THE BAROQUE THEATRE
In the southernmost wing of the Palace, Count Antal Grassalkovich II (1734–1794) had a theatre auditorium constructed between 1782 and 1785. 24.5 m long, 8 m wide and 9.5 m high, the space resulted from making the formerly 3-storey wing into one. The walls were decorated with Neo-classical, late Baroque paintings. The theatre was in operation only when the Count was in residence at Gödöllő.
The story of the theatre came to an end in 1867 when it was converted into rooms for the entourage of the royal family.
Reconstruction was completed in August 2003, since then it has provided a venue for high standard performances, and it is now open to museum visitors.
Due to the lack of professional national theatre companies, acting in 18th century Hungary was restricted to schools and to the stages of noblemen. In the southernmost wing of the Palace, Count Antal Grassalkovich II (1734–1794) had a theatre auditorium constructed during reconstruction work between 1782 and 1785. This is the earliest stone theatre with coulisses still standing in Hungary.
24.5 m long, 8 m wide and 9.5 m high, the space resulted from making the formerly 3-storey wing into one. The Rococo-style suite of Cardinal Kristóf Migazzi (1714–1803) Bishop of Vác (constructed for him by Antal Grassalkovich I) fell victim to this reconstruction.
The walls of the theatre auditorium were decorated with Neo-classical, late Baroque paintings. The plastic parastades with Roman capitals are joined by cornices at the top and marble-like pedestals at the bottom. The surfaces between the parastades are adorned with ochre-framed pink fields with garlands. The 90 square-metre stage slanting slightly towards the stalls was equipped with the best technology of the age. The spatial effect of the Baroque stage-set was achieved by means of sliding coulisses and scenery canvases hanging from above (known as soffit) and also by backdrop canvases.
There was no orchestra pit separating the stalls from the stage; the orchestra was only separated from the audience by a low draught-screen. The audience was seated in the stalls and in the two galleries on the rear wall.
The theatre only functioned periodically. Antal Grassalkovich II and his family only spent a few weeks in Gödöllő each year. They spent most of the year in Vienna, Pozsony (Bratislava) and Pozsonyivánka. A private 24-piece orchestra accompanied the duke on his travels, providing the music for theatre performances, church ceremonies and various court events. The conductor and composer for the orchestra was György Druschetzky (1745–1819). Several rooms and a rehearsal room were fitted out for the musicians in the wing opposite the theatre. This was known as the Musicians’ Gangway. German theatrical companies performing in Buda, Pest and Győr came to play here. The performances were often attended by members of the local aristocracy.
There is no information on the theatre for around 7 decades after the death of Antal Grassalkovich II (1794). It ceased to exist in 1867, when the Palace was bought by the Hungarian state and free use of it made over as a coronation gift to Francis Joseph I and Queen Elizabeth. The building was hastily renovated in order to make it suitable for accommodating the royal family and the royal household. All the theatre furnishings were auctioned off and the inside of the theatre was once again divided into three separate floors by inserting two ceilings. A total of 15 rooms together with corridors were constructed on these floors.
This palace layout remained unchanged until 1986, by which time the state of the building had deteriorated so badly due to improper usage following World War II that the ceiling fell in. The theatre building, previously known only from written sources, was identified when the wall-painting extending over all three floors was uncovered. Further examination of the walls also provided clear evidence of traces of the stage equipment of the age.
In order for the theatre to be rebuilt, the floors were removed and the space once more made into one. All surviving sections of the wall-painting were restored and the missing parts reconstructed in a way distinguishable from the original. (These areas are a few millimetres deeper and have less detail.) Above the stage can be seen the ducal variant of the Grassalkovich family coat-of-arms. The stage-set can be altered with the aid of two pairs of revolving coulisses and three pairs of sliding coulisses, as well as the upper and backdrop scenery canvases. The stage equipment has been reproduced based on contemporary analogies. The coulisses can be moved manually or mechanically. Behind the stage, a spiral staircase leads to what used to be Migazzi’s guest room, where the wall-painting has also been restored. (The missing sections are indicated by white patches here.) This now functions as the theatre flies.
The various facilities necessary for running the theatre, such as changing rooms, store-rooms and machinery, have been established on two, newly-built cellar levels. The theatre, which can seat 95, once again became a venue for quality theatrical performances in August 2003. A curiosity of theatrical history, this part of the palace can be visited on guided tours.
Located around 200 metres from the Palace, the King’s Hill pavilion is the only remaining building in the Palace park which dates from the Baroque period. It was Antal Grassalkovich I who had the hexagonal pavilion built in the 1760s. 54 oil paintings depicting Hungarian leaders and kings were incorporated into the panelled walls of the pavilion. The majority of the pictures have been destroyed or have disappeared and in the 1980s, only the bare walls were left standing. The building was reconstructed in 2002. The set of pictures was re-created by means of advanced photographic technology in 2004, and since then the pavilion may be visited on guided tours.
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The only building surviving from the Baroque period in the Palace park is the King’s Hill pavilion with the portraits of Hungarian leaders from the time of the Hungarian conquest and those of later Hungarian kings. It was Antal Grassalkovich I who had the hexagonal pavilion built in the 1760s around 200 metres from the palace. Galleries of ancestors and kings would be created in the 17th and 18th centuries as ornamentation for aristocratic residences. On the one hand this was a way of expressing their sense of nobility, and on the other it was a pictorial representation of their attitude to history. A speciality of the series of pictures in Gödöllő is that Grassalkovich erected a separate building for the purpose of evoking the whole of Hungarian history with a near-complete set of former rulers. The pavilion was built on an artificial hill known as King’s Hill. (This name has historical significance. It used to be the name of a place where a new king would ride up following his coronation ceremony and swing his sword towards the four winds as a sign of his will to defend the country against attacks coming from any direction.)
The 54 oil paintings depicting the leaders and kings incorporated into the panelled walls of the pavilion all share a common frame structure of laurel wreaths and phylacteries. The phylactery displays the name of the portrait’s subject in Latin, his number in the line of rulers and the dates of his reign. Rulers of greater significance have larger portraits and have been placed in special positions over the doors and the windows. The line starts with Attila’s portrait over the northern entrance. He is followed by Keve underneath him and then the portraits follow one after the other in a clockwise manner. (After a full turn, the lines of pictures continue spirally downwards, always taking one step down after each turn under the starting picture.)
Some of the pictures were damaged during the War of Independence in 1848–49. Baron Simon Sina, the new owner of the palace, had the pavilion renovated in 1857 in preparation for Francis Joseph I’s visit to Gödöllő. He had copies of the damaged pictures painted and also added to the collection portraits of the rulers from the century that had passed since the initial construction of the pavilion.
The pavilion was in this condition at the beginning of the royal period in 1867, and it could be visited by the public. Following the death of Queen Eli