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27-year-old Bohemian prince raises $300,000 in NFTs to preserve and share castles and ancient artifacts


CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos and William Rudolf Lobkowicz within the Family Chapel of the Lobkowicz Palace depicting an early 18th-century altarpiece painting of St. Wenceslas, patron saint of the Czech nation.

House of Lobkowicz

PRAGUE — It’s past midnight on a Friday on the Lobkowicz Palace within the Prague Castle complex. A 27-year-old Czech prince, William Rudolf Lobkowicz, is crawling on the hard stone floor, taking care to not trigger the alarms behind the guardrails that partition the castle’s daytime visitors from the Sixteenth-century portraits hanging on the stone partitions.

He’s trying to seek out an outlet so he can plug a 30-foot extension cord into the wall. The cord powers camera equipment to be utilized in a live broadcast happening around 1 a.m. which is able to feature the story of his family on a CNBC primetime show in Latest York. Lobkowicz can be behind the camera for the shot, but that does not matter to him. He simply desires to share one in every of the world’s best private collections of masterworks with the general public.

A young prince in an ancient castle stashed with priceless art appears like the start of a fairytale, but his life is removed from a Disney adaptation.

The palace feels more like a crypt. At the peak of Bohemian summer, the humidity clings to our skin, and it’s pitch black beyond the glow of the stark fluorescent lighting that runs along the high stone ceilings. Every time Lobkowicz involves a door, he reaches all the way down to a bulky keyring that appears prefer it belongs to a monk in a monastery and fumbles for the best key to let him through — and there are dozens of doors on each floor. Each door leads us deeper into the dark stone labyrinth, deeper into the past.

William Rudolf Lobkowicz walking through the Prague Castle complex.

House of Lobkowicz

He and his family don’t live on this or any of their other ancestral castles or palaces. As an alternative, they live in personal apartments a ten-minute drive away. To remain past 10 P.M. on a Friday night, Lobkowicz has to get special permission from the military guards who patrol the grounds.

William, his two sisters, and oldsters have dedicated their life’s work to maintaining what’s left of their ancestral heritage: Three castles, one palace, 20,000 moveable artifacts, a library of roughly 65,000 rare books, 5,000 musical artifacts and compositions — including an early copy of Beethoven’s fifth symphony — and 30,000 boxes and folios, a few of which have never been opened. All of it was stolen, twice. First by the Nazis, then by the Communists.

“You recognize, most individuals see the gorgeous artworks and castles and think that this all comes incredibly easy,” Lobkowicz says from the Habsburg Room, a portrait gallery on the second floor of the palace. “But in point of fact, behind the scenes, we’re working tirelessly day and night to preserve and protect this stuff. No one’s going to care about this stuff as much as we do.”

William Rudolf Lobkowicz examining old family photographs within the Lobkowicz Archives.

House of Lobkowicz

His voice is drained at this late hour, but his youthful enthusiasm still shines through.

To guard his family’s past, Lobcowicz has embraced the long run. The world of cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens is intangible and abstract, a group of mathematical formulas running on computers spread all around the world. The young prince has turned to those digital tools to safeguard and repair the artifacts that hold a lot nostalgic value for the family — and, he hopes, for a few of the remainder of the world, as well.

It isn’t nearly selling NFTs to support cultural monuments, however it’s also taking a look at how can we preserve a record of our history?” explains William. “Blockchain technology provides an immutable record of our cultural heritage, which you’ll be able to preserve on chain, and that is something that is never been done before.”

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CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos tours Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Castle with William Rudolf Lobkowicz.

House of Lobkowicz

An immutable record

The palace is housed throughout the Hrad, the name given by locals to Prague Castle, which looms over the town. The sprawling complex was once the seat of Bohemian kings. Now, it’s home to Czech presidents — and The Lobkowicz Collections, a body of labor dating back greater than 2,000 years.

The collections, which were painstakingly re-assembled over 25 years through a process generally known as restitution, feature world-famous paintings by Bellotto, Bruegel, Canaletto, Cranach, Rubens, and Veronese, in addition to ceramics spanning five centuries, 1,200 pieces of arms and armor, and string and wind instruments, including trumpets gilded in gold and adorned with rubies. The gathering also includes early manuscripts and scores, including several Beethoven symphonies and his Opus 18 String Quartets, some marked with the composer’s original corrections.

The Lobkowiczes take none of this with no consideration. Their castles and artifacts were stolen twice by two different authoritarian regimes.

Lobkowicz Palace (a part of the Prague Castle complex).

House of Lobkowicz

In CNBC’s first conversation with William — a virtually two-hour Zoom call from Latest York to Prague — he shared a translated quote from Jan Viktor Mládek, a member of Czechoslovakia’s post-communist government and a former International Monetary Fund official: “When a nation’s culture survives, so too does the nation.”

William has turned over that line in his head quite a couple of times within the last couple years since making this mission his life’s work. To him, the strength of a rustic rests on preserving the cultural roots which define it.

After the autumn of the Soviet Union in 1991, the democratically elected president of the newly formed Czechoslovakia passed restitution laws enabling Czechs to say back property stolen under Communist rule. William Sr., then 29 years old, heeded the decision and uprooted his life as an actual estate broker in Boston to return to Prague.

William Lobkowicz Sr. examining damage to the inside courtyard façade of Nelahozeves Castle.

House of Lobkowicz

There isn’t any definitive “the way to” manual on restoring stolen items to their rightful owner. It is a convoluted exercise that involves filing 1000’s of separate claims and might take a long time. A few of the claims fail, or are never resolved.

“After we first got here back to the Czech Republic and restitution began, it was the Wild West, and you actually did not have any marketing strategy in any way,” explains the younger William of his father’s quest.

William Sr. traversed the country in a small Škoda Favorit, carrying with him the meticulous lists kept by the Communists once they confiscated the family’s artifacts.

Alexandra Lobkowicz with a colleague observing the renovation of the Balcony Room of the Lobkowicz Palace, c. 2005.

House of Lobkowicz

“Our objects were taken to over 100 locations, so we crisscrossed Czechoslovakia to recuperate tens of 1000’s of movable objects,” he said. “We probably covered a whole lot of 1000’s of miles.”

Once the property was reclaimed, the family needed to determine the way to pay to revive it. William’s grandfather, Martin, cashed in his pension and gave it to William Sr., telling him to “try to not lose all of it” — and that was it by way of upfront capital commitments.

Covering the prices of restoration is the family’s business, and makes up a full-time job for every member of the Lobkowicz household, complete with weekly business meetings on Tuesdays. (Sunday is reserved for private updates at family dinner.)

But keeping the business afloat has been a hustle, requiring increasingly creative financial acrobatics.

The Lobkowicz family, 2019.

House of Lobkowicz

Collections belonging to the Lobkowiczes have been declared Czech cultural monuments, in order that they cannot sell any pieces to assist pay to revive the remaining. Meanwhile, traditional philanthropy channels are running dry as museum patronage continues to fall.

To make a nasty situation worse, the state has strict rules governing restoration protocols which may slow the renovation process and make it costlier. There may be also fierce competition for a limited variety of grants earmarked to fund cultural heritage projects. Castle ownership is not much of a novelty in Europe, and particularly not within the Czech Republic, which ranks amongst one in every of the continent’s top destinations for probably the most castles per square mile. Actually, some state governments and towns are auctioning off castles under their custodianship, because they haven’t got the money to keep up them.

To maintain every little thing afloat, the Lobcowiczes have generated income from things like castle tours, the gift shop, and hosting events reminiscent of weddings and company retreats. It also means appealing to donors, applying for grants from the federal government, and securing loans — often at sky-high rates of interest.

“My father needed to take out loans with 20% revolving interest, consistently asking the banks for extensions,” the younger William said of the early days, when his father first began restoring the family’s castles and artifacts.

Alexandra Lobkowicz organizing c. Seventeenth-century hunting rifles from the Lobkowicz Collections onto recent shelving within the Lobkowicz depository.

House of Lobkowicz

Fortunately, William Sr. had a dedicated partner in the search.

A yr into his recent life in Prague, the elder William’s girlfriend (now wife of 30 years), Sandra Florescu, flew over to assist him. Coming to Prague meant leaving her role as a sixth grade teacher in Boston’s Back Bay, but she never stopped being an educator.

She has launched and run multiple educational programs in reference to the collections, including the junior curator program, which is now being modeled by schools world wide.

It helps that she hung out on the Sorbonne in Paris, studying superb arts.

The couple seemed destined for one another, with intertwining family histories that return centuries.

Within the early 1600s, their ancestors, who were diplomats and advisors to their respective kings in Bohemia and Romania, met in Prague to strategize about the way to defeat the Turks who were threatening the Habsburg Empire. Fast forward to the early Nineteen Twenties, when Sandra’s grandfather, Radu Florescu — who had two diplomatic postings in Prague — likely crossed paths with the elder William’s grandfather, Max, also a diplomat. They were reunited in London during World War II, each serving their respective countries’ fight against the Nazis.

Sandra and William, too, were serendipitously linked as refugees and young adults living in Beacon Hill in Boston.

Sandra first spotted her now husband from the window of her apartment, years before they really met in person. William Sr. was booming out the lyrics to “Chanson d’Amour” that was playing on his Walkman, preparing for live shows he performed in the realm with the hopes of becoming an expert opera singer sooner or later.

Alexandra and William Lobkowicz with baby William Rudolf opening their first exhibition in 1995.

House of Lobkowicz

Safeguarding these memories and people of their ancestors — in addition to the cultural legacy they together fought to revive — is where their son’s blockchain ambitions become visible.

“We have handled losing our collections twice and regaining them twice in consequence of authoritarian regimes, but the way in which we got them back was actually through the receipts they kept,” explained the younger William.

Each regimes tracked the method and the provenance history of those pieces, so William Sr. was capable of trace ownership and discover where they’d been over time. Cryptocurrency blockchains — an immutable ledger tracing the provenance of digital artifacts — are an updated version of those meticulous lists kept by authoritarian regimes.

Only this time, the facility to trace these artifacts is within the hands of the rightful owners.

Nazi officers observing plans during their occupation of Roudnice Castle in 1939. The castle was become an SS training camp.

House of Lobkowicz

The rebel princes

“What I’m doing immediately, I do not think is any different from any of my predecessors. Each prince did something completely different based upon the times they lived in,” William said.

The Lobkowicz princes have a history of being rebels, each breaking tradition in their very own way.

Take the seventh prince, Franz Joseph Maximilian (1772-1816), who made a giant bet on Ludwig van Beethoven back when the composer was still a relative unknown. Beethoven famously incorporated a further French horn into his orchestra for the Eroica symphony at a time when people thought that type of sound was blasphemous.

Joseph gave the renegade composer an annual stipend, in addition to musicians and concert spaces, nearly bankrupting the House of Lobkowicz in the method. While the prince was his patron, Beethoven was free to compose music that revolutionized the symphonic world. In return, Beethoven would dedicate a few of his best works to the Prince, including his third (Eroica), fifth, and sixth (Pastoral) Symphonies.

Renovated Beethoven Room on the Lobkowicz Palace.

House of Lobkowicz

Then there was William’s great grandfather, Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888-1967), who realized that the world of his princely predecessors was becoming obsolete. The tip of World War I brought the autumn of the Austo-Hungarian Empire and the rise of independent nation states, including a democratic Republic of Czechoslovakia.  

Max, then a young lawyer and Czech patriot, embraced and supported the democratic ideals of this recent republic. When hereditary titles were abolished with the formation of the brand new state, he gladly forfeited his aristocratic label. It was a break from tradition so profound that his own father, Ferdinand Zdenko (1858-1938), refused to talk to Max for a decade.

Along with his Bohemian princely pedigree on his father’s side, William’s maternal line traces back to a main minister in Bucharest and an ancient and noble Romanian boyar family. He also has blood ties to the real-world noble upon whom Bram Stoker based his legendary Count Dracula — the world’s most famous fictional vampire.

CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos tours Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Castle with William Rudolf Lobkowicz.

House of Lobkowicz

Despite lineage linking him to noble families across Europe, Lobkowicz can be very American. His paternal grandfather began his profession as a door-to-door salesman selling Cutco knives after marrying a dentist’s daughter from Kentucky.

William dropped his British accent for an American one on the age of seven and fried mozzarella sticks at Harvard’s Eliot House Grille to earn pocket money in college.

Although he made the Forbes “30 under 30” list last yr, the prince doesn’t own a automobile and takes a tram to work.

He gives castle tours in free pockets of time throughout the day to bank money for the restoration fund, while concurrently running the digital innovation initiatives for House of Lobkowicz.

William Rudolf Lobkowicz welcoming guests at Non-Fungible Castle 2021.

House of Lobkowicz

Now he’s applying that humble renegade spirit to learn every little thing he can concerning the technology he believes may also help preserve the family legacy.

Every summer, the world’s top blockchain developers and cryptographers descend on Paris to hack, code, and talk shop. The flagship event is a conference called EthCC (short for Ethereum Community Conference), however the important attraction has given rise to dozens of ancillary gatherings specializing in topics running the gamut from web3 and ethereum’s rival blockchains — to the metaverse.

The variety of programming and other people is why Lobkowicz headed to Paris again this yr. He doesn’t go to talk on panels or attend blowout parties at venues like the enduring Moulin Rouge. As an alternative, he prefers to fly under the radar, sitting on the periphery of an audience but at all times listening intently.

For him, unlocking the potential of blockchain technology comes all the way down to speaking with developers on the bottom to create technical solutions to the very real-world problems he faces on a every day basis.

“Crypto is a tool to proceed working on the things we’re doing. It’s like a membership card to an entire world of history and culture,” he said.

NFT Gut Shot on display (next to the unique painting) on the Lobkowicz Palace, the sale of which financed the restoration of several portraits of officers within the Lobkowicz Collections.

House of Lobkowicz

Up to now, the prince has tried out a pair alternative ways to include blockchain technology into his work with The Lobkowicz Collections. Most successful to this point has been selling NFTs to support specific conservation needs.

The family takes a painting that needs restoration and mints a picture of the painting as an NFT. The provenance of the donation and donor can be included on chain. From there, they set the worth of the NFT at the price of the restoration of the physical work tied to the token. The one who buys the NFT then receives a second NFT at the top of the restoration process as a token of their patronage.

“We are attempting to bring people on the journey of philanthropy and be completely transparent with them about where their money goes,” explained William.

To date, the House of Lobkowicz has successfully financed greater than 50 art restoration projects through this proof-of-patronage philanthropic model — including a Seventeenth century painting, “A Wild Boar in a Landscape,” which was featured in Wes Anderson’s film “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Paintings from the Lobkowicz Collections awaiting their restoration in an atelier, financed by the sale of NFTs during Non-Fungible Castle 2021.

House of Lobkowicz

Collectively, the family has raised $300,000 through the sale of NFTs.

When asked whether he was fearful concerning the undeniable fact that the worth of NFTs has fallen off a cliff in the previous few months, Lobkowicz said that the boom and bust cycle of the market doesn’t really affect their business model. If a restoration costs $4,000, that is strictly what they charge for the piece — and it either sells or it doesn’t.

He also sees NFTs as a option to unlock recent ways of reaching a more diverse audience and making a community of patrons and supporters who’re thinking about interacting with their collections in a more revolutionary way.

“It is vital for people to grasp that this is not about just JPEGs attached to a digital receipt — we’re talking about different applications that may change the way in which we construct communities of people that care about culture and see the potential of using web3 technology to preserve it,” explained Lobkowicz.

Non-Fungible Castle 2021 Exhibition on the Lobkowicz Palace.

House of Lobkowicz

POAPs — or Proof of Attendance Protocol — are a subset of NFTs that function a type of attendance sheet for events, or specific experiences. The prince plans to check out POAPs throughout the next installment of Non–Fungible Castle, an annual exhibition and conference (running Nov. 4–5 in Prague) that bridges the most important names in traditional art to the world of web3 and crypto.

“We’ll create POAPs for experiences that you will have there, whether you are getting bread and salt (a standard Czech invitation ritual) as you enter the birth house of the world-renowned Czech national composer Antonín Dvořák — otherwise you’re listening to a string quartet,” he said.

POAPs could also ultimately be used to upgrade ticketing and membership programs for museums.

Also on Lobkowicz’s to-do list for the following few months? Stepping into quadratic funding, which is a option to crowd-raise a central crypto treasury that’s then used to fund public goods projects within the ethereum ecosystem — all with the assistance of an algorithm designed to optimize spending decisions.

William Rudolf Lobkowicz explains to CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos the renovation means of the Chinese Belvedere room inside Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Castle.

House of Lobkowicz

Most recently, he’s been testing out applications within the metaverse.

Lobkowicz worked with Somnium — a virtual reality world built on the ethereum blockchain — to place one in every of the rooms within the palace in Prague into the metaverse.

The family sold an NFT corresponding to the three-month restoration of this room, generally known as the Chinese Belvedere, for $79,000 to Oxb1, a famous crypto influencer.

A glance contained in the Chinese Belvedere room within the metaverse.

House of Lobkowicz

A glance contained in the Chinese Belvedere room within the metaverse.

House of Lobkowicz

It is a test case that would prove useful because the family moves to revive other properties in urgent need of repair.

Take Roudnice Castle, a 40 minute drive north of Prague. To revive the 200-room palace to its former grandeur would today require tens of tens of millions of dollars.

It already costs a small fortune to heat the castle within the winter simply enough to maintain the pipes from freezing and bursting open. In the summertime, leaks are commonplace, just like the one which cropped up on a Saturday morning during my stay in Prague. That may translate into major damage, mold, and even collapsing ceilings.

The continuing maintenance and renovations have also been complicated by changes made throughout the 41-year Soviet occupation, including retrofitting a concert hall with a basketball court.

Roudnice Castle, the previous ducal seat and residence of the Lobkowicz family.

House of Lobkowicz

One other execution, though still in its infancy, is popping Renaissance portraits of gowns worn by ladies of the court into gaming skins – a market value $40 billion globally.

William can be serious about digitizing the family’s stockpile of historic weapons to sell as NFTs (complete with the story of their provenance) to be utilized in a gaming setting.

That may also help with the $400,000 price tag to revive and catalogue their inventory – which is one of the crucial essential private arms collections in Europe.

CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos and Ileana Lobkowicz leaving the Arms Room of the Lobkowicz Palace, featuring Seventeenth–18th century military and hunting rifles and a three-quarter suit of armor.

House of Lobkowicz

A princess saving history through stories

It’s every week later, on one other Friday evening at almost midnight in Prague, except this time, I’m on the alternative side of the Atlantic Ocean, and I’m speaking with a unique Lobkowicz — William’s younger sister, Ileana. (Their youngest sister, Sophia, is a rising junior at Trinity College in Connecticut, but stays closely connected to her family’s work.)

The 25-year-old princess embraces all the ethereal qualities one might associate with aristocracy, effortlessly getting into her birthright and assuming the old-world responsibilities which accompany it.

Ileana and her mother, Sandra, giving a historical tour of the Lobkowicz Collections, highlighting the heroine stories that shaped its history.

House of Lobkowicz

“These titles are usually not something we use or introduce ourselves with to others in our everyday lives. It’s a part of our history, however it doesn’t change the work we’re attempting to do or the values we’ve got,” she says.

The title that Ileana does embrace is Author and Storyteller for House of Lobkowicz — a corporation which encompasses the non-profit initiatives of The Lobkowicz Collections, in addition to the events management company, winery, amongst other businesses falling under the Lobkowicz umbrella.

The role suits her well. While a philosophy major at Boston College, Ileana launched her writing profession with the net student magazine ‘The Gavel,’ where she wasn’t afraid to talk truth to power and offer a platform to contrarian voices. Later, she shared hidden stories of Bohemia in a column called “In Search of Prague,” and in her free time, she is currently developing a life-style blog that launches later this yr and builds upon her experience of custodianship through storytelling.

Ileana Lobkowicz within the Baroque Music Room on the Lobkowicz Palace.

House of Lobkowicz

At work, Ileana has made it her personal mission not only to share her family’s story, but to bring forward the narratives of her female ancestors who were quietly saving the day while letting the limelight fall on their male relatives.

Take Princess Polyxena Lobkowicz (1566-1642), a politically lively and prolific figure across Bohemia. In the course of the Defenestration of Prague — an incident which triggered the Thirty Years’ War, one in every of the bloodiest conflicts in European history that killed one-third of Europe’s population — an indignant mob of members of the Protestant estates didn’t dare cross Polyxena’s path. The princess wielded no weapon, yet her presence proved a robust force.

Or Gillian Somerville (1890-1982), the wife of Maximilian, the noble who gladly dropped his title in tandem with the birth of democracy in Bohemia. In 1939, she overheard German officers on a train to London talking concerning the upcoming invasion of Czechoslovakia. She quickly wired Max to warn him, and he managed to flee to England, leaving Czechoslovakia two days before the Nazis invaded. 

A letter from an Italian composer and violinist Francesco Geminiani addressed to Ferdinand Phillipp, sixth Prince Lobkowicz, dated 1748.

House of Lobkowicz

Finally, in a story that seems ripe for Hollywood, The Lobkowicz Collections can be home to an exchange of letters written between Princess de Lamballe — the lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette, whose sister was married to the sixth Prince Lobkowicz — her cousin Karl Emanuel Hessen Rheinfels Rotenburg, and his wife, Leopoldine Liechtenstein.

The exchange, which hasn’t been seen before, provides first–hand accounts of what it was like during Marie Antoinette’s final days during her prison stay within the Bastille, just before her beheading.

“I see my role and impact in our family’s work as being the voice through which stories — from the past, present, and future — may be shared, preserved, and celebrated. I feel it’s one of the best and only way I can honor my ancestors — and for that matter, my descendants too,” Ileana says. “We will not be stuck prior to now, but we won’t forget it either.”

To that end, she and William have launched a special series of NFTs which capitalize upon source material that wasn’t given its just due in its day.

Take “Forgotten Menuet” — an NFT of an animated piece of music composed by Anna Maria Wilhelmina Althann (1703-1754), unheard for over 250 years.

“Along with bringing to life the music itself, it also pays homage to the unrecognized ancestor, because on the time, she didn’t receive any acknowledgement for her musical talent,” Ileana tells me as we stand adjoining the glass-encased display containing Anna Maria’s handwritten lute music.

That NFT has since been placed on exhibit in a virtual museum within the metaverse.

Menuet, an early 18th-century lute tablature composed by Anna Maria Wilhelmina Althann, wife of the 4th Prince Lobkowicz, displayed on the Lobkowicz Palace.

House of Lobkowicz

“It’s crazy to consider conceptually, because it is a piece of music that hasn’t been played in 250 years, and likewise would have only been performed in very small private spaces. Now it has the flexibility to be all world wide for anyone to enjoy,” said William.

One other NFT from this series animates X-ray and infrared images so that you may see through to the invisible layers of a canvas which have been painted over. A 3rd contains a virtual rendering of the degrading sgraffito from the Sixteenth-century façade of Nelahozeves Castle.

“We must take our history with us into the long run by making it relevant today,” Ileana explains.

William Rudolf Lobkowicz and CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos within the Baroque Concert Hall of the Lobkowicz Palace featuring Seventeenth-century frescoes.

House of Lobkowicz

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