Jozef Božetech Klemens

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Born March 8, 1817(1817-03-08)
Liptovský Mikuláš, Kingdom of Hungary, Austrian Empire
Died January 17, 1883(1883-01-17) (aged 65)
Vienna, Austria-Hungary

Jozef Božetech Klemens was a 19th-century painter, sculptor, technician-inventor, chemist, geologist, botanist, archeologist, photographer and teacher.[1] He was a member of Matice česká (since 1837 or 1838) and founding member of Matica slovenská (1863).[2] He was also a member of the Imperial Geological Institute in Vienna (from 1858), honorary member of the Hungarian Scientific Society in Pest (from 1862), and member of the department of life sciences and geology of Matica slovenská (from 1869).[3]

Early life[edit]

Born in Liptovský Mikuláš, Kingdom of Hungary (today Slovakia), into a family of saddler and coachmaker, originally from Frankenstein, Kłodzko (today Kladsko) in Czech-Polish borderland. His mother (born Čerepovská) was from Tatras.[4] Young Klemens used to paint images on coaches his father was making.[5]

Prague and photography practice (1837-43)[edit]

Swětloobrazárna newspaper advertisement, 1842.[6]

In 1837, he was visited by Karel Slavoj Amerling and priest Václav Svatopluk Štulc from Prague in his home town after they were tipped by Gašpar Fejérpataky-Belopotocký whom Klemens occasionally helped with book printing. He was admitted for a trial period at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague the same year. In 1838-1843 he studied there as a regular student, also attending lectures on science and technics. He assisted Amerling in building up a new girls school in Budeč and in 1839 Klemens began teaching there. They were experimenting with the pedagogical principles Comenius laid down in his Orbis Pictus.[7][8]

In chemical laboratory of his school Amerling introduced him to daguerreotype[9] In 1841 and 1842 Klemens participated in the Krasoumná jednota exhibitions in Prague. Václav Předák mentions his photographs in his 1842 review: "daguerreotypované podobizny Klemensovy jsou jak náleží dobře vyraženy, plné živobytí, jasné a bez škvrnek. Paŕížské, vídeňské i ještě jiné pražské světloobrazné podobizny byli sice rovněž ve výstavě, ale Klemensovy lze hned po Bissonových z Paříže klásti – majíť více světla a dukladnejší stíny než vídeňské i než práce p. Horna."[10] In (around) April 1842 Klemens opened a photo studio called Swětloobrazárna in the garden of Budeč school.[11][2] It was the second photographic studio in Prague (Wilhelm Horn opened one in October 1841 [3]). Portraits were relatively expensive (6 Gulden) and due to financial difficulties it closed down the following year.

"Prístroj sa mohol po vysunutí matnice a objektívu zložiť do tvaru plochej krabice. Postriebrené medené platne sa v tmavej komore pred snímkovaním vystavili účinku jódových pár, aby na nich vznikol jodid strieborný, citlivý na svetlo. Po exponovaní sa osvetlená platňa dala do vyvolávacej skrinky, v ktorej sa vystavila účinkom ortuťových pár. Tieto pary sa pri 60 C na osvetlených miestach zrážali a vytvorili amalgám. Vznikli tak unikátne, nekopírovateľné obrázky, známe dagerotypie."[12]

Upon recommendations from Academy administrator graf Thun he was giving drawing lessons in many aristocratic and bourgeois families in Prague.[13] He met a number of Czech cultural personalities, including Rieger, Hanka, Čelakovský, Purkyně, and Palacký, and for next two decades he was inclined more to the Kollárian concept of Czecho-Slovak language unity rather than the Štúrian one of language and national sovereignty.[14] Along with Peter Michal Bohúň he was a central figure in artistic life of high phase of the Slovak national revival, he initiated specific Slovak artistic line. His artistic expression combined classicism with romantic elements. His artistic importance is primarily in portraiture, however later he was influenced by nazarenism. He painted religious compositions, repeated them without an inventive approach. Interested in realities of Czech middle ages he chose his middle name Božetech after 11th-century painter, sculptor, builder, poet and abbot of the Slav monastery of Sázava.[15]


Orava and Šariš (1843-47)[edit]

In 1843 he returned to Slovakia (then Kingdom of Hungary). He conducted geological research in the regions of Orava and Šariš (for Berzeviczy's who were searching for coal in their estates). He worked in Tatrín society (founded in 1844 in Liptovský Mikuláš) for which he painted portraits of several Slovak revivalists. He was involved in paint color production, and became known as scientific and industrial specialist and builder. In 1846 the city council of Banská Bystrica invited him to develop the project of industrial school (probably upon his own initiative).[23][24]

Prague, Liptov (1847-55)[edit]

In 1847 he moved back to Prague to attend lectures on medicine and chemistry at Prague University and the Polytechnic Institute of Chemistry (he was particularly interested in sugar production and metallurgy), and completed his studies in August 1849. On 12 June 1848, just during the Pentecost revolt he married 17-year noblewoman Adéla Kuglerová, his former Budeč student coming from Cologne. Amerling's Budeč school closed down in 1848 because of its Slavophil orientation, and Klemens was making living only of portraits. He was planning to set up an industrial school there along with his acquaintaces, but the 1848 revolts halted the plans[25]. In late 1849 he moved together with his wife to more downbeat Liptovský Mikuláš and used her dowry to build a workshop for the production of zinc oxide and plaster in Liptovský Ján. He also designed and constructed its equipment. However due to lack of investment the business soon closed down. He was living off mainly of church paintings (in Veľký Bobrovec where he later moved to, Nemecká Ľupča, or Palúdzka near Mikuláš), thinking about emigrating to Russia.[26][27]

Geological research[edit]

In 1854 together with P. Árvajs he discovered stone coal and color marble sites. Juraj Chovan considers Klemens to be the author of fake runic texts found in the Kremnické mountains because of his erudition in history, fine arts, and geology.[28]

Belgrade, Prague, Žilina (1855-63)[edit]

Finally, he accepted an offer from Ján Šafárik, nephew of Pavol Jozef Šafárik, for a teaching position at the Lyceum in Belgrade. He traveled there in Spring 1855 on a self-made raft. With his wife, two daughters and property he sailed to Pest where he sold a raft and continued to Belgrade by ship. Here he made a sculpture of Serbian patriot Karađorđe, and geological map of Montenegro. However, he stayed in Belgrade only for five months and after catching rigor[29] the family returned to Mikuláš, while he traveled to Prague. Here in 1855-1856 he pursued studies at the higher secondary school to get qualification to teach in secondary schools. He passed the teacher exams in chemistry, physics, life sciences, Czech and German. In 1856 he won a position of drawing teacher at the two-year Slovak-German secondary school in Žilina where he worked until it closed down in 1863.[30][31] He lived on Bočná ulička (Platea lateralis, today Vurumová 5).[32]

He also conducted geological and botanical research (of Veľký Rozsutec with Dionýz Štúr in August 1858) and worked on technical inventions during his tenure in Žilina. After successfuly locating epicentre of Žilina's earthquake of January 1858 he was awarded membership in the Imperial Geological Institute in Vienna.[33] He owned one of the largest collections of minerals in Slovakia.

Late years in Banská Bystrica (1863-83)[edit]

Since 1863 he served as a visiting and since 1873 as a permanent professor of mathematics, geography and drawing at the Catholic Moysesian high school in Banská Bystrica. At that time he turned back to portraiture, depicting many personalities of cultural and literary life in Slovakia.[34]

Klemens had five children with his first wife Adéla: Bohdana, Ľudmila, Vladimír *1857, Bohuslav-Peter (*1859, pharmacist in Prague), and Cyril-Karol (pharmacist in Vienna). She died in 1867. He married again in 1868[35] or 1869 with Antónia Riznerová from Kláštor pod Znievom. From this second marriage the son Jozef was born.[36][37]

In 1878 he was pensioned off (800 Gulden) partially because of his patriotic views. He spent his last five years teaching at Catholic elemenary school and Protestant secondary school in Banská Bystrica.[38] In 1876-80 his studio was regularly visited by young Jozef Murgaš, to-be priest, painter and inventor.


Interest in technical sciences led him in 1862 to draft the printing machine named Samotlač whose drawings he sent to an exhibition in London. From the mid-1870s he had attempted to construct a steam engine Žiaroruch based on the principle of dry ice propulsion. The machine was meant to serve as today's excavator, crane, and bulldozer. He didn't manage to build it and neither was granted patent. An interesting moment in this invention was also the possibility to use hot air to fill up the balloon, lift the machine and transport it easily.[39][40]


He suffered from kidney stones and in January 1883 he went to Vienna to undergo surgery. The operation failed, however, and its consequences led to his death. He was buried at Vienna's Central Cemetery. 39 years later, his son Cyril-Karol was buried there too. The gravesite's lease however expired in 1948 and gravestone was removed in 1960.[41]



More than 100 of his paintings is preserved in the collections of the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava [4], in the National Gallery in Prague and Prague City Museum.

  • centurion F.Burian (1838)
  • Josef Kajetán Tyl (1841)
  • F.Douch, Prague's mayor F.Dittrich, F.Pštros (1841)
  • Alois Jelen, František J.Rubeš, Josef Václav Frič [5], J.Kulík (1843)
  • Božena Němcová
  • Gašpar Fejérpataky-Belopotocký (1843)
  • Ján N. [6], Teodor, Amália, Edmund, Eugen [7], Žofia, and Mária Szmrecsányi of Orava (1843-44)
  • Pavol Jozeffy (1844)
  • Eliška Zapová (1845)
  • Michal M.Hodža [8], A.Koch, P.Radvanská (1846)
  • Anna Berzeviczy of Šariš (c1850)
  • Ladislav Gabriš-Škultéty (1857), the world's oldest soldier, donor to Mojtín's church and school [9]
Oil, based on photograph
  • Ľudmila Jesenská, born Kuzmány (1865)
  • unknown priest (1867)
  • unknown bishop (late 1860s)
  • Štefan Moyzes, bishop (1871) [10]
  • F.Drahotuský, Andrej Sládkovič (ordered by dean Šujanský, 40 Gulden) [11], J.Štolc (1872)
  • Ľudovít Štúr (1873). Ordered by Viliam Paulíny-Tóth, realisation costs: 48 Gulden. [12]
  • F.Tagányi (1874)
  • I.Čelko (1875)
  • director of girl school in Banská Bystrica and scientist Andrej Zipser (1876)
  • Ľudovít Turzo-Nosický of Banská Bystrica (1876)
  • M.Smiešková (1879)


  • Ján Žižka (lead)
  • Karađorđe (plaster)


  • church project in Liptovský Bobrovec
  • brewery and well projects in Žilina

Geological maps[edit]

  • map of Liptov county
  • map of Trenčín county
  • map of Montenegro (c1855)

Church paintings[edit]

St. Jan Nepomucký in St John Church, Bobrovec (1853) and in Turzovka; St. Cyril and Method in Mojtín; The Twelve Apostles (Dvanásť apoštolov) in Nemecká (Partizánska) Ľupča (1855); Krížová cesta in Pružina; Panna Mária Ružencová in Kláštor pod Znievom and in Raková; Nanebovzatie Panny Márie and three other works in Žilina [13]; Žehnajúci Kristus in Horná Lehota (Dolný Kubín county) and in Sučany; Cyril and Method in Dohňany; St. Galus in Komjatná; St. Stanislav in Opatová. Majority of the paintings is preserved.


  1. Chovan 1985, p. 68. In a letter to his friend Amerling he said the only discipline he did not get involved with was music.
  2. Chovan 1985, p. 69. Klemens also designed symbol of Matica slovenská.
  3. Chovan 1985, p. 68. Klemens deposited various archeological objects in its collection.[1]
  4. Chovan 1985, p. 64
  5. Štanský 2010
  6. Klemens 1842
  7. Kálmán 1978, pp. 6-8
  8. Chovan 1985, pp. 64-65
  9. Kálmán 1978, p. 7
  10. Předák 1842
  11. Klemens 1842
  12. Dančo 1967, pp. 31-35
  13. Štanský 2010
  14. Chovan 1985, p. 65
  15. Kálmán 1978, p. 9
  16. Skopec 1963, pp. 68-69
  17. Hlaváč 1987, p. 54
  18. Skopec 1963, pp. 68-69
  19. Skopec 1961, p. 332
  20. Skopec 1963, pp. 68-69
  21. Kirschner 1980, pp. 143-154
  22. Hlaváč 1989, p. 19
  23. Kálmán 1978, pp. 9-10
  24. Chovan 1985, p. 65
  25. Štanský 2010
  26. Kálmán 1978, p. 11
  27. Chovan 1985, pp. 65-67
  28. Chovan 1985, pp. 71-73
  29. Štanský 2010
  30. Kálmán 1978, pp. 13-14
  31. Chovan 1985, pp. 67-68
  32. Štanský 2010
  33. Kálmán 1978, p. 14
  34. Kálmán 1978, pp. 16-19
  35. Štanský 2010
  36. Chovan 1985, p. 66
  37. Kálmán 1978, p. 19
  38. Chovan 1985, pp. 69-70
  39. Kálmán 1978, pp. 19-20
  40. Chovan 1985, pp. 70-71
  41. Chovan 1985, p. 64


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