The Banffy palace, known today as the Transylvania National Museum of Art is one of the most representative buildings in Cluj, built in baroque style by the architect of German descent Johan Eberhard Blaumann. The palace is located in the central square of the city of Cluj Napoca and was a standard of nobility for the aristocratic class; Banffy Gyorgy built this palace in order to stand out and to have a residence worthy of his wealth and nobility.
HISTORY OF THE BANFFY PALACE – TRANSYLVANIA NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ART
After count Banffy finished his studies in Vienna, he returned to live in Cluj. When the palace was built, the Banffy family owned the Razmany, Linczeg and Eperjes houses here, which formed a quadrangle in the center of which Banffy Gyorgy wanted to build the palace. The construction began in 1774 and ended 11 years later, in 1785 (certain sources mention 1786 as the year when the construction was finalized), offering substantial employment opportunities and leading to great job market stability in the city.
Although the architect Johan Blaumann was not initially among the most sought after builders in the old Cluj, he became more famous as a protégé of Gyorgy Banffy; in the early 1770s, the head of the Banffy family elected him as head architect for the palace, but the service contract was signed only 4 years later. The amount of money the architect received in exchange for building the palace was a very large one for the times: 12,000 Rhenish guilders, 200 buckets of wine and 50 bushels of wheat, compared to his wage as master builder of the city (from the amount collected, the architect also paid the builders who participated in the construction of the palace). The German architect was also the one who created the stucco ceilings, very poorly preserved over time, and other stone sculptures, for which he received the additional amount of 4,000 guilders. Other master sculptors such as Josef Edlinger and Josef Hoffmayer, coordinated by Gottfried Hartmann (the one who created the column balcony of the Banffy Palace) also helped with the decorative stone elements, while the sculptures enveloping the palace belong to the rococo artist Anton Schuchbauer from Cluj. The carpentry, tin work and glasswork were carried out by the greatest masters of the time.
It is unclear what building served as inspiration to the German architect, but it is rumored that it was a palace in Vienna or Hungary; what is known for sure, however, is that the architect also took into consideration the suggestions of governor Banffy, who had an important contribution. The palace spans a quadrilateral surface of 66×48 m and has an interior courtyard of 26×26 m.
Among the distinctive elements in Banffy palace are the 6 statues representing 6 gods: Perseus, Apollo, Ares (Mars), Pallas Athena (Minerva), Artemis (Diana) and Hercules, located on the main façade, the Banffy family crest on the top of the balcony, 8 urns, three griffons that support the balcony on the rear façade, and the semicircular frames on the second floor, decorated with statues representing fire, water, air and earth (the four main elements), spring, summer, autumn and winter (the seasons) and 4 continents: Europe, Africa, America and Asia.
The 6 gods oversee the activity of the city from above; they are grouped in threes on each side of the Banffy family crest; the statues closest to the family crest are the gods of war (Ares – Mars) and wisdom (Palas Athena – Minerva), followed on each side by the god of the arts (Apollo) and the goddess of hunting (Artemis – Diana) and ending with a demigod on either side: Hercules and Perseus. The sculptures were created by Anton Schuchbauer, one of the most important baroque artists in Transylvania.
The palace served not only as the Banffy family residence (governor Banffy lived in the main wing on the second floor); several rooms in the palace, located on the ground floor, with a view to the square, had separate doors and were rented out as stores. The palace was also the meeting place between the Banffy family and the most important people of the times: Emperor Francis the Ist and his wife Augusta, Prince Maximilian, Emperor Franz Joseph are just a few of the important persons who stayed here. Franz List also held a concert here.
According to his will, Gyorgy Banffy (died in 1822) left the palace to his children; they were advised to rent several parts of the palace and to sell it to the Council on the First Diet. The purpose of the sale was so that the palace could become the “House of the State” or the “Governor’s House”; Ioan Josika, Banffy’s successor, did not hold the Diet until 1834, and the palace was not sold. After Banffy’s death, the palace became the governor’s residence, while the Council’s offices were on Kogalniceanu street; during the 1842 Diet, the palace was chosen to exhibit the Ardeal Museum, but this did not occur until 1851.
The last heir of governor Banffy’s family died in 1861; baron Albert Banffy, count of Crasna, became the new heir, followed by his children Albert and Gheorghe Banffy. In 1927, the son of Albert Banffy, Dionysus Banffy, built a cinema in the inner courtyard, which affected the structure of the palace. The construction of the cinema led to the opening of a series of coffee houses and shops in the inner courtyard. 1948 is the year when the palace was nationalized, and Dionysus Banffy and his mother were relocated to a house on the outskirts of the city.
THE TRANSYLVANIA NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ART
The museum represents an extremely valuable asset for Romanian and European art; it houses several paintings, graphic and decorative art works by Romanian and European artists from the 15th to the 20th century.
The Museum of Art was opened in 1956 (some sources mention 1962), but it was only after 1970 that the entire building was used for this purpose. Around the same period, the cinema building structure was torn down. Palace restoration works took place between 1960 and 1970: the vault in several rooms was redone, a series of interior walls which were not part of the initial palace plan were torn down, the northern arches affected during the construction of the cinema were rebuilt. Another palace restauration period began in 2005.
The Museum of Art received a small inheritance from the Ardeal Museum, upon its opening: pieces of furniture, a large part of the collection of curiosities, fine art works and the “Virgil Cioflec painting collection”. Today, the museum houses works by Stefan Luchian, Nicolae Grigorescu, Dimitrie Paciurea, Theodor Pallady, Camil Ressu, Vasile Popescu, Oscar Han or Cornel Medrea; over time, after the opening of the Museum of Art, a series of transfers, donations to the museum and purchases enriched the collection of art works which can be admired here today: the Ministry of Culture, The Bucharest National Museum of Art and the Local Administration (Barbu Iscovescu, Constantin David Rosenthal, Theodor Aman, Gheorghe Tattarascu, Gheorghe Panaitescu Bardasare, Carol Popp de Szathmary, Ioan Andreescu, Karl Storck), the Cluj Branch of the Romanian Academy are just a few of the benefactors of the Transylvania National Museum of Art.
It is worth noting that there is no longer any furniture inside the museum that belonged to the Banffy family; a gold-plated sleigh decorated with griffons is the only element of their wealth that remains to behold.
USEFUL TIPS WHEN GETTING HERE
If you came all the way here, you must visit the entire city of Cluj Napoca; for that, you will need at least 2-3 days, so we advise you to look for accommodations at hotels in Cluj Napoca, because the entire experience will make you realize that without a doubt, this city deserves a second visit.
Start your visit in Cluj with the Banffy Palace, on 30 Unirii Square; remember that on Mondays and Tuesdays the museum is closed to the public. Additionally, take into account the fact that art exhibitions are organized here regularly. The city is known as the cultural and economic heart of Transylvania, so you will definitely not be bored here. Unirii Square is the starting point for all the tourists who want to discover Cluj in a few days; churches, monasteries, parks and museums are just waiting to be explored. Don’t miss the Babes Bolyai University, the Little Citadel and the Botanical Garden, important landmarks on the city map.
Every year, on the Night of the Museums, Banffy Palace is open to the public; on this day, thousands of tourists visit the museum annually.
The National Museum of Art in Cluj-Napoca was nominated for an EMYA award for European Museum of the Year in 1997.