The Museum in the Palace on the Isle (Lazienki Park)
This article is a detailed description of the museum located in the Palace on the Island. If you only need a tourist overview and a summary, simply click on the following link.Touristic overview
Most visitors enter the Royal Łazienki Park mainly from the Royal Route (Aleje Ujazdowskie Street). At the entrance, right next to the bus stop, not far from the Belvedere Palace, stands the world-famous Chopin monument, surrounded by rose beds and benches; all prepared for the free Chopin concerts on Sundays. At this point, there is nothing to suggest that there could be more here than a beautifully preserved park with the oldest trees in the city.
As one strolls slowly downhill, numerous magnificent buildings suddenly appear. The Old Orangery, the neoclassical water reservoir, the White House, the Myslewicki Palace, the Amphitheater, or the New Orangery with the Belvedere Restaurant located there. One can sense that a romantic spirit was at work here. However, the heart of Łazienki Park beats in the Palace on the Island.
Łazienki Park, a vast museum
We noticed that not everyone is aware that the objects in the park can be visited. It is important to understand that formally, the park is a museum. That’s why cycling or walking dogs is not allowed here, and why so much effort is put into preserving the flora and fauna.
In the park, there are several objects belonging to the Łazienki Museum, such as:
1. The White House
2. The Myslewicki Palace
3. The Old Orangery (picture gallery and the Stanislaus Theatre)
4. The Amphitheater (no interior facilities)
5. The Palace on the Island
6. Hunting and Riding Museum, a branch of the Łazienki Museum (located in the eastern part of the park)
Tickets can be purchased at the Old Orangery and at the Cadet School (Officer’s School). The Cadet School is located between the eastern wing of the Palace on the Island and the Myslewicki Palace.
A brief history of the Palace
The construction of the structure began in the 17th century when Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski, the Marshal of the Crown and owner of the Ujazdów estates, commissioned the architect Tylman van Gameren to build a garden pavilion – the Bath, also known as Hippocrene. According to Greek mythology, Hippocrene, the spring that symbolizes poetic inspiration, sprang from the hooves of Pegasus on Mount Helicon, the seat of the Muses.
In 1764, Ujazdów attracted the interest of Stanisław August Poniatowski with the hilltop castle and two pavilions, situated picturesquely among trees. The future king purchased this land shortly before his election as his summer residence. Through the work of architects Dominik Merlini and Jan Chrystian Kamsetzer, the existing baroque bath was transformed into a neoclassical palace. This realized the vision of a summer residence behind the city walls as a villa-museum, showcasing the royal collection of paintings, sculptures, prints, and coin collections.
The palace was built on an artificial island surrounded by ponds. Two pavilions, which were erected towards the end of the palace’s construction, are connected to the main building. Stone bridges with Ionic colonnades, originally glazed and adorned with busts of Roman emperors, lead to them. The wall with the entrance in the background of the portico dates back to the time of Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski.
The entrance and facade
A Latin inscription in the form of a riddle was placed above the door, where the words from the second line are to be read alternately with the words from the third line.
Odit amat fundit commendat et q tat
tristas pacem balnea rura probos
After deciphering, this sentence states: “This house abhors sadness, loves peace, offers baths, recommends rural life, and wishes to accommodate decent guests.” Above the coat of arms, two sphinxes sit, symbolizing intelligence but also physical pleasures. Between them is a satyr mask, above which is a shell – the symbol of water and simultaneously Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, born from the waves of the sea. Two medallions with the symbols of Apollo and Mercury were placed on the sides. The first of the gods embodies poetry, the second – the art of speech. Thus, upon entering the building, we already know that we are entering a temple where the source of inspiration, Hippocrene, resides. During Stanisław August’s time, an eagle taking flight and the combined initials SAR (Stanislaus Augustus Rex) were added to this decoration on the ceiling.
The north facade, designed by Jan Chrystian Kamsetzer (1788), is the opposite of the south facade – a simple wall with a central portico that has a monumental and official expression. The coat of arms of the Republic is located in the tympanum, surrounded by two seated figures representing Fame and Peace. Mars and Minerva sculptures were placed on the sides. Personifications of Europe, America, Africa, and Asia, symbolizing dominion over the world, adorned the corners of the building. Four female statues representing the seasons adorn the attic on the south side. The building is crowned by square belvederes with sculptures representing the elements earth, air, fire, and water. All these sculptures come from the studio of André Le Brun.
The palace during the Tsarist rule
In 1795, Stanisław August left the Royal Baths forever and went to Grodno, where he abdicated the crown, and then to St. Petersburg. He died in 1798. The Palace on the Island with the pavilions and the garden became the property of the king’s nephew, Prince Józef Poniatowski. After his death in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, the sister of the prince, Maria Teresa Tyszkiewiczowa, inherited the Royal Baths. In 1817, Tsar Alexander I, the king of the reborn Kingdom of Poland, purchased Stanisław August’s summer residence. During stays in Warsaw, the tsarist family stayed at the Palace on the Island, which was specially renovated for their needs in the first half of the 19th century. The chapel was removed, and its function was taken over by a church attached to the western pavilion. The first floor of the palace was remodeled, and part of the Small Gallery was separated to create the balcony room. The eastern pavilion was converted into a living suite. The Royal Baths, together with the Palace on the Island, remained in the possession of the Russian tsars until 1916.
World War II and Reconstruction
After the outbreak of the Second World War, the historical furnishings of the Palace on the Island, including the royal painting collections, were evacuated to the National Museum in Warsaw. In 1944, during the planned destruction of Warsaw by the Germans after the failure of the uprising, the palace was set on fire. The fire destroyed the first floor, the wall paintings in the Hall of Solomon,
the ceilings of Bacchus and the bathroom, as well as the wooden floors. A thousand holes were drilled into the walls of the palace to place explosive charges, but the approach of the eastern front prevented the occupiers from carrying out their plan. After the end of the hostilities, efforts began to secure the surviving parts of the building, such as the Rotunda spared from the fire, with statues of Polish kings or numerous sculptural decorations, such as the statues of Apollo Belvedere and Hercules Farnese in the ballroom. Conservation work to restore the neoclassical splendor of the interiors took several years – on May 16, 1960, some halls were opened to the first visitors. The reconstruction and restoration of the Palace on the Island were completed in 1965.
The palace consists of two floors. In total, guests can visit 11 rooms on the ground floor and 8 rooms on the upper floor.
Here is a description of each room in the order set by the museum:
The Antechamber | No. 1
The first room upon entering behind the door is the antechamber. Guests were greeted here by the resting god Mars and the blossoming Polonia, placed in the niches. The message for the esteemed gentlemen and ladies was clear: may peace and prosperity accompany them. Looking at the ceiling, one can see under the crown the initials SA (Stanisław August) and SL (Stanisław Lubomirski).
Room of Bacchus | No. 2
Named after an unreceived ceiling painting by Jan Bogumił Plersch from 1778. During Lubomirski’s time, it was a resting room after the bath. The room’s old furnishings include a wide stone oven with an original cast-iron plate in the fire, displaying the shaped coat of arms of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The walls of the room are covered with tiles. This trend naturally originated from the Netherlands at that time. In the corners of the room, there are personifications representing the four continents: Europe (with a model of a temple), America (adorned with a feathered head), Africa (with the Horn of Plenty), and Asia (lacking its attributes in the form of a censer and a branch with cashew fruits, pepper, and cloves).
The Bath | Lazienka | No. 3
Built in the Baroque style during Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski’s time. Two zinc tubs were in the corners, set into the floor and supplied with warm and cold water through wooden pipes. During Stanisław August’s time, the tubs were covered with blue mattresses, and pillows were attached to the walls to serve as sofas. The baroque bas-reliefs on the walls depict stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, associated with the water theme, referring to the room’s original function, namely the bath.
Additionally, we find here the goddess of love, Venus, emerging from the sea.
The Ballroom | No. 4
The Ballroom was added to the first pavilion in 1788 and possesses a typical neoclassical decor and layout. The central axis runs between two fireplaces. On the first fireplace stands the savior of humanity, Hercules, wielding a club and wearing a lion’s pelt. The powerful figure is supported by a three-headed dog, the guardian of the underworld, Hades, and a centaur, half-human and half-horse. Do you see here the victory of humanity over evil?
On the opposite fireplace stands Apollo of Belvedere, supported by two Atlantes. The first one is the Satyr King Midas, who was foolish enough to act as a referee in the duel between Apollo and the second Satyr, Marsyas, determining who among them was the superior flute player. Both are considered personifications of foolishness and hubris. Midas was punished with donkey ears.
Above them all, Chronos, the lord of time, crowns the scene, upon whom the harmony of the world depends.
King Stanislaw August Poniatowski was one of the most enlightened kings of his time. The Ballroom wasn’t merely meant for joy and passion but intended to provoke thought through its figures and paintings. Everything is transient, and what matters is peace, sacrifice, virtues, the battle against one’s own vices, and endurance. Here, the spirit of the time becomes visible and palpable. Poniatowski was a worthy representative of the Enlightenment, far ahead of his time.
The walls are adorned with grotesques by Jan Bogumil Plersch. In the middle of the room, the four natural elements—water, earth, air, and fire—are depicted.
Portraits Room | No. 5
Next, one proceeds into the room adorned with numerous portraits. This room was also added during the expansion of the pavilion in 1788. Poniatowski might have been somewhat awkward in his role as king, yet as an art patron, he was unmatched. The paintings were displayed here due to the favorable lighting conditions.
The furniture standing in this room belongs to the original furnishings from the time of Stanislaw August Poniatowski.
Hall of Solomon | No. 6
The Hall of Solomon serves as the representative room of the residence. It is situated on the north-south axis, offering a beautiful view of the northern pond. In contrast to the Ballroom, this space displayed paintings, primarily by Marcello Bacciarelli, a close friend of Stanislaw August Poniatowski. The artworks depicted Solomon, whose face bore the features of Poniatowski. Unfortunately, those paintings were destroyed in a fire in 1944. Presently, easel paintings by Bacciarelli occupy the respective niches in the room.
Picture Gallery | No. 7
The most valuable artworks owned by Poniatowski were displayed here. Even today, the paintings hang in the arrangement from 1795. Poniatowski owned 2289 works of art.
The Chapel | No. 8
Built in 1793 on the site of a tower from Lubomirski’s times. After Tsar Alexander I acquired the palace in 1817, the chapel fell out of favor and was demolished. It was rebuilt in 1922.
Antechamber | Antichambre | No. 9
This room was created during the major reconstruction of 1788, leading to the king’s private rooms on the first floor.
Antechamber | 1st Floor | No. 10
The entire first floor belonged to the king’s private quarters. The king resided in the southern part, while his personal chamberlain, Ryx, occupied the northern section. This floor was opened in 1777.
Upon ascending the stairs, one proceeds directly to the left.
The Small Gallery | 1st Floor | No. 11
A room containing works by Dutch and Flemish painters from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Chronos figure is also intriguing. The tip of the scythe pointed to the current hour of the day.
Balcony Room | 1st Floor | No. 12
Separated from the Small Gallery in 1840 by Tsar Nicholas I.
Royal Study | 1st Floor | No. 13
This is where the king spent most of his time. As a king, patron of the arts, architect, and politician, there was always much to be done, so there was no room for rest. Stanislaw August was king of Poland for a whole 32 years. His reign is viewed critically by many Poles. However, his work in Warsaw has left very positive legacies. The desk present in the room today did not belong to Poniatowski; nonetheless, it dates back to his era. It is a Rococo desk from 1763.
Remaining Rooms | 1st Floor | No. 14 – 17
The last rooms are the bedroom, wardrobe, and private library. In the northern section, one can see how his personal chamberlain resided and was always available.
The Dining Room | No. 18
Poniatowski took Madame Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin as a model when he organized his weekly Thursday luncheons. Madame Geoffrin used to hold regular gatherings of scholars and artists in the dining room of her house. Poniatowski also attended such evenings.
The dining room provided the perfect setting for the Thursday meals. Here, the brightest minds of the country, artists, politicians, aristocrats, and the king’s family members gathered. The room accommodated 12 people. The kitchen was located in the nearby Fähnrichschule (where the ticket office is also situated).
The Rotunda | No. 19
This is the heart of the palace. Fortunately, this room was spared from the destruction of World War II. Here, the water source that supplied the bathhouse with water, evoking the mythical Hippocrene, bubbled forth. Stanislaw August Poniatowski completely redesigned the room. He had Polish kings placed in the niches: Casimir the Great, Sigismund I, Stefan Batory, and John III Sobieski. Above the entrances are the Roman emperors Titus, Trajan, and Marcus Aurelius. The Latin phrase surrounding the rotunda under the ceiling reads “Utile mundo editi in exemplum,” meaning “All are born to be an example useful to the world.”
Naturally, these figures are not here without reason. Poniatowski is commonly regarded as the successor to these great kings.
The explanations are based on our own visits, explanations from museum guides, as well as museum brochures. With this article, we aim to provide our German-speaking guests with the opportunity to get some preliminary information and hope that it sparks an interest in visiting the palace in person to explore its interior.