Statue of Libuše and Přemysl, Vyšehrad
Přemysl and Libuše, Josef Myslbek, 1897 (copy)
In the peaceful grounds of the ancient fort of Vyšehrad stand four monumental statues by Josef Myslbek depicting characters from early Czech mythology. One shows an allegorical couple, ‘Lumír and Piseň’ — singer and muse. The other three are legendary pairs: Ctirad and Šárka, the temptress who lured him to his death in the 7th-century War of the Maidens; Záboj and Slavoj, two warriors who fought off a Frankish incursion in the 9th century; and these two: Libuše and Přemysl, mythical founders of Prague.
According to legend, Libuše was one of the three daughters of old king Krok, who held dominion over these lands from his fortress at Vyšehrad. Libuše had no husband, but as luck would have it she had a dream in which her horse led her to her future consort. The animal was duly dispatched to the distant hills, where it came across a ploughman called ‘Přemysl’ (his name means thoughtful, or studious). The mystified peasant was swept back to Vyšehrad and became the father of the great Přemyslid dynasty.
Inspired by her prophetic success, Libuše went into a further trance. This time her horse took her in a quite different direction, towards the area where Prague Castle now stands. ‘Go until you reach a man making a lintel for his house’, the vision had said, ‘and on that spot you will found a city whose fame will reach the stars.’ She did, and she named it ‘Prah’, the old Czech word for a lintel. The sweeping gesture of the arm in this statue and many other works of art refers to that defining moment in Bohemian history.
The gargantuan pairs were designed in the 1890s and originally erected at the four corners of the Palacký Bridge. In February 1945 over forty US bombers carried out a bombing raid on southern Prague which practically destroyed the nearby Emmaus church and severely damaged the bridge. Following the war, all four groups were moved to the safety of Vyšehrad; ‘Přemysl and Libuše’ was one of the two statues considered beyond repair, and what we see today is a copy.
Ctirad and Šárka, Josef Myslbek, 1897
Note: parts of this text first appeared in 2010 on my Vršovice Daily Photo website