Polish Art On the 26th of January I decided to visit for the first time the San Diego Museum of Arts. When I came upon the museum which from a view was an astonishing piece of architectural exquisiteness. This extravagant building was amazingly distinguishable from all the other ill-rooted, stucco wall structures surroundings. I arrived at the admission desk and upon purchasing my 6$ ticket the young lady told me that there is an exhibition on Art in Poland. I was still thinking that the museum would display some works from Italy, France, Spain, and other well-known European art.
Puzzled I asked her about what was troubling me and she responded by saying “Sir, we only have items related to this specific exhibition for the next months”. My expectation was that this museum would have visual arts that I had been familiarized during my “European Humanities” class. But since their was only a couple of days until the due date for this report and Poland was part of European art I decided to take a risk and discover the unknown. The exhibition features splendid and often exotic objects from a time when Poland, which was united in a Republic with Lithuania, was the largest nation in Europe. Located on Europe’s eastern frontier, Poland was viewed by its western allies as the Bulwark of Christendom, Defender of the Faith against the Moslem Ottoman Empire that lay to the east.
Because Poland was situated at a crossroads of international trade, Polish culture became a synthesis of western and eastern influences. Roman and Byzantine Christianity, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, and variations in-between, met with the western Renaissance and Baroque; and absorbed prominent influences from Turkish, Arabic and Oriental cultures. The Baroque is all the more evident when seen from a society which knew neither the Middle Ages nor a subsequent Renaissance. Including fine examples of Baroque art and splendid objects from a land greatly influenced by the developing eastern and western cultures. “Land of The Winged Horsemen/ Art in Poland 1572-1764,” is exciting in the scale, quality and range of the artworks on display.
This exhibition is more than an unprecedented showing of art objects, or a survey of uncommon history. It restores a balance to my recent misperceptions of Europe and its art legacy, brings us to examine more closely Renaissance, Baroque, earlier perceptions of Western and Eastern, and the show intrigues with its range of cross-cultural interpretations and syntheses. An excellent and exhilarating example of the latter is “Vessels From The Sultan Service” (Pre-1777). These are a dish and plate from what was originally a set of 280 pieces executed at the Royal Manufactory at Warsaw, Poland, I tend to forget how much East courses within our notions of West, or European. This is especially evident in many of these items from the Polish and Lithuanian Commonwealth.
For an art viewer familiar with Rembrandt’s so-called “Polish Rider,” or the seventeenth century etchings of Stefano Della Bella on Polish subjects, “Land of The Winged Horsemen” offers an opportunity to view at firsthand the reality which served them as inspiration. I saw a true example of the harmonization of diverse cultural streams into such portraiture as “Stanislaw Teczynski” painted about 1630 with a distinct native fashion and attributed to Tommaso Dolabella who was brought to Cracow by King Sigismund III. The exhibition catalogue notes that the execution displays strong links with the Venetian and even affinities with artistic developments in the Netherlands. Although the fashion is very representative of a young Polish nobleman of the time. Equally impressive is “Wincenty Aleksander Gosiewski” painted by Daniel Schultz the Younger about 1650 or 1651.
It is a portrait in battle dress, of a noble who was to follow a highly eventful military career. Gosiewski’s gaze displays an almost royal passion, combining a lively elegance with an equal measure of military viciousness. This exhibition, offers a concrete context for so much of the European cultural legacy. What is important to note, is the broad frequency of foreign artists encompassed in this exhibition. While domestic Polish fine and decorative art, with noteworthy exceptions, was admirable, the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania in this and earlier centuries was immense and prosperous — a major market for the arts and applied artistries. It thus attracted and sustained artists and art contacts from all of the best European and Eastern centers.
Amazingly hand threaded persian rugs give you a different perspective at every angle and the light amplifies the intricate silk embroidery. They are indefinitely visual delights. One of the great virtues of what is an excellent showing, is that “Land of the Winged Horsemen” includes a wide contribution of many of the Commonwealth’s minority citizens. which I thought was a great contrast all the displays related only to the noble class. The examples of ritual and applied arts from the Jewish community of the Polish Commonwealth are some of the finest.
The room devoted to the Winged Horsemen and to the captured tent of the Turkish Sultan is the most inspiring in the beautifully organized exhibition. In addition to the four sets of richly decorated armor in which the Hussars were dressed, there are examples of the karabela – the slightly curved sword of damascene steel used by the gentry – and other sabers and weapons. The great detail and amount of time consumed on military artisanship showed the countrys emphasis on having a powerful army. A painting of the Battle of Vienna evokes and personalizes the energy and drama of this historic Polish victory over Turkish forces in 1683. The room devoted to the Magnates demonstrates the intermingling of cultures in Poland at that time.
On one hand, art and architecture was primarily influenced by the Italians. However, the dress of the gentry and the furnishing of their palaces contained significant oriental influence. This is illustrated by the magnificent carpets and tapestries originating from both Flanders and Turkey, or made in Poland with both types of design. The catalogue itself deserves laudatory comment. At $39.95, I have to admit that most budgets will feel a pinch.
But if at all possible, it is well worth having. It is a luxurious 380-page large format album which presents not only an in-depth exposition of the art on exhibit, but excellent, detailed scholarly essays on history, the Baroque in full context, highly useful biographies and bibliographies, and high quality illustrations. The art and history of this exhibition is of more significance than I had first expected. I was stunned that this thrilling and pivotal chapter of European history had been silenced for so many years. The art of Poland tells the story of a powerful and intriguing nation.
Polish individuality, intensity, grandeur, and love of display are particularly manifested in the armor, national dress, and funerary portraiture of the Baroque era in Poland. Also, these extraordinary and seldom-seen works of art in this exhibition reveal the complexity and luxury of the eastern and western cultures that affected creativity in Poland during the 16th through 18th centuries. It is a rare opportunity and a must for anyone who wishes a stunning experience and a complete art education.