When Prince Albert II of Monaco, the son of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III, launched a restoration campaign for his 800-year-old palace he had no idea that the project would significantly move the tiny principality up a notch in the world of art history.
While making routine repairs in 2015, conservators found a series of hidden 16th-century frescoes by Italian Renaissance masters depicting the 12 labors of Hercules that had been covered with paint and plaster for centuries.
Legend has it that it was Hercules who created Monaco’s massive rock monolith—the Rocher—where the palace rests. Returning from Greece via the Mediterranean, he is said to have passed by Monaco and forged his path by breaking apart the mountain, creating the Rocher which towers over the main port named after the ancient hero, Port Hercule.
In addition to the paintings of Hercules in the gallery, conservators also discovered a large fresco portraying a scene of the Odyssey in the Throne room. In the salon Europe, they found a hidden ceiling painting depicting the mythological abduction of Europa by the Greek god Zeus, who appears in the form of a white bull.
Today, after nearly nine years of careful preservation by a team of roughly 40 international specialists using the most advanced technological means available, more than 600 square meters of frescoes can finally be seen by the general public.
The Palace has been inhabited by the Grimaldi family since staking their claim on Monaco in 1297. Unlike other European royal families, the Grimaldis were not always affluent and did not have the means to build new palaces or even maintain the existing one.
It’s not clear who covered up the frescoes in the first place—or why—but experts believe that they likely date back 500 years and may have been covered in the 19th century to “freshen up” the faded and smoke-stained ceilings in keeping with the fashions of the times. It is likely that well-known artists from nearby Genoa created the frescoes based on the artistic style and the technique of using lime-based plaster.
Recognizing the incredible heritage represented by these frescoes, Prince Albert II, the 32nd ruler of this small, sovereign principality, insisted that they should be restored using sustainable materials and techniques, mindful of the art, resources, and the environment. He also set about to search and acquire many of the historical paintings stolen from the palace during the French Revolution.
Visitors to the palace can see these works and the restored frescoes as well as catch a glimpse of the on-site conservation-restoration team who continue to search for new discoveries in the history of Renaissance art.
This post was provided by Annette Ross Anderson. Annette is a partner and Marketing Manager at the iconic Monaco restaurant and sports bar, Stars'N'Bars. Over the last 30 years, she has hosted the Monaco multi-mix of royals, billionaires, celebrities, expats, university students, and yachtsmen that make up Monaco's diverse social universe. Annette also oversees the MonacoUSA Association, a social and business network in the principality. A trained journalist and business writer, she is currently working on a screenplay inspired by the legacy of Princess Grace.