The superlative building of the Romanian Athenaeum, which is rightly considered the architectural symbol of Bucharest, contains a series of five mosaic medallions, each about 1 m in diameter, depicting past glorious rulers of Romanian lands, on its iterior frieze behind the colonade supporting the pediment. The one at the centre is that of King Carol I of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen (1839 – 1914), the moderniser of Romania, under whose reign the country undertook an epic process of cultural Europeanisation and economic reform, after more than four centuries within the orbit of the Ottoman Empire. I believe that the mosaics are the creation of the famous painter Costin Petrescu, a proponent of the Neo-Romanian style within the graphic arts, who also painted the great circular fresco representing the history of the Romanian people, unfurling along the wall of the Athenaeum’s auditorium. The medallion shows the king in regalia, cloacked with a coronation mantle and crowned with the steel crown made from Turkish canon captured by his army on the battlefield during the Independence war of 1877. The medallion is, in my opinion, one of the most expressive representations of King Carol I, which fortunately was left untouched during the communist rule, conveying his energetic spirit and vision that made him such an all time popular and praised leader of this country.
There was a certain trend within the Neo-Romanian architecture for using ethnographic motifs, which unfurled at its highest intensity between the late 1920s and the late 1930s, transcending its mature and late phase of development, expressed especially in wood carvings decorating structures such as verandas, stair balusters, balconies, doorways, etc. The wooden veranda pole in images presented above and bellow is such an example, of exquisite quality, inspired from the peasant art of regions of southern Romania (Wallachia).
I published in February this year an article about Neo-Romanian style picture frames, which was exceedingly popular among my blog readers. The present one is its second part, showing another two exquisite such artefacts from the prized collection of architect Madalin Ghigeanu to whom I am grateful to allowing the publication of their images on Historic Houses of Romania blogsite.
The picture frame illustrated above is on the same pattern as the one described in the precedent article, as Brancovan church portals. The Byzantine arch is adorned with geometrised Georgian and Armenian latticework motifs inspired from the Curtea de Arges cathedral, supported by two short columns decorated with the rope symbol (they can also be interpreted as a mixed representation of the ethnographic motif of the rope and Solomonic column shaft). The pediment of the arch contain two beautiful six ray solar discs inspired from the Indo-European ethnography. Fittingly the photograph hosted by this frame is that of Crown Princess Marie in the 1890s, in a Romanian peasant costume (it is from Arges ethnographic area in southern Romania, given to her as a present by Queen Elisabeth of Romania, a keen promoter of the Romanian national identity in art and architecture; ref: “Marie of Romania. Images of a Queen”, author Diana Mandache, Rosvall Royal Books 2007 http://royalromania.wordpress.com/about-me/).
The second frame has an ethnographic character, decorated with pleasant to the eye combinations of half and quarter solar disks. Its sides are arrayed in an attractive “H” shape. The picture inside that “H” is that of Queen Marie of Romania and her youngest daughter Princess Ileana in peasant costumes at Bran Castle, their property in the Transylvanian Alps, on the former border between the old princedoms of Transylvania and Wallachia.
The photograph above shows how the Arch of Triumph of Bucharest used to look before the structure that nowadays adorns the square with the same name was put up in the mid-1930s. The architect of both monuments is Petre Antonescu, one of the most important designers of the Neo-Romanian style. The edifice has been a provisional one, erected in 1922 with the occasion of the October that year’s celebrations in Romania’s capital of the coronation of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie. It had a reinforced concrete core, with façade details and ornament from plaster and wood. The Great War had dreadful consequences for Romania’s economy, the population suffering from diseases and often famine in the first years after the conflagration. The lack of resources was the reason why the official coronation of the country’s royal couple was organised only in 1922 in a quite low key mode. The limited finances and the short notice that the architect had to cope are responsible of the somehow clumsy proportions and the basic, not exactly a master-work design of the Arch. It is however a large scale monument that expounds the Neo-Romanian style in the first stages of its mature phase, a patriotic architectural statement of a people that came out victorious in the aftermath of the Great War.
Video by Valentin Mandache, author of the blog Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca (www.historo.wordpress.com) about the architecture of the Geological Museum in Bucharest, a masterwork of arch. Alexandru Stefanescu in the mature variety of the Neo-Romanian style, built in 1906. Location: Kisselef Boulevard, Bucharest.
I am always on the lookout, during my routine architectural history fieldwork in Bucharest or other places in Romania, for name tablets: architect’s, builder’s and also proprietor’s name tablets. They are important documentary elements that can give clues about the history of the house, its more precise dating, style and manner of design and also in case the architect is famous, can noticeably increase the value of the propriety. I struck lucky with the example seen in the photograph above, by finding “two for the price of one” such artifacts. There is a tablet containing the name of the famous architect Gheorghe Simotta and another of a highly reputable building company of inter-war Bucharest, Belli Brothers. The lettering of the two tablets contrast in their manner of rendering- that of the architect having the letters protruding out, while the constructor’s one is grooved within surface. They adorn a grandiose Art Deco – Later Neo-Romanian style edifice from the Dorobanti area of Bucharest. That mix of styles can also be noted in that of the lettering: Simotta’s tablet being in the Art Deco vein, while Belli Brothers’ inclining toward the Neo-Romanian lettering style.
This is a beautiful park architecture assembly from the 1930s Bucharest, designed by the sculptor Constantin Baraschi, in the later Neo-Romanian style, destroyed during the first decade of communism and reconstructed in 2006.
Pigeons, such as the one in the animated image above, shown next to an imposing Neo-Romanian style rooftop finial, are in my opinion an organic part of the message and ornamentation of period houses. Pigeons are among the “environmental panoply” that adorns those edifices, together with with other animals, which in Bucharest’s case number sparrows, crows, swallows and their nests, sometimes gulls, red squirrels or from the plants’s world ivy and grape vines, high climbing roses or multicoloured flower plants beckoning passers by from window sill and balcony jardinières.
One of the tenets of the Neo-Romanian style‘s philosophy is integration of the architectural design within the natural environment of the country, envisaged as a sort of biblical Garden of Eden, similar with how the c18th Brancovan churches, from which the style draws a great deal of its inspiration, were seen as fragments of paradise on earth in this war torn region of Europe dominated for centuries by the Ottomans. That Arcadia like atmosphere of a family home is conveyed in the Neo-Romanian architecture through the use of a rich panoply of specific decorative elements. The jardinières are in that respect some of the most effective means to achieve that serendipity effect. They come in a wide diversity of shapes and decorations, positioned in high visibility spots in and around the house, such as on window sills, documented in previous articles on this blog. For this post I gathered a few illustrations of bowl type jardinières from the great multitude that adorn inter-war Neo-Romanian style houses. They are installed on doorway balustrades, atop street fence poles, flanking balconies, or in other prominent locations. The flowery and ornamental plants that grow in them, as seen in images presented here, transmit something from the pleasantness that characterised Bucharest of eight and nine decades ago, when most of those jardinières were put in place.
The Great Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 has been a momentous event for the culture and economy of the young Kingdom of Romania. It has also marked, through the elaborate and high quality Neo-Romanian design of many of its pavilions, the onset of the mature phase of this style. The exhibition’s chief edifice was the Palace of the Arts, presented in the images bellow, which was envisaged as a gathering place of what was considered the finest products of the Romanian people throughout its history. That was also the central message of the event, publicised as as a dual celebration of, on the one hand, King Carol I’s forty years of glorious reign, which saw the gaining on the battlefield of the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire, the subsequent Europeanisation process and the phenomenal growth of its economy, and also, on the other hand, marking 1,800 years since in 106 CE the Roman Empire under Emperor Trajan conquered the ancient kingdom of Dacia located where in modern times the state of Romania emerged, a historical milestone that ignited the formation of the Romanian people and language. The 1906 exhibition was thus imbued with an intense and picturesque patriotic sentiment typical of the La Belle Époque period that had powerful reverberations throughout the whole of the Romanian speaking world, which at that moment included large swathes of territory under the sovereignty of other states, such as Transylvania in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire or Bessarabia, then a province of Russia.
The Palace of the Arts is shown in all its glory in this colour poster published in the monthly magazine “Vulturul” (“The Eagle”, a reference to the country’s coat of arms). The issue date is Sunday 2 July 1906 (in the Julian calendar, in official use then in the country). It presents the official opening ceremony of the exhibition in the presence of the Royal Family and a welcoming public, which took place on 6 June (it closed on 23 November that year).
The Palace of the Arts was in a way the Romanian response to the tradition of iconic exhibition buildings inaugurated by the Crystal Palace in London half a century before, epitomizing the ambitious aspirations of that young Balkan nation. It contained a large glazed roof over a central structure embellished with Neo-Romanian style elements and ornaments and also references to the classical architecture, considered then as the purest form of architecture. Its designers were the architects Victor Stefanescu and Stefan Burcus, the contractor being the engineer Robert Effingham Grant, a Romanian of British origins.
The central figures of this poster were the royal couple, King Carol I, an excellent administrator, brought up and trained in the military industrial complex of the mid-c19th Germany, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, an internationally renown writer, known after her nom de plume as Carmen Sylva. They are presented receiving the homage of the population and in two prominent medallions flanking the image of the palace.
The monarch has been the supervisor of the exhibition works, a role in a way similar to that of Prince Albert for the London event of 1851, while the general manager was Constantin Istrati, an accomplished scientist.
The Royal Family is present at the opening, King Carol I (second from right), Queen Elizabeth next to his left, while the Crown Prince Ferndinand and Crown Princess Marie are at his right. The children of the princely couple are in front, from left to right: Princess Elizabeth, Princess Marie, Prince Carol and on the right the little Prince Nicolas. A peasant woman graciously offers them a bunch of flowers.
The poster also presents in some detail the public participating at the ceremony, Bucharest people and visitors in a relaxed attitude, proud of their country’s achievements embodied in that great exhibition.
I like the presence of persons wearing peasant costumes, as is the group on the left hand side of the image above, who were probably proper peasants and also higher class individuals, including aristocrats, representing a patriotic fashion introduced and promoted by Queen Elizabeth and Crown Princess Marie, who incidentally were of foreign extraction, the first a German and the second of British and Russian origins, at the local royal balls and other major functions.
In 1923 the Miliary Museum of Romania was established within the Palace of the Arts building, functioning until the late 1930s when the building caught fire and later, in 1943, demolished with the intention to erect a more modern museum edifcice. Those plans never came to fruition because of the war and the Stalinist takeover of 1947. However, a grandiose communist heroes mausoleum, which is now probably the most beautiful architectural structure of the communist era, was been built there in the late 1950s.
I would like to express here my thanks to architect Madalin Ghigeanu, who kindly provided this poster, part of his ample collection, for publication.