Sources of Art

Jan Blazej Santini Aichel was christened on 4 February of 1677 as a son of the stone mason master Santin Aichel and his wife Alzbeta born Thimova in St Vitus Cathedral in Prague. That time, his parents lived in a small house in the Northern foreland of Prague Castle, in the St Vitus parish office. His father Santin was the son of a mason settled in Prague Antonio Aichel coming from a little town Roveredo near Lake Lugano. Stone masonry art of Santin Aichel had been famous already during his life and we can find it in the most sophisticated buildings in Prague. He was bound with the architect of the Prague's Archibishop John Frederick of Wallenstein, Jean Baptiste Mathey not only by professional relationship but also by personal friendship. This artist from Dijon, originally trained as a painter, obtained qualification in architecture during his, more than twenty years long, stay in Rome. After his arrival to Prague in 1675, he presented here the architectural expression of Roman academic art of baroque at its peak, thus considerably influencing Czech architecture before 1700. Jean Baptiste Mathey probably accepted to apprenticeship Jan Santini, the oldest son of Aichel who was not able to get trained in his father's physically demanding craft due to his physical handicap. However, the young Santini was well acquainted with the intellectual aspect of stone masonry such as precise structure according to the today's descriptive geometry by experience from his father's stone cutting workshop.

The young Santini undoubtedly gained sense of perfection of architectural forms and concepts and composition arrangement with Mathey, as well as knowledge up-to-date development of Roman creation and desire for a first-hand Italian art experience. Together with Mathey, he probably got in contact with Theatine College in Prague, and together they designed the Church of Our Lady of Oettingen in today's Nerudova Street in Mala Strana (Lesser Town). Apparently, soon after Mathey's departure for France in the summer of 1695, Santini set forth an apprenticeship journey towards the South. It is obvious that he visited Vienna, Passau and Salzburg in the Central Europe, and moved to Lombardy through the Alpine valleys, where he became interested in completion of construction of the Gothic cathedral in Milano, still in the Gothic style. During his stay in Torino in the neighbouring Savoy, he got acquainted with buildings of a Theatine priest and ingenious mathematician, theologian and architect Guarino Guarini. Guarini was also theoretically concerned with Gothic architecture and we can find numerous Gothic elements in his work of art. The core topic of his buildings' aesthetics is the intentional, complicated and highly impressive work with light.

Rome was undoubtedly the destination of his journey, but he did not take up the art of masters who had influenced his teacher. He was highly interested in the work of the one generation older and lone genius of Roman baroque Francesco Borromini. His extraordinary artistic expression combined deep knowledge of antique architecture of the Roman Empire, Gothic architecture (when he got trained during construction of Milano's cathedral) and individual approach to the building art work, often exceeding standards of that time. All this provides Borromini's buildings with unique and exceptional character with almost enigmatic effect. Knowledge and deep understanding of Borromini's architecture principles influenced aesthetics of Santini's buildings in so far that he can be considered as the only real successor of the great Roman master. It seems that Santini's ability to fully understand the artistic message of geniuses of Italian Radical Baroque – Borromini and Guarini – was made possible through his knowledge of Gothic architecture at its peak, not only limited to shape uniqueness of Gothic morphology, but deeply understanding the construction logic and aesthetic order in the cathedral architecture, that he obtained in Prague in his youth. When Jan Santini Aichel began his design work in 1700, his art represented logical synthesis of exclusive inspirations that the young master was able to develop freely and independently and transform it within his own work of inimitable invention.