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The tombstone of king Kazimierz III the Great

Kazimierz III’s (Casimir the Great’s) tombstone was sculpted in red limestone from the Hungarian town of Esztergom, which has been traditionally called ‘marble’. It may be assumed that the type of material was consciously selected, since the colour red had been associated with power and reserved for rulers since the time of the Roman Empire. The king’s tomb was sculpted on three sides only. On the top slab, there is a gisant supporting his legs on a lion, which most often symbolised valour in medieval times and was frequently used to propagate royal virtues. Comparing the ruler to a lion is one of the most recurring topoi of medieval culture. The king was depicted as an old man with long hair and a beard styled in tight curls. Works on this subject mistakenly claim this depiction to be a realistic study of the king’s face. In fact it is an example of a physiognomic type typical of the Middle Ages, which aimed at presenting the ruler as a wise and strict old man modelled after depictions of great ancient sages, Old Testament prophets, apostles, and other venerable figures from the past. The king was portrayed in a leather tunic and a loose cloak, garments which were characteristic of court fashion in the 3rd quarter of the 14th century. Especially of note is the magnificent belt comprising elements shaped as fortified buildings. It may be assumed that it carries an eschatological message via reference to the Heavenly Jerusalem.

The tombstone of king Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk

Kazimierz IV’s tomb is one of the most spectacular pieces of late gothic art. On the one hand, it clearly refers to a local tradition started by Władysław I Łokietek’s tombstone; on the other hand, it comprised of a number of unique iconographic solutions that exhibit erudition of local intellectual circles. The king lies on the top slab of the tomb, but his figure is presented in an utterly exceptional way. It is an extremely expressive and veristic image because the ruler was captured in agony. What is more, unlike the earlier royal tombs in Kraków, Kazimierz IV is dressed in a clergyman’s robe, which was used only for a coronation ceremony. The richly draped cope, clasped at the chest with a magnificent brooch, attracts special attention. It is a singular image with no analogical piece found so far. It is most often interpreted within the scope of patristics of the early Christian Church; the king’s physical death was juxtaposed with the birth of the soul to eternal life.

King Władysław’s III of Varna tombstone

The gravestone of Władysław III of Varna is shaped as a tomb, with the figure of the ruler dressed in full armour on the top slab. The giasant has a youthful face with idealised features and holds a bare sword against his chest – Szczerbiec – which serves the purpose of styling the King as an ideal Christian knight. The introduction of a particular object known to all Poles, in this case the coronation sword of polish kings, into the composition had been adopted a number of times in the culture of the 19th century, especially in Jan Matejko’s paintings. It served the purpose of making past events and figures more probable by linking them to particular items or works of art that were considered national relics. Such combinations were not always justified from a historical perspective, but they were used consciously, according to the rules of philosophy of history, which in the distant past allowed for an insight into God’s plans and some general principles governing the history of the country divided by the three partitioning powers.

The tombstone of king Władysław I the Short

The circumstances in which Władysław I Łokietek’s gravestone was founded remain unknown. The artistic form of the tomb was mentioned for the first time as late as in Annals of the Famous Kingdom of Poland by Jan Długosz : his body is buried in the cathedral church by the main altar, to the left, in a tomb of white marble adorned with sculptures and a canopy, in front of St. Władysław’s altar, which he, in his lifetime, ordered to be built and furnished. St. Władysław’s altar mentioned here was actually founded by Łokietek’s son – Kazimierz the Great – most likely soon after 1333.

The tombstone of king Jan I Olbracht

The tomb of Jan I Olbracht is a milestone piece not only for Kraków artistic circles but for the entire country. It was sculpted in the years 1502–1505 and consists of two parts executed by two different artists of different backgrounds, education and experience. From the local tradition of commemorating dead rulers derives the tomb sculpted in red stone from the Esztergom quarry, placed in a very deep niche carved into the western wall of a chapel. The tomb is decorated on the front side only (the sides are not exposed), while figural representations were replaced by a rectangular inscribed plaque. This simple and sophisticated solution clearly refers to the art of ancient Rome, in which inscription plaques were the basic element of commemoration of the deceased (Lat. tabulae ansatae). The long inscription was carved in the humanist capitals that had been created based on ancient Roman letterforms and is one of the first instances where such a font was used in Poland.

Jagiellonian tapestry “The Spread of the Nations” from the “Story of the Tower of Babel” series

In front of us, the last act of the history of the Tower of Babel takes place – The Spread of the Nations. On a meadow at the foot of the hill, a group of people can be seen, with two men standing and five women sitting next to them on the grass. All attempts to communicate with one another have been in vain, the evidence of which is a tablet in the hands of the woman in a blue dress.

Jagiellonian tapestry “The Wrath of God” from the “Story of the Tower of Babel” series

The second tapestry in the series The Story of the Tower of Babel shows the consequences of human pride. The builders of the tower wanted it to reach the sky. Human pride angered God, who decided to destroy the work of sinful humanity. Bearded Nimrod, the initiator of the construction, stands at the foot of the tower with hand upraised, trying to shield himself from the Creator, who appears in the upper right hand corner of the textile. Builders working at ground level have scattered their tools and disperse in panic, while those who are on the scaffolding point the angry Creator out to reach other; furter in the background, work continues as if nothing has happened.

Jagiellonian tapestry “The Confusion of Tongues” from the “Story of the Tower of Babel” series

The Confusion of Tongues is the third tapestry of the Story of the Tower of Babel series. Unable to comunicate, the people begin to disperse leaving the construction unfinished. Two men in the foreground attempt to interact by using gestures, but it seems that this is in vain. Next to them, two women and a man are sitting in a boat. The man is loading a large package wrapped with string onto the boat. Behind them, resigned people are leaving the construction site; workers with pack animals are going in different directions. The tower itself looks as if it had been abandoned long ago; trees are growing on its lower storeys. God hovers above the tower.

Jagiellonian tapestry “Turkeys”

Verdures – tapestries presenting animals in a lanscape setting – are a large subset within the collection of Sigismund II Augustus. They can be divided into three groups. Turkeys is a part of a set of sixteen textiles in the shape of a horizontal rectangle. Central area is framed only by a narrow border of interweaving ribbons and flowers. They present animals commonly known in Europe, as well as exotic ones, such as turkeys, which were brought to Europe from America at that time. All the creatures are depicted amid the scenery of a Central European forest, in which, apart from the oaks, ivies and reeds typical of this region, there are fig trees and grapevines can.

Chair Upholstery Tapestry with a Bouquet of Flowers

This small tapestry belongs to a group of textiles intended as chair upholstery. It shows a colourful bouquet of flowers in a vase decorated with animal masks and small golden garlands. The flowers in the vase are probably large two-coloured irises interwoven with blooms of clematis with dark green leaves. The composition is complemented with blue periwinkles. In the corners of the tapestry, lion masks are placed on the border of interwoven ribbons filled with a floral ornament. The border ornament is characteristic of the entire collection.

Over-Window Tapestry with Figures Holding Cornuncopias

The tapestry has been preserved in two parts. Like other arcade tapestries of this type, which were designed to be put up above window recesses, it was damaged when it was kept in Russia in the nineteenth century. At that time, its central section was cut out. In both sections of the textile, a goddess is shown with a palm wreath on her head. The seated figure holds a cornucopia in her hands, which allows us to identify her as Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest.

Jagiellonian tapestry “Stork and Rabbits”

Portrayals of animals (both European and exotic) in verdures were modelled on engravings from zoological atlases, which began to appear around the mid-16th century. Artists tried to depict specimens of a given species as accurately as possible, appending written descriptions to their prints. Such prints were very popular at that time, and cartoon painters used them to draw models for the animals that appear in the Wawel tapestries.

Tapestry with the Monogram of Sigismund Augustus and a Terrestrial Globe

The grotesque tapestry with a monogram of King Sigismund Augustus (SA – Sigismundus Augustus) and a globe is part of a series of decorative textiles in which the royal monogram plays the major role. Before our eyes, an extravaganza unfolds of ancient gods, birds, animals, fruit and flower garlands. On the axis of the composition is placed an oval shield with the monogram of the king, covered with a closed crown. A richly decorated frame is surrounded by a wreath of fruit. Aside from apples, grapes and lemons, there is also a pineapple, brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus.

Tapestry with the Arms of Poland and Lithuania and the Figure of Victory

The tapestry depicts Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. At her bare feet lies a pile of weapons; she is flanked by two coats of arms: of Poland and of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. On her right are the arms of the Kingdom Poland – the Eagle with the monogram of Sigismund II Augustus, the last king of the Jagiellonian dynasty – surmounted by a closed crown. The arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the Charging Knight surmounted by the Grand Ducal cap – are on her left. The winged goddess is attired in a breastplate. In one hand, she holds a laurel wreath, in the other a broken spear. The olive branches behind her symbolize peace. Victoria is shown against a red background with a decorative framework recalling wrought iron that serves as a scaffolding of sorts for bunches of fruit and flowers. The oval blue fields in which the coats of arms are placed are entwined with climbing plants. The White Eagle with the royal monogram is surrounded by vines, and the Lithuanian Charging Knight by pea plants with both blooms and mature pods. Birds perch on hanging bunches of fruit in the upper part of the tapestry and on the decorative framework at the bottom.

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

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

Chair Covering Tapestry with the Monogram of Sigismund Augustus

One of six furniture tapestries in the shape of a horizontal rectangle with the SA initials of the King. It belongs to a group of textiles used to cover chairs. Eleven of such textiles have been preserved to this day (others were decorated with bouquets of flowers in vases). The small horizontal tapestries were used as backrests of furniture. The initials under a closed crown, woven with a gold thread, were placed in a blue field surrounded by an oval wreath. On the axis of the field, at the top and bottom, there are two masks – a singing one and a sleeping one. Slender vases with bouquets of fruit and flowers (columbines and anemones) are placed on the sides.

Over Door Tapestry with the Arms of Poland on landscape background with Animals ‒ Beaver and Porcupine

One of sixteen over-door and over-window tapestries with the coats of arms of both parts of the Commonwealth. They were counterparts of large heraldic tapestries and their purpose was to fill the castle with heraldic motifs of national importance. Their format was adapted to the architecture of Wawel. They were produced as part of the programme for complete decoration of representative chambers with Brussels tapestries.

Tapestry with the Monogram of Sigismund Augustus in Medallion

A tapestry of the same size and the same function as the tapestry with the Monogram of Sigismund Augustus in Cartouche. It belongs to a group of three monogram grotesques with the initials SA inscribed within an oval medallion. In the middle of the composition, there is a blue convex medallion with the entwined initials SA under a closed crown, placed against a background of a drapery supported by two angels sitting on crosspieces of a metal frame (a motif typical of Netherlandish grotesque).

Under Window Tapestry with the figures playing the shells

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.

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

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