Beyond time. On the restoration of Wawel Castle

Authenticity has become a growing need of the contemporary world. Although the concept itself is hard to define, it has become one of the main criteria of quality with respect to cultural heritage issues. We think about authenticity while appreciating a historic object. We want to know what is genuine and authentic, we strive for a tangible connection with the past. Over the last two centuries, conservators, historians and architects have tried to respond to this need by defining, in different ways, the concept of historical truth present in architecture. From Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879), who strived to achieve stylistic purity, though frequently followed his own idea of the medieval form, to those who opposed him:  Alois Riegl (1858–1905) of the Viennese school and Max Dvořák (1874–1921), the future head of the Central Commission[1], who negated any interference in historic layers, recognising their equal value to one another.
Therefore, the attitude towards the restoration of Wawel Royal Castle's interior which was devastated during the Austrian occupation, displayed by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, who became responsible for the restoration works in 1916, could be regarded as an interesting example of the middle-ground method, which was called a method beyond time by the author. Beyond time means in a manner that makes the audience throw off its habits. However, the connection between works of art and historic moments is indeed of great importance. We look for both the spirit of history and specific information encrypted in objects. Yet Szyszko-Bohusz deludes us. On the one hand, he rejects the puristic attitude and excludes reconstruction; on the other hand, he treats the past quite freely. In his endeavour to reach the uniformity of the composition, he tries to find forms that express the function and create the atmosphere of the place, but with modern forms which are closer to his times.
He invited young artists of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków to create decorations for the plafonds in the northern wing of the Castle which had been destroyed during the fire. He also entrusted Xawery Dunikowski with the task of filling in the missing heads in the reconstructed (sic!) ceiling of the Envoys’ Room. He declared that he was not looking for an experiment and he insisted on using materials of the highest quality. However, today, when his work is reinterpreted (A response to modernism. The architecture of Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, the National Museum in Kraków; Impossible figures, the Polish Pavilion at the 14th edition of the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice), Szyszko-Bohusz appears as a great explorer, an open-minded and resolute person, whose decisions did not always meet with the approval of his contemporaries.
Owing to his good relationship with President Ignacy Mościcki, Szyszko-Bohusz was provided with many challenging projects, but this did not prevent criticism directed against him by the experts in the Management for the Restoration of Wawel Royal Castle and the Society of Western Galicia Conservators, who were in favour of the scientific restoration. As a result, some of his plans were not fully accomplished.
At present, the Venice Charter regulations provide conservators with guidelines for working with monuments. The departure from reconstruction and cooperation with contemporary artists at the point where conjecture begins (Article 9 of the Venice Charter, 1964) are already binding standards in conservators practice. However, it makes one wonder whether these days would it be Paweł Althamer[2] or Robert Kuśmirowski[3] entrusted with the task of filling in the ceilings of Wawel Castle, should this idea be conceived once again.

Elaborated by Anna Smolak (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
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 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

[1] The Imperial Royal Central Commission for the Research and Preservation of Architectural Monuments based in Vienna was the official body of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, operating through appointed conservators within the territory of the country. The Society of Western Galicia Conservators was linked with the Central Commission.
[2] In 2012, Paweł Althamer created a sculptural composition titled Burłacy, referring to a 19th-century painting by Ilya Repin. The artist combined bodies, presented very expressively, with realistic masks that were made from plaster casts of faces of the staff of the Museum of Contemporary Art; as a result, he created a critical commentary on the position of work within the institution of art.
[3] Robert Kuśmirowski, named the forger of reality by the critics, examines the culture of the period in his work by imitating and reconstructing manifestations of this culture contained in objects.