Before the invasion by neighbouring countries, known as the Deluge (1655-1660), Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ranked among the wealthiest countries in Europe and its monarchs successfully competed with rulers of other nations as patron of arts.
Crown of Sigismund III Vasa
Work in progress.
Bronze busts of Sigismund III Vasa and Constance of Austria
Although the existence of royal busts is purely hypothetical and not confirmed by sources, the fashion for such antique sculptures, stemming from Italy and Imperial court in Prague and Vienna, udoubtedly found its reflection in the cosmopolitan court of the Vasas in Kraków and Warsaw. Bronze cartouche with coat of arms of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the Wawel Castle, a full plastic bronze cast that preserved to our days and commissioned by Sigismund III in about 1604 to adorn overdoor in the northern wing of the castle leading to the Senators' Staircase, confirms that the Vasa residences were filled with such items.
In 1624, the Bishop of Kraków, Marcin Szyszkowski, who titled himself "the most faithful servant of the House of Austria" and who together with Zygmunt Myszkowski brought the Queen Constance from Graz to Poland, sponsored a new architectural dome canopy over the reliquary of Saint Stanislaus in the Wawel Cathedral in the style of Roman baroque. It is the work of the royal architect Giovanni Battista Trevano, the same who rebuilt the Royal Castle in Warsaw, made of black and rose marble, gilt-bronze and wood, created in the years 1626-1629. Gilt bronze figures of the Evangelists and Patrons Saints of Poland, flanking the cupola over the canopy, were cast by Antonio Lagostini, active in Kraków from around 1624. In the year of completion of this work, the bishop also ordered a tomb monument for himself in the cathedral near the canopy. According to the letter from Marcin Szyszkowski to Andrzej Łukomski, a Canon of the Cracow Cathedral Chapter, of 20 January 1629, this was also commissioned from Trevano and Lagostini. The model for the cast bronze bust should be attributed to the sculptors related to Trevano, Andrea and Antonio Castelli, sculptors from Lugano, active in Kraków from about 1623.
If existed, the royal busts were undoubtedly made in gilded bronze, just as majority of the similar works preserved in many European countries and Bishop Szyszkowski's bust. The material and its frequent military reuse, would also explain why the works have not preserved, as in case of bronze garden statues of Ladislaus IV's garden of the Villa Regia Palace in Warsaw, which are confirmed in sources. The preserved bronze statue of King Sigismund III at the column, so-called Sigismund Column in Warsaw, was also initially gilded.
The reconstruction is based on royal portrait paintings with Spanish composition from the 1610s created by workshop of court painter Jakob Troschel, which were in the collection of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg before World War II. Both effigies, possibly from dowry of Polish-Lithuanian Princess Anna Catherina Constance Vasa, are highly schematical and idealized, hence facial features are based on more realistic effigies of the royal pair created by other court painters.
Gilded bronze bust of King Sigismund III Vasa, mid-1610s to 1631. Hypothetical reconstruction by Marcin Latka ©. All rights reserved.
Gilded bronze bust of Queen Constance of Austria, mid-1610s to 1631. Hypothetical reconstruction by Marcin Latka ©. All rights reserved.
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Heraldic pendant of Anna Catherine Constance Vasa
Princess Anna Catherine Constance Vasa was born in Warsaw on August 7th, 1619. She was the only daughter of Sigismund III Vasa and his second wife Constance of Austria that survied the childhood and the youngest of royal pair's children.
Large Spanish style pendants, like the one described here, become less fashionable with the introduction of the French style in the mid-1630s, that prompted frontal brooches. The creation of the pendant could be then closed in the time span between mid-1620s and 1638 when Anna Catherine Constance came of age and came into possession of counties bestowed to her by the parliament. It was also probably in 1638 that Princess' portrait in red Spanish dress with two gold pendants was created (today in the Imperial castle in Nuremberg).
King Sigismund III, himself a talented goldsmith, possibly stood behind the compex emblematic program of this jewel, although it is also possible that it was created long after his death in 1632. Since 1637, a marriage was suggested between Anne Catherine Constance and Ferdinand Charles, Archduke of Austria, heir of Tyrol and nephew of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, and Gaston, Duke of Orléans (brother of King Louis XIII of France), were also candidates for her hand. A jewel stressing splendid dynastic connections and emphasizing vastness of territories ruled by the family would perfectly fit into the Princess' situation at that time. Several heraldic jewels were featured in the official portraits of Anna Catherine Constance's mother Constance of Austria.
Anna Catherine Constance's father Sigismund III Vasa was elected monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, bi-federation of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch in real union, who was both King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Since Sigismund's crowning in 1592, Polish Vasas claimed themselves rightful hereditary rulers of Sweden, consequently ignoring Sigismund's dethronement of 1598 by the Swedish parliament.
Anna Catherine Constance finally married Philip William of Neuburg (1615-1690), in Warsaw on 8 June 1642. She brought a considerable dowry in jewels and cash, calculated at a total of 2 million thalers. The inventory of Princess' jewels preserved in the Czartoryski Library in Kraków summarizes their value to 443,289 1/3 hard thalers.
The heraldic pendant is listed 18th in the section Pendants: A diamond pendant with Figures of the late King Sigmunt and Constantia with crowns on their heads, in the middle ruby grain, and beneath white Eagle, at the bottom coat of arms of the Duchy of Lithuania, on the right hand Swedish and on the left hand Austrian; above this ruby grain a yellow Lion with open jaw, in the front two fangs holds Zygmunt and Constantia together, on the sides and on the bottom five carved round hanging diamonds, valued at 2,000 thalers.
It is hard to determine the degree of accuracy of the inventory both in terms of description of items as well as valuation. One "large diamond" in a ring was valued at 30,000 thalers and a ring with "coat of arms of Austria" was valued at only 40 thalers. Also traditionally the Queen was depited to the right and the King to the left, and not like in the description of the pendant, which finds confirmation in Sigismund and Constance's portraiture, as well as location of the royal stalls in the Cathedral of Saint John in Warsaw.
The inventory also includes:
A necklace of 22 parts, among which 11 with a diamond in a middle, 3 square cut, 3 triangle cut, and set with two pearls. Another 11 parts in which a Lion's head in the center having a pearl in its mouth, four diamonds and four pearls set around it. All with a pendant with sixty two cut diamonds, and on top of a Lion's head and six hanging pearls, a gift from the Queen to the Princess, valued at 80,000 thalers;
A pendant in which a Lion with three crowns in the shape of the Swedish coat of arms with twenty-six different diamonds, and three hanging pearls, valued at 150 thalers and
A pendant in which a white Eagle with a large ruby on the chest, three small ruby parts, and three large pearls, valued at 700 thalers.
The inventory also lists A white Eagle, having a coat of arms on his cheast at which two rubies, all set with diamonds, with three hanging pearls, valued at 1,200 thalers, which is most probably identical with "diamond eagle with rubies" of the House of Austria received in 1543 by Elizabeth of Austria (1526-1545) from Emperor Charles V on the occasion of her marriage with Sigismund II Augustus of Poland, and preserved in the treasury of the Munich Residence.
Among renowned jewellers of the Vasas in the first half of the 17th century, that could create the work, were Mikołaj Siedmiradzki (ca. 1550-1630) from Lviv in today's Ukraine, who was in service of Sigismund III since 1604, and who in turn employed in his workshop Mikołaj Pasternakowicz and Zygmunt Frączkiewicz. There were also Jean Barbier from Lorraine, active in Kraków from about 1605, who moved to Gdańsk in 1625 and Beniamin Lanier (d. 1630) from Vitry-le-François in north-eastern France, who was active in Kraków from 1606, both court jewellers of Sigismund III. Jakub Burnett from Edinburgh who settled in Lviv in the first half of the 17th century was employed by Ladislaus IV. Members of the family also commissioned jewels abroad, like Prince John Casimir Vasa who in 1643 paid 9000 florins for jewels to Samuel von Sorgen from Vienna and 189 florins "For diamond heart to Mr Jakub jeweller".
Anna Catherine Constance died childless in Cologne on 8 October 1651 and was buried in the church of the Jesuits in Düsseldorf. It is due to purely heraldic character of the jewel, high value of the material and new fashion for more simple jewels that the pendant was most probably melted down, possibly still in the 17th century.
Excerpt from Inventory of Jewels of Her Highness Duchess of Neuburg, Crown Princess of Poland (Spisanie Kleynotów Xiężney Iey Mości Neyburskiey, Królewney Polskiey) by Royal Chancery in Warsaw, 1645, Czartoryski Library in Kraków. Fragment describing Heraldic pendant of Anna Catherine Constance Vasa.
Heraldic pendant of Anna Catherine Constance Vasa, mid-1620s to 1638. Hypothetical reconstruction by Marcin Latka ©. All rights reserved.
Silver altar of Sigismund III Vasa
Work in progress.
Tapestries with Story of Odysseus
During his stay in Antwerp in 1624, the Crown Prince of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Ladislaus Sigismund Vasa visited Peter Paul Rubens' workshop, admired Jan Brueghel the Elder's paintings and visited the famous art collection of Cornelis van der Geest. He also went to see the tapissierspand (Tapestry house), on the site of the current Bourla Theater, on September 24, 1624. We visited a house, writes Stefan Pac, in his diary where they sell beautiful and precious tapestries that are sent all over the world. A few days later, on October 5, 1624 Gaspard Nagodt, treasurer of the Prince of Poland, signed a contract with a Brussels' weaver Jacob Geubels the Younger for delivery of ten tapestries representing the Story of Odysseus (Ulysses) of six yards height each, interwoven with gold and silver thread. The complete set comprised 594 yards and cost 19,008 florins. On October 12, 1624 another contract was signed for a series called "with greenery" i.e. verdure tapestries or "Landscapes and Bocages in fresco", for 9207 florins.
An Antwerp merchant, Jan Bierens, "agent and domestic of His Highness the Serene Prince Wladislaus Sigismundus, Prince of Poland and Sweden", oversaw the weaving of the tapestries of the Story of Odysseus and verdures that Geubels the Younger made in Brussels. A lawsuit brought by Geubels against Jan Bierens in December 1626 for payment, confirms that at least a part of the commissioned tapestries was ready by this date.
Notations in the archives reveal the existence of the prince's agents, such as mentioned Jan Bierens and Georges Deschamps or the Frenchman Mathieu Rouault. They had to satisfy Ladislaus Sigismund's creditors and ensure that everything was executed and sent to Poland.
Probably due to Prince's financial difficulties the whole set not executed till Geubels' death in 1629 and the commission was accomplished by an unknown workshop.
It is uncertain when the Story of Odysseus and verdure tapestries were dispatched from Antwerp and when they arrived in Poland. Ladislaus Sigismund, the newly elected monarch of the Commonwealth as Ladislaus IV, wanted to have them before his coronation on February 6, 1633 in Kraków.
By a notarial deed of January 12, 1632 we learn that Jan Bierens had received three chests containing approximately two hundred and fifty - three silver marcs from the hands of Francesco Gissa and Joannes Curius, one butler and the other secretary of Abbot Mikołaj Wojciech Gniewosz (d. 1654), Ambassador of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Antwerp merchant had given them two thousand three hundred and ten rixdales as a pledge and had promised to send the precious delivery to Gdańsk to the address of Abraham Pels.
In the letter from September 15, 1632 Ladislaus IV asked Christian IV of Denmark to release his tapestries from customs (Rkps Riqsarkivet, Polen A. I, 3).
According to François Mols, a number of tapestry cartoons by Jacob Jordaens with the date 1620 were sold at Antwerp in 1774. It is belived that these tapestries were inspired by knowledge of Primaticcio's lost frescoes of the same subject at Fontainebleau. A document from May 15, 1656 in the archives of Antwerp in which Jacob Geubels, son of Jacob Geubels the Younger, had undertaken to weave, tapestries representing the Story of Ulysses after cartoons by Jordaens, confirms that the series were made to his design.
Lavish tapestries "hang up in foreign style" among "golden Netherlandish arts" are mentioned in Adam Jarzębski's "Short Description of Warsaw" (The Main Road, or a Short Description of Warsaw) from 1643, as adorning Ladislaus IV's Palace Villa Regia in Warsaw (1950-1956).
The series was inherited by Ladislaus' brother John II Casimir, who took them to France after his abdication in 1668 and was sold on auction in Paris in 1673 to the agent of the Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine for 12,000 French pounds (position 728 of the inventory).
Tapestry with Odysseus threatening Circe by workshop of Jacob Geubels II after cartoon by Jacob Jordaens, 1624-1632, with coat of arms of the Crown Prince of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Ladislaus Sigismund Vasa, the mark of the city of Brussels B B, weaver's monogram and signature IACO GEVBELS. Hypothetical reconstruction by Marcin Latka ©. All rights reserved.
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