ALLEGORICAL SCULPTURES on the Building of Romania’s National Bank

The National Bank of Romania is located in the Lipscani historic quarter of Bucharest in a large neoclassical complex of buildings built in two stages: 1st in the 1880s and 2nd in the 1930s. The 19th century sector is in my opinion the more interesting and attractive one, boasting a worthy of note neoclassical style adorned with beautiful statues, seemingly inspired from French 17th century palaces.

The construction of that building was finished in 1890 under the direction of architect Nicolae Cerkez. The old postcard bellow dating from the first decade of the 20th century shows the bank in a surround setting which has not changed very much since its inauguration.

National Bank of Romania, 1910 postcard (Valentin Mandache collection)

The National Bank of Romania building (right hand side), 1900s postcard (Valentin Mandache collection)

The façade of the building, which is oriented to the south, is embellished with a series of allegorical sculptures inspired from the classical pantheon, symbolising the society and economy of Romania. Amazingly the sculptures still retain their initial freshness and sharpness after a century and two decades since they were affixed on the wall. That is because Bucharest has been much less affected by acid rains and corrosive pollution than other European capitals, as a result of the lower degree of industrialisation which the communist regime was able to achieve in Romania. The stone used for the façade and sculptures also seems of very good quality- a type of yellowish calcareous stone, which according to Romania’s National Bank website was brought from the area of Rustchuk, today Ruse in Bulgaria.

The top centre of the building is formed by a panoply composed by a coat of arms and clock flanked on the western side by a female deity symbolising Wisdom and the Sciences, represented measuring a globe with a compass and sitting on a stack of books. The usual goddess with these attributes is Pallas Athena, but it could well be another goddess from the Greek – Roman pantheon with similar attributes:

Allegory for Sciences, possibly goddess Pallas Athena. National Bank of Romania building (©Valentin Mandache)

On the eastern flank of the panoply is a male figure, again sitting on a stack of books, with a papyri scroll in his hands.

This probably symbolises the Arts, usually represented in architectural allegories by the god Apollo (again it could also be another god with similar attributes or attributes pertaining to bookkeeping that fit with the profile of a bank).

Allegory for Arts, possibly god Apollo. National Bank of Romania building (©Valentin Mandache)

The front wall has a series of four niches, two on its either end hosting allegorical statues that represent other important institutions and activities essential for the functioning of a nation: justice, commerce, industry and agriculture.

At the western end of the wall is the statue of Justice, represented by the goddess Themis or Justicia with its main attributes: the scale and the book of laws.

Allegorical feminine figure (goddess Justicia) representing the Justice (©Valentin Mandache)

The next statue in line is that symbolising Commerce in the form of the god Hermes or Mercury, in this case represented with its main classical attributes: the money purse in one hand and with one foot placed on a sack of tradable goods.

Allegorical male figure (god Mercury) representing the Commerce (©Valentin Mandache)

The eastern end of the wall is occupied by the goddess Demeter or Ceres symbolising the Agriculture. The goddess holds in one hand a sickle (an essential tool for the Romanian peasant) and in the other a wheat sheaf (an allusion to the fact that Romania at that time was among the important European wheat producers and exporters).

Allegorical female figure (godess Demetra) representing the Agriculture (©Valentin Mandache)

The statue next to agriculture is that of god Hephaestos or Vulcan, symbolising the Industry. The male figure holds in one hand a chisel and with the other sustains a large hammer resting on an anvil. The whole figure sits on something resembling a toothed wheel typical of the machinery from the era of industrial revolution.

Allegorical male figure (god Vulcan) representing the Industry (©Valentin Mandache)

I found the statues described above, although not masterworks of the highest class, well chosen and sensibly rendered. The human likeness is clearly inspired from local models, looking strikingly similar with the local human types in terms of height, body proportions and face outline and features. Another observation is the equal gender representation, unusual for Romania of that time- a patriarchal Balkan society, which indicates the intense process of modernisation on which the Romanian elites started to embark upon at the apogee of the Victorian era.

There is another series of abstract human figures adorning the keystone of the large arched ground floor windows and the arch of the main doorway. The evenly distributed figures are male and female allegories, similar with Greek and Roman classical examples, and symbolise the main agricultural products of Romania at that time: wine represented by a female head adorned with a wreath of vine leaves and flowers, and the wheat crop represented by a male head crowned with a wreath of wheat ears.

Allegorical feminine classical figure decoration on the lower window arch keystones representing the wine product. (©Valentin Mandache)

Allegorical male classical figure decoration on the lower window and main doorway arch keystones representing the wheat crop. (©Valentin Mandache)

The whole assemble of sculptures and their harmonious distribution make a unique architectural setting at the heart of Romania’s capital, adorning one its best preserved historic buildings. It is certainly worth a visit for anyone strolling through Lipscani quarter. The sculptures are an artistic representation of country’s money making activities in late 19th century, especially agriculture and grain exports, finances that made possible a remarkable economic flourishing and the creation of the Little Paris architecture, which still adorns large parts of central Bucharest and many other smaller Romanian towns.  (©Valentin Mandache, v_mandache@yahoo.co.uk, www.viapontica.wordpress.com)

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If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

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