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The chalice is an example of seventeenth-century goldsmithing in Małopolska, with features typical of the workshops of the region such as a slim and smooth bowl set in a basket, an oval nodus, repoussé decorations, and motifs of heads of winged cherubs, which was a common element of the decoration of gold products from Kraków in that period.

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The chalice is an example of seventeenth-century goldsmithing in Małopolska, with features typical of the workshops of the region such as a slim and smooth bowl set in a basket, an oval nodus, repoussé decorations, and motifs of heads of winged cherubs, which was a common element of the decoration of gold products from Kraków in that period.
This chalice has been in museum’s collection since 2004, when it was bought in one of the antique shops in Nowy Sącz. It is the oldest exhibit of artistic craft in the Regional Museum in Nowy Sącz.
The chalice has a slightly convex foot on a wheel plan and is covered with schweifwerk (ornamentation in a transitional stage between strapwork and auricular style, adopting cymoid-shaped and pincer-like bending fittings), in which the heads of angels and figs are interwoven. The ovoid stem and the cup adorning the smooth goblet are also decorated with schweifwerk with the interwoven, winged heads of angels. At the beginning of the 19th century, two hallmarks – in the shape of a rectangle with a crescent and the letter “E” in the middle – were incused on the chalice (an Austrian feature). Additionally, on the bottom of the foot, the date “AD 1681” has been engraved, although the upper half of the letters and numbers have become illegible. Because the work of the goldsmith workshops in Lesser Poland were not marked with place and personal marks, it is not possible to precisely determine the place where the chalice was created and the name of the goldsmith who made it.

Elaborated by Edyta Ross-Pazdyk (Nowy Sącz District Museum), editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © 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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Ornamental subtexts

One of the ideas guiding us in the creation of the portal Małopolska’s Virtual Museums is to draw attention to the details of the exhibits, often overlooked intricate decorations, which sometimes surprise when looking closer at the texture and shapes of the presented objects. We strive to use advanced technology to bring out these details and draw people closer to them. With the help of such “magnification”, we would like you to stop you for a moment, or maybe even sometimes make you feel delighted?
What do the ornaments want? What are they to a work of art? Could an ornament be a signature? These, and many other interesting questions, came up during the LXIII National Science Session of the Association of Art Historians entitled Ornament and decoration of a work of art (November 20-22, 2014, Kraków), in which we had the pleasure of participating, presenting exhibits selected for the conference subject matter from the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.

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One of the ideas guiding us in the creation of the portal Małopolska’s Virtual Museums is to draw attention to the details of the exhibits, often overlooked intricate decorations, which sometimes surprise when looking closer at the texture and shapes of the presented objects. We strive to use advanced technology to bring out these details and draw people closer to them. With the help of such “magnification”, we would like you to stop you for a moment, or maybe even sometimes make you feel delighted?
What do the ornaments want? What are they to a work of art? Could an ornament be a signature? These, and many other interesting questions, came up during the LXIII National Science Session of the Association of Art Historians entitled Ornament and decoration of a work of art (November 20-22, 2014, Kraków), in which we had the pleasure of participating, presenting exhibits selected for the conference subject matter from the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.

All presented objects, seemingly diverse, with a different purpose, being results of the work of manufacturers from different cultures, different types of crafts and artistic periods, are united by one thing: their own ornamentation.
The tendency to decorate, results from the inner need of a human being to aestheticize the surrounding space and the elements organizing it. The motifs and their sets, characteristic for particular periods of history — which created the ornament and thus a certain decorative form — covered and organized the surface of the works. We encounter ornaments in all fields of arts and crafts. It is an inseparable component of a work, even if it does not appear physically, it reflects conscious non-use: an absence. The relationship of an ornament to an object used to vary; it was an accompanying form, its decoration; it could determine the divisions of planes, but, over time, it distinguished itself and assumed the primary role. Treated autonomously, it created forms which constituted artworks in themselves. However, its relation to the surface vacillated from horror vacui to amor vacui, down to complete cleansing. Ornamental forms had their origins in nature, or they were treated as the main source of inspiration, hence the distinction between geometric, vegetal, and animal ornamentation. Its gradual transformation was aimed at achieving an abstract shape, which was, however, still intuitively rooted in reality, or was rather transformed reality:  a set of familiar elements combined in fanciful forms with a surprising relationship to each other.
Distinguishing its character, its accompanying motives and inspirations — including its essence — allows one to get a lot of information about the work itself. This can be done on many levels. A non-accidental juxtaposition of seemingly different objects in a single presentation — in each case adorned with ornamentation — opens up a new field for their interpretation and finding correlations between them.
The desirability of decoration is visible in each of the objects presented — whether in the works of “highbrow”, professional, or folk art — there is an evident need of the conscious or often intuitive use of sometimes very naive ornamental forms, which marked divisions contouring the shape of the object and filling its surface (see: Powder cone, Painted wooden chest with a drawer, Sculpture “Mother of God of Skępe”).
The variety of forms of decoration and ornamentation that has appeared on works from particular cultural circles has been conditioned by many factors. Undoubtedly, the most important was the fashion prevailing at that time, which specified the formal repertoire used, or access to sources of inspiration. However, in most cultures — especially eastern ones — there was a dominant tendency to draw inspiration from nature, which formed the basis for shaping ornamentation in multiple versions (cf. Enamelled vase, Besamin tower box from Vienna, Jewel box, A dyeing template). The ban on figurative art—particularly in Islamic and Jewish culture—led to developing ornamentation as the only acceptable form of art which fully utilized the repertoire of plant and geometrical forms.
The intended purpose of these objects, differing from one another to an extreme extent, allows one to notice that the ornamentation decorating them is not dependent on their function. An ornament is non-political and non-ideological; hence, it was possible to use the same motif on everyday objects and objects of worship (see: Armchair with handrails, Mug with a cover, Chalice). The situation was similar in the case of particular fields of craft, characterized by different techniques, where, regardless of their variety and degree of difficulty, the same ornamental forms appeared. Thus, the quintessence of the ornament is the manipulation of its form. And yet this form itself was specific to the era in which it crystallized. An example of this can be rocaille, containing in its shape, elements and behaviour, epithets corresponding to the Rococo period (see: A woman’s fan). A somewhat different usage and problem, however, was posed by the fact the decoration could take the form of representation, and thus carry specific information, often referring to the purpose of the work or its founder (see: Horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka, Baroque chasuble).
Many kinds of contextual trails—which combine different objects on different levels—can be created. Despite their otherness, we can find many correlational factors among them. We encourage you to look for your own links between the objects presented and the function of the ornaments and decorations, which allow you to see the work from a different perspective: both formal and interpretive.

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.

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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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