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The tapestry is part of a group of twelve textiles with the coats of arms of Poland and Lithuania against a background of ornamentation called Netherlandish grotesque. It belongs to a subgroup in which the coats of arms of both parts of the Commonwealth are entrusted to the care of the Roman goddess Ceres – a patron of peace, abundance and prosperity. The slender female figure in robes, modelled on clothing of ancient statues, holds a sickle and cornucopia, and stands in the middle on a marble podium. The sickle in her hand and a wreath of grain ears on her head bring associations with summer – the season of harvest, while the cornucopia symbolises prosperity.

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The tapestry is part of a group of twelve textiles with the coats of arms of Poland and Lithuania against a background of ornamentation called Netherlandish grotesque. It belongs to a subgroup in which the coats of arms of both parts of the Commonwealth are entrusted to the care of the Roman goddess Ceres – a patron of peace, abundance and prosperity.
The slender female figure in robes, modelled on clothing of ancient statues, holds a sickle and cornucopia, and stands in the middle on a marble podium. The sickle in her hand and a wreath of grain ears on her head bring associations with summer – the season of harvest, while the cornucopia symbolises prosperity.
On the sides, there are cartouches with the coats of arms of Poland (the White Eagle with the initials SA on its breast, under a closed crown) and Lithuania (the Charging Knight under the ducal cap). On both sides of the escutcheons, there are putti holding festoons of fruit and vegetables. The dark red background is filled with bunches of the fruits of the earth, placed in baskets and hung on a decorative frame.
The abundant still life includes, for example, pumpkins, apples, artichokes, and hops, as well as exotic plants such as corn, figs, and cocoa pods. In sixteenth-century Europe, vegetables and fruit from the New World, conquered by the Spanish conquistadors, were an attractive novelty. The trophies and wonders of nature brought from there were a matter for pride in the Habsburg countries, and during the reign of Emperor Charles V they were considered prestigious evidence of the impressive accomplishments of the dynasty. It was also reflected in designs for tapestries with grotesques woven for Sigismund II Augustus in Brussels, the capital of the Spanish Netherlands.

Elaborated by Magdalena Piwocka (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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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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From Ornament of Late Antiquity to Netherlandish Grotesque

On one of the seven hills of Rome – the Esquiline Hill – caves full of ancient paintings were excavated around 1480 under the foundations of medieval buildings. Their walls were decorated with fantastic, light and symmetrical structures created of figural, animal and floral motifs. La grotte, or caves, were in fact ruins of the villa of the Emperor Nero. It was called Domus Aurea because of the extraordinarily rich decoration of the walls and the inner part of the dome, which were covered with gold and paintings. They were created between AD 54 and 68 and related to the turn of the Third Style and Fourth Style of Pompeian painting.

 

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On one of the seven hills of Rome – the Esquiline Hill – caves full of ancient paintings were excavated around 1480 under the foundations of medieval buildings. Their walls were decorated with fantastic, light and symmetrical structures created of figural, animal and floral motifs. La grotte, or caves, were in fact ruins of the villa of the Emperor Nero. It was called Domus Aurea because of the extraordinarily rich decoration of the walls and the inner part of the dome, which were covered with gold and paintings. They were created between AD 54 and 68 and related to the turn of the Third Style and Fourth Style of Pompeian painting.

Grotesque, Raphael Santi, decoration of the Vatican loggias, 1518, source: Wikipedia, public domain

The term grotesque (grottesche) was derived from the name of the finding (la grotte). The way the ornament is called can also be translated as “weird, weirdness”. In its form, grotesque resembled ornaments of ancient origin popular in the Renaissance, namely arabesque or Islamic moresque. However, they both assumed the shape of a more or less stylised braided plants; on the other hand, grotesque was enriched with numerous additional motifs, and it created a fantastic structure. Formally, the latter was also close to its predecessor – the late medieval braided plants – since characters and animals were entwined in it in the same way. However, in medieval ornament it had an apotropaic or allegorical function.
Renaissance ornamentation was immensely influenced by the discovery of Domus Aurea. The finding was the main source of inspiration for artists, even though at that time there were known examples of other ancient grotesques decorating, for instance, the Colosseum and Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli. The popularity and strengthening of the fashion for Renaissance grotesque was primarily an effect of the influence of works by artists from the early 16th century, which were travesty of ancient paintings. The most important works of art in this field were paintings of the Vatican loggias, the Villa Madama and Palazzo Baldassini – the works of Raphael and his apprentice Giovanni da Udine. They were almost a total novelty in the field of decoration and this contributed to their extraordinary popularity among contemporary artists. Grotesque became a decoration type widely known and used in the 1st half of the 16th century (especially after 1520) thanks to the Italian works mentioned above, as well as widely accessible patterns created by ornamentalists.
Through numerous imitations of ancient grotesque in various art centres, this ornament gained its local variants. Netherlandish grotesque, even though based on the same formula as the Italian one, had a slightly different structure and elements. It gained extraordinary popularity thanks to replicated in graphic arts designs of Cornelis Floris or Cornelis Bos (e.g. The Book of Moresque of 1554), ornamentalists unequalled in their skill and imagination.
Initially, Netherlandish grotesque included mostly floral motifs but in time, because of oriental inspirations, exotic animals and fantastic creatures appeared, as well. The following mythological motifs were depicted particularly frequently: pairs of deities, their frolics, Bacchic processions, and various fantastic creatures or hybrids of human, animals and plants. In their details, depictions of an allegorical nature and even allusions to the exoticism of the New World (e.g. figures of Indians) can be noticed.
Netherlandish grotesque seemed to be, above all, more filled up than the Italian one. It had a much richer repertoire of motifs, and its spaces, separated in a certain way by the structure (scaffolding), were almost entirely filled with ripe fruit garlands and putti, as well as exotic plants and animals. However, horror vacui did not disturb the sense of order, which was controlled by the symmetry of the arrangement of all elements of the decoration. Interestingly, in its expanded form, the scaffolding structure, on which individual elements were based, was similar to metal fittings and fragments of rolled metal sheet, heralding the ferrule ornament that appeared in the art of the Netherlands in the mid-16th century.
The specificity of Netherlandish grotesque was its characteristic dualism manifested in the almost encyclopaedic realism of some depictions of plants and animals (species of which we are able to recognise), as well as fantasy affecting construction of its form, typical of this ornament.

See also:
Borders of tapestries of the Story of the First Parents, Story of Noah and Story of the Tower of Babel series;
Grotesque tapestries of monogram, heraldic and under-window types
Grotesque decoration of a pharmaceutical mortar

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:
Aleksandra Bernatowicz, Niepodobne do rzeczywistości. Malowana groteska w rezydencjach Warszawy i Mazowsza 17771821 (Unlike reality. Painted grotesque in residences of Warsaw and Mazovia), Warszawa 2006;

Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy z groteskami (Tapestries with grotesques), [in:] Arrasy wawelskie (Wawel Tapestries), edited by Jerzy Szablowski, Anna Misiąg-Bocheńska, Maria Hennel-Bernasikowa, Magdalena Piwocka, Warszawa 1994, pp. 271–348;
Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych (Terminological Dictionary of Fine Arts), Krystyna Kubalska-Sulkiewicz, Warszawa 2007.

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Tapestry Bearing the Arms of Poland and Lithuania and the figure of Ceres

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