The Baroque Palace – Art Museum of Timisoara

In the year 1716, after the Ottomans’ defeat at Petrovaradin (today Novi-Sad), prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), one of the illustrious military commanders of the Habsburg House, decided to conquer the citadel of Timişoara and its neighboring region, which had been part of the Ottoman empire for 164 years. The decision was motivated by the strategic position of the citadel, proven during the military conflicts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In 1718, according to the Passarowitz (today a Serbian town) peace treaty, Timişoara and most of Banat region were assigned to the Habsburg House. Emperor Charles 6 signed the decree which founded the Banat Administration, Timişoara becoming the capital city of one of the newest Imperial provinces. Until 1751, the administrative structures had been military, and the governors held a double function: military and civil. The first general commander and governor of Banat Administration was Claudius Florimond Count Mercy d’Argenteau, also known as Count Mercy (1716-1734). Between 1751 and 1778, the city had a civil administration. The first civil president of Banat Administration was Don Francesco de Paula Ramon, count Vilana Perlas, marquis of Perlas, known today as count of Vilana Perlas (1753-1768).

Comparatively to the period in which the city had been under Ottoman rule (1552-1716), the Habsburg House imposed a more rigorously planned urban concept, with a rectangular street structure in which the main squares of the town were built. During the eighteenth century, buildings were designed and erected in the perimeter of the squares. That was the period in which Timişoara defined its personality through an architectural style resembling the Central Europe baroque. Among the features of the baroque buildings, one can mention the spatial hierarchy: the ground floor destined for administrative or commercial spaces; the living area facing the street; the arched walkway for accessing the annexes from the interior courtyards. The buildings have ground floor or one flat, a balanced silhouette, composed of symmetrical façades, structured vertically and horizontally by columns, jutties or cornices.

The Palace of the Old Prefecture from Timişoara, known later as the Baroque Palace, registers to the same architectural stringency. Like other buildings from the eighteenth century, it is part of the urbanistic renewal developed in the recent incorporated regions of the Habsburg House. It symbolized the Imperial power. Until the end of the Second World War, the Baroque Palace hosted the administrative center, at ground floor, and the living quarters of the public servants at the first and second flats.

In its almost 300 years of existence, The Baroque Palace has changed its name quite often depending on the dominant policies and on the administrative re-establishment of the city. The construction was accomplished in stages, at the same time as the Main Square, the Dome Square, or the Union Square, as it is known today. This yielded the town’s configuration in the eighteenth century. Although the separation between the civil and the military administration took place no sooner than 1751, the Austrian military engineers had already proposed since 1730-1740 the construction of a building belonging to the civil governor, a residence which had to be designed in relation with the square. During the same period, the placing of the Roman Catholic Dome (built between 1736 and 1772), of the Orthodox Episcopalian Church (built between 1744 and 1748) and of the Holy Trinity monument (built in 1740) was established.

For the President’s Palace, the Southern side of the square was chosen. Here, between 1733 and 1735, the Mining Office building and, neighboring to that, The Military Money Office had been built. Starting from the two buildings, attached by superposition, began the construction of the Baroque Palace. At first, the rooms facing the Dome Square had been of lesser importance, because the ground on which the square was built was a marshy one, bearing the tracks of the ramifications of Bega channel. The main access was made through the mascarón[1] porch, situated on the Western side of the building, which today is kept as a window.

In the year 1752, the Old Civil House, such named for the function it held during the German-Serbian mixed administration of the city, was a two flatted building. In the backyard, it had some annexes – barns and deposits. The ground floor had belonged to the Administration of Banat Chancellery and to the Military Money Office Service.

In the year 1754, The Old Civil House was arranged as residence of the first president of the civil administration, Count of Vilana Perlas, and it was known for a period as The President’s House/Palace. President’s living quarters were arranged on the first and second floors, the ground floor being used for the chancellery and expedition services. The side of the building facing the square was extended, erecting the porch which has been preserved until today. It is composed by a basket-handle arch, highlighted by a simple profile crest and a classical garland inspired by the Imperial baroque style. The Façade of the Palace depicts a sumptuous baroque decoration, alternating two types of braiding spreading upon the pillars, the parapets and the window crests.

In the year 1774, the President’s House extended by the “in mirror” duplication of the existing body, thus gaining a second inner courtyard accessed by an arched passage. At the façade level, the pompous decoration deriving from the initial stage of the construction is simplified by using a single vegetal motif, applied at the pillars level.

In the context in which Wien decided in 1778 the re-establishment of the region, including it under the coordination of the Hungarian Administrative Council, the old districts becoming shires, the Baroque Palace continued to play its role as the Shire House. Here, the quarters of the deputy prefect, of the civil servants and the confinement house for civil crimes were established. In the old wing, on the ground floor, the Civil Accounting was operating.

Between 1849 and 1861, The Baroque Palace became the administrative center of the newly founded autonomous region of Serbian Voivodine and Timiş Banat and was directly subordinate to Wien. Excepting some repairing work and the grey painting, which were carried out in the year 1858, no major intervention was imposed upon the building.

At the end of the nineteenth century, The Baroque Palace suffered a transformation, getting to the actual form. The modifications were carried accordingly to the taste of the age, one tributary to its time, which states that any intervention upon a building must be done by innovating and finding a style which is illustrative for the contemporary architecture, thus ignoring of the baroque legacy. The eighteenth style, also known as “the trivial Zopf style”, was considered old-fashioned. As consequence, a restoration was proposed by the so-called “stylistic purification”. It was carried out between 1885 and 1886 by Jakob-Jacques Klein (1855-1928), a builder and architect coming from Cernăuţi.

Following the interventions, the body which separated the two interior courtyards was demolished. A mansard was built below the roof facing the main square and the rooms were re-segmented. The baroque decoration was eliminated from the façade. The embossed coating decor disappeared, the windows getting rectangular plat bands with identical cornices. A sgraffito decoration, which was going to cover the attic panels and the window fences, was intended upon the façade, but it was never finalized.

With the intention of associating the image of the Baroque Palace to the particularities of the French neo-renaissance, in the spirit that the architect Jakob Klein conceived the above-mentioned intervention, the project included a rich fittings decoration materialized by the two exterior standard bearers. They were conceived in the form of griffins and flank the corners of the building towards the Union Square.

After the Second World War, the Baroque Palace hosted the Agronomy Faculty of the Timişoara Polytechnic Institute, named later The “Banatul” University of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine.

Initiated in the year 1983, the most recent restoration work upon the Baroque Palace resulted in a partially bringing into service in 2006. The restoration is carried out by teams of architects and constructors whose interventions are coordinated by the Ministry of Culture. Situated in the historical center of the city, in a square marked by elements baroque architecture, the Baroque Palace is housing the Art Museum Timişoara, a landmark institution for the contemporary cultural life, sheltering local, national and universal artistic values and attracting numerous visitors.

 

Prof. Dr. Victor NEUMANN, Director, Art Museum Timisoara

[1] Decorative element used for adorning the the apex of arch, depicting a grotesque human or animal head.

ShareShare on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest