On October 1988, a phone call from Riga rang through to the Museum. Somebody was offering a large clock ‘with malachite’. Malachite? In that case, the clock was most likely made in Russia during the second half of the 19th century and doubtless would be of little value to Rundāle Palace. Nonetheless, a jaunt to Riga ensued. In the Moscow suburb, resting on a table in a small kitchen of an undistinguished house, was a large object covered with a slice of old oilcloth. The host removed it revealing a rather incredible sight – a monumental gilded bronze mantle clock depicting a chariot with four deer and a figure of the ancient Roman Goddess Diana. With its malachite covered base, this object was in an excellent condition and only the hands of the clock were missing. The Museum acquired the clock for 2300 rubles and rejoiced in owning an excellent Empire style craftwork, albeit neither its author nor origin nor the way this masterpiece had arrived in Latvia were known.
Five years later a letter from Canada arrived, written by Carl Johann Lieven, son of the last proprietor of Mežotne Manor Prince Anatol Lieven. In articulate Latvian, he responded to questions posed by the author of this article about Mežotne Manor and its appearance during his childhood years and youth. His letter enclosed photographs – scenic views of Mežotne Palace, portraits of von Lievens, a few snapshots of the Lieven family life in Mazmežotne where they resided once the manor and palace were expropriated in 1920. Among them a photograph depicting several objects that had been transported from Mežotne Palace to
Mazmežotne, including items of furniture, candelabra and our newly acquired clock. It transpired that the clock was sold before Lieven left Latvia when it was already under the conditions of Soviet occupation. Enclosed photocopies of C. J. Lieven’s overseas passport showed that the expiration date of his passport issued by the Republic of Latvia in 1936 had been extended in Riga on 26 August 1940, a visa issued on 27 August, but on 28 August he had already checked in at Stockholm airport. The Lievens were openly anti-fascist and in 1939 opted not to travel to Germany, which was the destination for most Baltic Germans leaving Latvia. C. J. Lieven left Latvia together with his mother Elsa, born Baroness Fircks, who died in Stockholm in 1941 while he travelled to the Dominican Republic and then further on to Cuba. In 1946 C. J. Lieven left Havana for Canada where he resided until his death on 12 December 1996. The urn with his ashes was buried at the Lieven family cemetery near the ruins of Mežotne Church, next to the grave of his father Anatol Lieven. C. J. Lieven’s third marriage was to Riga-born Louise Marie von Dziengel who survived him until 2003. Louise Marie Lieven’s urn is also buried at Mežotne Cemetery and her friend, acting on the wishes of the deceased, transported from Toronto to Latvia three portraits of the Lieven family that Carl Johann Lieven had cut from their frames in 1940 to take with him in exile. In accordance to Louise Marie Lieven’s request, these portraits had to return to their original location – Mežotne Palace. Since the palace was now governed by SJSC ‘State Real Estate’, this institution took possession of the portraits. All essential restoration works were carried out by the Rundāle Palace Museum and for security reasons portraits were stored at the Museum and their photocopies exhibited at Mežotne Palace. In 2017 SJSC ‘State Real Estate’ tendered all portraits to the Rundāle Palace Museum for permanent storage.
Meanwhile the maker of the mantel clock and its place of origin remained unknown. Malachite implied Russia while the date was deduced from its dial with a neo-Gothic ornament. The first examples of Historicism in Europe began to emerge during the 1820s, alongside the dominant Empire style, and were mainly Gothic elements. Even Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia, showed interest in this style constructing a neo-Gothic villa – the Cottage Palace – in Peterhof Park (1826–1829).
Then a new book, published in 2003, arrived in the library of Rundāle Palace – it was “Русская бронза” (Russian Bronze) by Russian decorative bronze researcher Igor Sychev (Игорь Сычёв) and on its page 111 was our clock. It turned out that this object had excellent pedigree. It was made by St. Petersburg’s bronzier Andrei (Johann Andreas) Schreiber (Андрей Шрейбер, also Johann Andreas Schreiber, 1777–1843), born in Tartu but relocated to St. Petersburg in the late 18th century where in 1801 he opened a workshop that became one of the most distinguished decorative bronze manufactories in the capital of Russia. The artistic quality of Schreiber’s produce was greatly enhanced by his collaboration with the famous architect Carlo Rossi who supplied designs for chandeliers, candelabra and clocks.
An exhibition of Russian manufactured goods was organised in St. Petersburg in 1829. The mantel clock ‘Diana with Deer’ was made especially for this occasion. A. Schreiber’s work stood out in the exhibition. I. Sychev quotes reviews by St. Petersburg’s bronze smiths F. Rechenberg and F. Kovshenkov, as well as bronze merchant N. Lorenzini, as they criticised all other works in the exhibition but noted the following about A. Schreiber: “But supreme attention must be made to his beautiful clock Diana and Four Deer. This local article produced by Schreiber himself in St. Petersburg from beginning to end fulfils every wish it is possible to have of such a witty artist; accurate drawing, excellent chasing, most attentive assembly work in the construction, gilded in the finest manner, so that one can say that this article is surpassingly fine and the price of the clock is also not high because it is the first, and the first model requires considerable expenditure.” It is not known how extensively Schreiber continued to manufacture this type of clock, although it is featured on the title-page of his company’s pricelist published in 1831. It is our clock that is shown in I. Sychev’s book therefore it could be presumed that another example was not found in Russia.
I. Sychev has disclosed the mantel clock’s ‘not at all excessive price’ – 4000 rubles, this was the amount paid by the proprietor of Mežotne Manor Prince Johann Lieven. The mantel clock travelled to Mežotne Palace, where together with two large bronze girandoles, presumably purchased at the same time as the clock, it formed an interior set.
Johann Lieven’s new acquisitions were excellent additions to the splendid interior of Mežotne Palace. It was he who finally completed the protracted construction works of this building. The splendour and opulence of Prince Lieven’s family was owing to the career of Johann Lieven’s mother Charlotte. She – the widow of Lieutenant-General in the Russian Army Baron von Lieven – was chosen by Catherine II as a governess for her grandchildren, the offspring of Paul I (Pavel Petrovich) successor to the throne. Charlotte Lieven merely did not bring up five Grand Duchesses, among her pupils to an extent were also the future Emperors Alexander I and Nicholas I, Grand Dukes Michael and Konstantin. Until the end of her days Charlotte Lieven lived amid the imperial family and was showered with attestations of her sovereign’s benevolence: in 1795 Catherine II bestowed Mežotne Manor upon her, which in 1797 was recognised as a family estate by Paul I, granting the noble title Count in 1799. In 1826 Nicholas I granted the noble title Grand Duke of Russian Empire to Charlotte Lieven and her family (in German this title was converted to Fürst). In 1798 Charlotte Lieven began to erect a palace at Mežotne Manor designed by Saxon architect Johann Georg Adam Berlitz. He, in turn, had reworked the design of Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi for Eleja Palace, commissioned by the Count Jeannot von Medem. Charlotte Lieven is depicted in a portrait painted by Johann Baptist, one of the three portraits that returned from Canada to Latvia. Whereas Prince Johann Lieven (1775–1848), original owner of the mantle clock ‘Diana with Deer’, is depicted in a portrait by Jelgava-born artist Julius Döring painted in 1848, sadly after the Prince had already passed away. Johann Lieven served in the Russian Army and left in 1815 having reached the rank of Lieutenant-General. In 1828, he inherited Mežotne Manor from his mother and completed the remainder of interior design works at Mežotne Palace.
The mantel clock ‘Diana with Deer’ is a large gilded bronze composition measuring 100.5 x 88.5 x 45 cm with a figure of Goddess Diana on a chariot pulled by four deer. It is supported by a rectangle base with two relief boar heads along the opposite edges and two bas-reliefs on either side of the dial portraying the myths about Goddess Diana. Bas-relief to the left depicts Diana together with her lover – shepherd Endymion, while the one to the right shows a woman with two children – Goddess Latona, who bore twins Diana and Apollo from Jupiter. Latona wished to quench her thirst in a stream but was driven away by Lycian shepherds whom furious Latona turned into frogs.
The mantel clock has now acquired a lasting place in the Museum’s permanent exhibition ‘From the Gothic Style to Art Nouveau’ and is displayed together with several other objects from Mežotne Palace in a room dedicated to the Empire style. The portraits of Johann Lieven and Charlotte Lieven are exhibited near the mantle clock; the room also features fragments of ornamental plaster tiles from Mežotne Palace that were recovered from its ruins in 1949 and served as samples during the restoration works; as well as plane tables for the reconstruction of ceiling paintings developed in 1971 by restorers from Leningrad. Also in the collection of Rundāle Palace Museum are four marble sculptures that once adorned Mežotne Palace.
Author: Imants Lancmanis, Dr. h. c. art.