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It belongs to a series of fourteen tapestries designed to be hung under window sills. Most of them were damaged. After they had been taken to Russia in 1795, they were cut and sewn together to form semi-circular over-window or over-door tapestries. Upon their recovery from the Soviet Union in 1922, they were unstitched and put back together to reconstruct their original appearance. In the middle of the horizontal frieze, there is a metal vase supported on lion paws, filled with fruit and leaves. A huge eggplant and zucchini spill out of the vase. On both its sides, on a frame linking all the elements, two putti are perched, one of them with a bow and a quiver.

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It belongs to a series of fourteen tapestries designed to be hung under window sills. Most of them were damaged. After they had been taken to Russia in 1795, they were cut and sewn together to form semi-circular over-window or over-door tapestries. Upon their recovery from the Soviet Union in 1922, they were unstitched and put back together to reconstruct their original appearance.
In the middle of the horizontal frieze, there is a metal vase supported on lion paws, filled with fruit and leaves. A huge eggplant and zucchini spill out of the vase. On both its sides, on a frame linking all the elements, two putti are perched, one of them with a bow and a quiver. At the ends of the rectangular field, on decorative seats joined with the frame, there are two figures playing shells ‒ a young man on the right and a bearded man on the left. Under the seats, a snail and a turtle are hidden.
In terms of composition, the tapestry resembles the borders of large textiles with scenes from the Old Testament. It is a classic work of Netherlandish grotesque, an application of drawing and graphic designs created in Antwerp in the mid-16th century. The motif of the seats resembles part of 'teams' which can usually be seen in parades and processions of putti, goats and mythological characters. They are typical of the borders of the Bible tapestries from Wawel.

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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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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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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Under Window Tapestry with the figures playing the shells

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