Majority of confirmed effigies of the Last Polish-Lithuanian Jagiellons are official, popular portraits pertaining to northern school of painting. As in some countries today, in the 16th century, people wanted a portrait of their monarch at home. Such effigies were frequently idealized, simplified and inscribed in Latin, which was the official language, apart from Ruthenian and Polish, of the multicultural country. They provided the official titulature (Rex, Regina), coat of arms and even age (ætatis suæ). Private and paintings dedicated to upper class were less so direct. Painters were operating with a complex set of symbols, which were clear then, however, are no longer so obvious today.
Since the very beginning of the Jagiellonian monarchy in Poland-Lithuania, art was characterized by syncretism and great diversity, which is best illustrated by the churches and chapels founded by the Jagiellons. They were built in a Gothic style with typical pointed arches and ribbed vaults and decorated with Russo-Byzantine frescoes, thus joining Western and Eastern traditions. Perhaps the oldest portraits of the first Jagiellonian monarch - Jogaila of Lithuania (Ladislaus II Jagiellon) are his effigies in the Gothic Holy Trinity Chapel at the Lublin Castle. They were commissioned by Jogaila and created by Ruthenian Master Andrey in 1418. On one, the king was represented as a knight on horseback and on the other as a donor kneeling before the Blessed Virgin Mary. The vault was adorned with the image of Christ Pantocrator above the coat of arms of the Jagiellons (Jagiellonian Cross). Similar church murals were created for Jogaila by the Orthodox priest Hayl around 1420 in the Gothic choir of Sandomierz Cathedral and for his son Casimir IV Jagiellon in the Holy Cross Chapel of the Wawel Cathedral by Pskov painters in 1470. Jogaila's portrait as one of the Magi in the mentioned Holy Cross Chapel (Adoration of the Magi, section of the Our Lady of Sorrows Triptych) is attributed to Stanisław Durink, whose father came from Silesia, and his marble tomb monument in the Wawel Cathedral to artists from Northern Italy.
Poland-Lithuania was the most tolerant country of Renaissance Europe, where in the early years of the Reformation many churches simultaneously served as Protestant and Catholic temples. There are no known sources regarding organized iconoclasm, known from western Europe, in most cases works of art were sold, when churches were completely taken over by the Reformed denominations. Disputes over the nature of the images remained mainly on paper - the Calvinist preacher Stanisław Lutomirski called the Jasna Góra icon of the Black Madonna "an idolatry table", "a board from Częstochowa" that made up the doors of hell, and he described worshiping it as adultery and Jakub Wujek refuted the charges of iconoclasts, saying that "having thrown away the images of the Lord Christ, they replace them with images of Luther, Calvin and their harlots" (after "Ikonoklazm staropolski" by Konrad Morawski). Unlike other countries where effigies of "The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies", nude or half-naked images of saints or disguised portraits in churches and public places were destroyed in mob actions by Protestant crowds, in Poland-Lithuania such incidents were rare.
Before the Great Iconoclasm, many temples were filled with nudity and so-called falsum dogma appearing at the time of the the Council of Trent (twenty-fifth session of the Tridentium, on December 3 and 4, 1563), which "means not so much a heretical view, but a lack of orthodoxy from the Catholic point of view. Iconography was to be cleansed of such errors as lewdness (lascivia), superstition (superstitio), shameless charm (procax venustas), and finally disorder and thoughtlessness" (after "O świętych obrazach" by Michał Rożek). The "divine nakedness" of ancient Rome and Greece, rediscovered by the Renaissance, was banished from churches, however many beautiful works of art preserved - like naked Crucifixes by Filippo Brunelleschi (1410-1415, Santa Maria Novella in Florence), by Michelangelo (1492, Church of Santo Spirito in Florence and another from about 1495, Bargello Museum in Florence) and by Benvenuto Cellini (1559-1562, Basilica of Escorial near Madrid). Nudity in Michelangelo's Last Judgment (1536-1541, Sistine Chapel) was censored the year after the artist's death, in 1565 (after "Michelangelo's Last Judgment - uncensored" by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech). In this fresco nearly everyone is naked or seminaked. Daniele da Volterra painted over the more controversial nudity of mainly muscular naked male bodies (Michelangelo's women look more like men with breasts, as the artist had spent too much time with men to understand the female form), earning Daniele the nickname Il Braghettone, "the breeches-maker". He spared some female effigies and obviously homosexual scenes among the Righteous Men (two young men kissing and a young man kissing an old man's beard and two naked young men in a passionate kiss).
The provisions of Trent reached Poland through administrative ordinances and they were were accepted at the provincial synod in Piotrków in 1577. Diocesan synod of Kraków, convened by Bishop Marcin Szyszkowski in 1621, dealt with issues of sacred art. The resolutions of the synod were an unprecedented event in the artistic culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Published in Chapter LI (51) entitled "On sacred images" (De sacris imaginibus) of Reformationes generales ad clerum et populum ..., they created guidelines for the iconographic canon of sacred art. Holy images could not have portrait features, pictures of the naked Adam and Eve, Saint Mary Magdalene half-naked or embracing a cross in an obscene and multi-colored outfit, Saint Anne with three husbands, Virgin Mary painted or carved in too profane, foreign and indecent clothing should be removed from temples, because they contain false dogma, give the simple people an opportunity to fall into dangerous errors or are contrary to Scripture. However, the bans were not overly respected, because representations of the Holy Family, numbering more than twenty people, including Christ's siblings, have been preserved in the vast diocese of Kraków (after "O świętych obrazach" by Michał Rożek).
The victorious Counter-Reformation and the victorious Reformation opposed shameless lust and shameless charm and a kind of paganism (after "Barok: epoka przeciwieństw" by Janusz Pelc, p. 186), but church officials could not ban "divine nakedness" from lay homes, and nude effigies of saints were still popular after the Council of Trent. Many of such paintings were acquired by clients from the Commonwealth abroad, in the Netherlands and in Venice, like, most likely, the Busty Madonna by Carlo Saraceni from the Krosnowski collection (National Museum in Warsaw, M.Ob.1605 MNW).
In 1565 Flavio Ruggieri from Bologna, who accompanied Giovanni Francesco Commendone, a legate of Pope Pius IV in Poland, described the country in the manuscript preserved in the Vatican Library (Ex codice Vatic. inter Ottobon. 3175, Nr. 36):
"Poland is quite well inhabited, especially Masovia, in other parts there are also dense towns and villages, but all wooden, counting up to 90,000 of them in total, one half of which belongs to the king, the other half to the nobility and clergy, the inhabitants apart from the nobility are a half and a quarter million, that is, two and a half million peasants and a million townspeople.
Even the craftsmen speak Latin, and it is not difficult to learn this language, because in every city, in almost every village there is a public school. They take over the customs and language of foreign nations with unspeakable ease, and of all transalpine countries, they learn the customs and the Italian language the most, which is very much used and liked by them as well as the Italian costume, namely at court. The national costume is almost the same as the Hungarian, but they like to dress up differently, they change robes often, they even change up several times a day. Since Queen Bona of the House of Sforza, the mother of the present king, introduced the language, clothes and many other Italian customs, some lords began to build in the cities of Lesser Poland and Masovia. The nobility is very rich.
Only townspeople, Jews, Armenians, and foreigners, Germans and Italians trade. The nobility only sells their own grain, which is the country's greatest wealth. Floated into the Vistula by the rivers flowing into it, it goes along the Vistula to Gdańsk, where it is deposited in intentionally built granaries in a separate part of the city, where the guard does not allow anyone to enter at night. Polish grain feeds almost all of King Philip's Netherlands, even Portuguese and other countries' ships come to Gdańsk for Polish grain, where you will sometimes see 400 and 500 of them, not without surprise. The Lithuanian grain goes along the Neman to the Baltic Sea. The Podolian grain, which, as has been said, perishes miserably, could be floated down the Dniester to the Black Sea, and from there to Constantinople and Venice, which is now being thought of according to the plan given by the Cardinal Kommendoni [Venetian Giovanni Francesco Commendone].
Apart from grain, Poland supplies other countries with flax, hemp, beef hides, honey, wax, tar, potash, amber, wood for shipbuilding, wool, cattle, horses, sheep, beer and some dyer's herb. From other countries they imports costly blue silks, cloth, linen, rugs, carpets, from the east precious stones and jewels, from Moscow, sables, lynxes, bears, ermines and other furs that are absent in Poland, or not as much as their inhabitants need to protect them from cold or for glamor.
The king deliberate on all important matters with the senate, although he has a firm voice, the nobility, as it has been said, has so tightened his power that he has little left over it" (after "Relacye nuncyuszow apostolskich ..." by Erazm Rykaczewski, pp. 125, 128, 131, 132, 136).
Marcin Kromer (1512-1589), Prince-Bishop of Warmia, in his "Poland or About the Geography, Population, Customs, Offices, and Public Matters of the Polish Kingdom in Two Volumes" (Polonia sive de situ, populis, moribus, magistratibus et Republica regni Polonici libri duo), first published in Cologne in 1577, emphasized that "In almost our time, Italian merchants and craftsmen also reached the more important cities; moreover, the Italian language is heard from time to time from the mouths of more educated Poles, because they like to travel to Italy". He also stated that that "even in the very center of Italy it would be difficult to find such a multitude of people of all kinds with whom one could communicate in Latin" and as for the political system, he added that "the Republic of Poland is not much different […] from the contemporary Republic of Venice" (after "W podróży po Europie" by Wojciech Tygielski, Anna Kalinowska, p. 470). Mikołaj Chwałowic (d. 1400), called the Devil of Venice, a nobleman of Nałęcz coat of arms, mentioned as Nicolaus heres de Wenacia in 1390, is said to have named his estate near Żnin and Biskupin where he built a magnificent castle - Wenecja (Wenacia, Veneciae, Wanaczia, Weneczya, Venecia), after returning from his studies in the "Queen of the Adriatic".
Works of art were commissioned from the best masters in Europe - silverware and jewelry in Nuremberg and Augsburg, paintings and fabrics in Venice and Flanders, armours in Nuremberg and Milan and other centers. For the tapestries representing the Deluge (about 5 pieces) commissioned in Flanders by Sigismund II Augustus in the early 1550s, considered one of the finest in Europe, the king paid the staggering sum of 60,000 (or 72,000) ducats. More than a century later, in 1665, their value was estimated at 1 million florins, while the Żywiec land at 600,000 thalers and the richly equipped Casimir Palace in Warsaw at 400,000 florins (after "Kolekcja tapiserii ..." by Ryszard Szmydki, p. 105). It was only a small part of the rich collection of fabrics of the Jagiellons, some of which were also acquired in Persia (like the carpets purchased in 1533 and 1553). Made of precious silk and woven with gold, they were much more valued than paintings. "The average price of a smaller rug on the 16th-century Venetian market was around 60 to 80 ducats, which was equal to the price for an altarpiece commissioned from a famous painter or even for an entire polyptych by a less-known master" (after "Jews and Muslims Made Visible ...", p. 213). In 1586, second-hand rug in Venice cost 85 ducats and 5 soldi and wall hangings bought from Flemish merchants 116 ducats, 5 lire and 8 soldi (after "Marriage in Italy, 1300-1650", p. 37). Around that time, in 1584, Tintoretto was only paid 20 ducats for a large painting of Adoration of the Cross (275 x 175 cm) with 6 figures for the church of San Marcuola and 49 ducats in 1588 for an altarpiece showing Saint Leonard with more then 5 figures for the Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice. In 1564 Titian informed King Philip II of Spain that he would have to pay 200 ducats for an autograph replica of the Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, but that he could have one by the workshop for just 50 ducats (after "Tintoretto ..." by Tom Nichols, p. 89, 243). The lesser value of the paintings meant that they were not so prominently displayed in inventories and correspondence.
The royal collections in Spain were largely unaffected by major military conflicts, so many paintings as well as related letters were retained. Perhaps we will never know how many letters Titian sent to the monarchs of Poland-Lithuania, if any. When Poland regained independence in 1918 and quickly began to rebuild the devastated interiors of Wawel Royal Castle, there was no effigy of any monarch inside (possibly except for a portrait of a ruling Emperor of Austria, as the building served the military). In 1919, the systematic collection of museum collections for Wawel began (after "Rekonstrukcja i kreacja w odnowie Zamku na Wawelu" by Piotr M. Stępień, p. 39).
Portrait of Royal jeweller Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio aged 47 receiving a medallion from the Polish Royal Eagle with monogram of King Sigismund Augustus (SA) on his chest by Paris Bordone, 1547-1553, Wawel Royal Castle.
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