Neo-Romanian monkey

Neo-Romanian style Garden of Eden as jungle scene representation, late 1930s house, Kiseleff area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Neo-Romanian style decorative panels depict most usually themes from the Romanian peasant mythology or Byzantine church imagery. These are expressed in decorative motifs containing animal and plant symbols inspired from the local flora and fauna found in this area of south east Europe at 45 degree north latitude. Among those representations is the omnipresent grapevine plant associated with the tree of life motif or peacocks and doves that express the beauty and serenity of the Garden of Eden. Other typical representations are those of oak leaves, berries, wolves or even bears and squirrels.

The panel above is most unusual and probably unique among the Neo-Romanian style depictions, in the sense that it contains a jungle motif panoply centred on the image of a monkey. That is a portrayal of the Garden of Eden, pointed out by the two gracious peacocks and the two orchids springing up from a flower pot. The sense of abundance is given by the pineapple-like fruit grabbed and eaten by the monkey. I very much like how the monkey sits with its legs on the slender necks of the peacocks.

I believe that the primate species in this panel resembles the macaque monkey, a sacred animal in India and the question that renders itself is: who would have decorated his or her house in this corner of the Balkans with symbols inspired and adapted from the remote Indian environment and creeds? That should be a person notably linked trough profession or travels to that country. The house which sports the panel is a hybrid 1930s inter-war Venetian and Art Deco modernist Italian palazzo inspired edifice.

That kind of a quite opulent building decorated with this combination of symbols should have belonged to a rich person from the Romanian aristocracy or high bourgeoisie, who would have experienced life threatening events and travelled to those sort of exotic places. The person which springs to my mind and fits somehow the bill is the aviator Prince Valentin Bibescu, who has been one of the first and most famous Romanian pilots, an early graduate of Louis Blériot’s school and who in 1931 undertook a famous long distance airplane ride from Paris to Calcutta. The airplane pilot in that era was in most aspects a dangerous profession and Bibescu, for sure, had his fair share of life threatening experiences, which would explain the Phoenix Bird panel. That air-raid to Calcutta would on the other hand explain the Indian flora and fauna inspired panel in a Neo-Romanian guise on that house. Of course that is only a supposition, which has to be further verified and documented, but nevertheless is a starting point of a very intriguing quest. I am looking forward to hearing suggestions from my readers, which would unravel the mistery of that fascinating panel!

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.

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