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The horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka is a unique Renaissance work of art commemorating the past wealth of Kraków salt mines. It is the only historical object of such preserved in Poland — the genuine horn of an aurochs (the species that became extinct in Poland in the 17th century, the ancestor of cattle), precisely framed in silver embedded in various golden ornaments.

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The horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka is a unique Renaissance work of art commemorating the past wealth of Kraków salt mines. It is the only historical object of such preserved in Poland — the genuine horn of an aurochs (the species that became extinct in Poland in the 17th century, the ancestor of cattle), precisely framed in silver embedded in various golden ornaments. It weighs almost 3 kilos and it was created in Kraków in 1534 upon the order of Seweryn Boner, who at the time managed over salt mines and was the governor of the Kraków Royal Castle. The horn was given to Wieliczka salt diggers. The figure shown in the horn’s base is a salt miner depicted as Hercules wearing antique armour, which was to underline the hard work of the Wieliczka salt diggers, lasting hundreds of years.
The horn itself is held by three silver ornamental bands bearing the emblem of the Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka and the coats of arms of Polish kings. The coat of arms of Sigismund I the Old is the Polish eagle girdled with the letter “S”, while his wife’s, Queen Bona Sforza’s, is the snake of the Sforza family. The Founders’ coats of arms, that of Seweryn Boner and that of his wife Jadwiga, were also engraved on the horn. On the horn’s base we can see stones, plants and even a creeping snake and a lizard.
The horn is not only a perfect example of artistic craftsmanship, but also a precious historical souvenir. It was kept in the treasure of the brotherhood, or in the treasury of the church in Wieliczka, taken out for the greatest ceremonies held by the senior member of the brotherhood and hung on a chain (even today we can observe such a tradition during the celebrations of the Kraków Shooting Society).
We are not completely sure who created the horn of the Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka. It is presumed that it was Andreas Dürer, the younger brother of Albrecht Dürer — the famous German Renaissance painter and printmaker. It is known that their other brother, Hans Dürer of Nuremberg, decorated the chambers of the Kraków Royal Castle during its reconstruction supervised by Seweryn Boner, thus it is assumed that the silver frame of the diggers’ horn was made by the goldsmith Andreas Dürer, who might have arrived in Kraków then and made the horn that Boner had ordered for the brotherhood.

Elaborated by Klementyna Ochniak-Dudek (Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka), © all rights reserved

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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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“A two-bit thing made of salt tops a crappy sack of gold” – a few words about miners

In the Middle Ages and modern times, mines were very profitable. Cities were springing up around them all over Europe. This was no different in the Kingdom of Poland, where “Wieliczka grew into a city from a vile hovel” (a quote from Zygmunt Gloger, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 4, Warsaw 1901, p. 522). In Poland, mines, or as they were formerly called żupy or gory were concentrated in the south of the country. Salt was extracted in Wieliczka and Bochnia, and in Olkusz, Chęciny, Sławków, Trzebinia, Jaworzno and Miedziana Góra metal ores – lead, silver and copper.

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In the Middle Ages and modern times, mines were very profitable. Cities were springing up around them all over Europe. This was no different in the Kingdom of Poland, where “Wieliczka grew into a city from a vile hovel” (a quote from Zygmunt Gloger, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 4, Warsaw 1901, p. 522). In Poland, mines, or as they were formerly called żupy or gory were concentrated in the south of the country. Salt was extracted in Wieliczka and Bochnia, and in Olkusz, Chęciny, Sławków, Trzebinia, Jaworzno and Miedziana Góra metal ores – lead, silver and copper.

Mining trolley, 19th century, Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, public domain.

Where there were mines, there were also miners, otherwise known as diggers. As early as in the Middle Ages, they performed the hardest and most dangerous work, which is why it is not surprising that there were slaves and convicts working on many excavation sites. Sometimes they did not even have the right to be buried in the same cemetery as free people.

Criminals sometimes volunteered to work in mines in order to avoid justice. People who preferred to serve in the army or toil away on a ship rather than to meet the master headsman were driven by a similar motivation. Miners from the Lesser Poland province were no saints either, as we know from the written accounts of the transgressions committed by diggers from Bochnia and Wieliczka. On the 10th of November 1593, a certain Stanisław, “a miner from Bochnie” (the original spelling) who belonged to a gang of bandits led by harnaś Paweł Swastak from Sobolów stood in front of a court in Sanok. Stanisław was caught together with several companions during the robbery of a synagogue in Rymanów. It is also known that in 1664 the city guard of Kazimierz had to defend the city against a group of over 100 armed miners who wanted to rob rich Jewish stalls and shops.

However, it was not the rule that the miners had an unenviable position and low social status. They mostly enjoyed personal freedom and their profession was treated with respect. Until the 20th century, even wealthy peasants, for whom a miner’s salary was only an addition to the basic income from their farms, worked at the mine in Wieliczka. They often did so to keep the tradition of practising a prestigious profession in the family. The respect for work underground is also confirmed in a proverb from Wieliczka: “A two-bit thing made of salt tops a crappy sack of gold”. The sense of self-esteem and being different from people doing "ordinary" work on the surface resulted in the creation of a peculiar mining culture which – although regionally diverse – was similar throughout the whole of Europe.

Horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka, 1534, Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, public domain.

In the Middle Ages mine administrators and diggers of precious ores as well as ordinary diggers, was a multinational environment, similar to city merchants and craftsmen. Germans and inhabitants of other Central European countries were attracted to Wieliczka as early as the 13th century. In the second half of the 14th century, they were joined by less numerous groups of Italians and French. Encompassing many different ethnicities, the profession of miners was similar to the urban environment of merchants and craftsmen. Fraternities of miners, similar to guilds, were established in Bochnia and Wieliczka as early as in the 13th and 14th centuries. A memorial of the greatness of the mining profession in the 16th century is the Horn of the Brotherhood of Diggers from Wieliczka presented on the website, carried on a chain by the fraternity’s elder during major holidays, like in the case of the silver fowler of the Krakow Fowler Brotherhood.

Miners also founded religious fraternities. They had their patrons, to whom they prayed in underground chapels, often decorated with statues and altars made by the miners themselves. Amateur sculpture was something that many diggers dabbled in. In the past, it was an activity particularly popular among disabled miners. The salt sculptures in Wieliczka are the most famous in Poland. Two of them can be seen in three dimensions on the website of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.

St. Dorothy, St. Vitus, St. Procopius of Sázava, St. Clement, St. Anthony, St. Barbara and St. Anna enjoyed special religious significance in European mining centres. The choice of patrons was not accidental. For example, St. Antoni, who is the guardian of the missing, was to offer assistance when a miner got lost in the tangle of passages, and St. Clement, as the patron of drowners, was helpful in the event of mine flooding.

Painting “St. Kinga praying in the mountains” by Jan Matejko, 1892, public domain.

The most popular patron of miners was, and remains, St. Barbara – the guardian of hard work and a good death. The current liturgical memorial of St. Barbara, known in Poland as Barbórka, is the most important holiday in the calendar of mine employees. On this day, various traditional rituals are celebrated, such as the awarding of skewers to deserving employees and jumping over leather – a leather apron, also known as a backsider because it was used for the protection of miners’ buttocks while descending to an adit or resting on damp rocks. Miners also have songs traditional to their profession and even dances, like the famous sword dance performed among others by miners from Sankt Martin in Lower Austria. In Wieliczka and Bochnia, a special cult was enjoyed by  St. Kinga, with whom many legends are associated.

On the occasion of holidays such as Barbórka, miners wear a formal uniform. Diggers wore a distinctive outfit as far back as the Middle Ages – simple kaftans with a hood and mining leather garments which, at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, became part of the festive outfit of mining elites – although it was not a genuine uniform. The first uniforms appeared in the 17th century in Saxony, and in 1719 a real mining fashion show took place. More than a thousand miners appeared in festive uniforms on the occasion of the wedding of Frederick Augustus, the future Polish king Augustus III. In Bochnia and Wieliczka, the first uniforms were introduced by Austrians, a year after the first Partition of Poland. In the nineteenth century, wearing a uniform became common in most mines, and on the territory of the Austrian Partition, the final legal regulation regarding its appearance took place in 1850.

The uniforms from Wieliczka and Bochnia have not changed much since the partitions and in the 20th century, they became a model for mining uniforms for the whole of Poland. After the World War II, a women’s uniform was also introduced. Nevertheless, it was only in 2008 that Poland terminated the convention banning women from working underground. However, there is still a lack of relevant provisions which would fully regulate this issue.

Traditional mining sword dance, Sankt Martin (Lower Austria), photo by John Asher, CC BY-SA 3.0, source: Wikimedia Commons.

Górnicy jako ludzie wolni mieli też prawo noszenia broni, która do dzisiaj jest elementem uroczystego munduru pracowników kopalń. Na portalu prezentujemy pochodzącą z Saksonii bartę, czyli topór górniczy (niem. Bergbarten), oraz paradną szablę. Wysocy rangą górnicy wieliccy, jak wszyscy urzędnicy w monarchii habsburskiej, mieli prawo noszenia tego rodzaju broni do munduru galowego. Na Górnym Śląsku, który od XVIII wieku należał do Prus, tradycyjnie do uniformu noszona jest szpada.

Oprócz świątecznych zwyczajów i strojów, górników wyróżnia też zawodowy żargon, który nie ogranicza się tylko do sfery języka mówionego. W wielu kopalniach górnicy pracujący w hałasie wypracowali system porozumiewania się za pomocą gestów, a nawet sposób nadawania wiadomości poprzez stukanie w rurociągi. Metalowe rury przenoszą „zaszyfrowane” informacje na duże odległości.

Dziś wiele pamiątek dawnego górnictwa można zobaczyć na wystawie stałej Muzeum Żup Krakowskich w Wieliczce, a część z nich warto obejrzeć na portalu Wirtualne Muzea Małopolski.

Elaborated by: Adam Spodaryk (Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

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

Bibliography:

  1. Brückner Aleksander, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 2, Warszawa 1939, columns 378–382.
  2. Burke Peter, Kultura ludowa we wczesnonowożytnej Europie, Warszawa 2009.
  3. Gloger Zygmunt, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 2, Warszawa 1901, pp. 224–226.
  4. Tenże, Encyklopedia staropolska, vol. 4, Warszawa 1901, pp. 521–522.
  5. Janicka-Krzywda Urszula, Górnicy wielickiej kopalni, Kraków 1999.
  6. Sasin Ewelina, „Gdzie diabeł nie może, tam babę pośle”, czyli dlaczego świat się kończy. O ślunskich dziołchach i ich szychcie z Karoliną Bacą-Pogorzelską rozmawia Ewelina Sasin, „Ha!art”, no. 49: Praca, pp. 39–44.
  7. Tenfelde Klaus, Bergarbeiterkultur in Deutschland. Ein Überblick, „Geschichte und Gesellschaft”, vol. 5 (1979), no. 1: Arbeiterkultur im 19. Jahrhundert, pp. 12–53.
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Horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka

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