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The collection of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków features an interesting 19th-century goblet of unknown history. According to tradition, it was associated with the figure of Jan Matejko.
The silver goblet has a lid made in a historic style, with its form and decoration resembling Gothic chalices.

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The collection of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków features an interesting 19th-century goblet of unknown history. According to tradition, it was associated with the figure of Jan Matejko.
The silver goblet has a lid made in a historic style, with its form and decoration resembling Gothic chalices. The polygonal decorative foot is divided by eight fields filled with engraved, stylized floral ornamentation. The slender, profiled shaft is decorated with a flattened, polygonal nodule with a ribbed motif and two flat rings. The edges of the foot and the stem accentuate the artistic motif of the carpet with frogs. The stem of the cup transforms into a polygonal, slender bowl with a well-insulated interior, covered with a decorative, engraved basket with stylized vegetation. The canopy is decorated with twelve Polish coins from the 19th century, embedded in its outer and inner wall. On the face of the canopy, there is the engraved inscription: “SOUVENIR / ON NOVEMBER 6 / 1868”. The lid of the cup, as in the foot, is divided into eight fields, each filled with engraved motifs of stylized vegetation. On its top, there is a Gothic frog with a crowned figure of the Polish eagle with a crown.
There are two metal rods on the base of the goblet: the Kraków coat of arms (?) and an additional feature — VR (introduced in 1867). A similar feature is also found on the cover.
The coins used to decorate the goblet are an interesting element. These coins are referred to as “November Uprising Money”.
With the outbreak of the uprising in 1830, the Uprising Government entrusted the Polish Bank with the management of the Warsaw Mint, which was established two years before. It was then decided to withdraw the pre-existing tsarist coins, with the image of the tsar and the Russian two-headed eagle, from circulation. New coins were introduced in their place, which were to be a kind of manifestation of Polish patriotism. Five circulation coins were minted: 3 and 10 pennies, 2 and 5 zlotys, and a ducat modelled on the Dutch ducat. The penny and zloty coins, made of copper and silver, had a common obverse — the Polish-Lithuanian coat of arms — that is an Eagle and a Pursuer, on a two-sided heraldic shield, crowned with a crown. There was an inscription on the top of the rim: KINGDOM OF POLAND. The reverse had the denominations and the date “1831”, surrounded by a wreath of plants. However, the aforementioned ducat — modelled on the Dutch ducat popular in Poland — was minted from gold. It had been introduced to facilitate international transactions, among others, related to the purchase of weapons by the national government. The obverse of the ducat depicted a standing knight in armour, wearing a sash, with a sword and a bunch of arrows in his hand, and in a helmet, topped with a feather. On its sides there was the “1831” date and the inscription on the rim: CONCORDIA RES PARVAE CRESCUNT. On the reverse, in a stylised frame, there is the inscription: MO. AUR./ REG.BELGII / AD LEGEM / IMPERII . The uprising ducat differed from the Dutch original only in a small eagle placed at the beginning of the legend of the obverse. Coins minted during the uprising are now considered to be some of the most beautiful Polish coins to have been in circulation.
The coins used for decoration and the Polish eagle placed on the cornice of the goblet top suggests the patriotic character of the goblet. Unfortunately, the engraved date and purpose of the goblet remain a mystery.

Elaborated by Elżbieta Lang (Historical Museum of the City of Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Jeweller’s code

Objects derived from noble metals were usually marked with signs, so-called features. Their appearance on goldsmith’s products, their number and significance were related to regulations issued by craftsmen’s guilds, then also by city and state authorities. These small marks with numbers and symbols in various shapes, which often remind us of cavities, are an extremely valuable source of information about the artwork. It is possible to specify several types of symbols when recognizing their elements and functions.

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Objects derived from noble metals were usually marked with signs, so-called features. Their appearance on goldsmith’s products, their number and significance were related to regulations issued by craftsmen’s guilds, then also by city and state authorities. These small marks with numbers and symbols in various shapes, which often remind us of cavities, are an extremely valuable source of information about the artwork. It is possible to specify several types of symbols when recognizing their elements and functions. However, we should remember that their form has changed over the course of history, differing according to location, which makes things difficult because of their quantity.
The first group of features is formed by the individual marks of particular masters as well as workshops. These could include the full name of the master; however, they often appeared in the forms of the majuscule initials. In this case, there was a risk of repeating the monograms, hence — to make a distinction — they were placed in various fields, sometimes with a very fanciful form. In some cases, the mark of the workshop or the later company was also a house mark (in stonemasonry, the signature of the author in a form of a symbol on the stone’s surface).
However, the most common were hallmarks that indicated the percentage of silver contained in the material used for a given goldsmith product. There were many marking schemes, depending on the time, territory, and ruling power, and they were governed by strict regulations. Thanks to this, however, it is possible to determine the approximate time and place of the creation of the work by properly recognizing the features. Hallmarks began to use digital symbols from approximately the nineteenth century (the unit of weight was Lot, hence the lot system), whereas earlier, the town mark itself indicated that the then applicable amount of silver had been used in the alloy.
Town marks support combining products with specific centres. As a sign, they took the form of the coat of arms of the city (or its fragment), sometimes also the entire name of the city, or its first letter.
To check the quality of the products, the works were also marked in state hallmarking centres, hence their name. The hallmark features, made according to the given pattern, contained information about the silver's purity, and sometimes also the date and the letter of the city. At the end of the 18th century, they appeared on the territories of the former Republic of Poland, initially introduced in the Austrian partition.
Furthermore, the contribution features are an interesting example. They marked works which — according to the Austrian contribution (1806) — had been confiscated, and which were then bought up and given back to the owners. That’s why they could be found even on very old products. Such features primarily had a letter indicating the hallmarking centre of a given territory.
Among many additional markings and types of features (there are also customs or reserve features, hallmarks or pawnbroker’s marks, and even marks indicating the dates); the above-mentioned ones constitute their basis.
It should, first of all, be realized that goldsmith marks are a very functional tool thanks to which we are able to — sometimes even with high accuracy — date the work, determine the place of its creation, its author, and trace its history. The goldsmith features — just like any cipher — have their own codification. Catalogues of marks are the best source to learn how to recognize them; nevertheless, they are still not fully drafted.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

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

Bibliography:
Michał Gradowski, Dawne złotnictwo: technika i terminologia, Warszawa 1980;
Michał Gradowski, Znaki probiercze na zabytkowych srebrach w Polsce, Warszawa 1988;
Michał Gradowski, Znaki na srebrze: znaki miejskie i państwowe używane na terenie Polski w obecnych jej granicach, Warszawa 1994.

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Silver cup designed by Jan Matejko

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