OLD POLISH ON-LINE
E Y E
T H E
Michael J. Mikoś
The Baroque style, which flourished in Poland from the end of the sixteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth century, was primarily designed to delight the spectator with splendors of art. Unlike the Renaissance artist who attempted to recreate the beauty and harmony of nature, the baroque artist strived above all to present his own vision of the world, born of imagination and fantasy. This vision was often disharmonious and unsettled, reflecting the turbulent times of seventeenth century Europe. Grand in its dimensions, it was also exuberant and dramatic, though at times tinged with affectation and with religious exaltation.
Polish Baroque coexisted with Sarmatism, a cultural trend which gained popularity among the gentry in reaction to foreign influences and invasions. The Sarmatians claimed that they descended from an ancient tribe of warriors who inhabited the environs of the Black Sea and who later settled in the valleys of the Vistula and the Dnieper. Since most of them belonged to the landed gentry, they praised the idyllic existence and republican virtues of the country squire. They spoke of the unique attributes of the Polish character, particularly of its religious dedication and military prowess, as demonstrated in the defense of the country against foreign encroachments. They advocated the golden freedom of the gentry, lauded their political system and institutions, and opposed the absolute power of the monarchy. Many of them felt superior to other nations and believed in a historical mission of the Polish people.
In material culture, Sarmatism produced an original fusion of Western and Eastern styles. Oriental influence was especially evident in arms, dress, and decoration. The Polish cavalry rode Arab horses and adopted many Eastern weapons, most notably the saber with a curved blade and richly decorated handle modelled on a Persian scimitar, as well as the dagger, luxurious sheaths, helmets, and saddles. During military campaigns, many mounted men shaved their heads in the Tartar fashion.
The Polish nobleman wore a long coat lined with cloth of gold, a silk sash belt, and soft leather knee-boots of Eastern origin. His manor was decorated with Persian rugs, Turkish kilims, tapestries, and silk embroideries studded with jewels. If oriental products were too expensive, he turned to the Koniecpolski manufactory in Brody, which produced attractive samite fabrics and original rugs or to Armenian craftsmen, who wove fine sash belts in Stanisławów, and whose art was imitated in Olesko and Słuck. In everyday life he enjoyed color, opulence, and festivity. He observed with pomp religious holidays, ceremonies, and rituals, such as the day of the patron saint, weddings, and funerals.
A major source of patronage of the arts was the Church. The sacral Baroque architecture in its first phase was mainly associated with the Jesuit Order. The Jesuits, who were brought to Poland in 1564, spearheaded the victorious movement of the Counter Reformation. They established churches and colleges in many major cities, competing successfully with the best Protestant schools in Toruń, Gdańsk, and Elbląg or with Comenius's school of the Bohemian Brothers in Leszno. Their churches in Nieśwież (1582-1593), founded by Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł, in Lublin, and in Poznań, were modelled on the famous church of Il Gesu in Rome (1568-1584). The most representative church of that provenance, Saint Peter and Saint Paul's in Cracow, was founded by King Zygmunt III, prominent patron of the arts. Its interior and decorative stone facade were designed by Giovanni Baptista Trevano, the royal architect.
Numerous other churches and chapels were built by foreign and local artists under the patronage of pious magnates and burghers. Particularly impressive were the churches of Wilno. The Chapel of Saint Casimir next to the Wilno Cathedral founded by King Władysław IV and the Church of Saint Teresa, both designed by Constantino Tencalla, as well as Saint Peter and Saint Paul's, famed for its harmonious synthesis of architecture and sculpture, were splendid examples of local Baroque, characterized by fluent lines, light proportions, and graceful decorations. The Camaldolese Church at Bielany near Cracow, with a broad stone facade flanked by two towers and stuccoed interiors decorated with paintings by Tommaso Dolabella, founded by Crown Marshal Mikołaj Wolski and built by Andrea Spezza, formed the centerpiece of a monastic complex which included about twenty hermit houses. In many shrines the faithful could pray at the Stations of the Cross, of which the Calvary at Zebrzydów, founded by Mikołaj Zebrzydowski and built between 1603 and 1609, is best known. Forty two small churches and chapels of different styles were added to the original Bernardine Monastery and Church to accommodate pilgrims who have been coming to the site ever since.
The royal patronage was emanating from Warsaw, the new capital of the Commonwealth. The King's residence at the Castle was reconstructed under the supervision of Trevano and architects Giacomo Rotondo and Matteo Castelli between 1596 and 1619. Three new wings, each three storeys high, two small towers, and a decorative clock tower with a beautifully shaped dome were added to house the royal court and Sejm halls. The interiors, displaying coffered ceilings with polychrome beams, multi-colored marbles from Flanders, and oak floors, were richly decorated with paintings by the royal painter Tommaso Dolabella, arrases from the Low Countries, and Oriental carpets. A permanent opera and an orchestra performed in the Castle, and during the reign of Władysław IV a theatre hall was built in the south wing, where plays of Shakespeare were staged. The Vasas owned splendid collections of art, including paintings by Rubens, his disciple Pieter Claes van Soutman, and Rembrandt, of sculpture, gold, and amber.
In the square outside the Castle, a column of red marble with a statue of King Zygmunt, designed by Constantino Tencalla, sculpted by Clemente Molli, and cast by Daniel Tym, was erected in 1644. A suburban palace for King Zygmunt was built by Trevano in a beautiful garden in Ujazdów between 1619 and 1625. A square building with four towers and a loggia looking down towards the Vistula, the palace of Ujazdów served as a model for magnates eager to imitate the court architecture, for example, in Voivode Denhoff's residence in Kruszyna (1630), which had only two towers, and Lubomirski's castle in Łańcut (1629-1641), designed by an Italian architect Matteo Trapola.
The most representative and sumptuous royal Baroque residence was erected for King Jan Sobieski in Wilanów near Warsaw. Built in stages between 1677 and 1696 by Agostino Locci and several groups of artists, painters, and decorators, the palace grew to resemble a Roman villa, surrounded by the Italian-French gardens laid out with fountains, grottos, and courtyards. The exterior was embellished with medallions, allegorical figures, busts of the Roman consuls and emperors, and statues of ancient deities, while the symmetrically arranged interior was lavishly decorated with plafonds, fresco paintings, and fabrics made of damask, silk, and satin.
The magnates throughout Poland competed with the kings. The monumental castle Krzyżtopór in Ujazd, built for Krzysztof Ossoliński by the Italian architect Lorenzo Senes in the style palazzo in fortezza between 1627 and 1644, had several courtyards surrounded by massive star-shaped fortifications. Inside, the palace had 365 windows, fifty two rooms, twelve grand halls, and four towers, to represent the days, weeks, months, and seasons of the year. Captured, looted, and destroyed by the Swedes between 1655 and 1657, it has never been restored.
The castle in Wiśnicz, originally the seat of the Kmita family, was rebuilt between 1615 and 1621 for Stanisław Lubomirski, the Voivode of Cracow. The work was carried out under the supervision of Matteo Trapola, who designed new bastion fortifications, an arcaded courtyard with a loggia, a tower, and a chapel. He also designed on a nearby hill the fortified church and monastery of the Carmelites. The Bishops' Palace in Kielce, with elaborately painted ceilings, and the summer residence of Grand Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski in Podhorce, an original design of two eminent military architects, Andrea dell'Aqua, an artillery theoretician, and Guilleaume Levasseur de Beauplan, who was also a prominent cartographer, were other magnificent buildings attesting to the wealth and taste of aristocratic patrons.
The new style of Baroque architecture was most evident in the capital city of Warsaw. The Dutch architect Tylman of Gameren designed the palace of the Krasiński family. Adorned with sculptures by Andrzej Schlueter from Gdańsk and frescoes by Michelangelo Palloni, the palace became recognized as the most splendid Warsaw residence in the mature Baroque style. Tylman of Gameren built a small palace and a commercial building for Queen Maria Sobieska, and to commemorate the King's victory at Vienna the Church of the Nuns of the Holy Sacrament, a symbolical structure in the form of a Greek cross joined to an octagon. He also designed Saint Anne's Church in Cracow, known for its simple exterior and lavish stuccoed interiors by Baltasare Fontana, and the Branicki Palace in Białystok, with curved colonnades and spacious courtyards.
Sculptures that profusely decorated churches, castles, and palaces were made out of stucco, stone or black marble from Dębnik near Cracow. Particularly popular was stucco, a flexible material allowing the artist to quickly fashion allegorical forms and elaborate patterns of vegetation. The art of stucco sculpture was propagated by Giovanni Falconi who decorated the Cracow churches of Saint Anne and of Saint Peter and Saint Paul with dynamic human figures, expressive statues of angels, and luxuriant garlands of fruits and flowers. Italian artists Pietro Perti and Giovanni Galli adorned many churches of Wilno and Lwów with thousands of majestic figures of saints draped in refined costumes and with lavish floral decorations. Schlueter, who worked for King Jan Sobieski in Wilanów, became known for the ubiquitous
and for classical stone figures and reliefs which graced the facade of the Krasiński Palace in Warsaw. Sebastian Sala, who perfected the art of funeral sculpture, used marble for his distinct sepulchers and busts of magnates and bishops in churches and cathedrals of Sieraków, Rzeszów, Gniezno, and Cracow. The most consummate examples of the art of casting were the silver coffins of Saint Adalbert in Gniezno Cathedral and of Saint Stanisław in Cracow Cathedral, both made by Peter van der Rennen from Gdańsk, and the bronze door in the cathedral of Cracow, by Michał Weinhold.
Closely related to sarcophagal sculptures were Sarmatian coffin portraits. These realistic pictures of men and women, children and old people, magnates and nobles, were painted on tin or wood and usually attached to the coffins to honor the deceased. Some of these mostly hexagonal or octagonal portraits, of which about one thousand have been preserved, were hung on the church walls, while others, painted on silk fabrics, were kept at home.
The art of portraiture was extremely popular. Baroque painters recorded a veritable gallery of the nobles who sat for them, displaying their wealth and prominence. Herman Han and Bartłomiej Strobel, who were influenced by Dutch and Flemish art, painted portraits of abbots, burghers, and magnates in Pomerania and in other parts of Poland. Adolf Boy and Daniel Schultz from Gdańsk painted kings, queens, and prominent magnates, for example King Jan Kazimierz and Prince Bogusław Radziwiłł. Some of these paintings were engraved and printed in large numbers by Wilhelm Hondius, an eminent graphic artist and cartographer who settled in Gdańsk in 1636, and by Jeremiasz Falck, a portraitist and engraver.
The generous patronage of Jan Sobieski, whose intention was to establish an academy of painting in Wilanów, attracted eminent artists. Michelangelo Palloni executed narrative mythological frescoes, such as
The History of Amor and Psyche
, and religious pictures in the galleries of the palace, while Martino Altomonte painted battle canvases, among them
The Rescue of Vienna
, and religious scenes. Jerzy Eleuter Siemiginowski, a court painter of Jan Sobieski, who drew the King and his family in classical Roman poses, was the author of colorful frescoes, most notably of four plafonds representing the seasons, some filled with dramatic scenes, others with peaceful landscapes. Jan Reisner composed allegorical scenes, for example in his
, while other painters glorified heroic deeds of the victorious King.
Warsaw also became the musical center of Poland. Many Italian composers, to mention only Luca Marenzio and Annibale Stabile, were brought to the court of King Zygmunt to write music for the royal orchestra, which was directed by Asprilio Pacelli and Marco Scacchi, later by Bartłomiej Pękiel and Jacek Różycki. Adam Jarzębski, a poet and violinist, wrote for the royal musicians
Canzoni e Concerti
, original compositions for three and four voices. Marcin Mielczewski, who was a member of King Władysław's orchestra, composed instrumental
and church concerts, e.g.,
Deus in nomine tuo
, the most representative types of Polish Baroque music. Bartłomiej Pękiel, considered by many the most outstanding composer of the period, was the author of two monumental masses,
, an oratorio on the Last Judgment, and
, a mass
Musical life flourished in cathedrals, collegiate churches, and monasteries, of which the orchestra of the chapel at the Wawel Cathedral, conducted by Grzegorz Gorczycki, and of the Primate in Łowicz were best known. Choirs were founded at churches and schools, music was played during religious and secular ceremonies. Many noblemen supported their own companies of musicians. Stanisław Lubomirski had his own opera theatre in Wiśnicz, while Krzysztof Radziwiłł and Janusz Tyszkiewicz maintained their music ensembles in Wilno, in a characteristic display of the noblemen's interest in the arts.
Polish Literature from the Middle Ages to the End of the Eighteenth Century. A Bilingual Anthology
, by Michael J. Mikoś, Warsaw: Constans, 1999.