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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 in the Family Chapel of the Lobkowicz Palace depicting an early 18th-century altarpiece portray of St. Wenceslas, patron saint of the Czech nation.

House of Lobkowicz

PRAGUE — It is previous midnight on a Friday on the Lobkowicz Palace in the Prague Castle advanced. A 27-year-old Czech prince, William Rudolf Lobkowicz, is crawling on the laborious stone flooring, taking care not to set off the alarms behind the guardrails that partition the fort’s daytime guests from the Sixteenth-century portraits hanging on the stone partitions.

He’s attempting to discover an outlet so he can plug a 30-foot extension wire into the wall. The wire powers digicam tools to be used in a dwell broadcast taking place round 1 a.m. which can function the story of his household on a CNBC primetime present in New York. Lobkowicz shall be behind the digicam for the shot, however that does not matter to him. He merely needs to share one of many world’s biggest personal collections of masterworks with the general public.

A younger prince in an ancient fort stashed with priceless artwork appears like the start of a fairytale, however his life is much from a Disney adaptation.

The palace feels extra like a crypt. At the peak of Bohemian summer season, the humidity clings to our pores and skin, and it’s pitch black past the glow of the stark fluorescent lighting that runs alongside the excessive stone ceilings. Each time Lobkowicz comes to a door, he reaches down to a cumbersome keyring that appears prefer it belongs to a monk in a monastery and fumbles for the precise key to let him by means of — and there are dozens of doorways on every flooring. Each door leads us deeper into the darkish stone labyrinth, deeper into the previous.

William Rudolf Lobkowicz strolling by means of the Prague Castle advanced.

House of Lobkowicz

He and his household don’t dwell in this or any of their different ancestral castles or palaces. Instead, they dwell in private residences a ten-minute drive away. To keep previous 10 P.M. on a Friday night time, Lobkowicz has to get particular permission from the navy guards who patrol the grounds.

William, his two sisters, and dad and mom have devoted their life’s work to sustaining what’s left of their ancestral heritage: Three castles, one palace, 20,000 moveable artifacts, a library of roughly 65,000 uncommon books, 5,000 musical artifacts and compositions — together with an early copy of Beethoven’s fifth symphony — and 30,000 bins and folios, a few of which have by no means been opened. All of it was stolen, twice. First by the Nazis, then by the Communists.

“You know, most people see the beautiful artworks and castles and think that this all comes incredibly easy,” Lobkowicz says from the Habsburg Room, a portrait gallery on the second flooring of the palace. “But in reality, behind the scenes, we’re working tirelessly day and night to preserve and protect these things. Nobody’s going to care about these things as much as we do.”

William Rudolf Lobkowicz inspecting previous household images in the Lobkowicz Archives.

House of Lobkowicz

His voice is drained at this late hour, however his youthful enthusiasm nonetheless shines by means of.

To defend his household’s previous, Lobcowicz has embraced the long run. The world of cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens is intangible and summary, a set of mathematical formulation operating on computer systems unfold all around the world. The younger prince has turned to these digital instruments to safeguard and restore the artifacts that maintain a lot nostalgic worth for the household — and, he hopes, for a number of the remainder of the world, as nicely.

It’s not just about selling NFTs to support cultural monuments, but it’s also looking at how do we preserve a record of our history?” explains William. “Blockchain technology provides an immutable record of our cultural heritage, which you can preserve on chain, and that’s something that’s never been done before.”

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

House of Lobkowicz

An immutable report

The palace is housed throughout the Hrad, the title given by locals to Prague Castle, which looms over town. The sprawling advanced was as soon as the seat of Bohemian kings. Now, it is residence to Czech presidents — and The Lobkowicz Collections, a physique of labor courting again greater than 2,000 years.

The collections, which had been painstakingly re-assembled over 25 years by means of a course of often called restitution, function world-famous work by Bellotto, Bruegel, Canaletto, Cranach, Rubens, and Veronese, in addition to ceramics spanning 5 centuries, 1,200 items of arms and armor, and string and wind devices, together with trumpets gilded in gold and adorned with rubies. The assortment additionally contains early manuscripts and scores, together with a number of Beethoven symphonies and his Opus 18 String Quartets, some marked with the composer’s authentic corrections.

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

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

House of Lobkowicz

In CNBC’s first dialog with William — a virtually two-hour Zoom name from New York to Prague — he shared a translated quote from Jan Viktor Mládek, a member of Czechoslovakia’s post-communist authorities 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 fairly a couple of occasions in the final couple years since making this mission his life’s work. To him, the energy of a rustic rests on preserving the cultural roots which outline it.

After the autumn of the Soviet Union in 1991, the democratically elected president of the newly shaped Czechoslovakia handed restitution legal guidelines enabling Czechs to declare again property stolen beneath Communist rule. William Sr., then 29 years previous, heeded the decision and uprooted his life as an actual property dealer in Boston to return to Prague.

William Lobkowicz Sr. inspecting harm to the inside courtyard façade of Nelahozeves Castle.

House of Lobkowicz

There’s no definitive “how to” guide on restoring stolen gadgets to their rightful proprietor. It’s a convoluted train that includes submitting hundreds of separate claims and can take many years. Some of the claims fail, or are by no means resolved.

“When we first came back to the Czech Republic and restitution began, it was the Wild West, and you really didn’t have any business plan whatsoever,” explains the youthful William of his father’s quest.

William Sr. traversed the nation in a small Škoda Favorit, carrying with him the meticulous lists stored by the Communists after they confiscated the household’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 recover tens of thousands of movable objects,” he mentioned. “We probably covered hundreds of thousands of miles.”

Once the property was reclaimed, the household had to determine how to pay to restore it. William’s grandfather, Martin, cashed in his pension and gave it to William Sr., telling him to “try not to lose it all” — and that was it in phrases of upfront capital commitments.

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

But retaining the enterprise afloat has been a hustle, requiring more and more artistic monetary acrobatics.

The Lobkowicz household, 2019.

House of Lobkowicz

Collections belonging to the Lobkowiczes have been declared Czech cultural monuments, to allow them to’t promote any items to assist pay to restore the remainder. Meanwhile, conventional philanthropy channels are operating dry as museum patronage continues to fall.

To make a foul state of affairs worse, the state has strict guidelines governing restoration protocols which might sluggish the renovation course of and make it costlier. There can also be fierce competitors for a restricted variety of grants earmarked to fund cultural heritage initiatives. Castle possession is not a lot of a novelty in Europe, and particularly not in the Czech Republic, which ranks amongst one of many continent’s prime locations for probably the most castles per sq. mile. In truth, some state governments and cities are auctioning off castles beneath their custodianship, as a result of they do not have the money to keep them.

To maintain all the things afloat, the Lobcowiczes have generated revenue from issues like fort excursions, the reward store, and internet hosting occasions resembling weddings and company retreats. It additionally means interesting to donors, making use of for grants from the federal government, and securing loans — typically at sky-high rates of interest.

“My father had to take out loans with 20% revolving interest, consistently asking the banks for extensions,” the youthful William mentioned of the early days, when his father first started restoring the household’s castles and artifacts.

Alexandra Lobkowicz organizing c. Seventeenth-century looking rifles from the Lobkowicz Collections onto new shelving in the Lobkowicz depository.

House of Lobkowicz

Fortunately, William Sr. had a devoted companion in the search.

A yr into his new life in Prague, the elder William’s girlfriend (now spouse of 30 years), Sandra Florescu, flew over to assist him. Coming to Prague meant leaving her function as a sixth grade trainer in Boston’s Back Bay, however she by no means stopped being an educator.

She has launched and run a number of academic applications in reference to the collections, together with the junior curator program, which is now being modeled by faculties world wide.

It helps that she frolicked on the Sorbonne in Paris, learning superb arts.

The couple appeared destined for one another, with intertwining household histories that return centuries.

In the early 1600s, their ancestors, who had been diplomats and advisors to their respective kings in Bohemia and Romania, met in Prague to strategize about how to defeat the Turks who had been threatening the Habsburg Empire. Fast ahead to the early Nineteen Twenties, when Sandra’s grandfather, Radu Florescu — who had two diplomatic postings in Prague — probably crossed paths with the elder William’s grandfather, Max, additionally a diplomat. They had been reunited in London throughout World War II, each serving their respective nations’ struggle towards the Nazis.

Sandra and William, too, had been serendipitously linked as refugees and younger adults residing in Beacon Hill in Boston.

Sandra first noticed her now husband from the window of her condo, years earlier than they really met in particular person. William Sr. was booming out the lyrics to “Chanson d’Amour” that was taking part in on his Walkman, getting ready for live shows he carried out in the world with the hopes of changing into knowledgeable opera singer sooner or later.

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

House of Lobkowicz

Safeguarding these recollections and these of their ancestors — in addition to the cultural legacy they collectively fought to restore — is the place their son’s blockchain ambitions become visible.

“We’ve dealt with losing our collections twice and regaining them twice as a result of authoritarian regimes, but the way we got them back was actually through the receipts they kept,” defined the youthful William.

Both regimes tracked the method and the provenance historical past of those items, so William Sr. was in a position to hint possession and determine the place that they had been over time. Cryptocurrency blockchains — an immutable ledger tracing the provenance of digital artifacts — are an up to date model of these meticulous lists stored by authoritarian regimes.

Only this time, the ability to observe these artifacts is in the arms of the rightful homeowners.

Nazi officers observing plans throughout their occupation of Roudnice Castle in 1939. The fort was become an SS coaching camp.

House of Lobkowicz

The insurgent princes

“What I’m doing right now, I don’t think is any different from any of my predecessors. Each prince did something completely different based upon the times they lived in,” William mentioned.

The Lobkowicz princes have a historical past of being rebels, every breaking custom in their very own approach.

Take the seventh prince, Franz Joseph Maximilian (1772-1816), who made an enormous guess on Ludwig van Beethoven again when the composer was nonetheless a relative unknown. Beethoven famously integrated an extra French horn into his orchestra for the Eroica symphony at a time when individuals thought that form of sound was blasphemous.

Joseph gave the renegade composer an annual stipend, in addition to musicians and live performance areas, practically 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 biggest works to the Prince, together with his third (Eroica), fifth, and sixth (Pastoral) Symphonies.

Renovated Beethoven Room on the Lobkowicz Palace.

House of Lobkowicz

Then there was William’s nice grandfather, Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888-1967), who realized that the world of his princely predecessors was changing into out of date. The finish of World War I introduced the autumn of the Austo-Hungarian Empire and the rise of impartial nation states, together with a democratic Republic of Czechoslovakia.  

Max, then a younger lawyer and Czech patriot, embraced and supported the democratic beliefs of this new republic. When hereditary titles had been abolished with the formation of the brand new state, he gladly forfeited his aristocratic label. It was a break from custom so profound that his personal father, Ferdinand Zdenko (1858-1938), refused to communicate to Max for a decade.

In addition to his Bohemian princely pedigree on his father’s facet, William’s maternal line traces again to a chief minister in Bucharest and an ancient and noble Romanian boyar household. He additionally has blood ties to the real-world noble upon whom Bram Stoker primarily based his legendary Count Dracula — the world’s most well-known fictional vampire.

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

House of Lobkowicz

Despite lineage linking him to noble households throughout Europe, Lobkowicz can also be very American. His paternal grandfather started his profession as a door-to-door salesman promoting 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 school.

Even although he made the Forbes “30 under 30” listing final yr, the prince does not personal a automobile and takes a tram to work.

He offers fort excursions in free pockets of time in the course of the day to financial institution money for the restoration fund, whereas concurrently operating the digital innovation initiatives for House of Lobkowicz.

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

House of Lobkowicz

Now he is making use of that humble renegade spirit to study all the things he can concerning the expertise he believes might help preserve the household legacy.

Every summer season, the world’s prime blockchain builders and cryptographers descend on Paris to hack, code, and speak store. The flagship occasion is a convention referred to as EthCC (brief for Ethereum Community Conference), however the principle attraction has given rise to dozens of ancillary gatherings specializing in subjects operating the gamut from web3 and ethereum’s rival blockchains — to the metaverse.

The range of programming and individuals is why Lobkowicz headed to Paris once more this yr. He does not go to communicate on panels or attend blowout events at venues like the long-lasting Moulin Rouge. Instead, he prefers to fly beneath the radar, sitting on the periphery of an viewers however all the time listening intently.

For him, unlocking the potential of blockchain expertise comes down to talking with builders on the bottom to create technical options to the very real-world issues he faces each day.

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

NFT Gut Shot on show (subsequent to the unique portray) on the Lobkowicz Palace, the sale of which financed the restoration of a number of portraits of officers in the Lobkowicz Collections.

House of Lobkowicz

So far, the prince has tried out a pair alternative ways to incorporate blockchain expertise into his work with The Lobkowicz Collections. Most profitable to date has been promoting NFTs to assist particular conservation wants.

The household takes a portray that wants restoration and mints a picture of the portray as an NFT. The provenance of the donation and donor can also be included on chain. From there, they set the worth of the NFT at the price of the restoration of the bodily work tied to the token. The one who buys the NFT then receives a second NFT on the finish of the restoration course of as a token of their patronage.

“We are trying to bring people on the journey of philanthropy and be completely transparent with them about where their money is going,” defined William.

Thus far, the House of Lobkowicz has efficiently financed greater than 50 artwork restoration initiatives by means of this proof-of-patronage philanthropic mannequin — together with a Seventeenth century portray, “A Wild Boar in a Landscape,” which was featured in Wes Anderson’s movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

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

House of Lobkowicz

Collectively, the household has raised $300,000 by means of the sale of NFTs.

When requested whether or not he was fearful about the truth that the worth of NFTs has fallen off a cliff in the previous few months, Lobkowicz mentioned that the growth and bust cycle of the market does not actually have an effect on their enterprise mannequin. If a restoration prices $4,000, that’s precisely what they cost for the piece — and it both sells or it does not.

He additionally sees NFTs as a approach to unlock new methods of reaching a extra various viewers and making a neighborhood of patrons and supporters who’re in interacting with their collections in a extra progressive approach.

“It’s important for people to understand that this isn’t about just JPEGs attached to a digital receipt — we’re talking about different applications that can change the way we build communities of people who care about culture and see the potential of using web3 technology to preserve it,” defined 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 form of attendance sheet for occasions, or particular experiences. The prince plans to take a look at out POAPs in the course of the subsequent installment of Non–Fungible Castle, an annual exhibition and convention (operating Nov. 4–5 in Prague) that bridges the largest names in conventional artwork to the world of web3 and crypto.

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

POAPs might additionally in the end be used to improve ticketing and membership applications for museums.

Also on Lobkowicz’s to-do listing for the following few months? Getting into quadratic funding, which is a approach to crowd-raise a central crypto treasury that’s then used to fund public items initiatives in the ethereum ecosystem — all with the assistance of an algorithm designed to optimize spending selections.

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

House of Lobkowicz

Most lately, he is been testing out purposes in the metaverse.

Lobkowicz labored with Somnium — a digital actuality world constructed on the ethereum blockchain — to put one of many rooms in the palace in Prague into the metaverse.

The household bought an NFT corresponding to the three-month restoration of this room, often called the Chinese Belvedere, for $79,000 to Oxb1, a well-known crypto influencer.

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

House of Lobkowicz

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

House of Lobkowicz

It’s a take a look at case that might show helpful because the household strikes to restore different properties in pressing want of restore.

Take Roudnice Castle, a 40 minute drive north of Prague. To restore the 200-room palace to its former grandeur would at the moment require tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars}.

It already prices a small fortune to warmth the fort in the winter simply sufficient to maintain the pipes from freezing and bursting open. In the summer season, leaks are commonplace, just like the one which cropped up on a Saturday morning throughout my keep in Prague. That can translate into main harm, mildew, and even collapsing ceilings.

The ongoing upkeep and renovations have additionally been difficult by adjustments made in the course of the 41-year Soviet occupation, together with retrofitting a live performance corridor with a basketball courtroom.

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

House of Lobkowicz

Another execution, although nonetheless in its infancy, is popping Renaissance portraits of robes worn by women of the courtroom into gaming skins – a market price $40 billion globally.

William can also be desirous about digitizing the household’s stockpile of historic weapons to promote as NFTs (full with the story of their provenance) to be used in a gaming setting.

That would additionally assist with the $400,000 price ticket to restore and catalogue their stock – which is without doubt one of the most essential personal arms collections in Europe.

CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos and Ileana Lobkowicz leaving the Arms Room of the Lobkowicz Palace, that includes Seventeenth–18th century navy and looking rifles and a three-quarter swimsuit of armor.

House of Lobkowicz

A princess saving historical past by means of tales

It is per week later, on one other Friday night at nearly midnight in Prague, besides this time, I’m on the alternative facet of the Atlantic Ocean, and I’m talking with a distinct Lobkowicz — William’s youthful sister, Ileana. (Their youngest sister, Sophia, is a rising junior at Trinity College in Connecticut, however stays carefully linked to her household’s work.)

The 25-year-old princess embraces the entire ethereal qualities one may affiliate with aristocracy, effortlessly moving into her birthright and assuming the old-world tasks which accompany it.

Ileana and her mom, Sandra, giving a historic tour of the Lobkowicz Collections, highlighting the heroine tales that formed its historical past.

House of Lobkowicz

“These titles are not something we use or introduce ourselves with to others in our day to day lives. It’s part of our history, but it doesn’t change the work we’re trying to do or the values we have,” she says.

The title that Ileana does embrace is Writer and Storyteller for House of Lobkowicz — a corporation which encompasses the non-profit initiatives of The Lobkowicz Collections, in addition to the occasions administration firm, vineyard, amongst different companies falling beneath the Lobkowicz umbrella.

The function fits her nicely. While a philosophy main at Boston College, Ileana launched her writing profession with the net pupil journal ‘The Gavel,’ the place she wasn’t afraid to communicate fact to energy and provide a platform to contrarian voices. Later, she shared hidden tales of Bohemia in a column referred to as “In Search of Prague,” and in her free time, she is presently creating a way of life weblog that launches later this yr and builds upon her expertise of custodianship by means of storytelling.

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

House of Lobkowicz

At work, Ileana has made it her private mission not solely to share her household’s story, however to deliver ahead the narratives of her feminine ancestors who had been quietly saving the day whereas letting the limelight fall on their male kin.

Take Princess Polyxena Lobkowicz (1566-1642), a politically lively and prolific determine throughout Bohemia. During the Defenestration of Prague — an incident which triggered the Thirty Years’ War, one of many bloodiest conflicts in European historical past that killed one-third of Europe’s inhabitants — an indignant mob of members of the Protestant estates didn’t dare cross Polyxena’s path. The princess wielded no weapon, but her presence proved a robust power.

Or Gillian Somerville (1890-1982), the spouse of Maximilian, the noble who gladly dropped his title in tandem with the start of democracy in Bohemia. In 1939, she overheard German officers on a prepare to London speaking concerning the upcoming invasion of Czechoslovakia. She rapidly wired Max to warn him, and he managed to escape to England, leaving Czechoslovakia two days earlier than 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 narrative that appears ripe for Hollywood, The Lobkowicz Collections can also be residence to an alternate 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 spouse, Leopoldine Liechtenstein.

The alternate, which hasn’t been seen earlier than, gives first–hand accounts of what it was like throughout Marie Antoinette’s ultimate days throughout her jail keep in the Bastille, simply earlier than 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 — can be shared, preserved, and celebrated. I feel it is the best and only way I can honor my ancestors — and for that matter, my descendants too,” Ileana says. “We can’t be stuck in the past, but we can’t forget it either.”

To that finish, she and William have launched a particular sequence of NFTs which capitalize upon supply materials that wasn’t given its simply 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.

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

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

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

House of Lobkowicz

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

Another NFT from this sequence animates X-ray and infrared pictures so to see by means of to the invisible layers of a canvas which have been painted over. A 3rd contains a digital rendering of the degrading sgraffito from the Sixteenth-century façade of Nelahozeves Castle.

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

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

House of Lobkowicz