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Church confraternities, which boasted about having a separate chapel or a side altar, completed the  religious life of parishioners. The first confraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, established in Niepołomice by Cardinal Zbigniew Oleśnicki, worked efficiently for one and a half centuries, but in 1596 a church inspector found it, as he described, in a state of “devotional and interment” activity.

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Church confraternities, which boasted about having a separate chapel or a side altar, completed the  religious life of parishioners. The first confraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, established in Niepołomice by Cardinal Zbigniew Oleśnicki, worked efficiently for one and a half centuries, but in 1596 a church inspector found it, as he described, in a state of “devotional and interment” activity.

The Confraternity of St. Anne was established in Niepołomice in 1604 by Anna Branicka. In the first verses of the Confraternity Book (Księga bracka), there are the first inscriptions from 27 February 1604 by Anna Branicka née Myszkowska and her sister-in-law, also Anna, wife of Sebastian Lubomirski. As a result of the elders’ negligence, the confraternity gradually ceased to exist. In 1638 it was reactivated thanks to the efforts made by Jan Suchodolski, a parish priest.
The worshippers who gathered in the confraternity had their own altar in the church in Niepołomice. The members of the St. Anne Confraternity were the founders of the parish church accessories, including, among others, liturgical chalices.

Elaborated by the Museum of Niepołomice – the Niepołomice Royal Castle, © all rights reserved

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“Horror vacui” or “amor vacui” – reflections on the attitude to emptiness

The problem of emptiness has been an important issue in the history of thought. The first attempts to define it and, above all, to prove its existence or non-existence date back to the 5th century BC. Among the many philosophical assumptions, there was the view maintained for a very long time, right up until the 16th century, which was in line with the Aristotelian concept formulated as: nature abhors a vacuum, or horror vacui. Aristotle understood emptiness as a space devoid of a body (matter); however, he rejected its existence, not seeing any reason for it.

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The problem of emptiness has been an important issue in the history of thought. The first attempts to define it and, above all, to prove its existence or non-existence date back to the 5th century BC. Among the many philosophical assumptions, there was the view maintained for a very long time, right up until the 16th century, which was in line with the Aristotelian concept formulated as: nature abhors a vacuum, or horror vacui. Aristotle understood emptiness as a space devoid of a body (matter); however, he rejected its existence, not seeing any reason for it.
In Aristotelian terminology, specifying the relationship between matter and space has been transposed into an aesthetic principle concerning the relationship between decorations and the surface. Horror vacui meant the fear of an empty space, so its antonym was amor vacui – worship of emptiness. The former defined a trend towards a comprehensive coverage of the surface area with a multitude of motifs, ornamentation or architectural decoration; the latter was just the opposite – oriented towards an almost complete lack of it.
The concept of horror vacui in the context of fine arts was used for the first time in the 19th century by an art and literary critic of Italian origin, Mario Praz. He used it in his critical opinion on Victorian households which – as he wrote – were characterised by untidiness and a stifling atmosphere. The typical features of the Victorian style included a multiplicity of pieces of furniture covered by a multitude of diverse motifs and designs, which, when situated in one space, evoked feelings of heaviness and excess, according to the views of that time. Although the term is used in the history of art, it is not burdened with any aesthetic judgement, and it only defines some indicated qualities of a design.
Depending on the aesthetic principles of a particular artistic period, the amount of decoration used with regard to the plane changed. We can notice a continuous oscillation between these two poles over the centuries. An explosion in decoration can be seen in the artistic periods which departed from the principles associated with classical Vitruvian decorum (appropriateness/suitability of the form in relation to the destination of the work) towards exuberance and a multitude of forms, as well as exaggeration.
Undoubtedly, the relation of the ornamentation to the surface depended on the form of ornamentation. The situation was different in the case of classical ornamentation such as cymatium, meanders, and garlands, which emphasised some elements of a structure in a linear way, and in the case of auricular or rocaille ornamentation, which could outline the contour or fill in entire fields.
Aesthetics and an attitude towards emptiness also differentiate various cultures. Minimalism and purism suggesting amor vacui (see the sculpture Miroir Rouge D by Aliska Lahusen), typical of the art of Japan, may not be found in Arabic art, which sees beauty in a multitude of designs that cover the surface (see the brass vessel – the treasure box from Afghanistan).
At present, the principle less is more, espoused by the modernists, seems to be the predominant aesthetic characteristic, a still-popular term coined by Adolf Loos in the text Ornament and Crime. However, the aesthetic pleasure lies in diversity as variatio delectat (from Latin there's nothing like change), hence both purism and an excess of ornamental forms have evoked a continuous experience and a feast for the eyes through subsequent periods.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

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

See also:
Horror vacui: Throne for a church monstrance, Stipo (studiolo, scrigno) a bambocci writing cabinet with a table, Cup from Michael Wissmar workshop.
Amor vacui: Porcelain vase with a wooden base

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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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Chalice

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