The history of the Wilanow Palace, a wonderful Baroque royal residence, located in the Wilanów district of Warsaw in Poland, began on 23 April 1677, when a tiny village, known as Milanów, became the property of King John Sobieski III. First mentioned in the 13th century, Milanów changed hands several times before being bought in the 17th century by Stanisław Leszczyński, who began building a palace there, but the project was halted by the flash flood and the subsequent invasion and plundering of the region by the Swedes. The abandoned Milanów was eventually bought by King John Sobieski III, who was looking for a country retreat away from Warsaw and he ordered a new palace to be built on the site and renamed the village in Latin Villa Nova or New Village, which later Polonised into Wilanów.
Initially, it was a small brick manor house, built in 1680, which was expanded in two stages into a palace during the years 1681-1696, under the supervision of Agostino Locci, due to the military successes and an increase in the importance of royalty in the subsequent years. The complete building comprised of elements of a nobility house, an Italian garden villa and a French palace in the style of Louis XIV, the central part of which contains the living quarters of King Jan III Sobieski and his French queen consort, Marie or Marysieńka, as she was lovingly called by her husband.
After The death of John III Sobieski in 1696, his widow returned to France, while their sons became the owner of the Palace and in 1720, the rundown property was sold to Elizabeth Sieniawska, one of the wealthiest women in Poland in those days, who developed the palace, most notably the two wings, built in the years 1720-1729. However, the palace became a royal residence again for three years in the early 1730s, when King August II the Strong owned it in exchange for the Blue Palace at Senatorska Street and made considerable modifications to the structure, particularly the internal décor. After his death, the palace came to Maria Zofia Czartoryska of the famous Sieniawska family and in the middle of the 18th century, the property was inherited by Izabela Czartoryska, better known under her married name of Izabela Lubomirska, who refurbished some of the interiors in the neoclassical style between 1792 and1793 and build a guardhouse, a kitchen building and a bathroom building, under the supervision of Szymon Bogumil Zug, a renowned Polish-German architect and designer of gardens.
Sixty nine years later, the Duchess gave Wilanów to her daughter and her husband, Stanislaw Kostka Potocki, a Polish politician, intellectual and patron of arts, who was instrumental to open a museum in a part of the palace, a three-room apartment, in 1805, one of the first public museums in Poland.
The walls of the 17th century palace are richly decorated with the works of the greatest contemporary and ancient masters, like Rembrandt, Raphael, Guido Reni, Anthony van Dyck, Ferdinand van Kessel, Caracci brothers, Bernardo Strozzi and others, while the chambers are fitted with precious furnishings, like silver folding screens, the silver pyramid with eleven baskets, a three storey silver fountain and a silk baldachin or a ceremonial canopy, most of which were either scattered by the successive owners or plundered by the Germans during World War II.
At the initiative of Elżbieta Sieniawska, the Lower Vestibule was embellished with a fresco of Flora and the walls in the royal chambers were covered with Genoan velvet. In addition, the walls of the second floor, that is the Great Dining Room, were covered with frescoes depicting Apollo, Minerva and Heracles, as an allegory of Heroic Valour and Heba, the Greek Goddess of youth, representing Beauty.
The Wilanow Palace contains several richly decorated interesting rooms, which include the White Hall, located in the southern wing, which is optically enlarged by great wall mirrors facing the windows. There are two fireplaces in the room, aligned with the axis of the room, bearing the initials of King August II on their cast iron plates and two orchestra boxes above them, formerly used by the court musicians. While there is a porcelain figure of August III next to a fireplace, the walls of the room are decorated with the portraits of two kings, August II and August III, painted by Louis de Silvestre.
The Queen's Bedroom, with its ceiling decorated with a painting, called Allegory of Spring and three mythological paintings above doors, is one of the most spectacular Baroque interiors in the Palace. The walls of the room are covered with patterned velvet in the Genoan style and the decorative moulding between the ceiling and the walls features sphinxes and cherubs as well as frescoes representing different types of springtime work in the country. The furniture in the room includes a chest of drawers with a toilet set that once belonged to Queen Marie Casimire, a Dutch escritoire and a Baroque sofa with a set of Saxon cushioned stools. While the Regency mirror frames are decorated with symbolic vernal motifs, the silver inkwell on the table was made around 1700.
The King’s Bedroom in the Wilanow Palace, with its ceiling decorated with a painting, depicting an allegory of Summer with Aurora bearing the features of Queen Marie Casimire, structurally resembles the Queen’s chamber. The walls of the room are lined with velvet and the decorative moulding between the ceiling and the walls include cherubs riding the sea horses and dolphins and tondo form of pictures depicting summer works in the country, with suitable quotations from Virgil. The room is equipped with 18th century furniture, including the stools of Louis XIV, and a chest of drawers bearing a gilt silver tray, gifted to the King by the citizens of Kraków after his remarkable victory in the Battle of Vienna.
The King’s Library, a two-part room connected by an arcade, with its floor made of three-coloured marble tiles and the ceiling decorated with tondo or circular paintings depicting allegories of the two chief sciences of the 17th century, Philosophy and Theology and surrounded with medallion portraits of eminent scholars and artists, was once used to be the refuge of King John III Sobieski, where he used to read and work. The walls of the room are decorated with several dozen paintings by Flemish, Dutch, French and German artists and a cabinet in the room contains a miniature portrait of the king’s youngest son, Konstanty, along with several Chinese porcelain and European weapons of the 16th and17th century.
The Grand Vestibule, originally used as a Dining Room, is a two-storey space aligned with the main body of the edifice, linking the royal rooms of King Jan III’s rooms to the right of the entrance and the rooms of Queen Marie Casimire, also known as Marysieńka, to the left. The room, furnished with English chairs and armchairs of the late 16th century and a French table with an onyx tabletop with an English lantern and decorated with various paintings, which include, among others, the triumphs of Alexander the Great and the allegory of Night and Day, by JE Siemiginowski and surrounded with lavish stucco decorations, illustrating the Four Elements, namely Earth, Water, Fire and Air and the Four Winds in the corners.
Apart from the museum portion, the Wilanow Palace also contains a chapel, containing a statue of the Virgin Mary, created by the Italian sculptor V Gaiassi after Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. Reckoned one of the most important monuments of Poland, the palace survived the Great War without even a scratch, although its collections were indiscriminately looted. However, today the palace and park in Wilanów have become a hot spot to host cultural events and concerts, including Summer Royal Concerts in the Rose Garden and the International Summer Early Music Academy. The museum in the palace, confiscated by Poland’s post-war Communist government, was re-opened to the public again in 1962, as a part of the National Museum in Warsaw, after being painstakingly renovated during the 1950s and early 1960s.5t7890-