Rundāle Palace unveils new rooms on 280th birthday

May 24 marks 280 years since, under the auspices of architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the first brick of the sumptuous Rundāle palace was laid. The former summer residence of Ernst Johann von Biron, prince of Courland, is the largest and most luxurious baroque castle in Latvia. 

The palace celebrates its birthday by unveiling two fascinating new rooms to everyone visiting, reported Latvian Radio's Māra Rozenberga Tuesday.

Tulips are currently in full bloom, and horticulturists are remaking the decorative flower bed ornaments.

News at the palace

"This year's additions, in my opinion, are very good - on May 24 we'll unveil two completely new rooms, while a further two are being substantially updated," said director of the palace Imants Lancmanis.

On the first floor of the palace a new room dedicated to classicism will be opened, adding to the permanent exhibition of the Rundāle palace, titled "From Gothic to Art Nouveau" which features ten rooms decorated in a variety of styles.

"It's a room that features a small story of what's happening in Europe in the late 18th century. The place isn't big, however we'll be able to showcase the specifics of a particular country by every wall. The largest wall is dedicated to France, which has a real fireplace shipped here from France," said Lancmanis.

"Another wall will be dedicated to England, [..] while from Russia there's an eccentric object - a chair from the so-called Green Eatery from the Catherine Palace, which had somehow turned up in Rīga where we bought it," said the director of the palace.

It's planned that by 2018 four more rooms will be added, dedicated to Empire, Biedermeier, Historicism, and Art Nouveau styles.

The second new room features 23 family portraits of the von Baehr family. The portraits are a rarity as they survived during the turbulent times in which Baltic Germans left Latvia. They've now been given to the Rundāle palace museum by relatives.

One of the portraits is by the Latvian grand and this year's birthday boy Janis Rozentāls.

"Almost all of these portraits come from the Pope manor. We will also exhibit a photo from the early 20th century where all of these portraits are hanging on the wall [in the manor]. But there's something more to it, as if a fateful coincidence... look at this furnace! It's from the Pope manor as well. [..] We installed it here without ever imagining that after a time the portraits, too, will be moved here from the same Pope manor building," said Lancmanis.

The von Baehr family lived in Courland for more than 350 years, and its heritage is recognized by almost everyone.

"This family is a phenomenon of its own making. Such tenacity, energy, determination. And at the same time a striving for luxury and representation. We can clearly say that the manors and churches of the von Baehrs are the most luxurious and beautiful in Latvia," said Lancmanis.

Among the buildings of von Baehrs are the Ēdole palace and church, the now non-existent Zlēku manor, Vērgale manor, Ugāle church and of course the Pope manor, a fragment of which will be on display in Rundāle from now on.

Lancmanis also shows a new room dedicated to 18th century fashion, featuring 300-year-old embroidery, sewing accessories, perfume flasks and even dresses that have for hundreds of years seen only the darkness of crypts...

"At some point of time our museum saved a lot from churches, and we saw many distressing sights - demolished, sacked crypts in which clothes had been torn off [of corpses] and thrown in the corner like rag mops... However it turned out you could save a lot," said Lancmanis.

And there's something more. The central part of the castle now hosts a cabinet dedicated to hunting, one of the barons' favorite pastimes. For a year only there'll be a silver goblet on show from a private collection. The goblet was a gift from Augustus II, the king of Poland, to Ernst Johann von Biron.

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