Classicism wall paintings in the Oleri Manor

Classicism wall paintings in the residential building of Oleri Manor

 

by Dainis Brugis

 

 

 

Wall paintings of Oleri Manor were discovered 28 August 1985, when the head of the architecture sector of the scientific research council of Museum and culture monuments G.Jekabsons together with J.Kalnacs – the supervisor of monuments of Valmiera district - found the remains of wall painting in one of the ground floor rooms.

 

In order to specify the character of the newly found paintings and to update a rather problematic issue of the use of building itself, in September 1986, the research of interior decoration of the residential house of Oleri Manor was carried out by museum staff of Rundale Palace.

 

The research programme was generally intended to provide the fullest possible exposure and fixation of the paintings already discovered. In the course of the research, the painting turned out to cover a relatively large quadratic room, which is currently divided into two smaller ones (rooms No. 2 and No. 3). Despite significant losses of paint layers in individual spots, the extent and condition of the preserved paintings allow not only to reconstruct the composite scheme of the room’s original decoration but in a large part also completely restore the authentic painting. (Both ceiling bends and paintings have been lost in the second half of the 19th century when the ground floor covering was raised throughout the whole building.)

 

The wall’s oil colour painting of the room is in greyish-green, rose-violet and griseous of light-brown. Originally the painting was denser and brighter, for currently only the part of the colour ingrained in plaster and the spots of painty shadow and light have remained, thus forming a rather schematic graphic idea of the original character of the painting. The composition is formed as a tectonic system with a low panel zone split in horizontal fillers on the lower side of the wall and triglyph and zone of metopes on the upper side of the wall. The painting’s composite knots are formed of large oval medallions containing painty storylines. At a lesser scale, the groups of naked figures with Cupids depicted in the background of a conditional landscape. The tectonic elements at the bottom of the composition are interconnected with laurel and rose garlands.

There is a decorative composition with a hunted bird, arrow, a bunch of artichoke and wreath of roses exposed above one of the triglyphs, while the top of the medallions is contained by figures of naked women.

The remains of the painting (the split of the panel and the mirror’s frame between windows) are also found in the northern wall.

 

The overall composition of the wall resembles engravings of the Classical period when strictly tectonic heavy framing of Classicism ornament successfully coexisted with frivolous, often overtly erotic storylines of the paintings typical of the period of Louis XV. Clearly, graphical samples have been used to compose the room, yet their attribution attempts have failed for the time being.

 

 

Meanwhile, the figurative compositions depicted in two of the fully exposed medallions show an unambiguous similarity to the samples of F. Boucher and J.H. Fragonard circle’s frivolous painting, which gained popularity in Europe due to engravings of P. Basan, R. Tiller, K. Fesar and other authors of the second half of the 18th century.

 

The effective composition and highly professional performance of the wall paintings of Oleri Manor currently allow them to be regarded as the republic’s major monument of Classicism’s monumental painting. Graphic analogies and few of the interior samples of this style preserved in Latvia allow the room’s wall paintings to be dated last quarter of the 18th century.

 

Also, while carrying out some test sampling in other residential premises of Oleri Manor, remains of poorly preserved polychrome were found in a number of rooms, which confirmed the assumption of the originally rich painting decoration of the whole building.

 

 

 

The decoration system was successfully specified only in one room, which is now split with a bulkhead (rooms No. 18 and No. 19). Here are oil “paintings” with all of the frames being put directly on the plaster, turning the room into an illusory painting gallery with still lifes and storyline compositions arranged in multiple levels, besides it is possible that the frames of the “paintings” have even originally been formed as reliefs in the mass of plaster or stucco. Judging from the small fragments spared by time, the “paintings” do not appear to be the copies of specific easel paintings. They are composed taking in account the principle of a unified viewpoint characteristic to a painter representing monumentalism, as a result of which the fruit dishes, bottles and glasses of the still lifes set in the upper row are being viewed from the bottom perspective. Three painted compositions in painted frames have been found – two still lifes with fruit and dishes and one figurative composition (a discernible woman with a baby near her breast). Though the paintings are preserved only on a tiny part of the walls and the idea of restoring the room to its original appearance is beyond consideration, the situation still requires this to be considered as a significant fact of Latvian monumental art history.

 

Although the researches did not solve the issues concerning construction history of the building, the wall paintings of comparatively precise dating urged to abandon the traditional opinion that Oleri Manor was built in the middle of the 19th century and to move its dating to the last quarter of the 18th century. Such dating is also confirmed by the spatial structure typical of the buildings of the Classicism period with a centred round salon protruding to the garden façade, yet this having been lost already in the second half of the 19th century replaced with a wooden porch (a full configuration of the room with an interesting flat star-like vault has survived). The above-mentioned rebuilding in the second half of the 19th century has also severely altered the appearance of the building. Thus, by constructing a hall in the place of the former lobby, the central entrance has been eliminated, while due to the raised floor the building’s original steep roof has obtained a flat featureless silhouette. The “conservatory” of Neoclassicism style, which was added to the West side of the building at the beginning of the 20th century, has also turned out to be too massive for the small building and has excessively extended its proportions. Yet, both of the servants’ houses, which symmetrically include the yard, in the ensemble have preserved the compact silhouette typical of the buildings of the 18th century.

 

As a result of the research, the raised issue concerning the inclusion of Oleri Manor building ensemble to the list of monuments of national importance remains open for the time being, yet regardless of the formal resolution of this issue, it is clear that the ensemble deserves not only attention from many authorities but also a serious and complex study.

 

Though the current research has significantly complemented our notions of Latvian Classicism style interiors’ painting, it has only slightly opened the curtain to the art mystery held by the walls of Oleri Manor buildings.

 

 

Conclusions:

  1. The exposed wall paintings in the rooms No. 2 and No. 3 of the residential house of Oleri Manor are considered to be a very high-quality monument (dated 80s and 90s of the 18th century) of the monumental decorative Classicism painting. Its value is determined by its complicated compositional structure and highly professional pictorial performance. Today, this is the most significant one among the existing interior Classicism paintings and it largely alters the existing notions of the interior culture of this age in Latvia.
  2.  The wall painting found in room No. 18 containing an imitation of easel works painted on the wall is considered to be a peculiar technique of interior decoration of highly professional performance and so far is the only sample found in Latvia.
  3. The layer of the original polychrome colouring found in part of other rooms points to the originally luxurious and artistically significant decoration of the entire building.

 

 

Excerpt from Vija Strupule research "The Myth of Empty Premises, or Polychromy in Christoph Haberland's Interiors" 

(Mākslas vēsture un teorija 2003/1)

 

Interior paintings frequently reflect various ornaments, which are typical of the stylistic language of a particular age, and the analysis of which points to the time the decoration has been created.

 

In the 3rd quarter of the 18th century, the building process of small manors was spreading in the territory of Livonia and Riga. This was encouraged both by the glorified aspiration towards nature typical of the Enlightenment and the economic growth promoted by the long period of peace in politics. In the last quarter of the 18th century, the landlords’ houses of their countryside manors in Vidzeme region were also comfortably furnished and richly decorated – most commonly with paintings.

Starting from the 70s, the new fashion trend of Classicism occurred in the construction of residential buildings.

 

The increasing interest towards antique culture and art, which had spread throughout Europe in the middle of the 18th century, had reached the civil society of Riga as early as the 3rd quarter of the 18th century. This is illustrated by the occurrence of the composition of the marbled frame system with details typical of the Roman architecture. More luxurious rooms featured framed landscape and figurative motives.

 

As in the other northern European countries, the fashion inspiration for the interior decoration in Riga of this period came from France, the influence of which has manifested itself not only in the understanding of ornamentation and colouring but also in the compositions influenced by Antoine Watteau’s painting of “courteous scenes” (fête galante). According to the written evidence, the citizens of Riga had invited craftsmen from Italy to decorate the buildings, who likely have created an invincible competition for painters of Riga.

 

The answer to the question of why exactly the coloured and painted interiors clearly dominated during this period of time lies in the examination of the availability of other forms of decoration. Not only wallpapers of pressed leather, expensive fabrics, precious wood, plastic stucco décor, decorations of stone or marble, but also attraction of appropriate craftsmen demanded considerable financial investments. Meanwhile, raw materials for painter’s work were cheap and easy to provide. With the use of an appropriate technical manner, one could create a convincing illusion of all of the mentioned precious materials and an impression of wealthy premises.

 

In terms of both quality and quantity, the interior paintings of Riga of the 18th century clearly fit in the European culture of interiors and are viewed as a part of a single process.

 

 

Central Courtyard Door

At the end of the 18th century, the main entrance to the building was located in the middle of the north-western main façade. Upon entering the building, one would arrive in the anteroom of the semi-basement room, where the stairs to the first floor and passage stairs to the ground floor room were located. The floor level of the anteroom was at the level of the yard. At the end of the 19th century, there were very significant changes in the layout of the manor house building and this entrance node was eliminated.

 

In 2018, the main entrance with a portal in the centre of the building's courtyard façade with an entrance at the ground level was renovated according to the initial building volume and planning of the late 18th century.

The reconstructed interior doors, stairs, finishing of interior walls, ceilings and floors were renovated according to existing samples and historical analogues, as well as using historic buildings’ construction components. The entrance opening has a relief, bricked portal with a cornice. This is an entrance solution specific to Classicism, but in Vidzeme of that period it was avant-garde.

 

The main entrance doors are the original early 19th century building exterior doors coming from the Vidzeme region. The historic doors are a great example of their time with a filigree-designed wood-carved decoration. Initially the door was in a satisfactory condition (requiring prosthetics, cleaning, decorative wood carving of boxes, renovation of leaf geometry). Door restoration works were carried out in accordance with the "Oleru Manor House Entry Node, Hall and Adjacent Room Rebuilding Project" developed in the year 2015. The construction project was developed by the architect K. Veinberga, the construction archaeologist J. Zviedrāns, the civil engineer A. Rudzis and the civil engineer Girts Pavlovs. Restoration works were carried out by the carpentry and restoration workshop SIA "Zaļās pēdas".

 

As a result of the restoration, a "second life" was granted to the doors found in a construction waste dump and they have returned to the Latvian cultural landscape!

 

Restoring the wooden veranda of Oleri Manor

The wooden veranda of Oleri Manor’s Master House (the late 19th century) suffered in a fire in 2000, and up to the autumn 2008 there was not launched its major renovation. Prior to this, presumably, around 1970, some elements of the veranda were superficially repaired and were in a significant contrast to the original structure, which is characterized by high-quality handmade crafts.

The restoration of the veranda was organized by the association “Oleri Manor” in 2008 within the framework of the project “Understand a wooden house”. During the restoration process 12 craftsmen improved their knowledge in the restoration of wooden buildings and their elements - windows, doors, stairs. Training sessions were led by specialists from Riga and Cesis. The rest of the time the work was carried out by two craftsmen, who also coordinated the application of the elements used in the training sessions.

 

TO SUCCESSFULLY RESTORE THE DISMANTLING MUST BE PHOTOGRAPHED

 

Already originally there was defined the concept in the restoration of the building - to maximally maintain the existing structure, for instance, in places, where it was possible, there was preserved the original painting, a well-preserved end of the decorative roof beam was “extended” with a newly constructed roof beam. Likewise there were carefully dismantled and reset under new putty the existing window panes. Metal fittings were carefully cleaned and, while hot, primed with lead minium. Missing parts were made by a blacksmith.

 

Later it turned out that the initial assessment of the building "relatively well-preserved" is incorrect. After the dismantling of the wooden veranda and inspection of its elements, it was clear that the scope of work considerably increased. Both the beams and poles in many places were unnoticeably rotten, which could not have been stated even by the most experienced masters unless dismantling the building. Completely anew there were constructed three roof beams, all the poles required the extension of the lower parts. Horizontal structural elements in the roof crown and wall panels on the invisible side were heavily rotten. The supporting beams had to be replaced. Floor boards had to be made anew. There was lost the solidity of the masonry structure in the plinth wall part of the building supporting the roof beams of the veranda.

While dismantling the building, the elements in a well-visible place were temporarily labelled with chalk. Later, while extending the elements, we labelled them anew in invisible parts. We developed the element labelling system during the dismantling, while drawing the roof and wall schemes. Later there turned out to be rather useful the suggestion made by the leader of the training to make as many photo fixations as possible, even for nodes and components of connections at that time understandable, because after seven months during the assembling work, a lot of this understanding was already lost! After the dismantling the components were transported to a workshop, where they were cleansed and the exact condition of each component was assessed. It must be said that our advantage was sufficient amount of time and, consequently, hasteless restoration deadlines.

 

Restore applying ancient techniques

 

In order to ensure a long-term viability of the historic buildings, in restoration work there shall be used traditional materials and methods of work. Also, restoring historic buildings, it is crucially important to use the construction materials available in the corresponding historical period.

For the extensions there was used air-dried pine wood, which had been stored in a stack for four years. Since for two of the newly constructed roof beams there was no timber of necessary dimensions, we produced them from the logs sawn in the winter of that year. While extending the ends of the beams, we created complex joining spots to highlight the craft quality of the building.

For the decoration there was applied linseed oil primer, the elements were several times, in some sections even four times, impregnated until there was attained a steady lustre. Largest cracks were filled with linseed oil putty “reinforced” with hemp fibre. We painted with linseed oil paint in two shades thus highlighting the visual lightness of the architectonic structure. We painted the ladder directly exposed to precipitation with linseed oil-tar paint.

It should be remembered that rags soaked with heated linseed oil are flammable and while drying can spontaneously combust. Also it is useful to remember that in poorly ventilated areas linseed oil contributes to the growth of mould.

A significant amount of work in the restoring of the veranda was made on the glazing of windows, where we used a 2 mm thick recycled glass. Some panes it was possible to make from the glass produced at the turning point of the 19th- 20th centuries, other – of the one made in the 30-ies of the 20th century. While planning work, the drying period of putty for the windows should be projected at least three weeks because it dries slowly!

It shall be kept in mind that even after the restoration all the elements of the building shall be checked and maintained on a regular basis - at least once a year, preferably in the spring, especially the windows, where the putty and painting shall be restored.

In the restored veranda there has been established the Traditional Historic Building Information Office. To see the veranda and get information on traditional construction and commercially available materials it is possible, in due time announcing a visit by phone: 29251565 or e-mail: oleri@apollo.lv. Contact person – Karlis Zemitis.

 

Restoration and training sessions were led by:

Restoration consultant architect Ilmars Dirveiks (ph.: 29481870)

Disassembly and assembly - Normunds Krumins (ph.: 26136030)

Extensions and restoration – Karlis Rubenis (ph.: 29149359), Ugis Balla (ph.: 29104496)

Painting and glazing - Edgars Raitums (ph.: 29180016)

Restoration of metal fittings - Janis Vilskersts (ph.: 26349329)

Carpentry and joinery - Karlis Zemitis (ph.: 29251565)

Norwegian experience in preservation of wooden buildings was shared by Ture Robergshagen

 

 

 

On the picture there is the wooden veranda of Oleri Manor after the restoration.

Roof reconstruction

The reconstruction of the roof on the Master House of Oleri Manor was carried out in 2012 - 2014.

 

"The availability of Oleri Manor and promotion of its use in public life." (Project No.12-09-LL11-L413201-000008, activity of EAFRD LEADER)

 

On the picture. At the end of 2010 the association "Oleri Manor" received as a gift construction elements of a mansard window dated the late 18th century that came from a building in Vidzeme region. The window met the period of construction of the mansard roof in "Oleri Manor" and was used as a model for the construction of other mansard windows. The elements of the currently existing window were restored and installed in "Oleri Manor."

Oleri manor

The economic basis of Oleri Manor complex restoration is voluntary work, donations and support of different funds. It is mentioned for the reader to understand that even with limited resources it is possible to maintain our common historical monuments. If there is an interest.

In February 2000 in a fire there burned down the roof of the Master house. After the fire, surveying the building, it became clear that the building originally had a mansard roof, which was replaced with a double-pitched roof in the 19th century, possibly after some previous fire.

In 2001-2002, on the building there was laid a temporary roofing (roof pasteboard) after a hasty developed project in which the node solutions were either not fully developed or made in disregard of the traditional construction techniques.

 

After several years, after the change of the building manager (at the moment it is the association "Oleri Manor"), there was a chance to lay the roof tile covering. As an expert, to assess the state of the building at that time, there was invited Dr. sc. ing. Aigars Udris. It turned out that the roof structures were made carelessly, not only ignoring the building structure of the historical mansard floor and possible loads, but also the professional sills of the builders themselves could be much better – peg connections were not detected, but the vast number of metal staples and nails. We faced a great question to decide on – either to continue work by strengthening the existing structure (which technically was possible), or by using the existing construction elements, to reconstruct the roof anew. After numerous discussions it was decided to carry out a full reconstruction, stressing the need, while thinking about sustainable development, to leave to our children our environment at least as good as the one we have received from our parents.

 

The reconstruction of the roof of the Master house of Oleri Manor, with the support of LEADER project, was launched in October 2012 and completed in March 2014.

 

The principal requirement of the customer was the reconstruction of the roof applying the traditional construction techniques and technologies of the late 18th century.

As a result, the roof construction is set up in perfect joinery quality - all wood joints are connected using pegs, the profile of the building eave was made with hand planers, any connection places of two wooden elements are impregnated with tar, etc.

Following these principles there were specially prepared 15.2 M (cross-section 14x20 cm) long beams to cover the mansard floor. It is fair to say that the embedding of the required for the first-floor ceiling 19 m long beam (cross section 36 x 25 cm) in a single piece was not considered even at the design stage, because it was clear that trees of such size in the nearby forests could no longer be found, as well as there were also taken into account the far higher installation costs. At present, the longest are 11 m (32 x 25 cm) long beams in the entrance hall.

While planning the work, it was decided to carry out the replacement of the roof in two stages - both for the building for a shortest possible time to remain roofless, and also because it was projected to use a large part of the built-in wood materials in the new construction.

The roof structures were prepared on the ground at the site next to the building. Work related to stonework (brick lath embedding, strengthening of the load-bearing walls, chimney construction) was scheduled for the summer, while at the wooden structures it was possible to work throughout the year.

Great care was given to the façade elements - window constructions and eaves. As a window sample there was taken a roof window of the 18th century from Vidzeme (gift of Juris Zviedrans). When producing replicas there was used a recovered glass of 2 to 3 mm thick. As a part of the window hinges there were used the historical ones, the missing ones were ordered at the blacksmith’s.

Finally I would like to mention that currently in Latvia the understanding of the need to use the traditional construction techniques for historic buildings is accelerating. As some examples I could mention Tasi, Arendole, Erini, Vilksala and Ermani Manors, where there is being held a purposeful, sensible and hasteless restoration work

 

 

Mg.art. Karlis Zemitis

The association "Oleri Manor"

Architect – Kristine Veinberga ph: 29413796

Builder - "Ekers" Ltd. Uldis Boss ph.: 29420116

Construction Supervisor - Janis Vigups ph.: 29277264

Window construction - restoration and replicas "Zalas pedas" Ltd., ph.: 29251565