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The Jagiellonian tapestry Paradise Bliss is the first fabric of the History of the First Parents series, commissioned by Sigismund II Augustus and created in Brussels during the years 1550–1560. It depicts events of the beginning of the Biblical Book of Genesis (Gen 2.8.–3.20).

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The Jagiellonian tapestry Paradise Bliss is the first fabric of the History of the First Parents series, commissioned by Sigismund II Augustus and created in Brussels during the years 1550–1560. It depicts events of the beginning of the Biblical Book of Genesis (Gen 2.8.–3.20).
The scenes are set on the left-hand side. In the background, the Creation of Adam, and Creation of Eve, as well as the scene God the Father Introduces the First Parents to Each Other is shown. In the main scene Prohibition Against Eating the Fruit, God, pointing at the tree of knowledge of good and evil, warns the first people against eating fruit of this tree. However, they do not listen – on the right one can see Original Sin, and then Exile from Eden as its consequence. The Biblical events take place in a forest landscape, where European and exotic animals and birds can be seen. One of them is the dodo (Raphus cucullatus), an extinct flightless bird that originally lived on the island of Mauritius, which can be seen on the right side. The bordure is filled with a Flemish grotesque with figures of putti, nymphs, and satyrs. In the lower bordure, near the left edge, one can see a chariot with Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, and on the opposite side – Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. In the upper bordure, a light blue cartouche is placed with a Latin inscription that in translation reads as follows: God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of life, and as they disobeyed, they were exiled from Eden.
The tapestry suffered the same fate as the entire collection. On 30 July 1553, it decorated the Wawel Castle interiors on the occasion of the wedding of Sigismund Augustus and Catherine of Austria. In 1572, the king willed the entire collection of the Jagiellonian tapestries to his sisters: Sophie, Catherine and Anna in perpetuity. After their deaths, it was to become the property of the Republic of Poland. The tapestry, along with the whole Story of the First Parents series, was sent to Stockholm in 1578, to one of the heirs, Catherine, Queen of Sweden. It came back to Poland in 1587 or 1591. It was used to decorate the Warsaw Castle on the occasion of the wedding of Władysław IV and Cecilia Renata of Austria in September 1637. During the Swedish Deluge, in the years 1655–1657, it was taken away, along with the whole collection, to an unknown place. In 1666, the collection was deposited by John Casimir at Franciszek Gratta in Gdańsk. Two year later, in February 1671, tapestries borrowed from the collection decorated the Pauline Church and Monastery at Jasna Góra on the occasion of the wedding of Michael Korybut Wiśniowiecki and Eleanor Maria Josefa of Austria. In 1724, they were pawned back and entrusted to the Carmelite Order in Warsaw for safekeeping. In the years 1764–1768, after the coronation of Stanisław August Poniatowski, they decorated the Royal Castle in Warsaw. In 1785, they were taken from the Carmelite convent to the Palace of the Commonwealth, and there they were plundered by the Russians and taken to Saint Petersburg. Possession of the fabric was regained from the Soviet Union on 1 September 1922, and it was placed at Wawel on 28 September 1922. The collection was taken out of Poland in September 1939. It was evacuated through Romania, France, and England, and it reached Canada on 13 July 1940. It came back to Wawel in February 1961.

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

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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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Michiel Coxcie in the Netherlandish Romanesque Circle

In the 16th century, Rome attracted artists from the North with a series of discoveries of ancient works, as well as with works of the Renaissance masters – Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo. This fascination brought a trend in paintings known as the Netherlandish Romanesque. Its sources were of two kinds.
 

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In the 16th century, Rome attracted artists from the North with a series of discoveries of ancient works, as well as with works of the Renaissance masters – Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo. This fascination brought a trend in paintings known as the Netherlandish Romanesque. Its sources were of two kinds.
The first source was the migration of artists from the North to the Eternal City: “(...) because he who has not used up a thousand quills and paints, has not painted over a thousand boards in this school [in Rome – ed.] is not worthy of the honourable title of a true artist”, Jan van Scorel is believed to have said. Many years of studies resulted in artists assimilating the Italian repertoire. This allowed them to achieve the high style based on a study of works of antiquity which, combined with the tradition of realistic paintings of the Netherlands, created a specific variant of northern Mannerism. A pioneer of those artistic pilgrimages to Rome was Jan Gossaert, known as Mabuse, who came to the Eternal City with Philip of Burgundy in 1508. Others followed his example, including Jan van Scorel, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, Michiel Coxcie and many others.
Italian patterns spread to the Netherlands also in another way: through copies of works from Italy, drawings and engravings. The best example of this kind of impact was given by works of Bernard van Orley, who had never been to Italy, yet his works revealed the influence of the Italian masters. For this reason, he was also categorised as belonging to the group of Netherlandish Romanist artists. Van Orley was an artist promoting the Italianising style in paintings; he also worked as the main cartoon designer of  tapestries workshops in Brussels. His knowledge of Raphael’s works had local sources. Van Orley came across cartoons made by Raphael for a series of tapestries intended for the Sistine Chapel, which Pope Leo X had commissioned in the Brussels workshops (Acts of the Apostles series, 1515–1516).

Raphael (pr Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino), Miraculous catch of fish, a cartoon to the series of tapestries Acts of the Apostles, 1515, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Works of Michiel Coxcie can be in a way located at an intersection of these two sources of inspiration. He was born in Mechelen in 1499, and he learnt in the workshop of Bernard van Orley. Therefore, during the first period of his art education he was instilled with principles of the Italianising school, which at that time was based on mediated knowledge of Italian formulas, including Raphael’s cartoons, popular in Brussels. Michiel Coxcie complemented his studies with a journey to Rome, where he stayed during the years 1530–1539. In the Eternal City, he had an opportunity to familiarise himself in situ with works of the masters of the Italian Renaissance and assimilate the entire repertoire of formulas applied at that time with respect to composition, arrangement of figures and studies on the human body. Well-known Italian works of this artist include, for example, the frescoes in the chapel of Saint Barbara in the Church of Santa Maria dell’Anima, made in the years 1532–1534, commissioned by his countryman, Cardinal Willem Enckevoirt, or strongly Raphaelising engravings with the story of Cupid and Psyche.
Michiel Coxcie was called “Flemish Raphael” by his contemporaries. In his paintings, he used numerous references to Roman works, due to which he acquired a reputation as an excellent compiler of Italian patterns, although his works were not devoid of a strong creative initiative of the artist himself. Aside from inspiration by Raphael, his works show noticeable strong references to such artists as Perino del Vaga and Baldassare Peruzzi, as well as to works of Leonardo and Sebastiano del Piombo, but primarily to his teacher – Bernard van Orley. Having returned to the Netherlands, Coxcie was very active in his professional life – after the death of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, he became the main cartoon designer of the tapestries workshops in Brussels. In Poland, he is mainly known as a supposed (and most likely) author of cartoons to three series of tapestries with scenes from the Book of Genesis from the collection of tapestries of Sigismund Augustus, which are a part of the collection of Wawel Royal Castle.

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:
Hanna Bensz, Niderlandzcy romaniści: Antwerpia, Bruksela, Haarlem (Romanists of the Netherlands: Antwerp, Brussels, Haarlem) [in:] Transalpinum. Od Giorgiona i Dürera do Tycjana i Rubensa (Transalpinum. From Giorgione and Dürer to Titian and Rubens), Dorota Folga-Januszewska, Antoni Ziemba (eds.), Warsaw 2004;
Ryszard Szmydki, Elementy batalistyczne w twórczości Michiela Coxcie z lat 15491550 (Battle elements in works of Michiel Coxcie of the period 15491550), [in:] Amicissima. Studia Magdalenae Piwocka oblata, Kraków 2010, pp. 153–158;
Id., Pierwsza wystawa monograficzna Michiela Coxcie (14991592) (The first monographic exhibition of Michiel Coxcie (14991592)), ”Biuletyn Historii Sztuki”, 76 (2014), no 1, pp. 165–170.

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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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16th-century reception of the tapestry “Paradise Bliss”

In the panegyric of Stanisław Orzechowski (Panagyricus nuptiarum Sigismundi Augusti Poloniae Regis), describing events of the wedding ceremony of Sigismund Augustus and Catherine of Austria, an ekphrasis was preserved which illustrates the tapestries of biblical themes, including Paradise Bliss from the series The History of the First Parents. This text is valuable inasmuch as it includes the first information that ever appeared on the tapestries, helpful in dating the commissioned series. It is also, or perhaps above all, a record of impressions and reactions of the contemporary audience, constituting in some way a commentary of their worldview.

 
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A piece of art comprises a good deal of information, which reflects the culture of the circle in which the work was created, as well as the individual intentions of the artist. It can also communicate a great amount of content completely not intended by its author, but actively complemented by the viewer. “Participation of the watcher” consists of their personal emotional and intellectual perception, contributing new contexts, beliefs and assumptions to the work[1]. Thus, it can be said that it is formed due to a collaboration of the artist and the viewer. Since every work also exists in relation to the time at which it is “read”, it actively changes depending on the circumstances. Therefore, a modern reception of a former work differs from its reception by the audience of the time of its creation.
Due to a preserved text of 1553 written by Stanisław Orzechowski (Panagyricus nuptiarum Sigismundi Augusti Poloniae Regis), in the case of the collection of tapestries of King Sigismund Augustus, we can take a look at their first presentation to a wide audience and get to know the impressions accompanying this event. In the panegyric of Orzechowski, describing events of the wedding ceremony of Sigismund Augustus and Catherine of Austria, an ekphrasis was preserved which illustrates the tapestries of biblical themes, including Paradise Bliss from the series The History of the First Parents[2]. This text is valuable inasmuch as it includes the first information that ever appeared on the tapestries, helpful in dating the commissioned series. It is also, or perhaps above all, a record of impressions and reactions of the contemporary audience, constituting in some way a commentary of their worldview. In a very interesting way, the manner of viewing a piece of work and its reception emerge, emphasising the qualities to which particular attention was paid in the age of its creation and which today do not provoke any deeper reflection. Therefore, let us take a closer look at this description.
On the day of the wedding ceremony, the tapestries hung in the king’s bedchamber, which “(...) shone with the unusual splendour, reportedly not seen elsewhere, of the king’s tapestries [opona][3]. Therein, Adam and Eve, both our first parents and the originators of our misery, stand very lifelike, painted with the art of weaving, both interwoven with gold in all the tapestries. (...)
In the first tapestry, at the head of the marriage bed, an image of happiness of our first parents could be seen, presented in the textile, in which, as they were happy, they were not ashamed of their nakedness. Meanwhile, the nudity of them both had such an effect on the viewers that men smiled at Eve, and frivolous girls smiled at Adam as soon as they had entered the chamber. This was because his exposed privates showed masculinity and hers femininity in full bloom.
The second tapestry depicted the fruit of the tree and the instigation of the serpent with such artistry that the very tapestry spoke about both the serpent’s deception and Eve’s greediness, as well as about Adam’s sin.
In the third one, this exile of ours, miserable and hapless, was presented. Here, you could be gripped with fear at the sight of Adam’s flight, Eve’s tremble and God, the angry judge, so that, when looking at it, you would say that you are also condemned and a judgement has been passed against you; so vividly the tapestry depicted the sin of Adam and the wrath of God in all its contours and details”[4].
The first issue which comes to mind when reading this text is the use of the verb “painted” by Orzechowski – tapestries “painted with the art of weaving”. It is interesting inasmuch as the tapestry was perceived as a work of painting art, with the use of the corresponding nomenclature. Drawing, plasticity, composition, depth, and colours – all these elements have their place here. Undoubtedly, it has its sources in the process of tapestry preparation. It was  modelled on a cartoon drawn probably by the painter Michael Coxcie (an analogous situation occurs in the art of stained glass); whereas determining the designer’s attribution, the textile was compared with his works of painting in search of common formal features and hallmarks of his style. At the same time, engravings were a source of inspiration for many details of the presentation, serving as technical help, just as in the case of paintings. Therefore, it is not surprising that works of this kind were called acupictura, which means “needle painting”. It also proves the perfection of the mastered weaving skills, allowing the weavers to achieve these kinds of painterly effects and, not without reason, name the Brussels as  the best centre of that time.
According to the readers-response theory, a work assumes the existence of a specific viewer with whom it tries to evoke certain visual and intellectual experiences[5]. One may guess that in this case, the supposed (ideal) viewer was an educated 16th-century watcher, in accordance with the full understanding of the content assumed at that time by the creators.
On the aesthetic level, the visual effect reflects the Renaissance ideal of the imitation of nature – so-called mimesis. Thorough observation and documentation of the surrounding world was accompanied by the contemporary reverence for humanity and nature, combining a passion for research with sensitivity to beauty. The subject matter of the tapestry provided an excellent opportunity for a study of a naked human body presenting the contemporary ideal of beauty, modelled on antiquity. At the same time, the precision in the capturing of every element of flora and fauna (due to which we are able to recognise individual types and species of plants, insects and animals) is a result of using various compendia of nature. All this results in the viewers of that time feeling that Adam and Eve “stood lifelike” in front of them. The audience’s response to the nudity of the figures, which evoked a kind of indignation, only proves the impression of physicality, tangibility or even a feeling of the presence of these two.
However, with time, in accordance with the principles of Counter-Reformation, the contemporary freedom in presentations of nudity (even dictated by the subject!) was stigmatised, and works previously created were adapted to the new guidelines. The discussed tapestry was not spared the mark of that time, as well. The “indecent” nudity of the figures of the first parents was covered with plant twigs additionally woven in the part of their hips. Non-invasive interference (?), which, however, destroys the original assumptions of the creators and impressions of the audience, who had seen “an image of happiness of our first parents, in which, as they were happy, they were not ashamed of their nakedness”.
People of that time were taught and accustomed to emblematic thinking. Thus, the language of religious and mythological symbols they used was rather clear. The tradition derived from antiquity and medieval bestiaries had absorbed various myths and legends, resulting in the compendia and atlases acting as a handbook of symbols, aside from being a pattern. The tapestry under discussion was also composed with the objective of conveying some metaphorical content hidden in the form of animals and plants accompanying first parents, which added meaning to the entire narrative, clear at that time.
The audience’s attitude to the presentation was not passive, as through their own emotions, they actively contributed to the story, which is particularly noticeable in Orzechowski’s description. The work of art involves the viewer, as a book involves its reader. There was a gradual build-up of tenseness in the story – from the right to the left side (heraldically). The participant follows the narrative – from the happiness and serenity of paradise to successive misadventures generating suspense (temptation, breaking the ban and its consequence), which enhances the overtone of the left part of the textile, aimed at inducing feelings of “fear” and “tremor”.
Orzechowski’s ekphrasis uses a great deal of means deepening the impression of the reception in the readers of the panegyric. He conveys well the empathetic nature of the contact with the work, based on the viewer’s own experience – “so that, when looking at it, you would say that you are also condemned and a judgement has been passed against you”. As a priest, Orzechowski also uses the image as an interpretation of the moralistic content, deepened with such phrases as “this exile of ours, miserable and hapless”, through which he involves the viewer/reader and makes the content of the presentation more active (which is happening) to give them a lesson.
The tapestry Paradise Bliss has a narrative composition, but in Orzechowski’s description, it was divided into three pieces – three major scenes. Perhaps, this is a mistake of the author himself, though it seems that it reflects his way of “reading” the presentation by way of separating, and thus highlighting the motifs of the composition.
Therefore, Paradise Bliss constituted an interpretation of the meanings, as well as providing a great deal of aesthetic experience to the contemporary audience. This only attests (continuously) to the exceptional nature and level of the work. In such cases, reception theory is an even more interesting tool, which creates an opportunity to go back in time, allowing one to enter into that age and a different way of feeling, as well as to bring closer an individual perspective other than ours.

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:
Arrasy wawelskie [Wawel Tapestries], Jerzy Szablowski, Anna Misiąg-Bocheńska, Maria Hennel-Bernasikowa, Magdalena Piwocka (aut.), Warsaw 1994;
Anne D’Alleva, Metody i teorie historii sztuki [Methods and theories of the history of art], Krakow 2005;
Historia doktryn artystycznych [The history of art doctrines], Part 1: Myśliciele, kronikarze i artyści o sztuce: od starożytności do 1500 r. [Thinkers, chroniclers and artists about art: from antiquity to 1500], Jan Białostocki (ed.), Warsaw 1988;
Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy króla Zygmunta Augusta: zwierzęta [The Tapestries of King Sigismund Augustus: Animals, Part. 1, Krakow 2009;
Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy króla Zygmunta Augusta: rośliny [The Tapestries of King Sigismund Augustus: Plants], Kraków 2010.


[1] The term “participation of the watcher’” was created by Ernst Gombrich.
[2] Ekphrasis, Greek: ékphrasis, is “a verbal piece precisely describing an object, as if placing it before one’s eyes," which is a detailed description of a work of art, being a fragment or the whole of a literary work; it is both a description and interpretation; it has emerged as a literary genre (see also: hypotyposis); as cited in: Myśliciele, kronikarze i artyści o sztuce: od starożytności do 1500 r. [Thinkers, chroniclers and artists about art: from antiquity to 1500], J. Białostocki (ed.), Warsaw 1988, p. 131.
[3] Opona – a term used in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th to the 18th century to describe decorative textiles adorning walls (arrases/ tapestries, gobelins and carpets) and fabric coverings of walls; as cited in: Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych (Terminological Dictionary of Fine Arts), K. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz (ed.), Warsaw 1996, p. 289.
[4] As cited in: Arrasy wawelskie [Wawel Tapestries], collective work, Warsaw 1994, pp. 45–46.
[5] Even at the beginning of the 20th century, art historians became interested in the reception of works of art. However, the readers-response theory crystallised within the theory of literature in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Studies on active participation of the reader were initiated by Roman Ingarden and further developed by Wolfgang Iser (presumed reader), and then by Hans Robert Jaus (context of cultural meanings and active text transformation in relation to historical circumstances), Stanley Fish (happening of the text, literary means evoking certain feelings with the reader), and Roland Barthes (game of signs, capturing of the meaning). All these theories have been transferred to the history of art and used for interpretation works of art, which in theory is called by Wolfgang Kemp the aesthetics of reception. They have rejected the assumption that the main intention of the viewer is to recreate the artist's concept (see also: “death of the author); Anne D’Alleva, Metody i teorie historii sztuki [Methods and theories of the history of art], Kraków 2005, pp. 128–143.

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Jagiellonian tapestry “Paradise Bliss” of the “History of the First Parents” series

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