Rundāle Palace, 1736–1740, 1763–1768
Rundāle Palace, built in the 18th century, is the most outstanding specimen of baroque and rococo art and architecture. The palace complex with the park is a brilliant example of a feudal residence, not only in Latvia but in the entire Baltic region. In contrast to many European palaces, Rundāle has retained the stylistic integrity of 18th century architecture. It has not been much affected by reconstruction or modernization of later periods. Even the surrounding Zemgale landscape has not changed drastically since the 18th century.
Designed by the Russian court architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700–1771), the palace was built as a summer residence for the Duke of Courland Ernst Johann von Biron (1690–1772). The construction took place in two stages, from 1736 to 1740 and from 1764 to 1768. The interruption was the result of a coup that involved the Duke being arrested and exiled. The construction resumed when he was pardoned and returned to Courland.
Rastrelli was born in Paris but as an adolescent accompanied his father, the sculptor Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli, to Russia. Among his commissions were the Winter Palace, reconstruction of the Hermitage, building of Tsarskoye Selo, and a plan for reconstructing the Peterhof Palace. Rastrelli was the author of the design for the Jelgava (Mitau) Palace as well, yet Rundāle is one of the rare examples of Rastrelli’s early career that is still in existence. The galleries and stairwells from the first period of construction, 1736–1740, are unique – in Russia, nothing of that period from Rastrelli’s career has been preserved.
The Rundāle Palace ensemble includes the palace with the stables and a baroque park enclosed by a canal, with spacious hunting grounds adjacent. It is one of the very few examples of Versailles-type architectural ensembles in the Baltic Sea region. Inside the palace, the interiors were created during the second construction period by the Italian artists Francesco Antonio Martini (1718–1772) and Carlo Zucchi (1728–1798), and the sculptor Johann Michael Graff (1742–1796) from Berlin. The two Italians, who painted the walls and ceilings of eight rooms, introduced the Venice school baroque decorative art to Courland, and Graff brought brilliant Berlin-Potsdam rococo art to twenty-nine rooms. The Rundāle interiors match the best examples of European art.
In the 1930s the palace was administered by the State History Museum and it was planned to set up a church art and decorative art museum there. Because of the Soviet occupation and the Second World War, these plans never materialized. In 1945, the palace was even turned into a grain silo. Only in 1972 was an independent Rundāle Palace Museum established and restauration work launched in accordance with the director Imants Lancmanis’ and his team’s carefully worked out plans. They envisioned not only conservation of the original palace and its decorations but also a complete renovation of the interiors, attempting to restore their original appearance with period furniture and artwork. Likewise, it was decided to restore the park as Rastrelli had conceived it.
In 2014, the renovation of the buildings and their interiors was completed. The palace museum contains not only objects useful for furnishing the interior spaces of the palace, but also a collection of antiques, most of which have come from country estates and churches destroyed during the Soviet period. An exhibition “From Gothic to Art Nouveau”, a showcase of European historical styles in decorative arts, is currently under development.
Imants Lancmanis on Rundāle Palace in the Latvian Culture Canon, 2008. (in Latvian)
Rundāles pils: [brochure]. (1936). [Bauska: Bauskas Novadpētniecības muzejs]. National Library of Latvia, Collection of Small Prints. (in Latvian)
Rundāles pils: [brochure]. (1984). Rīga: Avots. National Library of Latvia, Collection of Small Prints. (in Latvian)
Rundāles pils: mākslas kalendārs 1988. gadam. (1987). Rīga: LPSR Žurnālistu savienības Radošā fotostudija. National Library of Latvia, Collection of Small Prints. (in Latvian)
Invitation to the 275th anniversary on 24 May 2011. National Library of Latvia, Collection of Small Prints.
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