The God Radegast in Prague Zoo

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  05. 10. 2015

It is said that when in the end of 1950s workers discovered in one of Prague gardens a strange statue with animal features under a drift of leaves and soil the authorities did not know what to do with it. So they offered it to the zoological garden.

A mould of the statue of Radegast, made according to the original from Radhošť, in Trojanovice. Photo Miroslav Bobek   A mould of the statue of Radegast, made according to the original from Radhošť, in Trojanovice. Photo Miroslav Bobek

We cannot learn today, if the story really happened in this way, but its core is true. The scene was a former Novak´s sculpture atelier below Vyšehrad and the statue was the second of two originals of statue of Radegast, the Slavic God. Indeed the employees of the Zoo picked it up in 1961 and placed it in a crossing in the upper part of the Zoo. It happened three decades after the first and better known original of Radegast was ceremonially unveiled on the mythical mountain of Radhošť in Beskydy.

It is highly disputable if the old Slavs really had Radegast in their Pantheon of Gods. In spite of all the legends we can be sure that in their times there was no statue of Radegast on Radhošť, nor a gold-plated one, nor one of any other kind. But lot of these legends connected with Radhošť are so impressive that no surprise many were trying to find an ancient statue of Radegast or some other treasures of a pagan temple in the pseudokarst underground of the mountain.

The legends about Radegast had to wait to become materialized only thanks to a patriot from Frenštát pod Radhoštěm, the already famous American sculptor Albín Polášek (1879 - 1965). He carved the form of Radegast from wood on one of his returns to Czechoslovakia in 1925 and five years later in Novak´s rented atelier he depicted him appearing as we now know him. While the first of the two originals of the more than three metres high statue made from artificial stone was intended for Radhošť, where it was installed in 1931, the second one Albín Polášek had made for his future outdoor atelier. He was planning to build it in his home town, Frenštát, but the plan was never realized. Polášek, the sculptor of a statue of Woodrow Wilson and works based on religious themes, became a persona non grata in his home country after 1948. He was lavished with honours and he spent the rest of his days in the United States.

It is not clear if the second original of the Radegast statue during the first thirty years of its existence remained only on the grounds of the Novák´s atelier in Prague or was moved somewhere else. But later for more than half of century it was exposed to weather in the Zoo and clearly started to decay. Therefore we decided to have it restored, which was carried out by Petr Lacina from the Studio of Restoration of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.

As it turned out, the condition of the statue was even worse than it had appeared at first sight. Radegast was missing a dove (or maybe a duck) on the right hand and part of the cornucopia, the surface was covered by moss, lichens and gypsum crust, the statue was interlaced by cracks and its iron armature had corroded hopelessly. It was necessary to conduct a great deal of analysis and patiently clean and repair the statue. To obtain the material for the newly modelled dove to match exactly the original, Petr Lacina had to travel to Ostrava region for slag, and then burn the bricks, which when crushed provided material of the same colour and structure, which long time ago Albín Polášek had used as one of the ingredients. That illustrates how difficult the process was.

You can now admire Radegast in the Zoo in his full splendour. And because the story of the presumed Slavic God, of his artistic interpretation and also his restoration is enormously interesting, we have dedicated an exhibit to him in Gočár´s Houses in Prague Zoo, which will be open until the end of November this year.

Nový pár mangust trpasličích má poprvé mláďata