150 years since the birth of the sculptor František Bílek, whose family villa materializes his spiritual concepts

František Bílek | Photo: Rozpravy Aventina, volume 6/1930-1931, Akademie věd/Wikimedia Commons, public domain

In Czech society of the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, František Bílek stood out for his profound spirituality. Most of his works depict religious motifs. There is a crucifix he carved in the nave of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle. Nevertheless, the artist then distanced himself from the Catholic Church. After a first plaster model by Jan Hus, made in 1900, his work was inspired by references and motifs from the Czech Reformation. Subsequently, he and his family joined the Czechoslovak Hussite Church.

The crucifix in the nave of St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle | Photo: Øyvind Holmstad, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

St. Wenceslas Church in Zderaz in Prague | Photo: Daniela Dangová, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Moreover, in 1930, František Bílek made a proposal for a new structure of religious services, which he accompanied with sketches of ornate robes and stoles for the priest and the officiants of the masses. Even today, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church uses the chalices and candlesticks created by František Bílek. František Bílek’s work can be seen in the Hussite churches in České Budějovice as well as in the Church of St. Wenceslas in Zderaz, Prague.

But it is mainly through the villa Bílek that he became an architectural and cultural reference in Prague. It is one of the first flat-roofed family houses in the country, and its exterior fully reflects the religious beliefs of František Bílek.

Villa Bílek | Photo: e-Sbírky, National Museum, CC BY-NC-ND

In the center of an imaginary circle, the sculptor had originally placed a statue of Moses, with whom he identified. Furthermore, the concepts of spiritual plowing, sowing, ripening and harvesting were allegories of Bílek’s faith. The curious rounded plan of the villa evokes the trace left by the passage of a scythe in a field of cereals. In addition, the concrete columns in the shape of ears and sheaves of wheat, Egyptian style, provide a contrast with the massive structure of the building.

Villa Bílek | Photo: Martin Vaniš, Radio Prague Int.

Villa Bílek | Photo: Martin Vaniš, Radio Prague Int.

The southern part of the house housed the sculptor’s studio, while the northern part was the artist’s family’s two-story apartment. The rooms are not rectangular: their beveled angles offer a labyrinth of small spaces and intimate nooks. Original furniture and symbolic details designed by František Bílek – and even carved by him, for some – complete the authentic atmosphere of the interior of the villa. He also designed the decorative elements made of metal, such as chandeliers and door handles inspired by the lines of nature.

František Bílek's house in Chýnov | Photo: Miloš Hlávka, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Villa Bílek is now administered by the Prague City Gallery, which exhibits the late works of the artist there. It is also possible to visit another of his houses, which he called “chaloupka”, in Chýnov, in South Bohemia. It was built in 1898 according to his plans, and exhibits his early works as well as his late works created precisely in this house.

150 years since the birth of the sculptor František Bílek, whose family villa materializes his spiritual concepts