A Renaissance Prince

Peter Ernst I von Mansfeld-Vorderort was born in Saxony, in the year 1517. Aged 14, he came to the Austrian Habsburg Court, which he left four years later to take part with Emperor Charles V in the liberation of Tunis. He quickly rose through the military ranks, serving as army commander under Charles V and King Philip II of Spain. He became Governor of Luxembourg in 1545, and of the Spanish Netherlands in 1590. In 1552, he was taken prisoner by the French, and held captive for five years. Eventually, he was released against the payment of a large ransom.

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As Governor of Luxembourg, he oversaw the rebuilding of the medieval town, which had been badly damaged by war, and commissioned the construction of a new Town Hall, today’s Palais Grand-Ducal. The Governor’s Palace, which he built in Luxembourg City, later became the Courts of Justice, and is currently destined to become the office of the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères.

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Mansfeld was a renowned antiquarian and art collector. In 1563, he commissioned the building of a private palace in Clausen, called La Fontaine, which was surrounded by an enormous deer park. This impressive Renaissance building was depicted in Braun and Hogenberg’s Cities of the World. His grand plans even envisaged demolishing the Igel Column, and re-erecting it in his gardens!

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Mansfeld died in Clausen, in 1604, leaving his art collection to King Philip III of Spain. La Fontaine fell into ruin after his death. A few of the entrance gates are still standing, albeit not in their original locations, and it was thought that nothing remained of the building. However, archaeologists have recently made some unexpected discoveries, indentifying a number of structures as the remains of the palace. There are plans for a partial renovation. The Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art held a major exhibition in 2007, entitled Un Prince de la Renaissance: Pierre-Ernest de Mansfeld (1517 – 1604).

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