The Golden Age of the Polish Republic exhibition presents eight different exhibits illustrating different periods in Polish history through art and artifacts.
Courtesy of the National Museum in Kraków
The Golden Age of the Polish Republic exhibition presents eight different exhibits illustrating different periods in Polish history through art and artifacts
The exhibition surveys: sculpture and artisan crafts made in Poland in Medieval times; Renaissance artworks from the period of the Jagiellonian reign (1386–1572); the powerful ties between the royal powers and university circles; art and culture in the period of the Vasa Dynasty’s reign (1587-1668); 17th century funeral rites; the victory of King Jan III Sobieski (1629-1696) over the Turkish armies outside of Vienna in 1683; the Polish Republic’s rule by the Saxon House of Wettins (1697-1763); and information on King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, the great Polish patron of science, art and literature.
The first part of the exhibition presents painting, sculpture and artisan crafts made in Poland in Medieval times. The beginnings of the Polish state are illustrated, showing coins manufactured by Poland’s first rulers, among the oldest the denar of Boleslaus the Brave (967–1025). Royal and dynamically developing middle-class patronage brought about splendid works of art. Painters and sculptors worked in guilds, and their work took its place among Europe’s art. Paintings from Cracovian workshops will represent this movement at the present exhibition. The ‘Beautiful Style’ of sculpture abounded, particularly in the early 15th century. A special example of this style is the Wardrobe Madonna, which falls in line with the international Gothic movement in the arts. It presents the Mater Misericordiae covering the most important dignitaries, including a Rosicrucian Knight, over whom the Polish/Lithuanian forces waged a spectacular victory at Grunwald in 1410.
The second part of the exhibition is devoted to the art and culture of the Renaissance, and shows works from the period of the Jagiellonian reign (1386–1572). An excellent example of the Jagiellonian taste is Anna Jagiellonka’s embroidered book cover (1523–1596). The presence of this luxurious item in the Jagiellonian’s library and its ornamentation with the embroidered crest of the Polish Republic (probably made by her own hand) testifies to the Queen’s interests in the humanities and the arts, as was often the case in the Jagiellonian family. The donation of this precious item to the Greater College of the Kraków Academy reflects the powerful ties between the royal powers and university circles - this is what the third part of the exhibition is devoted to.
In the fourth part of the exhibition we have collected works devoted to art and culture in the period of the Vasa Dynasty’s reign (1587-1668), including characteristic portraits and outstanding examples of artisan crafts. The 17th century was an era of the influence of Oriental art, which was clearly marked in the crafts. At this time Sarmatian culture was being shaped in Poland. The ideology of Sarmatism developed from the late 15th century onwards. The basis of the movement was a faith in the Polish nobility’s origins in the Sarmatians, a warlike tribe that had migrated from the East in the 4th century BC. This conviction led to an Orientalisation of tastes in Poland, and the creation of local art based on models drawn from Turkey and Persia. Although Turkey stood as a constant military threat, the culture of the Orient was so attractive for Poles that reference was forever being made to it. The Armenians, who had inhabited Polish lands since the 14th century, had a large role to play in bringing the art of Persia and Turkey to Poland. They monopolised trade from the East, brought in much-sought-after wall hangings, chiefly from Persia, and introduced many Eastern aspects to the art. Finally, they initiated production of silk sashes of extraordinary artistic quality called kontusz, used by the Polish nobility in the national dress. This garment, quite distinct from those used in Western Europe, was shaped under the influence of Eastern fashion. It was made up of long robes: the trouser żupan and the delia, as well as the outer clothing used from the early 18th century onwards: the kontusz, paired with a patterned silk sash, as mentioned above. The sabre, like a knight’s sword, was an indivisible attribute of the Polish nobility.
The nobleman enjoyed full civil rights, lived on the land he owned, and considered himself heir to the tradition of the Medieval knight, the defender of the faith and the homeland - and also a descendant of the Sarmatians. He was simultaneously a fervent Catholic, and the clergy Latin was the language used by the educated part of the society. We ought to add that in the tolerant Polish Republic Sarmatian customs could also be cultivated by those of other faiths. The noblemen’s manors and palaces of the magnates were richly decked in carpets and other fixtures, among which the family portraits occupied an important place, as did the Turkish and Persian wall hangings, the silk fabrics with gold and silver thread being the most prized. The typical work of art featured the model in full, and emulated compositions known from Western painting. It significantly differed, however, in painting style, with its clear technical shortcomings and the Sarmatian aspects of reality in the composition. At the same time, Polish artists and foreign ones active in Poland made use of Western models, chiefly Italian and Dutch ones.
The centre of Dutch influence was Gdańsk, a very important trade centre from the 16th to 18th centuries, a mid-point in goods exchange, and a centre of goldsmithery in the mid 17th century. The goldsmiths’ workshops produced tableware for the wealthy and the educated, both in Gdańsk and in other parts of the country. A type of spoon with stems decorated in Polish-language phrases gained great popularity at the time.
In the 17th century solemn funeral ceremonies developed in Poland - pompa funebris - and that is what the fifth part of the exhibition is devoted to. When placed on the coffin, ornaments in the composition created a castra doloris (fortress of pain), and occasional constructions used theatrical effects. The petty nobility could not afford such pomp, and thus tried to preserve their memory through coffin images. To mark the richness and originality of these ceremonies, the present exhibition has devoted a separate section to aspects of this phenomenon.
The sixth part of the exhibition is devoted to the victory of King Jan III Sobieski (1629–1696) over the Turkish armies outside of Vienna in 1683. There was a deep conviction that the army’s defeat of the Grand Vezir Kara Mustafa, who posed a danger to Christian Europe, was only possible through the presentation of the Mother of God. This bore fruit in the great number of gifts the King donated to the Church after the triumphant return from the battle. The exhibition includes a few such gifts, including a tray given to the monastery in Jasna Góra and the ‘Polish’ wall hanging, which the King apparently donated to the Mother of God Famed for Her Mercies Church in Studzianna.
The tremendous significance of this event is shown by the porrait of the Polish King on a spurred horse in ancient scale-armour. This sort of armour, commonplace in the late 17th century, became the genuinely Sarmatian parade armour. The Viennese victory inspired dozens of medals from various European countries. The medal by Jan Höhn the Younger (ca. 1642–1693) presented here is among the artist’s several works to praise King Jan III Sobieski for his military successes. There was also a wide range of graphic print series engraved in the finest workshops to show the accomplishments of the Polish King.
The seventh part of the exhibition presents Polish art from the period of the Polish Republic’s rule by the Saxon House of Wettins (1697–1763), when a conflict was brewing between the nobility and the King. The vast wealth of the Polish magnates led to uncontrolled ambitions and power lust. This is also why some manors in no way paled before the glory of the Western European residences. The Kings tried to appease the nobility’s interests and gain the favour of the most populous portion of the society. One expression of this attitude is the exhibited portrait of King Augustus III the Saxon (1696–1763) in the Polish kontusz garb.
In the second half of the 18th century Poland found itself faced with its very sovereignty threatened by the neighbouring countries: Prussia, Russia and Austria. Among the enlightened there was a patriotic movement that aimed to strengthen the state and to introduce much-needed reforms. The confederation established at Bar in Podole (1768–1772) was an armed union of the nobility, opposing the Russian influence on the policies of the Polish Republic. The Great Sejm (1788–1792) played a role of particular importance, as this was when the (world’s second) constitution was established, on 3 May 1791, regulating the organisational structure of the state and the rights and duties of its citizens. The event is commemorated by a silver medal cast in Amsterdam by Dutch artist Johannes Georg Holtzhey (1729–1808).
The eighth part of the exhibition is devoted to King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, a great patron of science, art and literature. The royal art collections were overseen by a painter of Italian extraction, Marcello Bacciarelli (1731–1818). In 1787 the King named Zygmunt Vogel cataloguer of ancient relics. One of the foreign artists working for the King who made his mark on Polish art of the 18th century was Jan Chrystian Kamsetzer (1753–1795). Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski also tried to develop the manufacture of kontusz sashes, porcelain and glass. At the exhibition this is shown through parts of the ‘Turkish’ tea set, the most splendid of the old Polish sets. Produced in 1777 as a gift from the King for the Turkish Sultan Abdulhamid I (1773–1789), it was sent to Istanbul through Numan Bey, the Turkish ambassador to Poland.
In Warsaw the King assembled a splendid collection of objects, the pearl of which was Rembrandt’s "Girl in a Picture Frame", purchased for the collections by the King’s nephew, Prince Józef Poniatowski (1763–1813), Marshal of France. The King’s likeness was often rendered, and other valuable paintings hailing from famous Polish aristocratic families were collected in the palace, many examples of which are shown in the ninth and final part of the exhibition.
For more information, see: www.patrimonionacional.es