It is still possible to experience the astonishing authenticity of the Baroque era today. Located in a pristine rural landscape, Rundāle Palace — the summer palace of the Duke of Courland Ernst Johann von Biron — is the ruler’s most outstanding residence of the Baroque period in the Baltics. It has maintained its Baroque-style spirit and authentic appeal over the centuries. The Rundāle Palace complex and its garden and forest park is the most striking example of a feudal residence not only in Latvia, but also in the entire Baltics, and it is an outstanding phenomenon in the context of Northern Europe as well.
The Rundāle Palace is the only architectural sample of the famous Russian court architect Francesco Rastrelli (1697–1771), and it is considered to be the ideal residence in keeping with the idea of its time. It was designed in a coordinated manner together with the garden area and surrounding buildings, and it has not experienced significant changes throughout the history. Thus, unlike many other European palaces, Rundāle still retains the stylistic integrity of 18th century architecture.
Although Rundāle Palace is not the only palace of the Courland’s Duke Biron family that has survived to the present day, it is the only one to have a high degree of authenticity, and it also preserves the harmony of the palace complex and the environment. The building complex has neither witnessed reconstruction during the 19th century, nor been destroyed in revolutions and wars during the 20th century, and it has remained unaffected by significant modernization in later periods. Thus, throughout the history of its existence, the Rundāle Palace has not been subjected to substantial reconstruction that would have altered its architectural image, and the historical, social and artistic features characteristic to the time of its construction remain intact.
The Rundāle Palace complex, as a Baroque palace ensemble, is located in a pristine rural environment that is close to the original intent. The Palace preserves a high degree of authenticity of artistic decoration through the work of masters notable both in Latvia and the broader region: the diverse yet stylistically uniform sculpturesque interior finishing of Johann Michael Graff, the sculptor and artificial marble artist of the Bavarian school who had worked in Prussia; the monumental paintings by the Italian masters Francesco Martini and Carlo Zucchi in eight of the Palace’s staterooms; and the works of both local craftsmen engaged from the Duke’s subject manors and hired Russian masters. All of this has been preserved through 50 years of deliberate and scientifically substantiated restoration works.
Currently, Rundāle Palace is exhibited as the Duke’s summer residence, furnishing staterooms with 18th-century furniture, interior items and works of art. This enables depiction of the original functions of the premises and creates an easy-to-perceive atmosphere of the residence corresponding to the Duke’s standard of living.
Regular renovation of the garden is also considered a success story of the complex’s authenticity. Designed in accordance with architect Rastrelli’s blueprint, the Baroque-style garden was not transformed into an English-style park in the 19th century contrary to the common trends. Its layout has remained unchanged during the centuries. The alleys and hedges were maintained and trimmed observing Baroque-style gardening traditions until the beginning of the 20th century. The surrounding landscape in Zemgale has not changed substantially since the 18th century. Contemporary buildings do not overpower the Palace complex, allowing preservation of the original intent of integration into the environment.
In line with the Baroque period’s particular desire for surprises, one of the largest rosaries in Northern Europe with over 2,300 rose varieties has been planted in the greenery of Rundāle Palace’s French Garden. The bosquets in the Rundāle Palace’s garden were renewed based on the historical network of paths and green areas. One of the bosquets features the Green Theatre in accordance with the architect Rastrelli’s intent.
The symmetrical proportions of the Rundāle Palace building and garden continue to inspire its visitors and enable them to enjoy the spirit of the place typical of the Baroque style.
Although the UNESCO World Heritage List includes 13 sites with a set of characteristics similar to those of the Rundāle Palace, this is the only authentic monument whose project was fully designed and whose building and garden construction was supervised and carried out by one architect. Thus, Rundāle Palace complex with its garden and forest park is a world-class example of the early architecture of the Russian court architect Francesco Rastrelli, which still embodies the expressive essence of the Baroque era and its astonishingly harmonious splendour.
1) Rundāle Palace Complex. Image: Artis Jutus
2) Rundāle Palace’s Gold Hall. Image: Rundāle Palace Museum.
3) Rundāle Palace Rose Garden. Image: Rundāle Palace Museum.