Pan Twardowski: The First Pole On The Moon
#language & literature
default, Pan Twardowski:
The First Pole On The Moon, Sir Twardowski in a mural on a building in Toruńska Street in the city of Bydgoszcz, photo: Tytus Żmijewski/PAP, center, twardowski-mural-pap.jpg
One of Poland’s best-known legends, Pan Twardowski is a folk hero often compared to Germany’s Faust. Having signed a pact with the devil, this 16th-century Pole gained wisdom and magic powers, and went on a series of adventures. Culture.pl takes a look at the massive impact this hero has had on Polish culture, from the earliest mentions of him through different fields like literature, painting, ballet, postage stamp design and sci-fi cinema.
Dealing with magic at Twardowski’s
Pan Twardowski or ‘Sir Twardowski’ is a household name in Polish folklore. Legend has it this 16th-century nobleman, imagined typically as a true Sarmatian with a moustache, caftan and sabre by his side, made a deal with the devil: his soul in exchange for great wisdom and magical powers. The cunning Twardowski made sure a special provision was included, namely that his soul could only be collected in Rome, a place he had no intention of going to. Because of that, he could benefit from the pact without ever having to pay the price. Eventually, however, the devil grew weary of waiting and tricked Twardowski into visiting Rome, even if it was just an inn named after the Eternal City, not the Italian capital itself. Still, that was enough to finalise the contract and the forces of evil snatched the nobleman up. But, thanks to him reciting a prayer, he was dropped in transit to Hell and still remains forever stranded between the Earth and the Moon.
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Due to similarities between this tale and that of Germany’s Faust, Twardowski is often called the ‘Polish Faust.’ Apart from diabolical affiliations and scholarly inclinations, the protagonists also have another thing in common: they both had authentic, historical origins. That being said, in both cases, little is known about them for sure:
The oldest – presently available – historical source mentioning Twardowski was discovered by Bronisława Nowicka [historian – ed.] at the diocese archive in Płock. It tells of an investigation led by the aldermen of the town of Wyszogród against the head of a school who, among other things, ‘dealt with magic at Twadrowski’s in Warsaw.’
Source: Master Twardowski: History & Mystification, an 1987 article by Jacek Antoni Ojrzyński in Przegląd Historyczny
The Płock source dates back to 1495 and is said to be the one and only real piece of evidence we have linking the name ‘Twardowski’ to magic, considered a field of knowledge at the time. Although, it does quite curiously misspell the name as ‘Fwardosky’ (spelling mistakes in surnames were common during the Renaissance). This misspelling is often presented in a slightly altered version: ‘Twardowsky’.
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It’s worth remembering how little we know about the historical Twardowski since certain hypotheses about him are often presented as factual, not merely hypothetical. For example, one is that he was actually a German by the name of Lorenz Dhur who studied medicine in Wittemberg and later came to Poland where he became known as Sir Twadrowski. Although it may be an interesting version of events, as proposed by Roman Bugaj in his 1976 book Nauki Tajemne w Polsce w Dobie Odrodzenia (Arcane Knowledge in Renaissance Poland), it doesn’t withstand historical scrutiny.
Summoning & maintaining spirits
Twardowski Summoning the Spirit of Barbara Radziwiłłówna before Zygmunt August by Jan Matejko, 1884, photo: Krzysztof Wilczyński/National Museum in Warsaw
Despite his historical obscurity, or maybe because of it (lack of information often prompts speculation), Twardowski the magus became one of the most recognisable heroes among Polish legends and culture. The number of works he’s inspired in a whole range of art fields would be enough to fill a book, let alone an article. So here we’ll have to settle for a selection, but one picked very carefully.
First off, there’s the 1566 book Dworzanin Polski (A Polish Courtier) by royal librarian and writer Łukasz Górnicki. In this work, which has been described as reflecting ‘the poetics of a literary symposium’, the characters exchange anecdotes, one of which is about a Kraków teacher by the name of Twardowski. A student of his, allegedly using sorcery, makes a woman selling pots from a stall break her merchandise into pieces. Twardowski believes this to be the result of magic and is rather perplexed when the king – the teacher is among the ruler’s courtiers – debunks the whole thing as nothing more than a set up by the student and saleswoman.
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This very first literary treatment of Twardowski’s tale includes certain classic elements that are present in later iterations: magic (of course) and the characters of the king and the pot vendor. The following century saw the royal physician Joachim Possel add another firm element to Twardowski’s written tradition. In his 1624 chronicle Historia Poloniae, he suggests that, around 1550, Twardowski was asked by King Zygmunt August to summon the spirit of his beloved late wife Barbara Radziwiłłówna at Kraków’s royal Wawel Castle. Although it’s uncertain whether such a séance actually took place, the motif of Twardowski summoning the spirit of the queen upon request of the king became a classic one.
In the 18th century, the legend of Twardowski became a widespread folk tale in the spoken tradition. And in the 19th century, the folk hero of Twardowski became hugely influential to Romantic writers:
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The real revival of this truly Renaissance legend (..) occurred in the 19th century. Whereas in the Renaissance we can clearly see it crystalize, in the Romantic era - when Poland’s name was nowhere to be found on Europe’s political map, and the ‘familiar’ Polish character of the fairy tale helped maintain the nation’s spirit – it flourished and gained its present shape.
Source: Sztukmistrz Twardowski (Master Twardowski) by Marek Zdrojewski, the quarterly Akcent, 1983
Travelling on a rooster
A postcard with an illustration by Konstanty Górski to Adam Mickiewicz’s Pani Twardowska, 1914, photo: Museum of Literature/East News
The Romantic ballad Pani Twardowska (Lady Twardowska) published in 1822 by the eminent poet Adam Mickiewicz is possibly the most famous literary work inspired by the legend. It concentrates entirely on the final scene of the story, the magus’ visit at the Rome inn, and has a rather unusual ending. The nobleman finds a paragraph according to which the hellish being would have to spend a full year with his wife before the deal’s finalisation. As a result, fearful of Lady Twardowska, the devil lets Twardowski off the contract. Here’s the highly popular opening verse:
Sitting, drinking and smoking
Dance, frolics and revelry
The inn is almost crumbling
Hey, hoo, ha ha, hee hee!
Translated by the editor
An animated film based on the ballad, titled simply Pani Twardowska and directed by Lechosław Majewski, appeared in 1955. The valued Witold Giersz became head animator of the picture, an appealing artwork, even if a bit old-school from today’s perspective. In the beginning of the film, you can hear a sort of daemonic variation on St Mary’s Trumpet Call, a highly traditional tune closely associated with Kraków. This part of the soundtrack echoes the fictitious Twardowski’s ties to the city.
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Witold Giersz - Image Gallery
Another important literary work about Twardowski is Mistrz Twardowski (Master Twardowski) by the noted writer Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. Published in 1840 and based on folklore, it includes, as the author puts it in the prologue, ‘all remnants of the Twardowski legends’. Indeed, it’s hard to find a classic Twardowski trope that doesn’t appear in the novel’s pages.
In Kraszewski’s story, it is the magus’ father who (unknowingly) sells his son’s soul to the devil, after the latter rescues the former from highwaymen and accidentally tricks him into signing a deal. Twardowski junior later visits hell and – having a pure soul – manages to get the contract annulled. But after he becomes a scholar in Kraków he… signs yet another contract: his soul in exchange for wisdom and magical powers. In the tale he also, among other things, summons the queen’s spirit before the king, witnesses a witches’ sabbath on mount Łysa Góra , and travels to the town of Bydgoszcz on a rooster together with his assistant Maciek, where he rejuvenates the mayor.
The year 1996 saw the creation of a film based on the novel, titled Dzieje Mistrza Twardowskiego (The Tale of Master Twardowski). Directed by the acclaimed Krzysztof Gradowski, it has a star-studded cast including Rafał Królikowski as the devil, the famous singer Maryla Rodowicz as Twardowski’s wife, and – curiously – the celebrated Daniel Olbrychski and his son Rafał Olbrychski as the father and son Twardowski. Even if the picture, criticised for its naïve special effects, isn’t among the director’s best works, it nevertheless may be of interest as a 1990s family fairy-tale curiosity.
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Ending up on the Moon
Still from the 1936 film Pan Twardowski by Henryk Szaro, showing Stefan Jaracz in the left and Kazimierz Junosza-Stępowski, photo: Leonard Zajączkowski/National Film Archive/www.fototeka.fn.org.pl
The earliest feature film about Twardowski was made in the Interwar period. Sadly, this 1921 movie by Wiktor Biegański has been lost and close to nothing is known about it. Henryk Szaro directed another version of the story in 1936, Pan Twardowski, which is available. Like the aforementioned animated film from the 1950s, it also begins with St Mary’s Trumpet Call, and among the cast you may find Franciszek Brodniewicz in the lead role and the noted actor and director Stefan Jaracz as the alchemist Marcin. As to the special effects in this film, these are so outdated they’re heartwarming, especially in the scene when the magus flies on a rooter above a crowd of people. Interestingly, during the summoning of the queen’s spirit, the look of the king seems to be closely modelled on the way the monarch was shown in the classic 1860 historical painting The Death of Barbara Radziwiłł by Józef Simmler.
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The Interwar period also saw the appearance of Baśń o Panu Twardowskim (A Fairy Tale About Sir Twardowski) by writer Artur Oppman. Published in 1926, this literary treatment ends with Twardowski being stranded on the Moon rather than in the space between it and the Earth. Such a finale is among the legend’s classic tropes and is additionally why some dub Twardowski the first Pole to visit the lunar globe. The early 20th century is also when the eminent poet Leopold Staff published his poem Mistrz Twardowski (Master Twardowski). According to Staff’s Polish bio on Culture.pl, this 1902 work is among those writings of his that praise ‘strength, activity, willpower and the will to live’ and exhibit a ‘fascination with Nietzsche’s philosophy’.
Among the post-war renditions of Twardowski’s legend, one can find an interesting example published in Germany. The historical novel Pan Twardowski oder Die merkwürdige Begegnung mit dem Doppelganger wahrend des Jahrmarkts zu Steenbrügge (Sir Twardowski Or A Peculiar Meeting With A Doppelganger At The Annual Fair In Steenbrügge) written by Matthias Werner Kruse first appeared in East Germany in 1981 and soon after in West Germany too, gaining popularity in both countries.
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The plot is set in Kraków. The great magus Jan Henryk Twardowski is the hero of the book’s second part (…). In the first part, however, the protagonist is a contemporary professor by the name of Henri Bresa, his assistant is Irena Twardowska, a descendant in a rather lengthy but direct line from Jan Henryk.
Source: the article Master Twardowski by Marek Zdrojewski
Pulsating with life & temperament
Matthias Kruse’s novel wasn’t the first instance of Twardowski’s legend appearing in a German-language version. In 1835, Adam Mickiewicz’s aforementioned ballad Pani Twardowska was turned into a song under the title Frau Twardowska by composer Carl Loewe whose works were once popular enough to earn him the nickname ‘Schubert of North Germany’. The words for Frau Twardowska were translated into German by Carl von Blankensee. By the way, in 1869 the acclaimed Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko also illustrated the ballad with music (for solo singers, choir and orchestra), creating what is one of his most famous works.
Another international treatment of Poland’s celebrated folk tale comes from the Russian composer Aleksy Nikołajewicz Wierstowski, author of the 1820 opera Pan Twardowski which includes motifs inspired by the Polish musical genres the polonaise and mazurka. One of Poland’s best-known adaptations of Twardowski’s tale for the stage, the ballet Pan Twardowski by the valued Ludomir Różycki, premiered 101 years later at the Polish National Opera in Warsaw. It’s libretto based on Kraszewski’s novel was written by the composer’s wife, Stefania.
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Due to its richness and colourful orchestration, the music for Pan Twardowski is impressive, it’s amazingly diverse, by which it creates great possibilities for the imagination of the scenographer and director, but above all – it pulsates with life and fiery, Polish temperament.
Source: Pan Twardowski, a 1965 publication by the Polish National Opera devoted to Różycki’s ballet
The ballet Pan Twardowski is still staged every so often – one notable recent version was directed by Violetta Suska at the Muscial Theatre in Lublin, premiering in 2011. A musically more modern take on the folk tale was put on in 1990 at the Scena STU Theatre in Kraków. The musical Pan Twardowski by Janusz Grzywacz and Włodzimierz Jasiński featured the talented pop singer Andrzej Zaucha in the lead role and a pop-flavoured score.
Piloting a space craft
Among the most modern and also most recent renditions of the legend of Twardowski are the two short films by Oscar-nominated director Tomasz Bagiński. His 2015 TWARDOWSKY and 2016 TWARDOWSKY 2.0. can be watched on Youtube and retell the traditional story in a comic-book, pop-cultural fashion (curiously, their titles call on the most ancient spelling of the magus’ surname). The latter features the protagonist piloting a Star Wars type of space craft over the rings of Saturn, to the accompaniment of a cover version of the Polish rock hit Jezu Jak Się Cieszę (Jesus, I’m So Happy) by the band Klaus Mittfoch. Speaking of comic books, Mickiewicz’s ballad Pani Twardowska has been adapted into such a form on two occasions: in 2016 by Mariusz Moroz, and in 1987 by the Śląsk publication house (this version’s authorship is hard to determine).
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Of course, the folk tale has also found its reflection in numerous still images outside of comic books. Twardowski was, for example, portrayed by the noted historical painter Jan Matejko in his 1884 painting Twardowski Wywołujący Ducha Barbary przed Zygmuntem Augustem (Twardowski Summoning the Spirit of Barbara Radziwiłłówna before Zygmunt August). Looking at the image, you’ll notice on the right the famous mirror which the magus allegedly used to carry out the séance. This intriguing object is said to have survived until today – Twardowski’s mirror can be found at the parish church in Węgrów, a town in Eastern Poland. The exhibit has a frame with an ornate inscription in Latin, which must’ve been crafted after the mirror supposedly left the possession of its original owner:
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Twardowski played with this mirror, practicing arcane arts, now it serves God.
The ghost-summoning episode of the story was also shown in 1886 by the renowned academic and realist painter Wojciech Gerson in a canvas titled Zjawa Barbary Radziwiłłówny (The Apparition Of Barbara Radziwiłłówna).
Waving the infamous contract
A folksy representation of Twardowski was created by the well-known painter and graphic artist Witold Chomicz, who often sought inspiration in folk art and folklore. In 1959, he created a stylised postage stamp design showing the magus on a rooster against the background of a starlit sky. Today the woodcut is an auctioned artwork. Chomicz also made other representations of the magus, ones that were actually used as stamps.
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Of course, discussing Twardowski’s impact on culture one cannot omit the folk hero’s presence in folk art per se. From the many folk artists that based their works on the legend, one could single out the award-winning creator Jadwiga Kosiarska who forged ceramic figurines showing the magus sitting on a rooster or on a crescent-shaped Moon. Many of Kosiarska’s works are on display in museums throughout the country.
Another figure of Twardowski, but a bigger one, was created in 2006 by the noted sculptor Jerzy Kędziora whose ‘balancing sculptures’ or representations of people that seem to balance on lines hung in mid-air gave him international recognition. In this case, however, the figure is not a balancing one. Instead, Kędziora’s Twardowski appears twice a day in the window of one of the historical buildings in the Old Market Square in Bydgoszcz. The sculpture (presenting Twardowski in a classic manner, as a Sarmatian nobleman) is set in motion by a special apparatus, thanks to which the magus greets those that gaze upon him by waving his infamous contract.
józef ignacy kraszewski
Aleksy Nikołajewicz Wierstowski
The nifty figure has been called ‘one of the most interesting attractions in Bydgoszcz’, a fair way to describe a hero who’s one of the biggest names in Polish folklore.
Author: Marek Kępa, Dec 2018