Gold train hunter strikes GOLD with discovery of priceless 500-year-old renaissance wall art
A Polish explorer who spent years hunting for a Nazi gold train has finally struck gold following the discovery of 24 priceless renaissance wall portraits dating back 500 years.
Piotr Koper made his sensational discovery after finding the portraits hidden behind the plastered walls of a palace he was renovating in the village of Struga near Wrocław.
The construction entrepreneur and lover of local mysteries was carefully lowering the remains of a dome that once covered the palace ballroom when he noticed fragments of paintings under old plasterwork.
The dome itself is a unique Baroque wooden structure, but the real treasure appeared when Koper and his team of restorers pulled away some more of the plaster.
Koper told TFN: “When we pulled away the plaster we saw a delicate strip of painting underneath. We pulled away some more and we discovered a whole line of well-preserved paintings.
“We managed to uncover the paintings without damaging them, which is a great success,” Koper added.
The restorers were initially focused on the tricky operation to lower the historic dome and they were astounded by what they saw.
“The first well-preserved portrait made on the wall surprised everyone. It was an accidental discovery, we didn't expect to find such a rarity,” says Koper.
The discovery was made at the end of January this year. However, Krzysztof Wieczorek, the owner of the palace and head of the foundation he set up to preserve it, waited until Friday to reveal details at a press conference.
“The discovery was completely surprising, as we believed that only the ballroom contained remnants of frescoes destroyed by rain when there was no roof over the palace.
“Our goal was only to save the Baroque dome, which is the only one in the world painted in the Renaissance style. Piotr's discovery surpasses even this.”
The discovery covers an area of around 50 square metres and includes 24 to 28 wall portraits, of which so far only 10 have been uncovered and identified.
On one side of the ballroom are the images of the medieval rulers of Silesia, and on the other side there are images of four Roman emperors.
“The title Holy Roman Emperor was also used by the medieval rulers of Bohemia and Silesia, hence the presence of the ancient Roman rulers,” Wieczorek said.
Several portraits are partially damaged, which probably occurred during the reconstruction of the ballroom centuries ago. Many are still hidden under paint and plaster.
“Each of these huge paintings was made about 4 metres above the ground and each covers an area of 1.4 x 1.6 metres. The oval shows the ruler and around the painting information about his main titles, such as emperor, king, ruler of Bohemia, Hungary, Croatia and emperor. In the lower part is information about the time of his reign and death, and at the top his official maxim at that time,” he added.
With the help of linguist Maciej Utecht, it was possible to read the inscriptions under the icons and match the images to real historical figures.
“The inscriptions were originally formulated in Latin, but here they are here in German. It is interesting that the Latin maxim consisted of three or four words, while here we have two full lines, rhyming with each other in an interesting way, in a way characteristic for a given ruler,” explained Utecht.
Based on the last of the currently visible portraits it is possible to date the paintings to the 16th century, because the painting depicts Ferdinand I Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor in 1558-1564.
It is not known who is in the last, still hidden portrait. According to the palace foundation, if it is the successor of Ferdinand I – Maximilian II Habsburg or the sons of the latter Rudolph II or Maciej Habsburg and there is no date of death of the ruler, as is the case with other paintings, it will allow a more accurate dating of the paintings, due to the fact that perhaps the living ruler was painted last.
The discovery made by Koper's team in Struga is one of the most valuable in Lower Silesia, because nowhere have so many 16th-century paintings survived intact.
The paintings come from the period when the owner of the palace was the Czettritz family. The castle was bought in 1353 by Henryk Czettritz. It was the last of fifteen strongholds in his possession before he was killed by lightning during a knights' tournament when he was wearing a full suit of armour.
Around 1565, the Czettritz family built a defensive manor house on the foundations of an existing building, and it is likely that the paintings come from this period. The building was reformed into the palace that exists today in the 17th century, and the interiors were updated in the 18th and 20th centuries.
“During the 18th century, without paying attention to the paintings, someone started to change the layout of the ballroom into a more rounded one and covered the decoration in the hall with a few centimetres of plaster,” Wieczorek explains.
The newly discovered Renaissance painting put Struga Palace at the forefront of similar palaces all over Silesia.
However, the recent discovery is not likely to be the last. “There are many more things to discover. Underneath the line of portraits there is an area 150 square meters under which there are also paintings. However, we don't know anything about them,” Wieczorek said.
In 2015, Piotr Koper captured the world’s attention with his hunt for a gold train believed to be laden with 300 tonnes of WWII looted art and treasure.
Thought to be hidden in a tunnel by the side of a railway line in the town of Wałbrzych, months of research and eventual digging, however, failed to reveal the exact location.