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 country’s 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.