Palace of Queluz: A discreet place of incarceration for Queen Maria I after she fell into madness

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Verica Sitnik
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The Portuguese 18th-century palace located in Queluz is one of the last great Europian Rococo buildings. It was summer home to Don Pedro of Braganza who later become king consort by marrying his niece, Queen Regnant Maria I. After Don Pedro’s death in 1786, his wife descended into madness and the Palace of Queluz served as a discreet place to her incarceration.

Here she also gave birth to her second son the prince regent John VI, the future king of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves from 1816 to 1825. In 1908, the palace became a property of the state, and after surviving a big fire in 1934 one-third of the interior was destroyed.

The building was extensively restored and today it’s open to the public. The Portuguese architect Manuel Caetano de Sousa designed one wing of the palace, which was built between 1785 and 1792 for Queen Maria I, and now is serving as a guest house to foreign heads state while visiting Portugal.

Portrait of Queen Regnant Maria I and her husband Don Pedro.

Construction of the palace was started in 1747 under the architect Mateus Vicente de Oliveira from Portugal. The Queluz architecture is representative of the classical ideas of design influenced by the Renaissance and Italian Baroque, which preceded the Rococo style. This remarkable building structure reflects the lifestyle of a royal family. The façade of the palace which faces the town takes the form of two flat quadrant wings symmetrically settled. The southern side contains an onion-domed chapel, while the kitchens and servants’ quarters are placed in the northern wing.

The exterior of the Palace Queluz. Author: Pedro. CC BY 2.0

The best-known view of the palace has been described as a “harmonious example of Portuguese Baroque” with its classical proportions and decorations such as travertine rendering and carved cartouches over the windows. The western wing, also known as Robillon Pavilion, is the second major part of the building. It illustrates Baroque and Rococo architecture style. This wing was completed in 1779 and contains an entrance to the palace, and it has a Doric colonnade which runs the entire length of the façade. The balustrade on the roof in this wing is broken by massive statuary figures such as armorial trophies.

Robillon’s entrance, designed steps adorned with statuary. Author: Pedro. CC BY 2.0

Much more attention to the details and design are observed in the interior of the palace. Many of the rooms are small, decorated by French artisans, with walls on which are painted historical scenes. The floors are made of bright red bricks which give a  rustic appearance. There are four state apartments; The Hall of Ambassadors, The Sala das Mangas, The Ballroom and The Music Room, and three private apartments that include The King’s Bedroom, The Queen’s Boudoir, and Sala das Merendas.

Queluz National Palace, Portugal. The Hall of Ambassadors. Author: Husond. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Hall of Ambassadors designed by Robillon in 1757 is the largest reception room in the building and it is also known as the throne room or the Hall of Mirrors. The room is very long with tall windows on both sides, which give to the chamber lightness. A semi-circular gilt console table is placed between each window and pier glasses above are decorated with crystal sconces. The throne is set in the apse, surrounded by gilded and mirrored columns. The floor in the room is black and white checkerboard pattern marble tiles.

Robillon’s Rococo ornamentation, The Ballroom. Author: Husond. CC BY-SA 3.0

The only room in this part of the building which entirely survived the 1934 fire is The Sala das Mangas. It is a long gallery which leads to the entrance of the state apartments, lined with tiled wall panels. The third largest room in the palace designed by Robillon in 1760 is the ballroom. This oval room is created by the combination of five small rooms. The ormolu Rococo ornament in the chamber is completed with the mirrored walls and doors and painted ceiling supported by golden caryatids.

The magnificent Music room with the painted portrait of Queen Maria
I above the piano. Author: Palace. CC BY-SA 3.0

The music room was redesigned in 1768 and it is decorated with gilded and painted wood. The decorations in the chamber are more neoclassical than in the rest of the rooms, following the Baroque Rococo style. This room was used for the large concerts and still houses the Empire grand piano which is decorated with gilt appliques. Massive remarkable crystal chandeliers light the music room.

The circular private room, The King’s Bedroom. Author: Palace. CC BY-SA 3.0

The private apartments are far more intimate and smaller than the state chambers. Described as the most “fantastic” of all rooms, the King’s Bedroom contains a large bust of the King, and between the columns of mirrored glass, there is cartouche painted with scenes from the tales of Don Quixote. It’s a bizarre fact that King Peter the IV was born in this room in 1798, and died in 1834 in the same room.

The Queen’s Boudoir, Palace of Queluz. Author: Palace. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Queen’s Boudoir was the private room used by Maria I. The design of the room is in the form of a bower and the walls are heavily mirrored. There is also a trellis pattern on the ceiling, which is an echo of the marquetry floor. The Queen’s bedroom is next to The Queen’s Boudoir.

Sala das Merendas was the Royals private dining room. There are tiled panels illustrating courtiers in sylvan poses produced by José Conrado Rosa and  João Valentim. The decorations in the dining room are very much like the ones in the rest of the private rooms.

Sala das Merendas, the private Royals dining room. Author: Palace. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Palace of Queluz is also famed for the glory of its gardens, which are decorated with statuary and fountains, formal terraces and walkways. Today, this remarkable construction is a very famous tourist attraction. The Palace of Queluz for over three centuries remains to be one of the most delightful royal homes.