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Vlastivedne Museum
Frantisek Hanus Mechanical Nativity

A dancing bear prances to the accompaniment of a drum in this closeup of the Jan Metelka Mechanical Nativity Scene at the Vlastivedne Museum. The drummer at right gives an idea of the exquisite detailing of this crib. And if you're still not convinced, just look at that mansion—twin towers capped by onion domes, a clock, and sentries moving two and fro guarding a gate.

A small village museum, across the street from the bakery, houses not just another wonderful mechanical crib, but also a varied collection of painted chests and "Giant of the Mountains" figures. And did we mention its friendly, courteous staff? Director Alice Sládková and Guide Michal L. Jakl would love to show you around…

Milan Zábranský at the entrance of Vlastivedné Museum.
The village of Vysoké Nad Jiserou, a short drive from Milan's cottage, is not just famous for its mechanical nativity, but its walnut bread.

When you and Milan get there there's a long line outside the bakery, but you don't mind. The Vlastivedne Museum is not yet open, so you wander about the town square, admiring its Baroque gingerbread church and monument to the Fallen Heroes.

When Milan appears, walnut bread in hand, the museum gate is open. You've come to admire its mechanical crib, but you're also about to enjoy its collections of upright, brightly painted, chests. They line the narrow entryway, and serve as bases for another delightfull collection: a series of "Giant of the Mountains" figurines.

You're in Giant Mountain country, and these small figures of various shapes and sizes are depictions of the legendary "Giant." He wears boots, has a long beard and overcoat, a wide-brimmed hat, and holds a pipe, and cane—just the attire to traipse about confortably in the snow.

But what you're really here to see is on the second floor: the Jan Metelka Mechanical Nativity Scene, and a most helpful museum guide, Michal L. Jakl, takes you and Milan upstairs.

On the way there, there are other cribs to admire, including one by František Hanuš (photo at left) that used to be a mechanical crib but it is now operated by a crank.

The Metelka Crib spans the whole room. It's mechanical heart is obscured by a green curtain, and the crib itself is protected from possibly prying hands by a glass front—not a good think when you're not just a crib enthusiast but a photographer.

The glass is huge, and permanent. So Michal returns with a ladder, so you can take photos above the glass. Aren't museum folks wonderfully accommodating? A few shots later, Michal removes the ladder, flips on a switch, and the crib comes alive. The electric motor and all of the wheels and shafts that, unseen, bring the crib to life, sound to you like a loom. This is isn't noise, but a rhythmic beat—for the dancing bears!

Paper nativity figures from the Vlastivedné Museum collection. One wonders about what other lovely pieces this folk-artist might have painted.
There are two of them, and they keep twirling to the beat of a drum and a tamburine, respectively. Three men of the church are praying over their thick psalters; a line of travelers disappears into a mountain tunnel; two angels rock Baby Jesus; a carpenter and his apprentice are hard at work; a baker kneads his dough (actually a piece of fine wool); a kitchen matron—holding a cleaver!—chases a maid; two blacksmiths beat a piece of iron; two children are having playing on a see-saw; the bear is merrily turns and turns and so does a windmill; a man turn a giant wheel twisting a length of rope that anoter man holds as we moves away; A parade of soldiers passes by; coalminers and stone masons are busy at work; Sheep graze bobbing their heads; and a friar darts in and out of his confessional.

The handiwork of Jan Metelka extends to all his fanciful buildings: churches, town halls, windmills, workshops, and stately homes with onion domes, just to mention a few. You could say that Hanus' Nativity Scene is a microcosm of the his world (1855-1924), and, as with the Metleka Nativity Scene, it must be seen in person to be appreciated.

Tall, painted, chests line the entrance to the Vlastivedné Museum. They provide colorful pedestals for the museum's collection of the "Giant of the Mountains" figurines.
"Is it alright to switch it off now?"Milan politely asks, and Michal obliges. You've been standing in front of this mechanical crib for a long time, and Milan realizes that Michal is waiting to show us around. The Vlastivedne Museum's rich collection of painted chests are also found on this floor. This a particularly appealing one is tall, dated "1814", and decorated with red and gold vases of flowers. A man and a woman, in native dress, appear in the center panel, a fancy scroll parallels the curved top.

Next to this is a figure of a saint cut-out, painted on wood, holding an ax—illustrating an episode in the saints life?—and on the wall, an old painted clock with just one hand and a man and woman on its top, under a glass bell.

As you say your goodbyes to Michal and Museum Director Alice Sládková (who kindly gave you permission to take all the photos you wanted) you notice one last "Giant of the Mountains."

But, this time, he's not really a giant at all, but a tiny figure, perched on a bird's nest.

Vlastivedné Muzeum,

Farského 130, 512 11 Vysoké nad Jizerou; Tel: +420 481 593 118;

© 2021

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