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Marcin Kromer’s old print, being one of the oldest book relics, is entitled De origine et rebus gestis polonorum (On the origin and deeds of Poles). The printed book by Kromer (in Latin) shows the 16th-century researcher’s state of knowledge about history and it is also an interesting source in the field of research contemporary to him on the oldest history of Poland.

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Marcin Kromer’s old print, being one of the oldest book relics, is entitled De origine et rebus gestis polonorum (On the origin and deeds of Poles). The printed book by Kromer (in Latin) shows the 16th-century researcher’s state of knowledge about history and it is also an interesting source in the field of research contemporary to him on the oldest history of Poland. But it is necessary to consider this old print in its historical context only as a valuable relic. It would be a mistake to read into the content and exact information of the history of our nation.

Elaborated by Katarzyna Liana (The Ignacy Łukasiewicz Regional Museum of Polish Tourism and Sightseeing Society in Gorlice), © all rights reserved

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A man of Renaissance from Biecz?

Who was Martin Kromer, author of 16th century work on Polish history, which two editions we present on our website?

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Marcin Kromer (1512–1589), called the Polish Liwiusz, was a thoroughly educated historian, geographer, publicist, the Bishop of Warmia, royal secretary, and diplomat. He was an enlightened citizen. A resident of Biecz, who — even in journeys around the world — never forgot his town. Being the secretary of King Sigismund Augustus (who raised him to the nobility), he founded a scholarship for two gifted but poor students from Biecz in 1569. He stipulated, however, that after completing studies funded in this way, scholarship holders were to return to their hometown and take up a job there, paying back the money invested in them.
On our website, we present two editions of one of the most famous historical works of Marcin Kromer, About the origin and deeds of the Poles, thirty books, from 1589, from Cologne, stored in the Museum of Ziemia Biecka in Biecz, and, from 1555, from Basel, that we can see in Museum Ignacy Łukasiewicz PTTK in Gorlice.
Kromer had prepared for the creation of this great work on the history of Poland for a long time. Travelling around the world had made him realise how little or wrong knowledge of the Commonwealth was outside its borders. The position of royal secretary, which he received in 1545, gave him access to the necessary historical documents. The idea of writing the country’s history anew was also favored by King Sigismund August. The collection and processing of materials took Kromer almost ten years. The publication of the work was entrusted to the best-known publisher in Europe, Jan Oporinawi in Basel. This exact edition is presented the Museum in Gorlice.
In his work, Kromer recounted the history of Poland to the year 1506, which is the year of the death of Alexander Jagiellończyk. The history of the reign of the next king, Sigismund The Old, was told by means of the “Funeral Mourning”, written after the death of the ruler (1548) and attached to the work in the form of an annex.
De origine et rebus gestis Polonorum libri XXX, as the original title of the work, brought Kromer a lot of publicity throughout Europe. During his lifetime, there were five editions in Latin, including the most complete ones from Cologne, which is presented at the Museum in Biecz. It was also translated into German, and fragments into English. A Polish translation by Marcin Błażowski appeared in Mikołaj Lob’s Kraków printing house after the death of Kromer in 1611.
The reception of the work in Poland was also very positive. In 1579, the Warsaw parliament, at the request of the king, gave approbation for the merits and work of Kromer. The Polish nobles, however, were not delighted. The historian from Biecz tore into their already proverbial vic.
However, Marcin Kromer did not limit himself to this work. He was the author of numerous works whose thematic range allows their creator to be treated as a man of Renaissance, a typical versatile humanist. His works include political treatises, religious treatises, historical novels, texts for various state celebrations, and even works in the field of music, Musicae elementa and De Musica figurine, considered the oldest Polish works on music. He also participated with great commitment in the political life of the country.
It is probably difficult to see the genius and madness of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo, commonly associated with the notion of “Renaissance man”, in the form of Kromer. He was not an artist, but a scholar and clergyman who, even though he criticized the higher clergy, was firmly opposed to the Reformation movements. The multiplicity of his achievements, functions performed, works written, versatility of interests, and involvement in the affairs of the state arouse respect and provoke reflection on our contemporary way of life.
It is interesting to ask to what extent the comprehensive international (Kraków, Padua, Bologna) education of Kromer, the position that he managed to gain, the modern knowledge about the world he represented, translated into a change in consciousness of the inhabitants of Biecz? Were they proud of him, thinking “he is one of us”? Or were they in completely different worlds?

Elaborated by Kinga Kołodziejska (Editorial team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

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

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Old print. Marcin Kromer’s work, “De origine et rebus gestis polonorum libri XXX”, published in Basel

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Starodruk „De origine et rebus gestis polonorum libri XXX” (wydanie z mapą Grodeckiego) Marcina Kromera odc. B Tells: Piotr Krasny
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Starodruk „De origine et rebus gestis polonorum libri XXX” (wydanie z mapą Grodeckiego) Marcina Kromera [audiodeskrypcja] Tells: Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Audiodeskrypcji KATARYNKA
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Starodruk „De origine et rebus gestis polonorum libri XXX” (wydanie z mapą Grodeckiego) Marcina Kromera odc. A Tells: Piotr Krasny
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