the system for composing one building, we can calculate the composition of any other. From this perspective his buildings seem more like shells built around tightly fitting geometric equations. This gives their proportions a truly unique rhythm, something we sense subconsciously and find in it a harmony.
Comparative studies show that Santini knew the exact dimensions of Prague’s Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert, and he took his compositional templates from it, such that the cathedral became the matrix – the mother – for the ideas behind his works. The dimensions of his buildings and his approach to their compositions confirm this. But what is most ingenious in Santini’s work is in fact hidden from view. Thanks to his use of the same system for composition and the same unit of measurement, his buildings comprise a unique and indivisible whole whose proportions and dimensions are in harmony with St Vitus’ Cathedral. By applying the principles of geometry, the dimensions of one building can be used to calculate the measurements and proportions of another.