2017-1-TR01-KA219-046009 “EVERY STUDENT IS SPECIAL”
Visit to Rundale palace
T. Moisejeva, O. Gubkina, L. Renge
History of the Palace
The name of Rundâle comes from the German place-name Ruhenthal (Valley
The Rundâle Palace built during the 16th century was located on the northern
side of the pond. It can be seen in the design of F. B. Rastrelli as a small
square field with towers in the corners. Rundâle Manor was already created at
the end of the 15th century. It belonged to the Grotthus family from 1505 to
1681 and the palace was mentioned in the list of Livonian castles in 1555.
Facade finishing components have been found in the territory of the palace –
cast fragments and fragments of coats of arms carved in stone dating to the
middle of the 17th century. In 1735 Ernst Johann von Biron bought the Rundâle
property for 42 000 thalers.
The old palace was completely torn down, and the stones, bricks and even the
mortar were used in the construction of the new palace.
Duke Ernst Johann died in 1772, and the palace was inherited by his widow
Duchess Benigna Gottlieb; during her time orchards were formed around the palace.
Duke Peter did not come to Rundâle often, he mostly resided in the smaller
Vircava Palace near Jelgava.
In 1795 Duke Peter gave up his throne and the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia
was added to the Russian Empire. Catherine II gave Rundâle Manor as a present to
Count Valerian Zubov who died in 1804. During the distribution of inheritance
Rundâle became the property of his brother Prince Platon Zubov, the last
favourite of Catherine II.
During the time of Zubov the palace was refurnished, however the building itself
remained untouched, only entrance porticos were added to the central building
and several fireplaces were built inside. The palace was demolished in 1812
during the Franco-Russian War – mirrors were smashed, silk wallpaper was torn
down, the library given as a present from Catherine II was destroyed.
Prince Platon Zubov died in Rundâle Palace on 7 April 1822. His widow married
Count Andrey Shuvalov, and Rundâle Manor belonged to this family until the
agrarian reform of the Republic of Latvia in 1920. The Shuvalovs rarely stayed
in the palace, excluding the time period from 1864 to 1866 when Count Pyotr
Shuvalov was the governor-general of the Baltic region and used Rundâle Palace
as his official summer residence. During this time unsuccessful renovation of
the palace rooms was carried out, however during the 1880’s careful renovation
of the interior design was performed. At the end of the 19th century part of the
palace’s furniture and works of art was taken to Saint Petersburg.
During the time from 1915 to 1918 a German army commandant’s office and an
infirmary was established in the palace. In 1919 the palace was demolished by
the men of the Bermondt-Avalov army.
The palace was renovated in 1923 and some of its rooms were used as the primary
school of Rundâle Parish. In 1924 Rundâle Palace was handed over to the Latvian
Union of Disabled Veterans, but in 1933 it was taken over by the Board of
Monuments which started the renovation of the building and the restoration of
some of the rooms, and the western building was constructed for the needs of the
primary school. In 1938 the palace was handed over to the State Historical
Museum that was planning to create a church art and decorative art museum there.
The palace was also open to the public during World War II. In 1945 a grain
storage was formed in the halls of the palace, and the palace was closed to the
public after that.
In 1963 some of the palace’s rooms were given to the Museum of Regional Studies
and Art of Bauska, but in 1972 a permanent Rundâle Palace Museum was created and
its main aim was to renew the whole ensemble of the palace by mainly orientating
towards the condition of the palace during the second part of the 18th century.
The first restored rooms in the eastern building of the palace were opened to
the public in 1981, gradually being followed by new interiors. Restoration of
the palace was finished in 2014.
Count Ernst Johann von Biron bought the Rundâle manor complex on 26 June 1735.
In August of the same year the court architect of Russia Francesco Rastrelli
came to Courland. From September until December agreements were being concluded
with carpenters, masons, brickmakers, construction material suppliers, potters –
The construction project was ready in January of 1736. The eight pages of the
project are located in the graphic art collection “Albertina” in Vienna. It
consists of a situation plan, two floor plans, a sketch of four facades and the
altar of the palace church.
The first construction period from 1736 to 1740.
On 24 May 1736 the foundation-stone of the palace was set. Construction of the
foundation was completed on 6 July, whereas on 13 October the central building
was built to the level of the windowsill of the second floor. The construction
of 12 brick-kilns and 12 brick storages was finished in June. 268 masons were
working in the palace, but Rastrelli requested 500 men. Construction was stopped
on 1 November due to cold.
The construction works were restarted on 12 April 1737. On 28 May the central
building was finished, and on 18 June covering was started to be placed on the
side buildings, whereas the construction of the central building roof was
finished at the end of June. When the works were stopped on 10 October, one side
building was roofed over, and the other one was covered with a temporary roof.
The foundations of the stables were also ready. The bricklaying works were
finished on 1 October 1737. After Biron was elected Duke, he ordered to simplify
the building. The finishing materials were produced by the master carpenters and
woodcarver A. Kamaev of the Imperial Construction Bureau of Saint Petersburg,
master potter I. Ushakov of the Neva brick factory with his team and painters I.
Mizinov, I. Pilugin and I. Yevdokimov. Austrian potters were working in Vircava.
The finishing materials were also being produced in Saint Petersburg.
In 1738 the volume of work in Rundâle decreased, as construction works of
Jelgava Palace began. Some of the produced components were also taken to Jelgava.
However, the works were moving forward – chimneys and room arches were being
built, roofs were being finished. From 14 June, when the construction of the
main residence in Jelgava began, the construction works in Rundâle were moving
at a slower pace. Master carpenter Eger had finished oak-wood panels for 33
rooms, as well as 13 oak-wood parquet floors. Ceilings boards were put up in the
rooms, so that the plastering works could be started. In September the
carpenters started working on the outside staircases. The construction of the
gate tower was also started.
Entwurf von Rastrelli: die Nordfassade des Schlosses Rundâle mit dem Torturm
Rastrelli’s design, nothern facade of the palace with the gate tower
In 1739 the interior plastering works were supposed to be carried out, but the
Duke ordered to decrease the amount of plasterers and to simplify the work.
Stucco formations were made only for the main staircase rooms and halls, the
other rooms were left with smooth ceilings. Only ten craftsmen were working in
Rundâle. On 1 February after the order of Empress of Russia Anna Ioannovna all
of the Saint Petersburg Construction Office masons were sent to Courland. The
components made for Rundâle, including carved doors, panels, parquet, Austrian
potter stoves, plafonds painted on canvas and cast-iron facade decorations made
by Bartolomeo Tarsia that can be seen in the Jelagava Palace facade, were
transported to the main residence in Jelgava. N. Vasilyev assisted Rastrelli in
managing the construction works. Russian chamberlain Ernst Johann von Buttlar
was in charge of finances and organisation and he was sending reports to Saint
Petersburg regarding the work process.
Die gusseisernen Fassadenverzierungen
Cast-iron decorations of the facade
In 1740 the woodcut altar of the palace church was transported to Jelgava.
Supposedly the room decoration in the palace had been finished, but not all of
the wall panels had been mounted and some of the stoves were also not set up, as
a lot of the materials were in storage.
Work was stopped after the palace revolution of 20 November in Russia and the
arrest and exile of Duke Ernst Johann. The prepared finishing materials and
construction components were sent to Saint Petersburg, and some of the built-in
components, such as doors, wall panels and parquet, were broken.
Overall more than a thousand different profession craftsmen and workers were
employed in the construction works of the palace.
The second construction period from 1764 to 1770.
In 1762 Ernst Johann von Biron was granted mercy and returned to Courland in
January of 1763.
In January of 1764 Johann Gottfried Seidel was appointed the court architect of
the Duke, but in August Francesco Rastrelli returned to work for the Duke and
was appointed to the position of main administrator of the Duke’s buildings.
During this time he arranged his construction designs and carried out general
supervision of the Duke’s construction works.
The unfinished gate tower was torn down and the stable building construction was
started. Latvian carpenters and woodworkers were sent from the Duke’s domain
manors to Rundâle up until 1768. In 1765 woodworker Blanks, sculptor Zîbenbrods,
locksmith Đreibfogels, gold plating master Johans Endress, potter Đçfers,
locksmith Horstmanis and coppersmith Mçmels were working in the palace.
In 1766 Severin Jensen from Denmark started working as the court architect. His
style can be seen in the gateposts and in the stable buildings, which obtained a
semicircular shape in contrast to Rastrelli’s rectangular design. A dating – 16
May 1766 – has been made in the keystone of the northern facade window.
Schlussstein des Fensters mit dem Datum an der Fassade
Keystone of the facade window with the dating
In 1768 the gate was built and the forgings were placed.
The palace interior planning was changed slightly. By merging five smaller rooms
the grand dining-room – the Grand Gallery – was created, whereas a dance hall
known as the White Hall was created in the place of the palace church. Both
front staircases, the Small Gallery, the lobby and galleries of the first floor
were preserved from the original interiors of the first construction period.
The stucco decorative finishing of the interiors was carried out by the Berlin
sculptor and stucco marble master Johann Michael Graff together with his team –
his brother Josef and assistants Bauman and Lanz – from 1765 to 1768.
Sculpturesque decorations were made in twenty-seven rooms, but in two rooms of
the Duke’s apartments and in the hall – synthetic marble panels. Works were
started in the central building first. The Marble Hall and the marble panel of
the Gold Hall in which the dating has been engraved on the door lining, were
finished in 1767. In July of 1768 Graff received payment for his final works –
the White Hall, Oval Cabinet, Duchess’ Boudoir and vases for the 22 stair
The ceilings were painted by the Italian painters Francesco Martini and Carlo
Zucchi from Saint Petersburg. They started working in August of 1766, but only
the name of Martini is mentioned in documents starting with March of 1768.
Francesco Martini received his last payment in March of 1769. Ceilings of eight
rooms, as well as the walls of two rooms were painted. One of the ceiling
paintings got destroyed. The repainted wall paintings were later uncovered in
the Grand Gallery and in the second study of the Duke.
The Duke came to Rundâle Palace in April of 1767 and stayed there until December
with interruptions, although the finishing works were still in progress. The
palace was also inhabited in 1768. The final works were carried out in 1770 when
a fellow of J. M. Graff placed mirrors in the White Hall.