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F. A. SporckLike a number of other families, the Sporcks, originating in Germany, came to the Czech territory during the Thirty Years' War; the military profession was the foundation of their future wealth. Jan Sporck, the father of František Antonín, was an extraordinarily competent cavalry officer; despite his lack of noble origin he rose through the ranks until he became a general. His cavalry regiments fought on the battlefields of Bohemia, Hungary, and Germany for the interests of three Emperors and Czech kings: Ferdinand II, Ferdinand III, and Leopold I. Jan Sporck's merits were awarded with the noble title of Count, as well as large amounts of land and material property estimated at 800,000 guilders.

Of the four children Jan Sporck had with his second wife, Eleonora (of the von Finecken family from Mecklenburg), František Antonín was the eldest. He was born on March 9, 1662, in Lysá nad Labem or, possibly, Heřmanův Městec. Both of the towns were seats of the Sporck estates. František Antonín went to school in Heřmanův Městec and, at the age of eight, he began studying with the Jesuits of Kutná Hora. Nearby was another Sporck estate, Malešov.

In 1675, František Antonín began attending lectures in philosophy and law at the Charles-Ferdinand University, in Prague's Clementinum. When his father died in 1679, František Antonín was still too young to take over his share of the estate, and thus had to wait until he came of age in 1684. The estates he received included those of Lysá nad Labem, Malešov, Konojedy, and Choustníkovo Hradiště. On the territory of the lastly named one he later built his main residence, the spa of Kuks. He also inherited the family palace in Prague and a large sum of money.

Prior to that, in 1680 and 1681, he undertook a journey through Europe, as was customary for young noblemen of his day. He left for Italy and spent some time in Rome. Then he traveled through Turin and southern France to Madrid. He stayed in Paris for a some time and then returned to Bohemia via London, the Hague, and Brussels. He returned to Paris again in late spring 1682. The court of Louis XIV evidently made a great impression on him, and many of his later activities can be traced back to this early experience.

When, in 1694, the Prague physician J.F. Lowe confirmed the curative properties of the spring found on the left bank of the Elbe in the picturesque valley near Choustníkovo Hradiště, in the southern part of the estate, Sporck began planning and implementing the greatest project of his life, the spa of Kuks. As early as 1695 he had a temporary spa house built around the spring. He probably charged the architect Giovanni Battista Alliprandi with the overall conception of the project and, probably, its design. On the left bank the spa buildings and a chateau were to be built, on the hill of the right bank, a hospital and Church of the Holy Trinity dedicated to military veterans for whom Count Sporck planned to establish a foundation. By 1710, the spa and hospital part of the complex were essentially complete. Later on, a few auxiliary buildings were added and the entire area received sculptural and other decoration. The history of the Nový les sculptures, the main object of our interest, starts as late as 1717.

The cultural activities of Count Sporck were numerous. Only few noblemen of his era could lay a claim to the publication of 150 books and other publications on religious and philosophical topics, frequently translated from the French. Sporck had his own engravers' studio, where the engravers Michael Jindřich Rentz and Johann Daniel Montalegre worked. Count Sporck led a rich social life, receiving many important representatives of German literature. A whole separate chapter is the musical life of the Sporck circle, which in some aspects reached European standards. For many years, Sporck kept his own operatic troupe which performed at Kuks, as well as his Prague palace. The troupe, consisting largely of Italian musicians, premiered several operas by Vivaldi among other works.

F.A. Sporck was a man of a restless nature. He was involved in many lawsuits, the majority of which he lost. His publishing activity, which did not always adhere to the confessional norms of his intolerant era, led him into many a conflict. Furthermore, in the second half of the 1720s he got into a squabble with his neighbors, the Jesuits of Žíreč. The bone of contention and the reason for the Count's irritable reactions was the construction of a Way of the Cross which was to lead from Žíreč near the borders of the Nový les: The Jesuits promised to build it but later kept postponing the beginning of the work.

All of this had a dramatic climax in the events of July 26th, 1729, when Kuks was occupied by a military detachment of the Carrafo regiment; Sporck was presented with an imperial decree confiscating all of the books housed in a special library in the co-called Philosophical House, which had been specially built for the purpose. This so-called Inquisition of Kuks led on February 7, 1730 to a formal accusation of heresy and the promotion thereof. The suggested punishment included the loss of the residential legal title, estates, a fine of a hundred thousand guilders, the burning of all books and a life in jail. The court hearings began on February 27, 1733. On March 13, the sentence was issued. Fortunately for Sporck, he was sentenced only for violating the imperial ban on book printing without censorship, and had to pay a fine of 25,000 guilders plus court fees. As years went by, his relationship with his Jesuit neighbors calmed down as well. Count František Antonín Sporck died in Lysá nad Labem on March 30, 1738.

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From: J. Kaše, P.Kotlík, Braun's Betlém, Paseka Publishing House, 1999

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