Stanislaw August - Patron of the arts

The Royal Castle in Warsaw – Museum

The royal collection of works of art from the collection of the Royal Castle in Warsaw closely linked to the reign of the last Polish monarch, Stanisław August (1764-1795).

A few words about the king...
The King, although criticised as a politician and ruler, was a great lover, connoisseur and collector of art, and his artistic patronage bore a rich ideological content and political programme. According to the monarch’s intention, both the architectural designs he commissioned and the most outstanding works of European art served clear purposes of propaganda. Stanisław August believed in constitutional monarchy and wanted to persuade the nobility, then synonymous with the Polish nation, to support deep reforms in the spirit of the Enlightenment. The King also wanted to ensure Poland’s prestige and attract prominent representatives of science and culture from major European centres to Warsaw. In 1764, at the very outset of his reign, Stanisław August planned to significantly rebuild the Castle. He wanted his main residence to reflect the tastes and ambitions of the Enlightenment, as the castle was in poor condition when he took it over. Jacob Fontana, the court architect, as well as Domenico Merlini, Efraim Schröger and Victor Louis prepared ambitious designs for the king. However, those costly plans never came to fruition due to a lack of funds. On the other hand, the Castle interiors were significantly changed. The Great Apartments, serving for representative state functions, were modelled after designs by Fontana, Merlini and Johann Christian Kamsetzer, as were the private King’s Apartments. Court painters, including Marcello Bacciarelli, Bernardo Bellotto, Jan Bogumił Plersch, and sculptors, André Le Brun and Jacob Monaldi made paintings, painted decoration and sculptures specially for those interiors. Stanisław August supervised and approved the projects himself; he sketched outlines for interior design himself and ordered furnishings, furniture and other mobilia from the best European craftsmen. The Castle interiors do not owe as much to any other Polish monarch. During the last years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, several momentous legal acts were adopted in those interiors, including the Constitution of the Third of May in 1791, the first modern governmental act in Europe, whose reforming character was due to the King. The majority of works on display come from the original decor of interiors arranged for Stanisław August. All the orders and purchases were most likely consulted and accepted by the king himself. They are an authentic testimony to that period and to the refined taste of the last Polish monarch.
The Canaletto Room
Created in 1776-77, the room had views of Warsaw by Bernardo Bellotto known as Canaletto fitted into its panelling. It served as an antechamber in which senators waited for audiences with the king. It has been commonly referred to as the Canaletto Room since the 1780s. The paintings were composed to fit into their given places on the walls. The original arrangement was recreated in 1984 in the reconstructed Canaletto Room. This series of urban landscapes was a valuable iconographic source for rebuilding Warsaw after extensive damage it suffered during WW2. Two paintings will serve as an example.
Bernardo Bellotto, Miodowa Street, 1777
This was painted in 1777. It shows a perspective of this busy route at the time, as seen from the junction with Senatorska Street. The painter recreated the facades of buildings located at Miodowa Street in great detail: on the left the Palace of the Cracow Bishops, the Palace of Peter Fergusson Tepper (no longer standing today), the banker of King Stanisław August, and the Church of the Capuchins; on the right we see the residence of the Branicki family. The silhouette of the baroque Krasiński Palace closes the street perspective. Before they returned to their place after the Castle’s reconstruction, the fate of Bellotto’s outstanding works was rather turbulent. Four paintings from the collection were exported to Versailles on the order of Napoleon in 1807; they returned to Warsaw thirteen years later. In 1832, after the failure of the November Uprising, all 22 paintings were looted by the Russians; most were taken to Petersburg, one to Moscow. They were returned to the Castle only in 1921. The Nazis later abducted all the canvases to the Reich. They were found after the war by the Recovery Committee and moved to the National Museum in Warsaw. They were then exhibited there for many years in waiting for the Castle to be rebuilt. The great value of Canaletto’s views, apart from being faithful representations of the architecture of Warsaw from that period, lies in how they depict the life of the capital’s streets, carriages, trade stalls, the costumes of the visitors and the city’s inhabitants.
Bernardo Bellotto, Holy Cross Church,1778
The second work by Bernardo Bellotto from our collection, the Holy Cross Church, depicts the view of Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, the principal and hallmark route in Warsaw at that time. The painting shows the street running northwards from a place now occupied by the Staszic Palace. In the foreground to the left is shown (in foreshortening) the facade of the baroque Holy Cross Church, the biggest and one of the most important churches in Warsaw at the time. It was there that significant state events took place, including some of Stanisław August’s coronation ceremonies in 1764. Numerous palaces of magnates are visible in the distance; on the right, the entrance gate to the Kazimierzowski Palace, today within the area of the University of Warsaw. In the distance is the facade of the Carmelite Church, of which Canaletto painted a separate painting.
The Chapel
The Chapel, designed by Domenico Merlini in the years 1776-77, was used by the king for his daily rites. The display currently includes the royal regalia: a sword, the chain of the Order of the White Eagle, and a sceptre.
A sword of the Order of the White Eagle with a scabbard, Efraim Schröger, Joachim Friedrich Jacobson,1764
The ceremonial sword commissioned by Stanisław August was created by a Warsaw jeweller Joachim Friedrich Jacobson for the coronation in 1764. The exquisite decoration combines Baroque and early classicist features. The hilt is in the form of an eagle’s head, and the pommel is inscribed with a gilded inscription STANISLAUS AUGUSTUS REX DEDIT ANNO 1764, as well as the coats of arms of Poland and the Poniatowski family. The King used this sword for the ceremonial dubbing of the Knights of the Order of the Golden Spur, and later for those of the Order of Saint Stanisław. This was depicted by Marcello Bacciarelli in a coronation portrait of Stanisław August. After the fall of Poland, Stanisław August took the sword to Grodno, and after his abdication in 1795 to Petersburg. After the King’s death, it belonged to Russian tsars. It was returned to Poland in 1928, and displayed in the Throne Room. In 1939, it was exported to France and stored in the Polish Embassy in Paris, later in Great Britain and in Canada. It returned to Warsaw in 1959.
Sceptre of Stanisław August, Jean Martin, 1792
The sceptre was made for Stanisław August Poniatowski by Jean Martin, a jeweller active in Warsaw. It is made up of three octagonally-cut aquamarine stones bound together with golden ferrules in the form of acanthus leaves. When Stanisław August died in 1798, his private sceptre was taken by the Russian tsars who placed it in the Kremlin. It was returned to the Royal Castle under the Treaty of Riga signed in 1921. Before WW2, it was deposited at the Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego [the National Economy Bank], then exported to the Polish Embassy in Paris, whence it was taken to Great Britain in 1940 and later to Canada. It was returned to Poland with other royal regalia in 1959.
The Old Audience Chamber
The interiors were arranged in 1776-77 by Domenico Merlini as a place for audiences with Stanisław August. Until 1786, it also served as the Throne Room. Today the vases decorate an Italian fireplace in the Old Audience Chamber.
Fireplace vases, Pierre Gouthière, François Hermand, 1764
This set of three fireplace vases, made from artificial stone imitating porphyry and from gilded bronze, was acquired by the King from the Parisian workshop of François-Thomas Germain. The vases’ plinths are surmounted with a meander motif.
The King’s Bedchamber
The King’s Bedchamber, together with the Dressing Room, the Study, the Yellow and Green Rooms, formed part of the private areas of the King’s Apartments. It was the focal point of daily life at the court. It was here that the King received guests for informal audiences, gave intimate dinners and, above all, worked and rested. The King designed it himself, and Jacob Fontana and Domenico Merlini constructed the project.
A set of angle cabinets, Pierre Boichod , c.1775
A set of angle cabinets, richly inlaid and covered with marble tops, was made by a Paris cabinet maker, Pierre Boichod. They are veneered with rosewood; the door panels and those of cut corners are covered with chinoiserie. The painted decoration on the side panels depicts fragments of a landscape and in its technique resembles lacquer. Today they form part of the furnishings for the King’s Bedchamber, rebuilt for Stanisław August in 1772-75 after a design by Jacob Fontana and Domenico Merlini.
Mantel clock, Robert Osmond, François Viger, c.1755
The mantel clock depicts a mythological scene of Europa being kidnapped. It was created in Paris c. 1755. Its casing is made of gilded and patinated bronze, signed ‘Osmond’. The mechanism was made by the clockmaker François Viger. Purchased for the Royal Castle in 1994, this clock is displayed in the Bedchamber of King Stanisław August.
The Dressing Room
The Dressing Room functioned not only as a place for daily ablutions, but also as a place where the king rested and worked. Its furnishings mainly comprised 17th-century paintings from the monarch’s collection, as well as exquisite furniture – chests-of-drawers, games tables, bookcases and a reading table. Due to the king’s passion for reading, there is no wardrobe in the Dressing Room, but instead bookcases with books.
A set of chests-of-drawers, Pierre-Michael Russel, 1790-1800
The semi-circular chests-of-drawers, veneered with mahogany and adorned with gilded bronze, with marble tops, were made in Paris in the workshop of Pierre-Michael Russel. They were a gift from Prof. Karolina Lanckorońska to the Royal Castle. Currently, they are displayed the Dressing Room of Stanisław August, arranged according to a 1792 design.
The King’s Study
The King’s Study was a place where the King performed daily duties connected with the exercise of power in the state. He also spent his free time here reading and writing letters. During the reconstruction of that interior, unrealised projects for the reconstruction from 1792 by Johan Christian Kamsetzer were used.
Porcelain bust of Voltaire, the Royal Porcelain Manufactory in Berlin, the end of the 18th century
The bust of Voltaire (philosopher, historian and writer, the main representative of the Enlightenment) on display in the Study is connected with Stanisław August’s fascination with the French thinker’s works and ideas. This bust, made of white porcelain, on a cylindrical plinth with some gildings, was created by Friedrich Elias Meyer (1723-1885).
The Green Room
The two oval landscapes are by Jean Pillement, a French painter and decorator, who worked for Stanisław August on the refurbishment of the Castle interiors in 1765-67. They form part of a series of four overdoors, the earliest purchases of paintings by the monarch crowned in 1764. Both painting are late-rococo with bright and cheerful colours and characteristic staffage. They are of high artistic value and are some of the best landscapes by this painter. They once adorned the Yellow Room, later also the Apartments of Prince Stanisław, the king’s nephew. Today they are displayed in the Green Room which forms part of the King’s private apartments. Stanisław August met a small and intimate group of closest associates and guests there.
Bust of Moliere, Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1778
The bust of Voltaire (philosopher, historian and writer, the main representative of the Enlightenment) on display in the Study is connected with Stanisław August’s fascination with the French thinker’s works and ideas. This bust, made of white porcelain, on a cylindrical plinth with some gildings, was created by Friedrich Elias Meyer (1723-1885).
The Yellow Room
The Yellow Room was used as a small dining room. In 1771-1782 this was where the famous Thursday Dinners were held to which the King invited poets, writers and scholars. This is why the table in the middle of the room is laid, as if awaiting the King's guests. The name of the room comes from the colour of the walls, the great majority of which are covered with damask fabric with gold and white stripes.
Classicist escritoire, c.1790
This classicist escritoire forms part of the furnishings of the Yellow Room, which was part of the King’s Apartments and served as a small private dining room in which Stanisław August organised his famous Thursday dinners with renowned writers, poets and scholars in the period 1771-1782. The name of the room comes from the colour of the walls, the great majority of which are covered with damask fabric with gold and white stripes. The escritoire is richly ornamented with bronze fittings, chiselled in plant and geometrical motifs. Inside there is a folding writing desk padded with green cloth and drawers and shelves for documents and stationery. It was purchased for the Castle in 1983.
Cartel clock, mechanizm: Pierre Gille l’Ainé, Paris, c.1770
The clock in gilded bronze casing in the manner of Louis XVI from the Yellow Room has extensive crowning. In the upper part a wave motif dominates, whereas the bottom part, in the Regency style, is in the form of a Bandwerk ornament. On the white clock shield there are Roman hourly digits, whereas on the outer circumference there are Arabic minute digits. The side panels are filled with openwork plant ornamentation against a red background. The shield and the mechanism were created in the studio of the clockmaster Pierre Gille L’Ainé in Paris
The Marble Room
The room with likenesses of Polish kings was created in 1640-1643 during the reign of Władysław IV. 130 years later, the room was rebuilt at the behest of King Stanisław August. In this marble-covered room, portraits of kings by Marcello Bacciarelli were placed above the cornice.
Console table à la grecque. After a design by Jacob Fontana , made by Jan August Bekiert, c.1770
The console table belongs to the original design of the Marble Room from the time of its rebuilding by Jacob Fontana. Made from oak with ebony veneer, it is richly ornamented with gilded bronze appliqués and covered with a marble top. It is the first and at the same time a remarkable example of a classicist piece of furniture created in Poland in the style known as à la grecque. It has been placed in its former location, under the mirror situated opposite a representative Portrait of Stanisław August in coronation robes. The Marble Room having been destroyed by the Russians after the November Uprising, the table was transported to the old Study of Stanisław August. During WW1, it was exported to Russia and came back to the Castle in 1922. In 1939, it was stored in the National Museum, in order to be reinstated to its former place in the Royal Castle in 1984.
Portrait of Stanisław August in coronation robes, Marcello Bacciarelli, 1768-1771
This representative portrait of the last Polish monarch, Stanisław August Poniatowski, was painted by the king’s court painter, Marcello Macciarelli. The portrait was painted as an element of the Marble Room’s interior design. Its semicircular shape, closed at the top, was adapted to the marble linings over the fireplace. A plaque with the inscription REGUM MEMORIAE DICAVIT STANISLAUS AUGUSTUS HOCCE MONUMENTUM ANNO DN MDCCLXXI (“Stanisław August dedicated this monument created in 1771 AD to the memory of kings”) was placed above the painting. The monarch is depicted in his coronation robes, referred to at the time as Spanish robes. By his right hand, a crown and an orb are placed on a red cushion. The ceremonial sword and the throne seat depicted in the painting were preserved in the Royal Castle’s collection and are also presented within that collection. On the opposite wall of the Marble Rooms, there is a large mirror which reflects the likeness of Stanisław August. The king particularly appreciated this likeness by Bacciarelli which resulted in it being copied many times, by the master himself and his students.
The European Monarchs’ Portrait Room
This small octagonal interior, adjacent to the Throne Room, was intended as a small conference room in which the king held important diplomatic talks. The ideological programme for the Room was carefully devised by the monarch himself. It was intended to display portraits of the seven most influential contemporary European rulers: George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland; Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor; Frederick II, King of Prussia; Catherine II, Tsarina of Russia; Louis XVI, King of France; Gustav III, King of Sweden; and Pope Pius VI. The interior was designed in the late 1760s by Jacob Fontana and the wall decoration was painted by Jan Bogumił Plersch. The paintings serve as a symbolic commentary on the portraits and by means of allegory reveal Stanisław August’s attitude towards the exercise of power.
Portrait of George III, Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
The painting is one of seven portraits amassed by Stanisław August for the European Monarchs’ Portrait Room. Stanisław August commissioned Thomas Gainsborough, an outstanding English painter, a renowned portraitist and landscape painter, and a founder of the Royal Academy, to paint the image of King George III of the House of Hanover. This painting is a smaller, original version of a portrait which Gainsborough painted in 1781 for a dining room for Buckingham Palace in London. The work was completed in 1785 and sent by sea via Gdańsk, and later to Warsaw.
A guéridon, Martin Carlin, Charles Nicolas Dodin, c.1777-1780
In the middle of the Cabinet Room stands a guéridon with a circular liftable top made of Sevres porcelain plaques on a shaft forked in a tripod. Its top is adorned with seven painted porcelain plaques which illustrate the adventures of Telemachus, the mythological son of Odysseus and Penelope. This piece of furniture is the work of two Parisian artists: Martin Carlin, a cabinet maker of German origin who specialised in luxurious furniture for the wealthiest clients, adorned with plaques from Sèvres porcelain and lacquered panels; and Charles-Nicolas Dodin, a porcelain painter and goldsmith, who worked for the manufactory in Sèvres in the years 1754-1803. This luxurious piece of furniture was a gift from Count d’Artois, the brother of Louis XVI King of France, to Elżbieta Grabowska, the mistress and presumed morganatic wife of Stanisław August. At first (1780-1782), the table was in the White House Villa in the Royal Łazienki Complex. In about 1786 it was transported to the completed European Monarchs’ Portrait Room at the Royal Castle. After the fall of Poland and Warsaw’s occupation by the Russians in 1795 it was moved, together with the king’s other luxury belongings, to his private residence in Łazienki where it remained until it was taken by the Russians during WW1. It was reclaimed in 1922 and three years later it came back to the Castle. After September 1939 it was stored in the National Museum. In 1984 it was placed in the European Monarchs’ Portrait Room in the Castle again.
The Great Assembly Hall
The Great Assembly Hall is the largest and the most ceremonial interior in the Castle. In King Stanislaus Augustus's reign the Great Assembly Hall was used for court ceremonies, banquets, balls, concerts and theatrical performances. Interior decor and furnishings were made according to designs by Domenico Merlini and Jan Christian Kamsetzer in the years 1777-1781.
Candelabra, Philippe Caffieri, 1765-1768
This set of six richly ornamented candelabra, in the form of ancient tripods, was commissioned for the Royal Castle by Stanisław August. They were made from gilded bronze in the Parisian workshop of Philippe Caffieri, sculptor, chiseller and caster. All of them bear the master’s signature ‘fait par Caffieri’, as well as detailed descriptions with the address ‘Caffiery rue Princesse faubourg St. Germain a Paris’ and the years in which they weremade, from 1766 to 1768. Such a detailed signing of decorative bronzes was very rare at the time; even those made by renowned workshops were often anonymous. According to plans for the reconstruction of the Castle prepared by Victor Louis in 1765-1766, the candelabra were supposed to be placed in the Portrait Room. Finally, they were placed in the Great Assembly Hall, completed after a design by Domenico Merlini and Johan Christian Kamsetzer in 1781. It is there that they are displayed today.
The Senators’ Chamber
The Senators's Chamber is one of the most sumptuous rooms in the Castle. It was here that the Constitution was passed on 3 May 1791. the interior was destroyed after the failure of the November Uprising, and has been reconstructed on the basis of earlier drawings. The royal throne and fragments of the backdrop and the canopy are original.
Throne seat of Stanisław August, Jan Jerzy Plersch, 1764
This piece of furniture was created in Warsaw, probably by Jan Jerzy Plersch on the occasion of the coronation of Stanisław August in 1764. The seat bears some late-rococo features; it is sculpted, gilded and upholstered, covered with red velvet with a double gold gallon. The back is surmounted with a cartouche of the coat-of-arms of Stanisław August with a sceptre and a sword. In 1764-1774 it was placed in the Old Audience Chamber; later, replaced with a new one, it was moved to the treasury. During WW1, it was taken to Russia, and returned to the Castle in 1922. From 1939, it was stored in the National Museum in Warsaw; since 1993 it has been exhibited in the Senators’ Chamber in the Castle where it is displayed against the throne backdrop. The backdrop, together with a new covering for the throne, was designed by Andrzej Grzybowski in 1987 on the basis of the preserved iconography. This throne seat is probably the one depicted in the portrait of Stanisław August by Marcello Macciarelli from the Marble Room.
Credits: Story

The team of the Department of Arts and Department of Archaeology of the Royal Castle in Warsaw - Museum

Editors: Jan Łoziński, Artur Badach Ph.D., Dominika Sobolewska-Gola, Aldona Modrzewska
Proofreading: Tatiana Hardej
Translated by Aleksandra Kwiecińska
Photos: Andrzej Ring, Lech Sandzewicz
Graphic design: Piotr Kubiak

Credits: All media
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