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Kazimierz III’s (Casimir the Great’s)  tombstone was sculpted in red limestone from the Hungarian town of Esztergom, which has been traditionally called ‘marble’. It may be assumed that the type of material was consciously selected, since the colour red had been associated with power and reserved for rulers since the time of the Roman Empire. The king’s tomb was sculpted on three sides only. On the top slab, there is a gisant supporting his legs on a lion, which most often symbolised valour in medieval times and was frequently used to propagate royal virtues. Comparing the ruler to a lion is one of the most recurring topoi of medieval culture. The king was depicted as an old man with long hair and a beard styled in tight curls. Works on this subject mistakenly claim this depiction to be a realistic study of the king’s face. In fact it is an example of a physiognomic type typical of the Middle Ages, which aimed at presenting the ruler as a wise and strict old man modelled after depictions of great ancient sages, Old Testament prophets, apostles, and other venerable figures from the past. The king was portrayed in a leather tunic and a loose cloak, garments which were characteristic of court fashion in the 3rd quarter of the 14th century. Especially of note is the magnificent belt comprising elements shaped as fortified buildings. It may be assumed that it carries an eschatological message via reference to the Heavenly Jerusalem.

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Kazimierz III’s (Casimir the Great’s)  tombstone was sculpted in red limestone from the Hungarian town of Esztergom, which has been traditionally called ‘marble’. It may be assumed that the type of material was consciously selected, since the colour red had been associated with power and reserved for rulers since the time of the Roman Empire. The king’s tomb was sculpted on three sides only. On the top slab, there is a gisant supporting his legs on a lion, which most often symbolised valour in medieval times and was frequently used to propagate royal virtues. Comparing the ruler to a lion is one of the most recurring topoi of medieval culture. The king was depicted as an old man with long hair and a beard styled in tight curls. Works on this subject mistakenly claim this depiction to be a realistic study of the king’s face. In fact it is an example of a physiognomic type typical of the Middle Ages, which aimed at presenting the ruler as a wise and strict old man modelled after depictions of great ancient sages, Old Testament prophets, apostles, and other venerable figures from the past. The king was portrayed in a leather tunic and a loose cloak, garments which were characteristic of court fashion in the 3rd quarter of the 14th century. Especially of note is the magnificent belt comprising elements shaped as fortified buildings. It may be assumed that it carries an eschatological message via reference to the Heavenly Jerusalem.
The tomb’s sides were divided by arcades in which there are images of eight laymen sitting on stools. They face one another and seem to be having an agitated conversation in which body language plays a major role. Placing these figures in the arcades was copied form 12th-century chest reliquaries from the region of the Meuse and lower Rhine, from where the motif was borrowed by sepulchral sculpture.The canopy over Kazimierz III’s grave was placed directly on the top slab of the tomb, because the wall that connected the pillars made a free-standing structure impossible to be erected.
The foundation of the monument is most often attributed to Kazimierz’s successor and heir – the king of Hungary, Louis the Great – who would have legitimised his power in Poland in this way. Upon Kazimierz’s death on the 5th of November 1370, dignitaries of the kingdom buried his body immediately before Louis’s arrival, although he managed to travel to Kraków within two days. Unable to fulfil his duty of burying his predecessor, the Hungarian king held a symbolic funeral ceremony – exequiae – modelled after funeral traditions of the d’Anjou dynasty.

Elaborated by Marek Walczak, PhD (The Institute of Art History), editorial team of Małopolska's Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

 

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The tombstone of king Kazimierz III the Great

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