What could Adam Mickiewicz’s monument have looked like? Behind the scenes of the competition
Although Kraków does not appear on the map of the cities where Adam Mickiewicz stayed, it is precisely here, at the most central point, that the poet’s monument was erected. Today, its presence seems obvious, but its creation was accompanied by heated discussions and disputes. The idea itself was born 14 years after the poet’s death − in 1869 when, thanks to the President of Kraków Józef Dietl, the collection of donations began.
In 1881, a preparatory competition was announced, and in 1882, 26 competition sketches were publicly presented in the Sukiennice. Interestingly, their creators paid more attention to the allegorical figures accompanying Mickiewicz than to the image of the poet himself.
The jury, which consisted, among others, of Jan Matejko, Wojciech Gerson, Marian Sokołowski, Władysław Łuszczkiewicz and Jan Zacharyasiewicz, awarded the first prize to Tomasz Dykas for the design Spłoszona kraska [The Startled European Roller], which presented the poet in the company of four allegorical figures: Polish Nationality, Genius, History and Poetry.
The verdict of the competition commission caused a wave of criticism. Henryk Struve wrote in Kłosy [The Ears] in 1882:
“The awarded design is strikingly trivial. We will not encounter in it any features that characterize the poet and his national significance. This is an academically designed object, [using] trite proportions.”
In the face of such doubts, a new competition was announced in 1884, in which the qualifying conditions for the designs were clarified − a monument presenting the poet as the dominant figure was to stand on the Main Square and, as such, fit into the architecture of the place.
This time, 31 offers were received – these were not just sketches, but plaster models. There was also an exception, after closing the competition, a sketch by Jan Matejko was received. The jury’s verdict was once again surprising. By the commission’s votes... Tomasz Dykas – the winner of the previous competition, won again. Mean people speculated that this was because the jury included, among others, the sculptor’s teacher, Klemens Carl Zumbusch. Another argument was also raised: perhaps it was not so much the simplicity and perfection of execution that was the decisive factor, but rather the relatively low costs of implementing the design (which is always important in Krakow).
Children drinking from the wellspring of poetry
What did the new Mickiewicz, who was supposed to fit into the Kraków landscape, look like?
At the foot of the poet, on the pedestal, the artist placed some children above a shell, from which water flowed (this was supposed to be an allegorical representation of a wellspring of poetry). The shell, however, did not evoke a favourable reaction − according to the commission, a more appropriate choice would have been a crater or... a gilded urn.
The awarded artist could not enjoy his success for long, however, as in April 1885, it was unexpectedly announced that the awarded design would not be implemented and the issue of the monument would be taken over by Jan Matejko. This time, Mickiewicz was to sit on a chair; at his feet there would be a personification of Genius busy severing the bonds that held down an eagle. In addition, the allegories of the Vistula and the Neman were to appear on the plinth.
A year after the decision to abandon the implementation of Dykas’ concept, an exhibition of models by Teodor Rygier and Walery Gadomski based on Matejko’s sketches was opened (in the press there once more appeared unfavourable opinions, allegations regarding their excessive theatricality and mixing of romantic eccentricities). There was also a moral factor – the naked figure of Mickiewicz caused protests. Even the poet’s daughter contributed to the discussion, referring the poet’s resentment towards naked figures, especially crowned with a laurel wreath.
In the face of another wave of the protests and unfavourable voices in 1886, a new open competition was announced, whose conclusion took two years. This time, Cyprian Godebski’s design was distinguished, alongside the works of Teodor Rygier and Walery Gadomski (second and third prize). This time, there was no shortage of surprises as well. Economic factors stood in the way. The implementation of the winning design turned out to be impossible. Thanks to Jan Matejko, Rygier’s design was chosen – however, it was not the distinguished one, but another one, to which the commission hadn’t paid much attention before.
In the end, Rygier modified the original idea over the course of his work.
The procedure of choosing a location deserves attention as well. The commission ordered the creation of a plaster model, which was to be driven around the squares of Kraków until it harmonized perfectly with the architecture of the surroundings.
Mickiewicz... as an Indian chieftain
The monument, erected in 1894, somewhat traditionally, received a wave of critical and satirical comments, which, because of the laurel wreath on the poet’s head, compared the sculpture of the bard to... an Indian chieftain (Rygier was not deterred from including this decoration by the poet’s resentment towards the laurel expressed earlier by his daughter).
To satisfy his opponents, the sculptor had to remake the figures of Mickiewicz and the personifications of Science and Patriotism.
The monument in its present shape was unveiled in 1898 (on the 100th anniversary of the poet’s birth). 29 years have passed from the inception of the idea to its implementation, these were the years of successive competitions, discussions and disputes, as well as unexpected extra-statutory twists of action that could serve as the basis of a film or a popular novel.
The awareness that the monument should be as great as the poetry, which has grown to the rank of a national myth, the effort to reflect the matter (in this case – words) properly, overwhelmed both the organizers, as well as those who were to bring this undertaking into effect. Today, when standing in front of the monument of Mickiewicz, it is difficult to recreate the heat of past disputes – that which used to be controversial has, over time, become obvious.
Fragments of the monument of Adam Mickiewicz destroyed by the Germans
The photograph “Main Market Square, ceremony on the occasion of re-erecting the Adam Mickiewicz monument” by Edward Węglowski
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.
Waldemar Okoń, O krakowskim pomniku Adama Mickiewicza raz jeszcze, “Quart” (2006), vol. 1, pp. 18-31.