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Regarded as the oldest residential building in Bucharest, built around 1760, the Melik House, currently hosting the Pallady Museum, in the former Armenian Quarter, had a tumultuous history, as it was the hiding place, during the 1848 Revolution, for personalities such as I.C. Bratianu and C.A. Rosetti.
Museum curator Mihaela Murelatos says that the building was constructed for a boyar who had the title of 'spatar' (high official of the princely court). "Even the name of the street, Spatarului, where the house is, at number 22, comes from the first owner of the house," says Murelatos.
Representative for the Romanian traditional architecture, through the porch at the upper floor, sealed with windows, the interior wooden ladder and the roof with wide gutter, the Melik House, surrounded by a flower garden, welcomes one nowadays with the atmosphere of a country house.
"The house doesn't have a particular style. It is the local style. Only in the second half of the 19th century, during the reign of Carol I, architects from Western Europe, Italy, Germany, France, started coming to the Principalities. Until then, the local artisans would build houses, as they had learned from their predecessors. It has the aspect of a boyar country house, with a central area, with the living space placed on its right and left sides," Mihaela Murelatos says.
The upper floor hosted the dwelling of the owners of the house. The lower level, at the time regarded as a basement, hosted the annexes (kitchens, washing rooms, larders), and the staff of the house lived in the same yard, which was much larger than at present, in a separate building.
"Initially, the veranda of the house was open, being sealed with windows during one of the ulterior restorations, as it can be seen now. Welcome, as it was placed on the northern side of the house, the porch was a buffer-area, defending the house from winter's cold. In summer, being placed on the northern side, it provided coolness, as the sun light only reached this place very little, at a certain moment during the day," the curator showed.
Moreover, Murelatos adds, following the restoration of 1970, the central space of the house, the main hall, acquired the current form. "An arcade was cut. Initially, there had been two smaller rooms. In the first part of the hall, as you entered, there was a welcoming hall, separated by doors from the living room which was in the second part of the hall, and the living space was to the right and to the left of this central space," the curator said. The entire woodwork of the house was changed the same year.
According to Mihaela Murelatos, after "the important, wide restoration" of 1970, the house was painted and the hardwood floor was planed in 1994, and in 2009 it was painted again and the old radiators were replaced with new ones, the house currently being in a very good condition. "It is worth mentioning that it didn't suffer much damage in the big earthquake of 1977. Let alone the other earthquakes, because the entire 19th century was shaken by big quakes," she explained.
Referring to the Serafina and Gheorghe Raut collection which the museum hosts, the curators says these are paintings from the Parisian period of Theodor Pallady, until 1939, when the artist left Paris for good and came back to the country, as well as almost 800 graphics works also signed by Pallady. "Therefore, very many, for which reason they cannot all be exhibited in the museum at one time, and, consequently, the graphics works are changed from time to time in one of the rooms. That is the room devoted to the graphics works, with graphics series of Gheorghe Raut's collection," she said.
Besides Theodor Pallady's works, the collection also includes European painting, particularly academic art, of small dimensions, suitable for the rooms of an apartment, by Camille Corot, Edmond Aman Jean, Carolus-Duran, Lubin Baugin, or Edouard Vuillard.
"The collection also includes decorative arts objects. There are furniture pieces, textile and horology pieces, small-sized sculptures, oriental art and extreme-oriental art items, exhibited in windows. Therefore, it is a heteroclite collection, with items both from different geographical areas and from different historic ages. They are exhibited in a mixed manner, in order to re-create a house interior, as in any collection including different objects," Mihaela Murelatos also said.
The descendants of the boyar who built the house in the second half of the 18th century sold it in 1815 for 1,400 tael to Armenian merchant Kevork Nazareretoglu. He restored it in 1822 and moved in. Small additions were made then and interior modifications, the main walls remaining untouched. It's worth mentioning that the year, which is still inscribed above the entrance door, is the one in which the house has been restored for the first time and not the one when it was built.
Mihaela Murelatos says that the merchant lived here until the end of his days, in 1847, after the Great Fire, which burned up, at that time, two thirds of Bucharest. Following the fire, Nazareretoglu's shops which were situated in today's Old Town were also damaged.
Then, the house was passed on to his son Agop Nazaretoglu, who, as soon as receiving it, in the same year, offered it to his daughter Ana, as dowry, when she married Iacob Melik.
"From that moment, the building started to be known under the name of the Melik House, because Ana and Iacob Melik married in 1847, Agop Nazaretoglu's daughter bringing this house to her husband as dowry," Mihaela Murelatos stated. During the Wallachian Revolution of 1848, hiding here were Ion Heliade Radulescu, C. A. Rosetti and I. C. Bratianu, who were friends with Iacob Melik, whom they had acquainted in Paris, where he had studied architecture.
"Because he was a supporter and even a participant in the Revolution of 1848, Iacob Melik was forced to go into exile, after the failure of the Revolution, and he left with his wife and father-in-law, staying away from the country for nine years, in Stambul and in Paris," the museum curator said. The Melik spouses returned to the country in 1857 and lived in the building on Spatarului Street until the end of their lives. Ana survived Jacob, but had a tragic ending in 1913, when she died in a fire, precisely in this house.
"Their marriage was not blessed with children, which is why, four years before she died, in 1909, Ana wrote a will, expressing her desire that, after her death, an asylum be organized in this house for the poor women of the Armenian community," Mihaela Murelatos explained.
The building becomes an asylum in 1921 and it will run as such until 1948 - 1949, then it will be inhabited by tenants until the late 1960s. At that time, the building was already in a state of advanced degradation, the museum curator argued.
"In 1970, the house gets lucky because in that year, the Collection of Serafina and Gheorghe Raut arrived from Paris, Romanians established in the capital of France for more than half a century. Mrs. Serafina had died, Mr. Raut - now of age and having no children - decided to offer to his country of origin about two thirds of the objects he had in his Paris apartment, provided that they are found a suitable place, if possible the Melik House. This way, the house could be cleared of tenants and entered into an extensive process of renovation - restoration, which brought it to the appearance that it currently has and opened for visiting with the Collection of the Raut spouses in 1971," Murelatos said.
According to her, the Melik House is also called the Theodor Pallady Museum, without the painter ever living here, because this was the collector's desire, who donated the art objects.
"There is a connection between Gheorghe Raut and Theodor Pallady, they were friends and living in Paris in the same building, in Place Dauphine, No. 12, the collector, when he offered his own objects, he also donated what was left in the painter's Paris apartment. Therefore, the Melik House, the Serafina and Gheorghe Raut Collection, Theodor Pallady Museum," the museum curator explained.
Under the management of the National Museum of Art of Romania (MNAR), the Theodor Pallady Museum, which is open in the Melik House, a historical monument (code B-II-mA-19723), can be visited from Wednesday to Sunday, between 10:00hrs and 18:00hrs. The entrance is free of charge on the first Wednesday of each month.
This article is part of the #Bucharest560 editorial project, launched by AGERPRES National News Agency, on the occasion of the 560th anniversary since the first documented mention of the city of Bucharest on 20 September 2019.
AGERPRES (RO - author: Daniel Popescu, editor: Catalin Alexandru; EN - author: Adina Panaitescu, Rodica State, editor: Rodica State, Adina Panaitescu)
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