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The Rundale Palace, Latvia

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The Rundale Palace is one of the most outstanding monuments of Baroque and Rococo art in Latvia, built between 1736 and 1740 as a summer residence of the Duke of Courtland Ernst Johann Biron. The construction work was designed and supervised by Russian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

After the death of Empress Anna Ioannovna her favorite Ernst Johann Biron was arrested and exiled. Construction work in the palace was resumed after the Duke came back at the beginning of the reign of Empress Catherine II. The major part of the interiors was made in 1765-1768. The Italian masters Francesco Martini and Carlo Zucchi created the paintings on the ceiling and walls; the sculptor Johann Michael Graff and his team made stucco decorations on the background of the artificial marble.

Following the annexation of the Duchy of Courland-Semgallen to the Russian empire, the Rundale Palace became the property of Zubov family and then was carried over to the Shuvalovs. The family of the Shuvalovs owned the palace until 1920, when the Palace was expropriated and became the property of the republic of Latvia. In 1933, the palace was given over to the State Museum of History and some repairs were carried out there. The palace didn't suffer damages during World War II but when the war was over some of its rooms were adapted for a granary. In 1972, the Rundale Palace Museum was founded and restoration of the palace began. Restoration works are still incomplete. And some of the premises are under construction.

The palace complex consists of the palace with inner courtyard, semicircular stables, large household yard, and formal park surrounded by a canal. Behind the canal there is a hunting ground.

There are several exhibitions in the Rundale Palace:

- The exhibition "Treasures of the Rundale Palace" is devoted to European and eastern art in the course of four centuries. Furniture, porcelain, silverware, paintings and family relics are exhibited.
- The family burial-vault of the Duke of Courland. For two hundred years it was the burial place of the two ducal families of Courland, the Kettlers and the Birons. There are 18 sarcophagi in the Family Vault, the oldest dating from 1569 and the newest from 1784. The restored garments as well as information about the buried persons are displayed in the exhibition rooms next to the Family Vault.
- During the summer the exhibition Renovation of the French Formal Park is opened in the gardener's house. There are reconstruction projects, illustration of French Formal Parks in Europe, and pictorial review of reconstruction works carried out in the Rundale Palace Park. Although restoration works in the park are still incomplete, the visitors can have an idea of F.B. Rastrelli's conception.
- The exhibition "The Time of Misery" narrates about the fate of Latvian Evangelical Lutheran churches during the years of Soviet power. The first part of the exhibition displays documents and photographs showing the exterior and interior of church buildings before they fell into decay or were destroyed. The second part of the exhibition comprises church fittings such as altars, pulpits, altarpieces, woodcut sculptures, epitaphs and the like that were saved in the Rundale Palace Museum. The third exhibition that is held in the building of the former 18th century stable is devoted to the ravaged Lestene Church that was famous for its unique woodcut fittings. The interior of the church is one of the most outstanding ensembles of Baroque in Latvia. More info on: www.riga-hotels.net

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Well worth seeing. Restoration work an added interest.

Barbara Fletcher

Barbara Fletcher, 2006-05-12 11:52:33

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