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The costume of Lajkonik, also called the Zwierzyniec Horse, designed by Stanisław Wyspiański in 1904, could be seen in the streets of Kraków until 1963. The costume used today during the annual frolics of Lajkonik is a faithful copy of the displayed exhibit.
Although legend associates the origins of Lajkonik celebrations with the Tatar invasions of Kraków in the 13th century, the first ever source reference to it dates back to 1738.

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The costume of Lajkonik, also called the Zwierzyniec Horse, designed by Stanisław Wyspiański in 1904, could be seen in the streets of Kraków until 1963. The costume used today during the annual frolics of Lajkonik is a faithful copy of the displayed exhibit.
Although legend associates the origins of Lajkonik celebrations with the Tatar invasions of Kraków in the 13th century, the first ever source reference to it dates back to 1738. In those days until the beginning of the 20th century there was no single pattern of the costume and its poor appearance left much to be desired. It was not until after 1900 that, thanks to the financial support of the Kraków municipality and the engagement of artists and art historians, the work on the costume which would reflect the beauty of this old-time tradition had begun.
The design of the displayed horse was prepared by L. Lepszy and S. Cercha. According to their design, in 1901 the company, Rudolf Weil i spółka, based in Kraków made a wooden body on a metal framework, while the head and neck of the new horse were prepared by a sculptor from Dębniki. The wood was covered with light leather with hair. The design of the costume of a Tatar horseman and decorations of the horse were commissioned to Wyspiański. According to his artistic vision, the horse’s head is decorated with horsehair mane with interlaced colourful bands and a plume of five ostrich feathers in the sleeve, decorated with small beaded horns. The horsetail with golden ribbons is also natural. From the horse’s mouth — with the painted lips and eyes — to the neck runs a leather and velvet harness with bells. The element enhancing the decoration is the umbo, i.e. a breastplate of three convex discs strung on a leather belt. The horse’s body is covered with a maroon shabrack embroidered with pearls, creating floral motifs and geometrical symbols. The lower part of the shabrack is made of maroon cloth, embroidered with a golden thread and trimmed with golden tassels. Low above the ground hang metal crescents with bells jingling to the rhythm of Lajkonik’s dance. Today a real horseman is replaced by a dummy wearing a Turkish caftan of carmine linen, a red braided kontusz (a type of outer garment worn by the Polish nobility) with a purple sash; at his side on a leather strap hangs a Damascus sword in a scabbard. It has white gloves on its hands; in one of the hands it is holding a leather buława (a ceremonial baton). Everybody knows that if one is hit by a Lajkonik with a buława, it will bring them luck. In the interwar period, however, there were several cases recorded of a visit to the Kraków emergency after too strong a hit by Lajkonik.
What is particularly striking is the high pointed hat, finished with a crescent and decorated with beads and authentic corals. The attire is complemented with high red leather boots, from which trousers protrude. What remains invisible are the leather straps on which the horse’s construction was affixed to the horseman, as well as the rubber securing the hat from falling off the head during Lajkonik’s frolics.

Elaborated by Andrzej Szoka (Historical Museum of the City of Kraków), © all rights reserved

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The Lajkonik Parade

The Lajkonik (a person dressed as a Tatar riding a hobbyhorse), formerly known as the Zwierzyniec Horse, appears on one day of the year on the streets of Kraków together with its whole entourage and the Mlaskot band (which owes its name to the shrill sound of the music it plays), on the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi.

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The Lajkonik (a person dressed as a Tatar riding a hobbyhorse), formerly known as the Zwierzyniec Horse, appears on one day of the year on the streets of Kraków together with its whole entourage and the Mlaskot band (which owes its name to the shrill sound of the music it plays), on the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi. At noon he sets off from the Norbertine convent, and then interacts with passers-by and touches spectators with his mace. This is supposed to bring health and prosperity to those who have been touched.
In the afternoon, he arrives at the Main Market Square and, after having danced near the Town Hall Tower with a standard-bearer (who waves around a large red standard with a white eagle and the coat of arms of Kraków), the Lajkonik collects a symbolic tribute from the municipal authorities and drinks a cup of wine for the welfare of the city and its inhabitants (see The Lajkonik is offered a treat in front of the Town Hall).
This custom is connected with the participation in processions of the Feast of Corpus Christi of the Zwierzyniec congregation of rafters who float timber along the Vistula River. It has been associated with the legend, which tells how the rafters repelled an attack of Tatars near Kraków, and how the bravest of them entered the city ceremonially on horseback, dressed in a trophy Tatar costume.
This tradition is maintained to this day, though the former rafters have been replaced by the workers of the Municipal Water Supply Company, and the costumes of the attendants of the procession and the band have changed over the years, designed by artists. For example, since the 1950s, both the rafters and the Mlaskot band have used costumes designed by Witold Chomicz (a professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, and a lover of folklore and the traditions of the Zwierzyniec borough of Kraków). The costumes have been refreshed by Krystyna Zachwatowicz since 1997.
However, the costume of the Lajkonik has remained unchanged since 1904, when it was designed by Stanisław Wyspiański.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

See also:
Toy “Lajkonik's march” by Jan Oprocha (father)

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Lajkonik’s costume designed by Stanisław Wyspiański

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