Considered one of Poland’s most flamboyant examples of the Baroque style, Wrocław’s Aula Leopoldina has been restored to its best after a painstaking six-year overhaul.
Officially reopened to the public last week to coincide with the arrival of spring, the restoration has been seen as one of the most complex conservation challenges undertaken in Poland this millennium.
Hailed as the most representative hall of the city’s university, Aula Leopoldina was first built and decorated between 1728 and 1732.
The space was named in honor of the university’s founder, Emperor Leopold I, and was enriched with elaborate stucco trimmings by Albrecht Siegwitz and Ignazio Provisore, lavish frescoes by Johann Christoph Handke of Olomouc and of intricate wood carvings written by Krzysztof Hollandt.
Mesmerizing in its visual glories, the impact it has on visitors has not been lost on its guardians at the University of Wrocław Museum: “The interior looks like an indivisible whole, maintaining a perfect balance between architectural forms, sculpture and painting”, they write.
“The warm colors of the frescoes harmonize perfectly with the elements of the marbled architecture in various shades of brown and white carvings and golden ornaments. The atmosphere of solemnity that emanates from the Aula is completely devoid of coldness”, they continue.
Designed primarily by Austrian architect and painter Christophorus Tausch, the auditorium hall has for centuries hosted events such as inaugurations and registrations as well as key seminars and ceremonies related to the awarding of honorary titles.
“Known for its great acoustics, from the very beginning of its history, the Aula Leopoldina has brought together the academic community for the most important moments in the life of the university,” explains the museum.
Sometimes called “the pearl of Silesia”, the hall’s pomp is such that many have described it as one of the most valuable Baroque halls in all of Europe.
Miraculously surviving the large-scale damage associated with the sieges and misfortunes that befell the city – perhaps most notably the determined hammering of Festung Breslau by the Red Army in 1945 – the notable features of the Aula Leopoldina include a sculpture enthroned by Leopold I.
Representing wisdom, visitors will find Leopold closely flanked by sculptures dedicated to Prudence (personified by an old man holding a mirror) and Prevention (symbolized by a woman with a beehive), as well as a woman with disheveled hair (symbolic of the ‘fight’) and a boy with donkey ears (allegorical reference to stupidity).
These are, however, complemented by indulgent extras such as illusory ceiling paintings depicting the university entrusted to the care of the Virgin Mary, walls decorated with 16 portraits of members of the Jesuit Order who helped create the university (only ten of which are original following a daring robbery in 1997), majestic balustrades, stalls adorned with eagles and garlands and busts of various scholars, writers and poets.
“Inside, saturated with such a wide variety of form and content, the sense of reality is partially lost as viewers absorb the beauty around them,” the museum writes.
Reputedly costing more than PLN 7 million, the six-year restoration project involved more than 100 people and had no shortage of surprises.
Renovated many times throughout its history, while the Aula Leopoldina suffered extensive damage during the war, it fared less well in the 1970s due to a misguided renovation carried out by Polish Studios for the conservation of cultural property in Wrocław and Toruń.
In a statement released to the press, Dr. Łukasz Krzywka from the university wrote: “This interview spoiled the original effect. At the time the restorers assumed the auditorium was dark, only now is it bright again and, in my opinion, the closest to the original in color and mood.
Although often cited as an almost perfect original, up to 30% of the Aula Leopoldina was found to have been altered over time. Although he maintained his ability to impress all who visited him, he also looked increasingly tired.
“During the first decade of the 21st century, a need arose for actions leading to its full and comprehensive restoration in order to arrest the process of decay and restore the original character of the Baroque masterpiece” , wrote the university.
In the execution of this, lost details have been restored and new mysteries have been uncovered. Inexplicably disappeared at some point between 1944 (when it was photographed by Rudolf Jagush) and the immediate post-war period, a scepter was added to an allegorical sculpture.
Elsewhere, it was realized that a painting of Saint Francis had been restored after the war to show a book held under the arm of the saint who had not been present before; another fresco, meanwhile, had a book ‘returned’ to it during renovation after it was revealed to have gone missing during post-war work.
Among the finer small finds, the restorers also found a cherub first painted by Joseph Handke as having six toes, a detail they were happy to retain rather than correct.
Considered the second most visited attraction in the city after the Racławice Panorama, the reopening of Aula Leopoldina conveniently coincided with the end of Covid restrictions; as the tourist season approaches, the university hopes the reinvigorated hall will once again enchant all visitors.
Although work on the ground remains on hold, the hall has already officially reopened with the completion of the central phase of renovation marked last week by a concert partially conducted by Ukrainian violin virtuoso Viktor Kuznetsov.