Meet director of Rundale Palace
Built for the Duke of Courland, Rundale Palace located one hour from Riga near the city of Bauska, is Latvia’s and the Baltic region’s most illustrious 18th-century Italian baroque-styled architectural gem.
If any individual deserves credit for returning the palace to close proximity of its former glory, the laurel goes to Dr. Imants Lancmanis, a gentle mannered consummate gentleman, an artist and art historian, who has dedicated his life and energy to its reconstruction and restoration. His tireless dedication to preserving Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli’s sumptuous and majestic masterwork, an important part of Europe’s cultural heritage has been acknowledged through numerous awards. For his meritorious service to Latvia, Lancmanis was awarded the Order of the Three Stars, France’s highest order of civil merits- the Legion of Honour, Germany’s Order of Merit, Pro Europa prize from the Cultural Fund of Europe, and the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage- Europa Nostra.
Rastrelli designed 10 palaces during the course of his career as senior court architect at the Imperial Russian Court, including the Jelgava Palace (Latvia) the largest Baroque-styled palace in the Baltic States and the two palaces in Russia famed for their extravagant luxury and opulence of decoration: the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg and the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo.
It is Rastrelli’s Rundale Palace which holds a special place for Latvians, which after long years of renovations and reconstruction under difficult conditions, slowed down by limited availability of financial resources, reopened in 2014.
Though retiring as Rundale Palace’s director at the end of 2018 at the age of 77, Lancmanis as he notes in this The Baltic Times interview, will be further consumed by unfinished work relating to writing, cataloguing and publishing works related to the palace.
What is planned at Rundale Palace in 2018 as part of Latvia’s centennial celebrations?
The name of Rundale derives from the German place-name Ruhenthal, meaning Valley of Peace. It has witnessed various turbulent periods of history. During the 1812 Franco-russian War, it was demolished and plundered. Its splendid magnificent mirrors were smashed, luxurious silk wallpapered lined walls stripped bare, and the library, a gift from Empress Catherine II, destroyed.
We will be finishing the design of the palace’s interior for the centennial celebrations. Though renovations were completed in 2014, we have been continuously decorating the palace with historic furniture, paintings and interior design objects.
For the past six years, we have been working on a permanent exhibition of various European and Latvian decorative art objects. It is located in 15 rooms, it encompasses the period from Gothic to Art Nouveau. In 2018, the two remaining rooms will be finished. This work has not been funded by the Latvian State, but solely by the Rundale Palace.
This will be our gift to Latvia when it is finished next year, a museum of decorative arts. Currently Latvia has the Museum of Decorative Arts in Riga, which exhibits a collection of Latvian decorative art objects, but does not have works representative of European decorative art style. We have created another museum of European decorative art for Latvia’s 100.
There will also be a rich program of cultural events during 2018. I would like to mention the gala concert of internationally renowned Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons and one of opera's brightest stars, the Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca. This is being arranged by the Latvian opera stage director and artistic director of the Baltic Musical Seasons, Andrejs Zagars. This event for 2,000 guests will take place around August 2018. We still have to confirm the date. It will be staged in the palace’s courtyard, which will be fully covered.
Another personal landmark event in 2018, is that I will be retiring. I have had a full-time position with the palace since my graduation in 1966. I am not saddened to be retiring, as I will not be completely retiring, but will be working on preparing various books, which together with my late wife, we wished to complete.
You have had a long association with Rundale Palace! You studied to be a painter. How was it transitioning from being a painter to managing an important Latvian and European museum institution?
I arrived here for the first time in 1964 as a student of the Latvian Academy of Arts. After graduating in 1966, I came here permanently, which allowed me to devote all my time to improving the palace’s condition. In 1972, the restoration work commenced. Half of the palace was used as a primary school during the Soviet period. It wasn’t designated a museum, and it urgently needed reconstructing and renovating.
I came into this position through serendipity, developing into it as a manager step by step.
It was my encounter with the director of Bauska local history museum, Laimonis Liepa, that saw me joining the team of the newly established Rundale Palace Museum.
In 1972, I was appointed deputy director, then in 1976, I was appointed director. I have been responsible for all reconstruction and restoration works in the palace from the 1970’s until 2014.
The most important thing for me was that I had a vision for this wonderful and enchanting palace, which I have been able to fully implement by being its director. A great team also helped me realise many ambitious goals. The idea which I had to fully renovate the Count’s Residence, was seen as a novelty and unheard of.
In what state will you be leaving the Rundale Palace? Is it in good financial shape?
This is a difficult question. During the Soviet period, the situation of the palace was different. There was a different economic system in the country, so it was largely state financed, as large resources were allocated to culture.
Rundale Palace was used as a facade by the Soviet regime. Huge financial investments were made in order for the palace to look its best and maintain its appearance. Since 1992, Latvian State financing halted completely. During the 1990’s, the palace was self-financed. The Latvian Ministry of Culture provided only 50 per cent of the budget, which was intended for salary payroll.
I have to recall with continuing gratitude Rundale Palace’s private patron, the Latvian philanthropist Boris Teterev, for his significant contribution to upholding the culture heritage of Latvia. He saved Rundale Palace. In 1997, Boris came personally to see me, and our discussion ended in agreement to fund the renovation of various rooms. Without this valuable financial assistance, we would not have been able to complete the reconstruction and renovation, as it would still have been ongoing. The Rundale Palace project has been Boris and Inara Teterev’s longest running charity project. The palace’s main income is generated by ticket sales.
Could you tell The Baltic Times about Rundale Palace’s involvement and use as the backdrop for the BBC’S six-part adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace?
It was a wonderful experience. The filming took place day and night, over 20 days. The opening scene of – Anna Pavlovna Scherer's soiree – was filmed in the palace’s Golden Room. The Marble Hall, The White Hall and The Duke's Bedroom, where the film’s seduction scene took place. The film had around 600 extras.
They also filmed the Rostov’s home and some of the Bezukhov’s home as well, and made extensive use of the palace’s beautiful grounds.
The production didn’t interfere with our work. Everything was professionally done. The filming also attracted additional tourists to the palace. Filming took place in the winter season, which is not a high season, and this helped our budget.
Did the association with the BBC series actually help the marketing of Rundale Palace? One cannot help noticing the large groups of tourists, especially foreign tourists. Has there been an increase in number of tourists visiting?
It definitely did help with its marketing. There was much exposure over the Internet and on social media. A special route for fans of the series and tourists was created outlining where filming for War and Peace took place.
The number of foreign tourists has remained relatively stable. It currently accounts for a little more than half of all visitors per annum that visit.
In 2016, Rundale Palace was visited by 242,998 visitors. We saw an increase of 3 per cent in comparison to 2015. If we break down the visitors by countries, we see that most visitors came from Germany, followed by Spain and then France. But in general, visitor attendance has remained stable over the past years. We are noticing an increase of Asian tourists, and the palace is also included in the travel itinerary of tourists coming from all over the world. July is the period when most visitors visit, on average around 65,500.
We have 114 people who work full-time to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of operations and customer service. We also employ seasonal workers who take care of visitors to ensure that they are offered the highest customer care, as well as maintain the park and gardens in its impeccable condition. The palace’s rose garden, which is located on both sides of the ornamental parterre, filling up the areas designed by the architect of Rundale, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, has approximately 2,400 varieties of roses, and is definitely worth a stroll through it.
How is cooperation with other castles in the region, and what is your favourite castle or palace?
There was an exhibition of 17th, 18th and 19th century portraits, which was a joint effort of all museums in Latvia. With Stamerney Castle, we opened a new exhibition which features the palace’s furniture, dedicated to the 120th anniversary of the artist Levs Svempa. We also cooperated with the Riga Porcelain Museum for the exhibition "From Baroque to the Present Day’’. Both are still on exhibit. It is the policy of Rundale Palace that we only participate in thematic exhibitions.
Rundale Palace also cooperates with Potsdam Castle near Berlin in Germany and
the Vilnius Castle. There is an association of Baltic castles around the Baltic region which we also work closely with.
It’s a difficult question to answer what my favourite castle or palace is. I’ve seen many castles throughout Europe, and each one has its unique charm. It’s a diplomatic answer, but it’s difficult to say.
What are the most memorable events you will recall during your time at Rundale Palace that you will carry with you when you conclude your duties as the director in 2018?
The most memorable moment personally was April 21, 1964, when I arrived to the palace the first time. I saw the castle in 1958 as a child for the first time, and I felt that this grand palace would be connected to my destiny. But inside me, I opposed this feeling. At the beginning, I didn’t wish to follow this intuition I had.
In 1974, the ceiling was renovated and frescoed, and the previous director Laimonis Liepa passed away. He was the one who started all the renovation and projects. I was Deputy Director at that time for scientific work. I was then appointed Director. It was at that time that I realised that Laimonis Liepa started all the work and projects basically from scratch. His great contribution merits noting. He sacrificed himself completely in the work of restoring Rundale Palace. I am greatly indebted to him. Laimonis Liepa invested much time and effort into the improvement of the palace. We acknowledged his contribution with a memorial plaque inside the palace.
I also recall the feeling of elation that overcame me on May 18, 1981, when the first renovated room was opened, the White Hall in the eastern wing of the palace.
In 2004, my wife passed away. We had worked together closely, so it was a turning point in my life, to finish the work which we started. I am working on two additional volumes of books on Rundale Palace. The first volume was published in 2015. The second volume is dedicated to the restoration of Rundale Palace and the final third volume will record the items that Rundale Palace has in its collection.
On May 24, 2014, all the restoration work had been completed. For this occasion we staged in the palace’s courtyard the reconstruction of a historic opera “Cyrus and Cassandane,” with the Collegium Musicum Riga Baroque Orchestra, and conductor Maris Kupcs, who miraculously found the lost opera score in Germany. It was composed by Franz Adam Veichtner, concertmaster at the Court of Duke Peter of Courland. The opera was performed for the first time in Liepaja on February 15, 1784.
I wish to end my role as director ensuring everything continues to run smoothly. We still have work to complete. The most important work is currently the purchase of new objects for the palace. In fact, I only recently found out that we weren’t able to purchase one vase at an auction that we needed. A large Art Nouveau vase, which was displayed in Paris at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, where Art Nouveau as the universal style was propagated. There was an estimated price of 4,000 Euros on the vase. We offered 5,000 Euros, but it sold for 12,000 Euros.
How is it with the purchase of historic art objects? Is there a foundation, or does the Ministry of Culture assist in making acquisitions for the Rundale Palace, and how can the public assist?
We constantly screen the availability of historic objects which are available for purchase. Our decision to try to purchase the Art Nouveau vase I mentioned was based on the fact it was the best. We look only for the best objects.
Philanthropy is still underdeveloped in Latvia, and insufficient. It needs to be developed. Individuals like Boris and Inara Teterev have discovered that they can do good with their money for the development of Latvian society and contribute to the wellbeing of its people, and those who visit Rundale Palace.
This is unlike other wealthy individuals in Latvia, who use their money only for personal self-enrichment and purchase more for themselves and not for the benefit of society overall. The opposite situation is evident in the US, where children, who have inherited money, make substantial donations to museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York. They have the opposite situation, where they receive so many items that they have no place to store them.
The Rundale Palace Foundation received earlier this year donations from Latvian entrepreneurs. Part of the funds were apportioned to restoration of the palace, and for acquisition of art objects.
We acquired at the auction Fine European Ceramics an exquisite objet d’art – a Meissen potpourri vase circa 1760. It is displayed in the Duchess’ salon of the palace on a console-table between two decorative vases. Museum staff members have named the potpourri vase – Lidija Vase – in honour of the wife of the donor Mr. Vitalijs Gavrilovs.
For those who wish to make a financial donation. This can be made through the Rundale Palace Foundation (Foundation Rundales pils atbalsta fonds). Registration number: 40008143259. Address: Rund les pils, Pilsrundale, Rundales pagasts, Rundales novads, LV-3921 Account number: LV69HABA0551026025136. Bank code: HABALV22; AS Swedbank
Rundale Palace expresses its gratitude for each donation and financial support received in renovation of Rundale Palace and replenishment of our exhibitions.
Foreign Heads of States, when in Latvia, are taken to the Museum of Occupation. Are they taken here to Rundales?
In 1992, we had a visit from the King of Denmark. The King of Sweden, as well as the President of Finland have also visited during state visits. The protocol department of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has ceased bringing dignitaries visiting Latvia to Rundale Palace, mainly due to the fact that this requires a day trip. So, it doesn’t happen often.
I cordially invite all visitors to come and visit. Some of our upcoming events will be concerts on August 12 and September 9 of the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra at 6 PM in the White Hall. Tickets can be purchased at Bilesu Paradize ticket outlets throughout Latvia, and at the Palace on the day of the concert. Additional information: www.lso. lv.
Dr. Imants Lancmanis