It was Rudolph II, the ruler of Bohemia between 1576 and 1611, who laid the foundations of the Prague Castle Picture Gallery with his artistic collections. Rudolph, having moved his seat back to Prague in 1583, made Prague the heart of all European events. A great supporter of science (especially astronomy, astrology and alchemy) as well the arts, he commissioned Jacopo Strada and later his son Ottavio to manage his collections. These mainly included works of art by worldwide reputed artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach, Tizian and Giuseppe Arcimboldo. In addition, Rudolph’s “Kunstchamber” contained sculptures, miniatures, products of nature and various rare items. His court also housed menageries for exotic animals and greenhouses for rare plants.
Nevertheless, Rudolph’s splendid court ceased to exist a short time after Rudolph’s death. His successor – brother Matthias – returned the seat to Vienna, having brought the majority of artistic collections with him. Some other works of art were seized by the Swedes at the end of the Thirty Year’s War (1648) for their Queen Christina, and the rich collection of Rudolph was thus left with only a few items.
It was in the 1650s, under the reign of Ferdinand II, that it was decided to renew the Picture Gallery. Its main contributor was Ferdinand’s brother, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, who bought a number of valuable works of art, having left them all to the Imperial Gallery. Unfortunately, this new collection suffered the same fate as Rudolph’s gallery: many pictures were sold to Dresden, or, upon Joseph II’s 1781 incentive, put to auction. In 1797, the Association of Patriotic Friends of Art in Bohemia (Společnost vlasteneckých přátel umění v Čechách) was created: they established the Academy and the new Picture Gallery, which later became the Prague National Gallery.
Today, Prague Castle Picture Gallery boasts works of art by artists such as Rubens, Tizian, Brandl and many others.