The Bojnice Altarpiece

04-06-2004

Slovakia's Bojnice altarpiece became a part of the separatist propaganda of the former Slovak Premier Meciar in debates with the former Czech Premier Klaus on splitting Czechoslovakia. The Bojnice altarpiece returned to Slovakia in 1995, at the time of the Meciar era in Slovak politics. But what about this piece of art. It was produced in Florence in the 14th century by the artist Nardo di Cione - one of the few to survive the great plague of 1340 and around 1350 he created the 10 panel paintings, which are now known as the Bojnice altar.

Jan Papco is the director of the Bojnice museum:

"The altar was later taken from Florence to Pisa. We are not sure but it seems that this masterpiece was the property of the Augustinians' church. Several years later it was suddenly found in an antique shop where count Jan Pallfi bought it in 1870' and brought it to his castle in Bojnice."

In 1912, four years after the count's death, the altar was installed in a stylish chapel decorated and furbished in the Gothic style. In 1933, 3 simple men living in the vicinity of the castle stole 5 of the Bojnice altar piece panels.

Political disputes using nationalistic arguments for bringing the highly valuable piece of art back to this country were based on the fact that after the robbery in 1933, it was moved to the Czech part of the common country and never given back. However, the robbery remains the most interesting part of the controversial history.

The robbery of the Bojnice altar took place in August 1933. It took a year to detect the culprits and find the stolen paintings.

Today, Dr. Stefan Valent is 96. The Bojnice altar robbery was the first case in his career as a judge. After 70 years, he can still vividly remember that although the crime was committed on August 27, 1933, the culprits were brought to the court in October 1934. Why did it take so long? Because the police followed a false scent:

"They didn't have a clue. It was an absolute coincidence when the main clue suddenly occurred. Ilesic, the small-time thief was detained in a small police station. There he boasted about stealing the paintings."

The biggest painting was 110 cm tall and 70 cm long and could fit perfectly in the ice-cream vendor's box. Hidden in a specially carved box under sweet ice-cream, the paintings were supposed to be transported to Austria. However, the suspicion of someone educated and rich ordering the theft was not confirmed.

Why are the Bojnice altar panels so precious and valuable? Jan Papco, the director of the Bojnice museum sums up:

"It is artwork standing at the beginning of a revolution in the history of art. Before Cione, there was Giotto creating in Florence. He was the inventor of a new style in painting when artists started to depict the world around in a realistic way. The style should have reflected what people saw in reality, i.e. carnality, plasticity and space. This realistic depiction of the world was ended by Picasso at the beginning of the 20th century."

The copy as well as the original of this precious altarpiece can be seen in the Bojnice castle all year round.

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