Jošt Lucemburský: The Guardian of Moravské Náměstí
The statue of Jošt Lucemburský on Moravské náměstí is one of most famous landmarks in the City of Brno. If you are ready for a little trip back in time, Brno Daily will explain the history of Jošt Lucemburský and his statue, which you probably know as “the horse with big legs”. So, let’s saddle up and follow in the footsteps of one of the most prominent Moravian historical figures. Photo Credit: Coline B. / Brno Daily / Moravske Namesti, Brno
An ideal location: Moravské Náměstí
Walking around Brno’s streets, no one can miss the statue, one of the most prominent attractions in the city centre. It is often surrounded by crowds of amateur photographers who want to challenge the height of its legs, professional photographers seeking the perfect angle, or just passers-by interested in the astonishing physiognomy of the statue.
You can’t miss it because of its location in one of the busiest squares of the city: Moravské Náměstí. This square originally dates from the construction of the former mediaeval town fortifications. In the early 19th century, when they were destroyed, the square was extended to become the largest in the city. However, the introduction of the city’s trams in 1869 changed the face of the square, reducing the aesthetic aspect in favour of the practical use of the square as a tram intersection.
St. Thomas Church: the Tomb of Jošt
At first glance, it seems that the horseman wants to protect St. Thomas Church and the Moravian Gallery safe from any threats that could occur. He stands proudly, hidden from head to toe by what appears to be steel armour. He is watching for the slightest sign of danger from on top of his horse. The location was not chosen randomly, as Jošt’s grave is in St. Thomas Church, to which the statue has its back turned. The horseman represents Jošt Lucemburský, the Margrave (a military title given to leaders or formerly some princes) of Moravia. In the Middle Ages, Margrave Jošt was the governor of a Carolingian empire border province. Because these regions were very far away from the central government and because they were important to the safety of the Empire, the margraves had more expansive powers than nobles, most often combining civil and military power. Over time, the title of margrave became hereditary, so Jošt inherited the role from his father, following the general evolution of the early Middle Ages. However, Marek Fiser, Brno City Councillor for Culture, provides a clarification: “From the historical point of view, Margrave Jost of Luxembourg is not perceived very positively by the professional public, yet he is the only Moravian politician who was elected the King of the Romans”.
An Emblematic Moravian Figure
Jošt Lucemburský (1351-1411) was born, raised and died in Brno, which made him a meaningful representative for the inhabitants of Brno. He became Margrave in 1375, until his death. He was married twice, but both his marriages remained childless. He is thought to have been a great and skilful politician, whose strongest opinions could change according to the best interests of his region. Throughout his reign, he restored the Brno mint and minted his own coins. The horse statue reaches a height of eight metres, entirely made of bronze, and cost the City of Brno CZK 7 million. What makes it distinctive among the other statues of Brno is that its legs are directly fixed to the ground. People can walk around the statue and get as close as they want. The real purpose could be to offer people free and physical access to art and history.
The proximity between the statue and people gives the monument its charm. As Fiser explained: “Jaroslav Róna approached the work as a monumental plinthless equestrian statue that rises from the paving of the square up to eight metres. The strong verticalization moves the knight to mythical heights, referring to his prominent position. The elevation of the mass allows for the opening to surrounding buildings, and the tall columns of the horse’s legs encourage observers to a physical interaction with the sculpture, because as the space is not burdened with the plinth, passers-by can freely walk through the sculpture, which then becomes a kind of gate to the historical part of the city.”
In the Turmoil of Controversy
“Every new artwork has its supporters and opponents, and an untraditionally approached artwork all the more so,” said Fiser. “With hindsight, we can say that the allegorical equestrian statue in Brno attracts a considerable number of visitors, and from the marketing point of view, it has become an important article and another visual symbol of the city.”
The statue is considered controversial for many reasons. Firstly, the City of Brno ordered a statue of Jošt Lucemburský to commemorate his life, which he dedicated to Brno, Moravia, and above all, its residents. However, his full armour does not allow him to be identified in any way. A lot of Brno inhabitants were disappointed when the city introduced the new statue in 2015, feeling like the rider was anonymous. “It is not a portrait, but is dedicated to Margrave Jošt of Luxembourg. The author decided to diverge from traditional patterns and from the historical personality as such and accentuated the topics of knights, knighthood and knightly virtues. This topic is an important cultural phenomenon of mediaeval Christian Europe”, argued Fiser.
Jaroslav Rona, the sculptor, defended his work saying he wanted the statue to embody the idea of courage, through the big legs of the horse. Indeed, he argued that courage was closer to resembling Jošt’s life than his actual face. It was also designed to fit in with the atmosphere of the square. “The equestrian statue at Moravské náměstí in Brno is the last artwork to fulfil the ideological plan of the visual decoration of the square, i.e. depictions of the four cardinal virtues that are formulated in Plato’s Republic as virtues requested from the citizens of an ideal autonomous city state. They are justice, temperance, prudence, and fortitude (courage). The artwork is mistakenly called the Jošt statue, but foremost, it is an allegory of fortitude,” said Fiser. On the other side of the tram tracks, in front of the Supreme Administrative Court, there is a statue of a man holding a cube, representing justice; in front of the Moravian Gallery, there is a fountain of water that embodies moderation, and the relief map of Brno during the Thirty Years War represents prudence.
Secondly, Jaroslav Rona is a sculptor from Prague. Brno inhabitants therefore nicknamed it the “Trojan horse” because the statue was made in Prague and then transported to Brno. “Based on the jury’s decision, Jaroslav Róna won a competition with 19 designs entered. According to the jury’s statement, Róna’s proposal represented a complex artistic concept which successfully combined the traditional genre of an equestrian monument with the contemporary artistic morphology,” explained Fiser. Even though the traditional quarrel between Moravians and Bohemians often takes precedence, Jaroslav Rona joked in a TV interview: “Of course, I know that the disgruntled will not respond, but still, I have not even had to pay in a Brno pub since. When someone finds out that I am the author of Jost, I immediately get invited!”