The Old Orangery, once called the Great Orangery is a unique place. It was built in the years 1785–88 according to a design by the Royal Architect, Domenico Merlini, who was of Italian origin. The Old Orangery contains an exhibition of King Stanisław August’s eighteenth century collection of sculptures as well as a unique collection of works made by major Polish sculptors dating from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. The Royal Theatre is located in the east wing of the Old Orangery. It is one of the few surviving authentic eighteenth-century court theatres in Europe and the only one of its kind in Poland.

King Stanisław August was one of the most important patrons and art collectors in eighteenth-century Poland. During his reign, which lasted almost thirty years (1764–95) the Polish monarch amassed a collection of art, sculptures, prints, as well as coins and medals, made by European and Polish artists. Combined with architecture, it constituted an almost ideal work of art (a Gesamtkunstwerk) which, according to an idea put forward by the king in 1792, was to become the first modern public museum.

Stanisław August’s perception of the fine arts extended well beyond aesthetic categories. For him, the fine arts constituted part of a cohesive reform programme, encompassing political, social and economic matters, which was to help Poland’s recovery and promote national consciousness.  The Royal Łazienki, King Stanisław August’s summer residence, was the Utopian vision of a ruler with dreams for the Republic.

King Stanisław August’s Sculpture Collection

The Sculpture Gallery in the Old Orangery, alongside the Picture Gallery in the Palace on the Isle and the Gallery of Prints in the White Pavilion, is one of the three principal galleries at the Royal Łazienki, which was furnished according to the king’s inventory of 1795.

From the very beginning of his reign, Stanisław August collected marble statues and plaster copies of the most famous antique and early modern works of art. Some of them were commissioned with a view to complementing the ideology underlying the interior design in the royal residences, as in the case of the Farnese Hercules and Belvedere Apollo in the Ballroom at the Palace on the Isle or the statues of kings in the Rotunda – the pantheon of Polish rulers. However, the most numerous objects in the royal collection were the sets of plaster casts – this collection of a didactic nature, according to the 1795 inventory, included 563 works of art.

Stanisław August amassed copies of the most famous ancient sculptures with a view to establishing an Academy of Fine Arts. Designs for it were submitted by August Moszyński, Marcello Bacciarelli and Michał Jerzy Mniszech.[1] The king’s objective was to “bring about the flourishing of the arts in Poland” by providing young artists with access to an artistic education of the highest European standard. Warsaw was to become an artistic centre on a par with the courts in Dresden, Vienna, Paris and Berlin.

In the eighteenth century one of the most important objectives of art studios was the copying of works of ancient sculptors. This was part of the European fashion for “the mass production and admiration of plaster copies of works of antique and early modern art”[2] which had existed since the fifteenth century as these copies revealed as many secrets about the artworks as did the originals.[3] Plaster copies were for sculpture what prints were for painting – a way of disseminating a given work of art throughout the whole of Europe.

Ultimately, the high significance of plaster casts was established by Johann Joachim Winckelmann. In 1755 this German Hellenist and archaeologist, who was known as the father of art history as an academic discipline, published a book entitled Gedanken über die Nachahmung der Griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst [Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture], in which he unequivocally indicated the imitation of ancient works as a method of developing appropriate artistic skills worthy of great masters: “The only way to achieve greatness, and as far as is possible—originality—is by imitating the ancients; Someone said of Homer, that whoever understands him well, will admire him and this also concerns works of ancient art, especially the Greek arts. But then we must be as familiar with them as with a close friend to understand that Laocoön is just as inimitable as Homer. Thanks to such awareness, we will become like Nichomachus who when talking about Zeuxis’ Helen of Troy said to some paltry critic, who was criticizing the painting: Take my eyes and she will appear a goddess to you.”[4]


“The Kammsetzer Colonnade” in the Old Orangery, 1787–88

One of the most interesting and “one of the most characteristic achievements of the Age of the Enlightenment”[5] is the design for the royal Sculpture Gallery in the Old Orangery referred to as the “Kammsetzer Colonnade”. The most famous copies of sculptures of the ancient world are exhibited against the backdrop of illusionist architecture with an idyllic Italianate landscape. The Laocoön Group, Farnese Hercules, Farnese Flora, Belvedere Apollo, Meleager, the Mattei Amazon, and Hermes Ludovisi are displayed in the form of an “alley of statues in Italian gardens.”[6] The design by Johann Christian Kammsetzer who came from Dresden, was supposed to make Stanisław’s August’s idea of a modern public museum become a reality, and also to implement the concept put forward by August Moszyński of an “ideal museum.”[7]

For decades, art historians believed the so-called Kammsetzer Colonnade to be a project that never came to fruition. It was only during conservation work carried out in 2012 and 2013 that preserved eighteenth century murals were discovered beneath the plaster work on the walls of the Old Orangery. The detail shown in Kammsetzer’s design has enabled conservation work to be undertaken, as well as the recreation of a Sculpture Gallery based on the King’s original concept.

The chance to implement a project which Stanisław August had been unable to complete was also made possible thanks to cooperation with the replica workshop at Gipsformerei, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. With its collection of more than seven thousand sculptural forms and reliefs, the Berlin Glyptothek was able to make plaster casts of three of the missing sculptures in the Kammsetzer Colonnade”. Made from nineteenth-century moulds, using historic technology, casts were made of the Laocoön Group, the Belvedere Apollo and Meleager. These casts can now be admired in the Sculpture Gallery in the Old Orangery.


[1] Tadeusz Mańkowski, Rzeźby zbioru Stanisława Augusta, Polska Akademia Umiejętności, Kraków 1948, p. 19.

[2] Fidiasz, Michał Anioł i inni. Królewska i uniwersytecka kolekcja odlewów gipsowych w Warszawie, ed.. Jerzy Miziołek and Hubert Kowalski, Royal Lazienki Museum, Warsaw 2012, p. 17.

[3] Federico Borromeo, Musaeum, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan 1625; cyt. z: Fidiasz, Michał Anioł i inni, dz. cyt., p. 23.

[4] Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Myśli o naśladowaniu dzieł greckich w malarstwie i rzeźbie, translated by Tomasz Ososiński, Royal Lazienki Museum, Warsaw 2015.

[5] Zygmunt Waźbiński, Stanisławowska galeria rzeźby, jej geneza i funkcje, “Kronika Zamkowa” 1989, no 1 (19), p. 33.

[6] Tadeusz Mańkowski, Rzeźby zbioru Stanisława Augusta, dz. cyt., p. 40.

[7] Zygmunt Waźbiński, Stanisławowska galeria rzeźby, jej geneza i funkcje, dz. cyt., p. 26.

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