When in 1598 died queen Anna of Austria, first wife of Sigismund III Vasa, a young a chamberlain of the queen's court and governess to the king's children, Urszula Meyerin, took her position not only in the king's bed but also at the court and in country's politics. This seven-year period between first and second marriage of the king, marked by increasing role of his mistress and "a minister in a skirt" as she was called, is most probably reflected in the reliquary of Saint Ursula in the Diocesan Museum in Płock.
Before 1601 king Sigismund III ordered a goldsmith of Płock, Stanisław Zemelka, to adorn a reliquary bust of his patron Saint Sigismund in the Płock Cathedral with a gold crown from his treasury. Around the same year the king's close ally and protégé, Wojciech Baranowski, Bishop of Płock, commissioned in the workshop of royal goldsmith a silver bust for relics of Saint Ursula from the Płock Cathedral, which was to be transferred to newly established Jesuit Collegium in Pułtusk. Urszula Meyerin, a supporter of Jesuits who corresponded with the Pope and used her influence on the king to appoint her favourites to state positions, deserved the honor to give her effigy to the virgin martyr Ursula, which would be another reason for king's gratitude towards Baranowski. It is also possible that the king, himself a talented goldsmith, participated in execution of this commission, hence the lack of signature on the work.
Silver reliquary of Saint Sigismund with gold Płock Diadem by Anonymous from Kraków (reliquary) and Anonymous from Hungary or Germany (diadem), second quarter of 13th century and 1370, Diocesan Museum in Płock.
Silver reliquary of Saint Ursula in the form of a bust by Stanisław Ditrich, ca. 1600, Diocesan Museum in Płock.
In 1637, when 42-years-old king Ladislaus IV Vasa decided to marry finally, the situation at the court of his mistress Jadwiga Łuszkowska become difficult. It was probably thanks to efforts of king's wife, imperial daughter, Cecilia Renata of Austria, that Jadwiga was married to Jan Wypyski, starost of Merkinė in Lithuania and left the court in Warsaw. Portrait of a lady with forget-me-nots from Warsaw's National Museum, painted around that time in the style of royal painter, Peter Danckerts de Rij, which depicts a lady in the costume of a married woman from Central Europe holding forget-me-nots, symbolizing true love, might be a portrait of Łuszkowska.
Portrait of a lady with forget-me-nots (possibly Jadwiga Wypyska née Łuszkowska) by circle of Peter Danckerts de Rij, ca. 1640, National Museum in Warsaw.
Portrait of Prince Sigismund Casimir Vasa with a page (possibly illegitimate son of Łuszkowska and Ladislaus IV - Ladislaus Constantine Vasa, future Count of Wasenau) by Peter Danckerts de Rij, ca. 1647, National Gallery in Prague.
Around 1659, when the great war, known is Polish history as the Deluge, was coming to the end, it become obvious to everybody that 48-years-old queen Marie Louise Gonzaga would not give a birth to a child, everybody at the court in Warsaw were thinking on possible heir to the throne. Powerful queen gave birth to a son in 1652, but the child died after a month. The old king John Casimir Vasa, former cardinal, who finding himself unsuited to ecclesiastical life, stood in elections for the Polish throne after death of his brother and married his sister-in-law, had however at least one illegitimate child, a daughter Marie Catherine, and possibly a son.
The painting offered by queen Marie Louise to the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw in about 1667 and created by court artist around 1659, depicts the eldest son of king’s mistress Katarzyna Franciszka (Catherine Frances) Denhoffowa. 10 years old John Casimir Denhoff as young Jesus, held by childless queen Marie Louise depicted as Virgin Mary, is offering a ring to his mother in the costume of Saint Catherine.
Katarzyna Franciszka Denhoffowa nee von Bessen (or von Bees) from Olesno in Silesia and her younger sister Anna Zuzanna were maids of honor of queen Cecilia Renata and stayed at the court after queen’s death. Denhoffowa become a trusted maid of a new queen and her second husband John Casimir. In 1648, she married a courtier of John Casimir, Teodor Denhoff, and a year later on June 6, 1649 she gave birth to John Casimir Denhoff, future cardinal. Godparents of the young Denhoff were none other than king and queen herself. In 1666 at the age of 17 he was made abbot of Mogiła Abbey and between 1670 and 1674 he studied canon law in Paris under protection of John Casimir Vasa.
Mystical marriage of Saint Catherine by circle of Peter Danckerts de Rij, ca. 1659, National Museum in Warsaw.
Portrait of king John II Casimir Vasa by Daniel Schultz, 1659, Royal Baths Museum in Warsaw.
Portrait of cardinal John Casimir Denhoff by circle of Giovanni Maria Morandi, after 1687, Private collection.
Who is the mysterious girl dressed in contemporary, although a bit out of fashion at the time of creation, Spanish dress? The portrait is a so-called pendant, one of two paintings hung together with similar or respective topic. In portraiture usually depicting couples, man and wife, mother and daughter, father and son, brother and sister, in opposite poses. Basing on dimensions (134 x 98 cm), style, topic and costume similarity, the portrait of unknown Princess is undoubtedly a pendant to portrait of Prince Sigismund Casimir Vasa preserved in the Austria’s Ambras Castle collection (division of Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, inventory number 8198) and attributed to Dutch painter at the Polish court in Warsaw, Peter Danckerts de Rij. Young prince, about 4 years old, was depicted in a fancy polish costume – green żupan, standing on a loggia (arcaded terrace) of Ladislaus IV’s favourite residence in Warsaw facing Vistula River. Sigismund Casimir was the only son of the King by his first wife Archduchess Cecilia Renata of Austria. The portrait is recorded in the Ambras Castle inventories as far as the year of 1663, hence it could be a gift of the King of Poland to his Austrian cousins. The reason why the portrait of Polish princess does not preserved in the same location might be that she was illegitimate daughter of the King, who could not be introduced to the imperial family. It might have been in the collection of the Polish Vasas till 1673, when John II Casimir’s belongings were put on sale in Paris. Ladislaus’ Queen became pregnant three times during her marriage. Apart from Sigismund Casimir (1 April 1640), she gave birth to a daughter Maria Anna Isabella on 8 January 1642, who died one month later and on 23 March 1644 Cecilia Renata gave birth her third child, a stillborn daughter. She died next day as a consequence of an infection. None of king’s siblings had a child in 1640s, consequently the portrait could not depict a living, legitimate member of the Royal family.
The only confirmed illegitimate child of the King, Władysław Konstanty (Ladislaus Constantine), was born around 1635. Although the male children were frequently depicted in long dresses in baroque era, he was approximately 10 years old at the time when the portrait was executed, hence too old to wear such costume. The features of the sitter are also more feminine and typical for young girls of that time. It is possible then, what was suggested several times, that Ladislaus had a daughter by his mistress Jadwiga Łuszkowska born in about 1640. The portrait can be considered as unprecedented depiction of illegitimate child together with "prince of the blood" in Habsburg circle, and it is a testimony of great affection of the King to his children.
Due to great similarity of contemporary Polish and Hungarian costumes, it is also highly probable that pictures represent not Sigismund Casimir Vasa and his alleged sister but eldest son of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III and his first wife Maria Anna of Spain - Ferdinand (1633-1654), made king of Bohemia in 1646 and king of Hungary and Croatia in 1647 and his sister Mariana of Austria (1634-1696), future queen of Spain, who were frequently depicted together at that time. The Emperor's son was depicted with similar Hungarian hat and similar dog in 1634 at the age of 1 year.
(1) Portrait of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (1633-1654) in Hungarian costume by Anonymous, 1630s, Ambras Castle in Innsbruck,
(2) Portrait of Archduchess Mariana of Austria (1634-1696) in Spanish costume by Anonymous, 1630s, Museu Sa Bassa Blanca,
(3-4) Portrait of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his sister Mariana of Austria by Anonymous, 1630s, Bavarian State Painting Collections,
(5-6) Portrait of a boy and a girl, most probably Ferdinand of Austria and his sister Mariana of Austria by Frans Luyckx, 1630s, Museo Nacional del Prado,
(7) Detail of portrait of Maria Anna of Spain and her son Ferdinand by Anonymous, 1634, Kunsthistorisches Museum,
(8) Portrait of Pál and Orsolya Esterházy by Anonymous, 1652, Forchtenstein Castle.
In 1622 Constance of Austria, Queen consort of Poland, sent a gift to sons of her younger sister Duchess of Tuscany. The sons of Maria Maddalena of Austria were presented with a set of colourful costumes - żupan dress, delia coat and other necessary utensils of a Polish noble, including pernach mace and zygmuntówka sabre, among others. Their new exotic attires were captured in a series of portraits by Justus Sustermans, at least one of which was sent to Warsaw in gratitude to Queen of Poland.
The portrait in the collection of Flint Institute of Arts (inventory no. 1965.15) depicting Maria Maddalena of Austria with her son Ferdinand in Polish costume is an exact copy of a painting preserved in the Uffizi in Florance (inventory no. 1890, 2246). It was by most accounts in the possession of the Polish Vasas and was transferred by John II Casimir Vasa to France after his abdication in 1668.
Portrait of Maria Maddalena of Austria, Duchess of Tuscany with her son Ferdinando in Polish costume by Justus Sustermans, 1622, Flint Institute of Arts.
Portrait of Leopoldo de' Medici in Polish costume with a pernach mace by Justus Sustermans, 1622, Uffizi Gallery.
Equestrian portrait of Ferdinando de' Medici in Polish costume with a sabre by Justus Sustermans, ca. 1622, Konopiště Castle.
Portrait of dwarf in Polish costume holding a pernach mace and a dog by Anonymous from Florence, 1620s, Uffizi Gallery. Its possible that the dwarf or his costume was a gift from Constance of Austria to her sister Duchess of Tuscany. Identification by Marcin Latka (Artinpl).
In the beginning of the 17th century the medieval abode of the Dukes of Masovia was largely extended to house the parliament of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, offices and court of the Vasas. The Italian architects Giovanni Trevano, Giacomo Rodondo, Paolo de la Corte and Mateo Castello constructed a Mannerist-early Baroque five-sided palace between 1598-1619. In 1621-1627, with the threat of Ottoman invasion, the palace was fortified with a curtain wall from the Vistula according to Italian concept of palazzo in fortezza (meaning in Italian, "a palace in a fortress"). Between 1634 and 1637 a large hall was constructed in upper parts of the southern wing to house opera hall of King Ladislaus IV and in 1637 the staircase tower was largely remodelled (Ladislaus' Tower). In 1643 the Prince-Cardinal Charles Ferdinand Vasa's Palace was erected on the northern bastion of the Castle's curtain wall and in 1644 a new gate (Saint John's Gate) and the Sigismund Column were erected by royal architect Constantino Tencalla in Baroque style.
During the so-called Deluge of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (invasion of allied forces of Sweden from north, Brandenburg from west, Transilvania from south and Muscovy from East), the castle was devastated in three occupations by foreign forces between 1655-1656 (the last was Transilvanian occupation). All valuables, including marble pavements, chimneys and window sills were shipped to Sweden, while the interiors were turned into stables and a hospital.
Exterior and interior
(1) Detail of the Plan of Warsaw in 1656 by Nicolas Pérelle after Erik Dahlbergh, printed in 1696. The fortifications of the Royal Castle in Warsaw were built in the years 1596-1627 giving the structure the more modern appearance according to principles of the Old Italian School (circle of Antonio da Sangallo). They consisted of a 162-metre-long curtain wall flanked by bastions on either side. Two shorter walls connected the bastions with the Castle. The wall rose at least 6.70 metres above the ground level. The fortifications were made of granite rocks, and due to the instability of the terrain, oak piles were also driven into the ground, the basic material for the surface construction was limestone surmounted with bricks. The remnants of the fortifications were absorbed by subsequent buildings in the 18th-century.
(2) Sigismund III Vasa on catafalque by Christian Melich, 1633, Wawel Royal Castle.
(3-4) The Ladislaus Tower of the Castle, 1637.
Tiles from the excavations in the Royal Castle's garden, 1630s:
(5) Tile with eagles from a stove,
(6) Stove tile with a lion or a griffon,
(7) Dutch tile with a soldier.
(1-2) Portrait of Sigismund III Vasa and Constance of Austria by Philipp Holbein II or workshop, ca. 1625, Royal Castle in Warsaw.
(3) Portrait of Philip III of Spain by Andrés López Polanco, ca. 1617, Skokloster Castle, possibly from the collection of Sigismund III Vasa. In 1615 Queen Constance of Austria, Sigismund's second wife, ordered the Commonwealth's ambassador in Spain to ask for the portraits of the members of the Spanish Royal family. Her elder sister Margaret of Austria, was a wife of King Philip III of Spain. Since the new Holy Roman Emperor, Matthias, resided more frequently in Vienna then in Prague from 1612, the portraits of Spanish Habsburgs would be sent to Vienna after this date, consequently it is more probable that the Philip III's portrait was captured by Swedish forces in Warsaw and not in Prague.
(4-5) Portraits of two sisters, daughters of Philip III of Spain and Margaret of Austria: Empress Maria Anna of Spain by Frans Luycx, ca. 1638 and Anne of Austria, Queen of France by Charles Beaubrun, ca. 1645. Both portraits were given to the Visitationist Monastery in Warsaw by John II Casimir Vasa in September 1668 and by most accounts adorned Castle walls.
(6) Portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga (1630-1686) by Frans Luycx, ca. 1651, Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. A portrait of a relative to Queen Marie Louise Gonzaga and a wife of Emperor Ferdinand III, cousin of John II Casimir Vasa was sent to Warsaw and was captured by Swedes in 1655 (from the collection of Gripsholm Castle).
Artinpl is individual, educational project to share knowledge about works of art nowadays and in the past in Poland.
If you like this project, please support it with any amount so it could develop.
© Marcin Latka