Donatives (from Latin donum — gift) are a special category of numismatic item, with the characteristics of both coins (multiples of a ducat) and medals (a high artistic standard). They were a gift given to monarchs or prominent dignitaries, in order to gain their favour, at the same time proving the power and magnificence of the issuers. In the Commonwealth, they were minted at the request of rich cities, such as Gdańsk and Toruń.
Biecz is a town that evokes longing for past times. Traces of the past can be found here almost at every step. In 1311, Biecz became the royal city. Then, King Władysław I the Elbow-high joined it permanently to the royal property. In parallel, the bourgeois Biecz, the Biecz of merchants and craftsmen, was also developing...
A Baroque wooden cradle was a gift of King Augustus II for Joachim Daniel von Jauch (1688—1754), royal plenipotentiary for construction matters, on the occasion of the baptism of his son. The King was the godfather of the first-born son of the von Jauch family, Henryk, who died in early childhood.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The picture depicts Prince Władysław Sigismund Vasa, later Władysław IV Vasa, the King of Poland. It was painted by an unknown artist of Rubens' circle, and it repeats the pattern established by Rubens in other similarly composed equestrian portraits he painted (i.a. the portrait of Giancarlo Doria, 1602, Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio; the portrait of Duke of Lerma, 1603, Madrid, the Museo del Prado).
In this, one of the three largest tapestries in the collection of King Sigismund II Augustus, we can see the beginning of the story of the construction of the Tower of Babel as described in the Book of Genesis. The scene shows Nimrod, the legendary hunter, and people building a tower “whose top may reach unto heaven” (Genesis 11:1–9) under his leadership. The building under construction is situated in the background, on the right hand side of the textile, whereas on the left side, there can be seen workers erecting the tower. Thanks to the detailed presentation, we can see, among other things, what sixteenth-century stonemasonry tools looked like. On the vast plain, people bustle around carrying blocks of stone and building a scaffolding. God, barely visible to the right of the tower, watches their feverish work. As in the other biblical tapestries, there is no shortage of accurately rendered images of animals, insects and plants. The Latin inscription placed in the upper border reads in translation: “Nimrod, the first powerful ruler in the world, built a huge tower of baked bricks. God confounded the builders’ languages, and the work was never completed.”
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.
Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany, Hungary, Czech, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria and Jerusalem, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy and Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany, etc., confers a privilege granting freedom to Tarnów and its inhabitants. It approves the property of Tarnów burghers and the possessions of the town.
The portrait presents Jan Sobieski (1629–1696) of the ”Janina” coat of arms, the son of the Kraków castellan and Teofilia née Daniłowicz. It is one of the rare images of Sobieski, the Grand Hetman of the Crown (1688) before his election for the King of Poland in 1674. Jan Sobieski, the hero of Chocim and Vienna, was born in the castle in Olesko, near Podhorce. He was the descendant of the famous hetman, Stanisław Żółkiewski.
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.
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.
The Portrait of Sigismund I the Old is one of the very few preserved painted portraits of the ruler. The researchers suppose that it was a prototype of the portrait hanging above the entrance to Sigismund's Chapel, attributed to Andrzej, the painter unknown by his surname.
The representative room of the Bishop Erazm Ciołek Palace, known as the Room of Virtues, houses the gallery of old Polish portrait paintings that were common in the old Poland. For the nobility, their own images and depictions of their relatives and ancestors formed a vital factor for building family and social ties and documenting genealogy and affiliations.
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.
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.
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.
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.