“Reality gives way to wonder”: new exhibition lifts the curtain on Prince Rainier’s love of the circus

From childhood to old age, the circus never failed to excite, enthral and entertain Prince Rainier III. His enduring passion for the art form is explored in a new exhibition, ‘The Prince at the Heart of the Circus’, which has now opened to the public.  

Officially opened on Wednesday 22nd November, the new exhibition takes visitors on a mesmerising journey through the history of the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo, which was created by Prince Rainier III in 1974.  

It is an exploration of how Prince Rainier breathed new life into circus arts, combining tradition with modernity, including the challenges of controversy and animal welfare.  

He was the President of the festival, but his role was not just ceremonial. Prince Rainier was intimately involved in every aspect, from scrutinising acts to ensuring the humane treatment of animals.  

“Reality gives way to wonder and the incredible,” he once said of the circus, before remarking on his determination to preserve the circus tradition. “It is not possible to let this world of dreams vanish forever.” 

Exhibition highlights 

The exhibition, which was curated by Princess Stéphanie, presents a tapestry of memories, featuring video excerpts, costumes and rare documents. As soon as visitors enter, they are instantly transported into the circus, as the space has been transformed into a circus tent.  

Visitors are invited to take a seat and watch a 15-minute video that commemorates Prince Rainier III and his involvement with the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo. Following the video, visitors can then proceed to explore the different spaces of the exhibition where Lucas Lemme’s scenography, deeply rooted in nature and light, adds an immersive dimension to the experience. 

The Terrasses de Fontvieille has been transformed into a Big Top for the exhibition. Photo by Monaco Life

Visitors can expect to tour rooms dedicated to clowns, acrobatics and the animals, as well as a trophy room displaying the Festival’s prestigious awards.  

Each space tells a story of Prince Rainier III’s commitment to the circus, emphasising his belief that “the circus is experienced with the senses and is above all a living art”. 

A legacy continued 

Today, the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo thrives, with Princess Stéphanie at the helm and she continuously seeks to maintain the spirit and quality her father envisioned.  

At a preview of the show, which is being hosted by the Terrasses de Fontvieille until late January 2024, Princess Stéphanie told of how important it was to her to create an exhibition that both encapsulated the drama and theatre of the circus and also the passion she and her father shared for spectacle.  

“I wanted to create an ambience of the circus,” she said, before expressing hope that the exhibition would lead to the establishment of a “permanent circus museum” in the Principality in the future. 

‘The Prince at the Heart of the Circus’ exhibition is running from 22nd November to 28th January 2024 at the Terrasses de Fontvieille.  

See more in our Instagram reel below…

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All photos by Monaco Life