Bohemian /bəʊˈhiːmɪən/ (n.)
1. A native or inhabitant of Bohemia.
2. A socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts. [ mid 19th century: from French bohémien ‘Gypsy’ (because Gypsies were thought to come from Bohemia, or because they perhaps entered the West through Bohemia)]
– The Oxford English Dictionary
If, like I, you first became acquainted with the word via Queen’s karaoke classic, it may take a moment to connect the geographical region of Bohemia to the notorious artistic ideology. I consider myself fortunate to be writing this article from the very heart of both definitions – Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, the once Kingdom of Bohemia. It is impossible to divorce the art of Baba Studio from its surroundings, and the stories and styles of Central Europe are often laced through the studio’s designs – sometimes subtly, sometimes strikingly. At the same time, we consider ourselves part of an increasingly anachronistic community of “socially unconventional” bohemians around the world – those who look at life through a glass warped by inspiration, and who carry a little art in every aspect of their lives.
From the Pages of History…
Bohemia is the name given to the Western lands of the Czech Republic, alongside Moravia and Czech Silesia. It is also often used to denote the entire Czech Republic, as it is the historical name given to the Czech lands. The name originates from the Celtic tribe known as the Boii, their lands known to the Romans as the “home of the Boii” or, from the Germanic, “Boiohaemum”. Bohemia became a Kingdom under the Přemyslid dynasty, originating (according to legend) from the seer-queen Libuše and her beloved plowman husband. From the demesne of a prophetess and a farmer, Bohemia went on to serve time as seat of both the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburg Empire, withstanding much religious unrest but yielding a world-famous gallery of glorious architecture.
It is this architecture (and the legends that the city has been steeped in since the first page of its history was written) that makes the Bohemian city of Prague a enduring capital of the Gothic aesthetic. In this sense, “Bohemian Gothic” refers to the rich and varied history that we find ourselves amidst, as well as more recent “neo-gothic” structures and stories that have naturally sprung up from the cobbles of this ancient city. From alchemists to vampires and ghosts aplenty, Prague offers no end of inspiration for the macabre-minded, and as much striking art bearing its testament.
To the Backstreets of Paris (and Back again)
Perhaps it was this enduring inspiration that caused the initially pejorative term “Bohemian” to stick so readily to the artistic movements of 19th Century France. Our common usage of the word emerged from the French generalisation that Romani travellers originated from the Czech lands, earning them the name Bohémien. These gypsy families were outcasts from French society and – bearing no allegiance to the country – were largely untroubled by this status. When groups of French Romantic artists and writers began to sever their ties with society, clinging instead to small communities of like-minded creators, they were compared to these supposedly lawless wanderers, and the term stuck.
The Bohemian movement is often considered synonymous with the Belle Epoque, or “Beautiful Era” that French art, theatre and literature experienced in the early 19th Century (think Moulin Rouge). Perhaps more than coincidentally, the style was adopted soon after as part of the Czech National Revival – a movement away from the Germanic culture that had consumed the area under Hapsburg rule. Alphonse Mucha, of course, is the most renowned poster-boy for Czech Art Nouveau style – a national obsession that has left its mark all around modern Prague, in state and spiritual buildings as well as the incongruously decorous porticos of tumble-down flat blocks throughout the city. The Belle Epoque style is also celebrated in the renowned monuments of Olšanska Cemetery, once again combining the Bohemian and the Gothic…
At Baba Studio, there is an unmistakable aura of the Bohemian. From traditional marionettes and antique Czech fabrics to the medieval spires visible from every window, the historical and geographical Bohemia is a continuous source of inspiration. Likewise, a certain dedication to art and disregard for the mundane mark every piece that emerges from the studio. One only has to look at the Bohemian Gothic Tarot to understand how the sultry yet spine-tingling Gothic aesthetic is an ideal bedfellow for the subversive splendour of the Bohemian.
So here’s to the artists, the actors, musicians, to the eccentrics amongst us, and to the multifaceted Bohemian legacy of Prague from which we offer not only a place to discover more of the dark secrets and hidden gems of Old Bohemia, but also a haven for unconventional thinkers worldwide.
While we love to share our experiences of the Bohemian Gothic in Central Europe, we are equally eager to hear about your interpretations of Bohemian Gothic wherever you call home. We welcome comments and contributions via blog comments or our Facebook page.