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Katarína Mašterová

Saint Vitus, Cathedral of the Nation. An Unpublished Book by Josef Sudek

Photographer Josef Sudek launched his career with an original album of fifteen photographs of the Cathedral of St. Vitus, which was published in 1928 by the Družstevní práce/Cooperative Work Press. A decade later he decided to return to St. Vitus and other Prague themes with an eye to the creation of modern pictorial publications. During the Second World War he signed contracts for two monographs. The first one on Prague Castle was published immediately after the war in 1945 by Bohumil Janda’s Sfinx Press. Sudek offered the second monograph on the Cathedral of St. Vitus to the Melantrich publishing house. Subsequentely he worked with editor Lev Nerad in the years 1942–1948 on an ambitious book accompanied by almost three hundred photographs and containing four expert studies by various art historians. Thanks to surviving preprint photographs it has proved possible to reconstruct the pictorial section of the publication. The photographs themselves are today scattered in at least three collections. They provide us with information about shifts in Sudek’s professional approach, the change in his view of the cathedral and the aesthetic principles of his photography, and at the same time about the transformation of the cathedral after major building work. Compared to Sudek’s series of photographs from the 1920s, the later set is visually quieter but emotionally affected, characterised by dim, diffuse light, empty spaces and perfectly composed views of different parts of the cathedrals or fragments of its decoration. Undoubtedly it is informed by Sudek’s experience of commissioned photography for clients in previous years and his refined feeling for the pragensia that he had been exploring in his photography for years in his spare time. The book project ran into difficulties, however, and attempts to get another company to publish it came to nothing. At the beginning of the 1950s, censorship of the subject brought an end to the project and the monograph never came out. Although Sudek published some of his photographs in other pragensia, the failure of the Cathedral book plan left him with a lifelong feeling of bitterness.

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DOI: HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.54759/ART-2022-0205

Full-text in the Digital Library of the Czech Academy of Sciences:

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