Filozofická Fakulta
Ústav pro klasickou arecheologii
Ústav pro klasickou arecheologii

Růžena Vacková

Professor Růžena Vacková

(23. 4. 1901 in Velké Meziříčí – 14. 12. 1982 in Prague)

As one of Vojtěch Birnbaum’s most talented pupils, who himself was most famous for his works on early Christian architecture, Růžena Vacková was habilitated on December 23rd, 1929, after she had already worked as an assistant at the Institute for Classical Archaeology at Charles University since the mid-1920s. Her habilitation thesis on Roman historical reliefs was published in 1929, and a second volume followed suit in 1934. In 1932 she published a larger study on terracottas from the collection of the founder of the Museum of Decorative Arts, Vojtěch Lanna, titled Lanna and Antiquity. Apart from works in classical archaeology, she continued to write excellent theater reviews for many years, and her book Expression of Fine Arts in Drama published in 1948 is a masterful synthesis of her endeavors in theater studies. In addition to these, whe published several works in the field of art history, especially the first on the construction of the church and student hall of St. Ignatius in Prague (Památky archeologicke 34, 1925). Her life work on the laws of style development and cycles of recurrence in art history and civilization could not be published in her lifetime, but nevertheless saw publication in part after her death (see below). The treatise summarised the conclusions of the so-called Vienna school, the birthplace of the style analysis method, and brought a new philosophical and aesthetical outlook that paved the road to a deeper understanding of human history.

Admired by many, the young and beautiful Růžena Vacková strode through life with an easy confidence. However, her life changed during the war. After both her brother and brother-in-law were executed, she joined the resistance; after 1944 she was arrested and imprisoned in Pankrác prison, where she waited out the war. During this time she also converted to Catholicism. She was named Professor in 1947. After the war ended, Prof. Vacková continued to work in organizing Catholic youth, for whom she was a natural and respected leader, besides her ongoing university work. She continued to meet with her Catholic students and younger friends after the communist putsch in February 1948, and was in turn banned from teaching. In 1952, she was sentenced to 22 years in prison for allegedly “organizing a subversive group” (as the court described her meetings with friends). She was released in April 1967 after having served 16 years. During her imprisonment, she grew in strength and monumentality. She became a pillar of strength to the other inmates, imbuing them with strength, courage, serenity, and taking care of all those around her as best as she could. Thanks to her, many others could not be broken. The letters and testimony of her prison companions bear witness that Prof. Vacková contended with her harsh trials of fate not only unbroken, but also remained full of strength to share in the heavy burdens of those around her. Several inmates recall her as a true angel in human form. Requests for pardon submitted by her relatives were always denied, and she herself did not wish to have them submitted any more; she saw helping others who were suffering as she in prison as her calling, and the fulfillment of her faith.

After she was released from prison, she was rehabilitated in 1969, but in 1975 a new verdict rescinded this rehabilitation. In the 1970s, she continued to hold seminars for her students, who were equally fascinated by her erudition as they were by the power of her wise personality. In cooperation with her friend Josef Zvěřina, Prof. Vacková began to prepare a great work on style development of all art of mankind, of which she managed to complete at least a a rough first draft which was published by Charles University in the next year. Although the book was smuggled into the Vatican in the early 1980s for an intended Czech language edition, but insufficient finances and policy of prioritizing religious literature meant it was to remain unpublished. Under the title Science of Style I (Věda o slohu I), it was finally printed by Eos publishing house with a cover by Václav Boštík. Here, Prof. Vacková further elaborated her thoughts on the Vienna school of her mentor Vojtěch Birnbaum and the works of Hutter, and further detailed her deep philosophical and aesthetic approach to understanding human history. A second volume with chapters on individual cultures was published in a form which she did not wish it to appear; by the care of one of her cellmates, who smuggled the written lectures out of the prison in the padding of her suitcase when she was released from the prison.

Her mature wisdom and strength of heart surpassed these qualities found in the common spirit of humanity. When I was somewhat lost in the tough times of the late 1970s and early 1980s, I went to visit her one evening. We spoke of many things, perhaps not even directly about the existential issues of keeping the field ‘afloat’ and my personal problems, but when I awoke the next morning, I somehow knew how to escape the seemingly hopeless situation where darkness had long obscured the way out. Růžena Vacková could not be broken or corrupted. She was among the first signatories of Charter 77, and remained steadfast in support of all those surrounding her as their natural leader, up until the very day of her death, even despite the serious illnesses that limited her in her last remaining years. 

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