The dancing Art Nouveau style graces of Mantuleasa quarter

Below are two interesting Art Nouveau style bas-relief panels dating from the 1890s representing scenes with dancing graces, inspired from ancient Greek and Roman mythology, located in Mantuleasa area of Bucharest. The dancing graces motif was frequently encountered in Art Nouveau visual arts compositions, being promoted by greats such as the actress Sarah Bernhard, the painter Alphonse Mucha, so important for the Art Nouveau current, who used the beautiful Sarah Bernhard as his model, or the dramatist Edmond Rostand to cite just a few.

The panels presented here were produced, in my opinion, as a direct consequence of Sarah Bernhardt’s presence in the mid 1890s Bucharest when she and her theatre company performed widely acclaimed plays at the National Theatre that comprised dancing graces scenes and also because of the popularity of Edmond Rostand’s writings among the high society of Bucharest who at parties and gatherings in their palaces acted in his plays, clad in fairy costumes similar with those presented in these architectural panels. Even the then Queen Elizabeth of Romania and Marie, the Crown Princess, were known to have acted at the Royal Palace in such plays by Rostand.

Dancing graces, Art Nouveau style in Mantuleasa quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The panel above shows a group of dancing graces, accompanied by music from a flute and tambourine in a scene imagined from the ancient classical mythology (dionysian mysteries if we judge after the grape fruit used as headdresses or some kind of harvest festival).

Dancing graces, Art Nouveau style in Mantuleasa quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The second Mantuleasa dancing graces panel presents a group of teenage looking female personages, holding each other and also carelessly revelling, accompanied by a Greek flute (syrinx) and tambourine, which somehow reminds me of the Dionysian initiation mysteries from the great fresco at the Villa of the Misteries in Pompeii. I like the grace standing alone on the left hand side of the panel, which holds in her hand an open papyrus scroll, a personification Calliope, the muse of poetry, perhaps.

Dancing graces, Art Nouveau style in Mantuleasa quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph above shows the house hosting the two Art Nouveau style dancing graces panels from the Mantuleasa quarter of Bucharest. The overall architectural style of the house is a modest Beaux Arts, which is greatly enhanced by those wonderful bas-reliefs, constituting a reminder of the wonderful and creative years experienced by this city during the Fin de Siécle period.

Fin de Siècle Romanian royal wedding and architecture

Because the whole planet seems now captivated by the recent wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, I thought it would be a good idea to post an article touching the subject of historic Romanian architecture in the context of another wedding, more than a century ago, involving Romanian royals. Bellow is a very rare old postcard depicting the official cavalcade accompanying Marie, the Princess of Edinburgh, freshly made a Princess of Romania through the marriage with Crown Prince Ferdinand, when she first arrived, after the marriage ceremony and honeymoon, in her adopted country on the 24 January (4 Feb.- Julian calendar) 1893. Marie’s coach is seen acclaimed by Bucharest’s citizens, passing by two of the city’s architectural landmarks of the late Victorian era: the Unirii Market Hall (in the background), a large and beautiful iron frame structure similar with the ubiquitous Les Halles Centrales found in many of the late c19th French towns and the majestic Beaux Arts style building of the Brancovensc Hospital Establishment (in the foreground). Both these wonderful edifices, so important for Bucharest’s identity, were savagely demolished by the communist authorities in the mid-1980s, during dictator Ceausescu’s infamous vast and architecturally coarse remodelling of large areas of central Bucharest for his infamous “Victory of Socialism” project. That area is today full of ugly and badly maintained massive communist apartment blocks, which are also among the most expensive properties in Romania’s capital- a measure of the dismal level of culture and confused identity of the post-communist inhabitants of this city.

The arrival of Princess Marie of Edinburgh/ Romania in Bucharest, in Feb (Julian calendar) 1893, passing by the Brancovenesc Hospital building and Unirii Market Hall (old postcard dated 1901, undivided back, Diana & Valentin Mandache collection)

For more information on Queen Marie of Romania see “Marie of Romania. Images of a Queen” by Diana Mandache, Rosvall Royal Books, 2007.


I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.


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