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This tapestry of a group of monogram grotesques with the initials of King Sigismund II Augustus placed under a crown in a decorative cartouche belongs to a series of seven drapes (door curtains). In four of them, the cartouche is accompanied by satyrs playing instruments while the other three depict nymphs sitting on thrones. The composition is a representative example of ornamentation called Netherlandish grotesque. It was modelled on a print of ca. 1546 by Cornelis Bos, one of the founders and pioneers of this type of decoration. The painted design for the tapestry was modified, but the set of motifs and the general outline remained unchanged.

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This tapestry of a group of monogram grotesques with the initials of King Sigismund II Augustus placed under a crown in a decorative cartouche belongs to a series of seven drapes (door curtains). In four of them, the cartouche is accompanied by satyrs playing instruments while the other three depict nymphs sitting on thrones.

The composition is a representative example of ornamentation called Netherlandish grotesque. It was modelled on a print of ca. 1546 by Cornelis Bos, one of the founders and pioneers of this type of decoration. The painted design for the tapestry was modified, but the set of motifs and the general outline remained unchanged.

Two bearded satyrs, standing back to back, play trembitas under the cartouche of an embellished contour, near an openwork frame which supports a vase with a bouquet of flowers, fruit and leaves. They seem to be playing music for animals settled in the corners of the tapestry – snails, a crane and an owl. A structure resembling a window sill or a ramp is spread above the royal monogram. From behind the structure, female half-figures with turbans on their heads lean out. The whole image is topped by a vase of shells and a metal basket with carnations.

Tapestries with initials are part of the collection of tapestries presenting the national coats of arms and personal symbols of the monarch. These textiles played an important role in the system of governance – they decorated the interiors where Sigismund II Augustus received groups of envoys or official guests, and they symbolised the majesty of the King and his kingdom.

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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“Showing humanity against this beast of the forest”

The collection of King Zygmunt’s tapestries, since its first presentation in the chambers of Wawel castle, has aroused admiration. The ideological and artistic wealth of the tapestry has provided intellectual stimulus for its contemporary audience. It has also had an impact literary works such as Panegyric by Stanisław Orzechowski.  Jan Kochanowski, who had been inspired by the sight of a satyr on one of the royal fabrics (see: Tapestry with the monogram of Zygmunt August on a cartouche held by satyrs),e made the forest god the main hero of his political satire: Satyr or Wild man (1563, published in 1564).

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The collection of King Zygmunt’s tapestries, since its first presentation in the chambers of Wawel castle, has aroused admiration. The ideological and artistic wealth of the tapestry has provided intellectual stimulus for its contemporary audience. It has also had an impact literary works such as Panegyric by Stanisław Orzechowski.  Jan Kochanowski, who had been inspired by the sight of a satyr on one of the royal fabrics (see: Tapestry with the monogram of Zygmunt August on a cartouche held by satyrs), made the forest god the main hero of his political satire: Satyr or Wild man (1563, published in 1564). The subject of the poem includes a visit to the court of the satyr, who — in the presence of the king and the Polish nobility — criticizes the contemporaneous social and political situation in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (the resolutions of the Polish Sejm during the years 1562–1564). This old literary concept with its origin traceable to antiquity — so significant in the Renaissance — was somehow rediscovered by Kochanowski, who also included domestic references within it.
Silenus, Satyr, and Pan  can be described as forest creatures with a hybrid semi-animal and semi-human structure. They were amused participants of Bacchus’s retinue, famous for their lewd tendencies and drunkenness. Despite the disparities resulting from their mythological origins (Silenus was the son of Hermes and the satyrs were the sons of Silenus), in literature, these characters were often regarded as related and sometimes even identified with one another.
Forest gods played the role of cheerful, horned mentors in the satirical drama chorus, which is a variation of the Greek comedy, already viewed as the origin of satire (literary genre) in the Renaissance. They appeared in the role of  moralists in ancient works — which is surprising in the context of their moral attitude — such as Eclogue VI by Virgil, Menedemus by Lycophron, and Cyclops by Euripides, as well as in one of Aesop’s fables, Satyr and man, translated by Biernat of Lublin in 1522 under the title, Lściwy nieprzyjaźliwy).[1]
The explanation of this convention is provided by Plato’s Symposium, as it contains a puzzling passage, in which Alcibiades compares the figure of the great philosopher, Socrates, with the forest god, Silenus. This unusual episode refers to the ancient tradition, which teaches that “external ugliness, truant disposition, often mask the hidden great wisdom and prudence”.[2] Paradoxically, Silenus, with an ugly yet amusing appearance (an obese drunkard with horse-like ears and tail), repeatedly occupied the position of a serious moralist, who — as a centuries-old (external) observer of history — lectured humanity about its mistakes. This ambiguous nature was very well visualized in the old statues of the unattractive god, Silenus, containing a door in its body, behind which a figure of the ideal god was hidden.
In a sense, the “Polonised” version of the Satyr was the wild man, the second figure to whom Kochanowski refers in the title of his poem. This creation — characteristic for the folklore of many cultures — often took a similar form, for example: the Italian uomo selvaggio, the German Wildemann, and Homo Silvestris. A wild man is none other than a “good savage” — a recluse unspoilt by civilisation — who has gained his half-animal appearance thanks to his body hair. He performed the cultural function of a truant-moralist — analogous to a satyr — because he was genetically related to the Greek god.
In Adagia, In Praise of Folly, Erasmus of Rotterdam used Plato’s concept in his writingay. He compared the figure of Silenus to the whole group of ancient philosophers. He also construed Christian connotations, by finding analogies between forest gods and John the Baptist, the prophets, and Christ himself.
This literary pattern derived from Plato and Erasmus and known since the 16th century — which also makes reference to the folklore tradition — was applied by Kochanowski. His work gained considerable popularity among his contemporaries and gave rise to a new genre: the old Polish satirical poem. On this basis — and even in direct reference to it — poems were created, mainly in the 16th and 17th century, in which, through the mouth of a Satyr or another forest creature, the author expressed environmental criticism, as well as commentary on current events, often giving the satire a mocking-didactic form (for example, Protheus albo Odmieniec [author unknown], Satyr na twarz Rzeczypospolitej w roku 1640 by Samuel Twardowski, and Satyr stęskniony w pustyni w jasne wychodzi pole [author unknown]).

 

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 króla Zygmunta Augusta, Kraków 2013.
Lucia Impelluso, Natura i jej symbole: rośliny i zwierzęta, tłum. Hanna Cieśla, Warszawa, 2006.
Jan Kochanowski, Satyr albo Dziki mąż, oprac. Paulina Buchwald-Pelcowa, Warszawa 1983.
Zygmunt Kubiak, Mitologia Greków i Rzymian, Warszawa 2008.
Roman Krzywy, Staropolski poemat satyrowy, [w:] Pasaż wiedzy. Muzeum Pałacu Króla Jana III w Wilanowie. 
Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, red. Krystyna Kubalska-Sulkiewicz, Warszawa 1996.
Janusz Pelc, Jan Kochanowski: szczyt renesansu w literaturze polskiej, Warszawa 1987.


[1] Satyr and man is a moralising tale about a man who was aided by a satyr in returning home from the forest. The forest god noticed that a travelling man blew on his hands to warm them, while after his return home he blew on a spoon with soup to cool it. Outraged by this contradiction, he said that he did not want to have anything to do with a man whose mouth comes out with both a warm and a cold breath – through which he stigmatised man for his hypocrisy and duplicity of human nature.
[2] J. Pelc, Jan Kochanowski: szczyt renesansu w literaturze polskiej, Warszawa 1987, p. 187. In ancient Greece, the concept of kalos kaghatos [from Greek: beautiful and good] functioned, defining the classic ideal of beauty, understood as a reflection of a good soul (bravery and courage in a military context) in external, physical beauty; also in the sense of harmony between mind and body. According to Platonic thought, its derivative term is sophos kagathos, literally meaning wise and good. Plato turned away from the relationship between internal beauty and external beauty, because, as it was written above, even a hideous appearance can hide a good mind.

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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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Wine stories – part one

The end of summer is the beginning of vintage – and wine has a special place in European culture. Already in ancient times, this beverage played an important role in the beliefs of most religions, appearing during the rites associated with the worship of key deities responsible for important issues such as life, death, love and fertility. In ancient Greece, the main god of wine was Dionysus, in Rome – Bacchus, but also other deities such as Venus and Jupiter surrounded this noble drink with their protection.

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The end of summer is the beginning of vintage – and wine has a special place in European culture. Already in ancient times, this beverage played an important role in the beliefs of most religions, appearing during the rites associated with the worship of key deities responsible for important issues such as life, death, love and fertility. In ancient Greece, the main god of wine was Dionysus, in Rome – Bacchus, but also other deities such as Venus and Jupiter surrounded this noble drink with their protection.

There is no love without wine

The main official Greek holidays associated with Dionysus were the City Dionysia (celebrated in spring) and the Rural Dionysia (celebrated in winter) – during the latter fresh wine from the new year was opened. The Romans adopted Dionysus into their pantheon under the name of Bacchus – his worship replaced the ancient Italian cults of Liber, Libera and Ceres: deities of freedom, fertility, harvest and wine. These aspects – life, sexuality and liberation – were inseparably related to wine.

Of course, in this situation, it became natural to associate wine with goddess of love, Venus – as the Romans used to say: wine is the milk of Venus. Twice a year – in spring and at the end of summer – people in ancient Rome would celebrate Vinalia, that is the festival of wine. Its patrons were Jupiter and previously mentioned Venus who extended protection over wine for everyday use, which we would call today a table wine. A Roman comedian Terence in his popular work Eunuch recalled a proverb which later became particularly popular among modern lovers of antiquity: sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus, meaning “without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus turns freezes”. Ceres (Cerera) is the goddess of fertility who in this sentence personifies the crops of the earth, while Bacchus obviously refers to wine, and Venus – to love. In summary, without food and drink all affection turns cold.

“Aphrodite of Milos” – a plaster cast of an antique sculpture, 19th century,
Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.
Digitalisation: RDW MIC, public domain


Wine and cruelty

The Greek Dionysus was not only the god of wine, but also a deity of nature, life and death. He was an extraordinarily important god, described as born twice, which alludes to the story of his death and return to life. Dionysus was said to be the son of Zeus and the mortal Semele. According to some myths, Dionysus was begotten by Zeus and Persephone, and after birth was killed (torn to pieces) by the titans, on the order of jealous Hera. Zeus was said to have retrieved only the heart from the child’s remains from which he “recreated” Dionysus, this time in the womb of Semele. Other myths say that Semele burnt when struck by a lightning while she was pregnant, because at her request Zeus appeared before her in his full majesty of the thunder god. Then he “completed bearing” Dionysus, by hiding the foetus in his thigh. Either way, the myths associated with Dionysus were brutal. It is difficult to say how bloody the rites of his worship were. As a matter of fact, the Dionysian mysteries are considered by researchers to be one of the most secret rituals – it is not known exactly how they looked.

Dionysus was thought to wander the world in the company of half-animal satyrs and crazy maenads. In ancient Rome, he was worshipped by the name of Bacchus, while maenads were also called Bacchantes.

“Dancing Satyr” – a plaster cast of an antique sculpture, 19th century, Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. Digitalisation: RDW MIC, public domain


The unbridled desires of satyrs

Have you ever wondered why in popular images the devil is a man with horns, a tail and hooves? This is because the Christian image of the devil evolved from the images of ancient satyrs: wild mythological human-animal creatures which were somewhat brutal and rampant, whose main characteristic feature was their uncontrollable sexual drive. Due to the presence of satyrs in the retinue of Dionysus, they were often shown with a cup of wine or a bunch of grapes in their hands, or with wreaths and bands made from grapevines.

The literary genre called satire derives its name from these creatures – its genesis lies in Greek comedies, in which the choir of satyrs could appear in a mentoring, moralising role (read also: “Showing humanity against this beast of the forest”). It seems that in many cases the literary role of a satyr can be compared to a court jester: it is a funny, grotesque and ugly figure, who, however, could show wisdom and shrewdness in his mockery, and also even have the courage to tell someone an inconvenient truth. This in turn fits well with the context of wine; as proverbs from many countries say, a drunk man usually tells the truth (Latin: In vino veritas – “there is truth in wine”).

Tapestry with Satyrs Holding Up a Cartouche with the Monogram of Sigismund Augustus, ca. 1555, Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection.
Digitalisation: RDW MIC, public domain

 

Women in ecstasy

Drunken satyrs in Dionysus’ retinue were accompanied by equally intoxicated maenads, i.e. crazy women. They engaged in ecstatic dances, and at the culmination of drunken frenzy they were said to grab an animal, tear it apart and, as part of a mystical feast, eat bloody bites raw, thereby embodying the power of Dionysus himself. In art maenads, or the Bacchantes, were portrayed as young women, often half-naked, writhing in a crazy dance – many of such depictions have been preserved on ancient Greek artefacts. In later European art, the greatest return of Bacchantes’ popularity took place in the 2nd half of the 14th century, when the artists were particularly eagerly looking for themes with an erotic undertone. A beautiful woman, baring herself in the madness of a drunken dance, represented unbridled drives which were of great interest to representatives of symbolism flourishing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the same time, a liberated but also cruel Bacchante (because these creatures were supposed to be brutal), perfectly fitted the stereotype of a dangerous and attractive femme fatale, a stereotype which kept recurring in many works of arts and literature at the turn of centuries.

Sculpture “Bacchante” by Teodor Rygier, 1887, National Museum in Kraków. Digitalisation: RDW MIC, public domain

 

A moral scandal in ancient Rome

Bacchantes is a term used not only for Bacchus’ mythical companions, but also for his worshippers. Roman celebrations in worship of Bacchus, like Greek counterparts honouring Dionysus, were shrouded in secret mystery. According to an account by the Roman historian Titus Livius, a scandal occurred in 186 BC, which resulted in mass arrests and deaths of many people. It began with rituals during Bacchanalia, which theoretically should be performed only by women, several times a year, during the day. Meanwhile, the priestess Paculla Annia decided to modify these rules: as a part of the worship of Bacchus, she began to organise night-time orgies with the participation of men and women (including her own sons!), as often as several times a month. During these meetings various sexual perversions were said to have taken place... The affair came to light when a courtesan Hispala Faecenia told the consul, Spurius Postumius Albinus, about secret practices. Eventually, the Roman Senate issued an act prohibiting Bachanalia (Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus). Which does not change the fact that in the preserved Roman sculptures from the centuries that followed we can repeatedly encounter the tangled naked bodies of Bacchus’ worshippers.

Christianity assigned to wine a completely different, sacred role – although some Old Testament stories with wine in the background are not free from scandalous notes either. But that is another story.

Elaborated by Magdalena Łanuszka, PhD
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland.

 

Magdalena Łanuszka, PhD – a graduate of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków with a PhD in the History of Art, a specialist in the Middle Ages. She has cooperated with various institutions: in the field of didactics (giving lectures at, among others, the Jagiellonian University, the Heritage Academy, numerous Universities of the Third Age), research work (including for the University of Glasgow, The Polish Academy of Learning), as well as in popularizing science (e.g. for the Polish National Archives, the National Institute of Museology and Protection of Collections, the National Library, Radio Kraków, and Tygodnik Powszechny). She is the coordinator of the project Art and Heritage in Central Europe at the International Cultural Centre in Kraków as well as the editor-in-chief of the local RIHA Journal. The author of a blog on looking for interesting facts related to art: www.posztukiwania.pl.

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Tapestry with the Monogram of Sigismund Augustus in Cartouche

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