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In the centre of the textile, a shield with the coat of arms of Poland – the White Eagle  – is suspended by flower garlands. The Eagle has the royal monogram SA on its chest. On the left side, a dormouse sits, while on the right, there is a small dog-like predator. The rectangular textile is topped with an arc, as it was used to decorate a window recess.

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In the centre of the textile, a shield with the coat of arms of Poland – the White Eagle  – is suspended by flower garlands. The Eagle has the royal monogram SA on its chest. On the left side, a dormouse sits, while on the right, there is a small dog-like predator. The rectangular textile is topped with an arc, as it was used to decorate a window recess.
The crown above the arms has two crossed arches topped by an orb and cross. This is called a closed crown – the insignia to which only sovereign monarchs were entitled. It was a clear message for all viewers that Poland was a sovereign country and its ruler was not subordinate to anyone.

Elaborated by Magdalena Ozga (Wawel Royal Castle), editorial team of Małopolska's Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

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

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The history of Sigismund Augustus’s collection of tapestries

Sigismund Augustus probably ordered some of these fabrics around the year 1548. According to Wychwalnik weselny [Wedding praiser] by Stanisław Orzechowski (Panagyricus Nuptiarum Sigimundi Augusti Poloniae Regis, ed. 1553), the three series of tapestries: the History of the First Parents, the Story of Moses and the Story of Noah already adorned the interiors of Wawel Castle on 30 July 1553, for the wedding celebrations of Sigismund Augustus and Catherine of Austria. It is assumed that after this year the king ordered further fabrics, and that around 1560, the entire collection was already in his possession.
 

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Sigismund Augustus probably ordered some of these fabrics around the year 1548. According to Wychwalnik weselny [Wedding praiser] by Stanisław Orzechowski (Panagyricus Nuptiarum Sigimundi Augusti Poloniae Regis, ed. 1553), the three series of tapestries: the History of the First Parents, the Story of Moses and the Story of Noah already adorned the interiors of Wawel Castle on 30 July 1553, for the wedding celebrations of Sigismund Augustus and Catherine of Austria. It is assumed that after this year the king ordered further fabrics, and that around 1560, the entire collection was already in his possession.
In his last will from the year 1571, the heirless Sigismund Augustus stated that his collection of tapestries would be redistributed to his three sisters: Sophie, Duchess of Brunswick; Catherine, Queen of Sweden; and  the future Queen of Poland, Anne. According to the king’s will, after their deaths, the collection was to become the property of the Polish and Lithuanian Commonwealth. As early as 1572, the tapestries were deposited in the royal castle in Tykocin, and then they were split between the royal residences (Kraków, Niepołomice, Grodno, and Warsaw). In 1578, Anna handed part of the collection to one of the heirs in Stockholm — Catherine — and, by chance, the tapestries returned to Poland in 1587 or 1591, together with the son of the latter, King Sigismund III Vasa.
Traditionally, the tapestries were part of the artistic setting of the most important royal celebrations, even after the death of Sigismund Augustus. The tapestries were used during the king’s funeral ceremony in 1572, as well as during the coronation of Henry III of France in 1574. After these events, they returned to their function in 1592, when they decorated the Wawel chambers during the first wedding of Sigismund III Vasa to Anne of Austria, as well as during his second — with her sister Constance of Austria in 1605. Sigismund’s tapestries were also used as the decorations in St. John’s Archcathedral and in the royal castle in Warsaw, during the wedding of king Władysław IV to Cecilia Renata in September 1637.
During the Swedish Deluge (1655–1657), the collection was moved to an unknown location. Against the will of Sigismund Augustus, the tapestries were treated as private property by King Jan Kazimierz Vasa and became the subject of the political games of the abdicating ruler. The ex-king took a loan against the “Deluge Curtains” (as the tapestries were then collectively labelled), which was handed over to Francis Grattta, a banker and merchant from Gdansk. Then, in 1669, Jan Kazimierz — in order to secure the guaranteed commission for himself — ordered Grattta to hide the tapestries. In spite of this, in February 1670, the collection was borrowed from a “mysterious” storage place in order to decorate the monastery and the church of the Pauline Fathers at Jasna Góra, on the occasion of the wedding of Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki to Eleanor of Austria and for the decoration of the St. John’s Archcathedral in Warsaw, during the coronation of Eleanor. The death of Jan Kazimierz did not solve the problem, because the Commonwealth and the heir of the ex-king both had claims to the tapestries being still subject of lien. In 1673, the Deluge Declaration was passed, according to which only the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania could claim the collection of tapestries, and it was the only entity which could redeem them, as it did in 1724. The recovered collection of fabrics was placed in the monastery of Discalced Carmelites in Warsaw. From then on, the tapestries belonged to the Crown Treasury, managed by consecutive treasurers. They were used, among others, during the Corpus Christi ceremonies, as well as for the decoration of St. John’s Archcathedral and Warsaw Castle, on the occasion of the coronation of Stanisław August Poniatowski in 1768.
Since 1785, the collection was stored in the Palace of the Commonwealth, which performed the function of state archive. Ten years later, in November 1795, during the siege of Warsaw laid by the invader’s army — on the orders of Catherine II — the fabrics were stolen and brought to the storehouses of the Taurida Palace in St. Petersburg. After 1860, the collection of tapestries was separated, some of which were used to decorate the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and the tsar’s residences in Gatchina and Livadia in the Crimea, while others were transferred to the Museum of Court Stables, the collections of the Academy of Fine Arts, and the Theatre Office. Only after one hundred and twenty-six years — thanks to the Treaty of Riga in 1921—were most of the old tapestries recovered from the Soviet Union; the return of the collection was accomplished in instalments by 1928.
In September 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, a decision was made to move all the tapestries, along with other works from the Wawel treasury, outside Poland. The artefacts were moved  to France through Romania, where they were repaired in Aubusson weaving centre. After the French resistance was crushed, the collection was transported by sea to England. The latter also turned out to be a dangerous place, because the Battle of Britain was about to begin. Because of this, the tapestries were transported to Canada on the Polish ship Batory, where they were stored in very good conditions. After the end of the world war, the Canadian authorities delayed returning the deposit, because they were concerned with the political situation in Poland after 1945. Maurice Duplessis, the guardian of the tapestries in Quebec, was the one who resisted that idea with particular vehemence. The threat of the appropriation of the tapestries by the Canadian government caused a huge uproar in the country and among the officials of the Polish government-in-exile. Only after the death of Duplessis in 1959, thanks to numerous interventions and the great efforts of leading Polish figures, were the tapestries reclaimed and returned to Wawel, in February 1961.
Two of the identified tapestries from the former collection of Sigismund Augustusts are outside Wawel. The first fabric — The moral decline of humanity from series the Story of Noah — was found in the Kremlin and returned to Poland in 1977, as a gift of the Soviet authorities for the reconstruction of the Warsaw castle, where it is held to this day. On the other hand, the other one — the only tapestry intended for presentation above windows, preserved in its entire form — for some unknown reason, found its way from Russia to the antiquarian market. It was purchased by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and it has been part of their collection since 1952.

Elaborated by Magdalena Ozga (Wawel Royal Castle), Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

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Textile Decoration of Interiors. Groups of Small Tapestries from the Collection of Sigismund Augustus and Their Function

Decorative textiles, such as tapestries, constituted a decoration for chambers of the Royal Residence, adding splendour and a stately nature thereto. All tapestries commissioned by King Sigismund Augustus, from large-format to quite small ones, had specific functions in the residence interiors, aside from their artistic value.
Forms and sizes of certain categories of textiles were adjusted directly to the place of their destination; therefore, they were closely related to architecture. These groups include small tapestries complementing the decor of the castle interiors, namely over-window, under-window, over-door and upholstery tapestries.

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Decorative textiles, such as tapestries, constituted a decoration for chambers of the Royal Residence, adding splendour and a stately nature thereto. All tapestries commissioned by King Sigismund Augustus, from large-format to quite small ones, had specific functions in the residence interiors, aside from their artistic value.
Forms and sizes of certain categories of textiles were adjusted directly to the place of their destination; therefore, they were closely related to architecture. These groups include small tapestries complementing the decor of the castle interiors, namely over-window, under-window, over-door and upholstery tapestries.
Textiles in a shape similar to a rectangle, ended with a segmental arch, could serve as over-window tapestries, mounted over the upper straight-ended window frame (see: Tapestry with the Arms of Poland on a Landscape Background with Animals – a Dormouse and a dog-like Predator) and over-door tapestries mounted above a doorway lintel (see: Tapestry with the Arms of Lithuania on a Landscape Background with Animals ‒ Spotted  Hyena and Monkey).
It was different in the case of over-window tapestries intended to hang “over arches”. These were the arcade tapestries (in formam arcus), which, being in the shape of a semicircularly-ended window frame, were cut in the form of an arc at the bottom and were straight at the top. At present, in the Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection there are only fragments (e.g. arch areas) of such tapestries, since the straps joining them into a whole were cut out in the nineteenth century during their stay in Russia (see: Tapestry with Figures holding Cornuncopias). The only tapestry of this type preserved as a whole is now in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Its large spread (a width of 420 cm) lets one guess its function – it could have been a decoration of a span of an arcaded courtyard, a very wide portal or a pair of windows. However, researchers believe that among this group of textiles there were also smaller over-window tapestries with the width of a single window frame.
Narrow, elongated and rectangular textiles also constituted a window decoration, but they were a bottom adornment, hence their name – under-window tapestries (see: Tapestry with Music-Making Figures). There is evidence to suggest that they could function as a cover for the sides of deep window frames. According to inventories, under-window tapestries were also used to cover benches or chests.
The last group is made up of upholstery tapestries, eleven pieces of which have survived to this day. These tapestries were smallest in size and had a completely practical function, namely they formed coverings of seats or backs of chairs, as well as cushions (see: Chair Upholstery Tapestry with a Bouquet of Flowers).
Currently, only part of the collection of this kind of small tapestry, once numbering seventeen sets of decorations of large windows alone, is in the Wawel collection.
Main narratives of this group of textiles was focused primarily on grotesque (under-window, over-window and furniture tapestries), on a decorative function, as well as on heraldry (over-window and over-door tapestries), having representative significance associated with the political agenda of the ruler. With reference to the latter, among furniture tapestries there are also monogram textiles, with the initials of the king – SA (Sigismundus Augustus).

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.

Bibliography:
Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy z groteskami [Tapestries with grotesques], [in:] Arrasy wawelskie [The Wawel Tapestries], edited by Jerzy Szablowski, Anna Misiąg-Bocheńska, Maria Hennel-Bernasikowa, Magdalena Piwocka, Warszawa 1994, pp. 271–348;
Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy Zygmunta Augusta [The Tapestries of Sigismund Augustus], Kraków 2007.

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Splendour, Representation, and Politics – Heraldic and Monogram and Tapestries

Decorating walls with precious textiles added grandeur and significance to modest interiors. It is known from preserved descriptions and inventories that European rulers highly valued this artwork and loved being surrounded with tapestries since they added splendour to their owners. Tapestries were ordered for specific chambers of a ruler's residence as they performed relevant functions in a given space, expressed through the subject matter of their presentations. A special place in the entire collection of Sigismund II Augustus was occupied by monogram and heraldic tapestries, commissioned probably after 1553 (around 1555). Their subject matter and set of motifs expressed a precisely defined agenda directly related to the person of the ruler and his country.

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Decorating walls with precious textiles added grandeur and significance to modest interiors. It is known from preserved descriptions and inventories that European rulers highly valued this artwork and loved being surrounded with tapestries since they added splendour to their owners. Tapestries were ordered for specific chambers of a ruler’s residence as they performed relevant functions in a given space, expressed through the subject matter of their presentations. A special place in the entire collection of Sigismund II Augustus was occupied by monogram and heraldic tapestries, commissioned probably after 1553 (around 1555). Their subject matter and set of motifs expressed a precisely defined agenda directly related to the person of the ruler and his country.
This kind of monarchical textile originates as far back as in the Byzantine tradition. Heraldic tapestries were very popular from the late Middle Ages, for example those of the millefleur type, in which coats of arms of rulers were depicted against a meadow with a thousand flowers. Such goods of a typically court and stately nature were produced in Audenarde and Tournai in the 15th century and in Brussels in the sixteenth century.
We learn from Panegyric by Stanisław Orzechowski where the first three series of tapestries with scenes from Genesis comissioned by Sigismund II Augustus were presented. Their dimensions and subject matter determined their function, first as a decoration of interiors (of private and representative rooms such as the Tournament Hall, the Envoys’ Room and the Military Review Room) and then as a setting for the most important royal ceremonies. In contrast, monogram and heraldic tapestries were intended for official audience chambers. Their function was emphasised by the language of forms relating to the circle of royal symbols and emblems, as well as moral didacticism, which was to glorify the power and politics of the state.
The first group consists of monogram tapestries, those in which the king’s initials SA – Sigismundus Augustus – appear. The intertwined initials of the ruler, surmounted by a closed crown, formed a personal sign of Sigismund II Augustus, which was also his supralibros (the proprietary mark of a book collection). The SA monogram is present in the tapestries of King Sigismund in several variants. It appears in a cartouche or medallion, surrounded by Netherlandish grotesque, as well as on a forest background, accompanied by two satyrs – shield bearers. A culmination of this group of textiles is the most impressive tapestry among them – the monogram tapestry with a globe. Individual elements of its composition can be interpreted symbolically; however, its most important element is the title globe, which, in the context of the royal initials, refers to the majesty of authority – therefore, it is the most representative.
Heraldic tapestries form a group of textiles bearing a meaning associated strictly with the state of Sigismund II Augustus. The king commissioned the whole series of fabrics which constituted an interpretation of his political agenda. Being aware of the fact that he had no heir, Sigismund II Augustus strived to strengthen bonds between the Commonwealth and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania throughout the entire period of his reign, especially towards the end of his life. Many years of efforts resulted in the Union of Lublin signed in 1569, which united the two nations under the rule of one king. Commissioning of heraldic tapestries even before the union, around 1555, seemed to be a resolute political measure, in which art was a tool used to propagate the royal agenda.
In all the textiles of the latter group there are presented the coats of arms of the Commonwealth – the Eagle with the SA monogram on its chest, whose shield is surmounted by a crown – and the coats of arms of Lithuania – the Charging Knight with a shield closed with a ducal cap. Heraldic tapestries can be divided into two types.
The first one presents both coats of arms together against a grotesque in the background, accompanied by the goddesses Ceres or Victoria. Because of their sizes and strong propaganda overtones, these are the most impressive variants of this group. The figure of Ceres in the context of the coats of arms symbolises prosperity and wealth resulting from economic ties between the two nations. The meaning of these economic relations is enhanced by bunches of ripe fruit and vegetables. Victoria standing on a stack of militaria with a broken spear and a laurel wreath in her hands represents the peace and victory that was to be brought to the united Kingdom by a common foreign policy (especially in the era of the contemporary threat for the Duchy from the tsar of Russia – Ivan IV the Terrible). This heraldic tapestries from the group of grotesques are intentionally presented against a red background. With their colours, they refer to the ancient prototype of this ornament and, above all, to the imperial purple indicating the regal splendour. Intense colours of tapestries stood out from colours of interiors of the castle chambers, adding splendour and official character thereto.
The second type of heraldic tapestries are over-window and over-door textiles, which present a single coats of arms against the background of a mannerist landscape with animals; therefore, they belong to landscape and animal tapestries (verdures).
Making use of art to demonstrate the royal power and state policy was natural; this method was used both in the Commonwealth and throughout Europe at that time. For this purpose, Sigismund II Augustus used very stately and valuable tapestries not every ruler could afford, which added splendour to his court and testified to the greatness of the state governed by the Jagiellonian king.

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.

Bibliography:
Maria Bernasikowa, Arrasy Zygmunta Augusta świadkiem królewskich uroczystości (The tapestries of Sigismund Augustus as a witness of royal ceremonies), [in:] Theatrum ceremoniale na dworze książąt i królów polskich (Theatrum ceremoniale at the court of Polish kings and princes), proceedings of the academic conference organised by the Wawel Castle and the Institute of History of the Jagiellonian University on 23-25 March 1998, Mariusz Markiewicz, Ryszard Skowrona (eds.), Kraków 1999, pp. 255–265;
Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy z groteskami (Tapestries with grotesques), [in:] Arrasy wawelskie (The Wawel Tapestries), edited by Jerzy Szablowski, Anna Misiąg-Bocheńska, Maria Hennel-Bernasikowa, Magdalena Piwocka, Warszawa 1994, pp. 271–348;
Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy Zygmunta Augusta (The Tapestries of Sigismund Augustus), Kraków 2007.

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Theatre of Nature

The complete novelty was an animal and plant landscape, no longer treated as a background or complement to the scene, but as a separate subject matter. This type of textile was called a verdure (French: verdure) from the word verdir, or “to paint in green”, because of the predominance of this colour. It is sometimes claimed that one of inspirations for this kind of woven depictions was the hunting preferences of clients , as they are often also described as tapestries “to admire hunting” (ad venationem spectantia peristromata) or “fighting animals” (pugnae ferarum). The plant and animal landscape as a separate subject matter initially appeared in tapestries, later in paintings (for example paintings by Roelant Savery, 1576–1639). Verdures created between 1553 and 1560 that are part of the collection of tapestries of Sigismund II Augustus are probably among the first examples of this subject matter in tapestry art.

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Nature has always been a very important source of inspiration for fine arts. The original interest in it as a model evolved over time into a real cognitive and documentary passion for the surrounding world. Artists interested in the appearance of animals, diverse in terms of forms and colours, and the way they move, as well as the structure and behaviour of plants, studied their nature with analytical inquisitiveness. This kind of scientific and artistic work contributed to the development of the natural sciences.
Realistic tendencies in the field of weaving art appeared in the late Middle Ages. One example of this can be tapestries of the millefleur type, manufactured in France and Flanders from the beginning of the fifteenth century. They depicted figural scenes and heraldic motifs presented against a background of a flat meadow devoid of perspective, filled with the title “a thousand flowers” and figures of animals and insects (e.g. the series The Lady and the Unicorn of the late fifteenth century). Flora and fauna were shown in textiles in a totally naturalistic manner, which allows us today to recognise the majority of their species.
Somewhat later, a complete novelty was an animal and plant landscape, no longer treated as a background or complement to the scene, but as a separate subject matter. This type of textile was called a verdure (French: verdure) from the word verdir, or ”to paint in green”, because of the predominance of this colour. It is sometimes claimed that one of inspirations for this kind of woven depictions was the hunting preferences of clients, as they are often also described as tapestries “to admire hunting” (ad venationem spectantia peristromata) or “fighting animals” (pugnae ferarum). The plant and animal landscape as a separate subject matter initially appeared in tapestries, later in paintings (for example paintings by Roelant Savery, 1576–1639). Verdures created between 1553 and 1560 that are part of the collection of tapestries of Sigismund II Augustus are probably among the first examples of this subject matter in tapestry art.

Porcupine, Conrad Gesner, Historiae Animalium, Vol. 1, 1551, source: Wikipedia, public domain (compare with the over-door tapestry with the Arms of Poland on landscape background with animals - Beaver and Porcupine)

All sorts of collections of patterns available in the sixteenth century, such as sketchbooks (taccuino di disegni), very popular engravings by Albrecht Dürer, zoological atlases or works of animaliers and naturalists such as Pierre Belon and Conrad Gesner, the author of the famous Historiae animalium, provided a rich source of inspiration for artists of that period. Works of this type were included in the range of creative inspiration of weaving workshops and constituted a source of an extensive and relatively unchanging repertoire of motifs, as evidenced by a repetitive nature of certain kinds of animals, for example in tapestries of one series. Tapestries also showed exotic animals from Africa and the New World. This resulted from an interest in contemporary geographical discoveries. In the case of less known or fantastic specimens, creators of tapestries tried to depict them by making use of descriptions, as well as various accounts and legends; that is why their images were often created on the basis of projection. Interestingly, at that time many of the views on the origin, nature and symbolism of plants and animals still constituted a lasting legacy of antiquity and the Middle Ages (Physiologus). Artist used available patterns, in which individual specimens were presented as isolated, devoid of any context because animals and plants themselves were their object of interest. Therefore, they did not take into account realities such as the natural environment of existence, and put them together according to their own invention; that is why an exotic animal, such as a camel, could unexpectedly appear with rabbits in the middle of a broadleaved forest (Tapestry A Camel, a Rabbit and a Peacock).
Verdures ilustrated botanical and zoological knowledge at that time in which the real world interspersed with the imaginary one. Therefore, they can be treated as a “theatre of nature”, in which the setting was a mannerist forest and actors were real and fantastic creatures. Separated from the natural environment and arbitrarily compiled, they resulted in the whole composition creating an image slightly diverging from reality, even though its every detail constituted a fully realistic representation of elements of nature.

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.

Bibliography:
Maria Hennel-Bernasikowa, Arrasy krajobrazowo-zwierzęce (Animal and landscape tapestries), [in:] Arrasy wawelskie (The Wawel Tapestries), edited by Jerzy Szablowski, Anna Misiąg-Bocheńska, Maria Hennel-Bernasikowa, Magdalena Piwocka, Warszawa 1994, pp. 173–268;
Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy Zygmunta Augusta (The Tapestries of Sigismund Augustus),  Kraków 2007;
Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy króla Zygmunta Augusta: zwierzęta, cz. 1 (The Tapestries of King Sigismund Augustus: Animals, Part 1), Kraków 2009;
Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych (Terminological Dictionary of Fine Arts), Krystyna Kubalska-Sulkiewicz (ed.), Warszawa 2002.

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Over-Window Tapestry with the Arms of Poland on a Landscape Background with Animals ‒ a Dormouse and a Dog-like Predator

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