The World of the Polish Vasas. Space – People – Art

The World of the Polish Vasas. Space – People – Art

November 6th, 2019 – January 14th, 2020

The Gallery of Temporary Exhibitions (2 floor)

In 2019 we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the completion of the expansion of the Royal Castle in Warsaw which was initiated by Sigismund III Vasa. As a result of it, the new royal residence became the focal point of the political, cultural and court life of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for the following decades. This anniversary presents a special opportunity to celebrate the dynasty and the time in which it ruled. Twelve rooms, containing nearly 300 exhibits on loan from 77 institutions, sophisticated scenography, a film with a digital reconstruction of the Castle of the Vasas – all this in the most important and largest exhibition in the Year of the Vasas will be open to the public from 6 November.

For the first time, the Vasas will become the main characters of a large exhibition in Poland – the starting point is the story of the era viewed from their perspective. We have decided to recreate the reality of their world by providing visitors with their own set of special ‘binoculars’, as it were. Each of the eyepieces contains three lenses. In the first you can see the realm in which the Vasas functioned, as well as the people and the art of that time. The second eyepiece shows the court, Poland and Europe. These six concepts aim to recreate the worldly values of that time, and a world perceived as a network of relationships.

The portrait gallery depicting the main characters allows an opportunity to reflect on just how shortlived the dynasty was; it died out after the third generation. Next, we focus on court culture, life at the court, its structure, its day-to-day functioning and also on special occasions. We then weave a tale about the society of that era – this is the most complex and ambitious narrative of all. We show how the attitude of the subjects towards their rulers evolved, and look at complex religious issues as an example of the social domain, which was understood in a very specific manner. We interpret the politics of the king against the backdrop of Europe, showing the political aims and aspirations in the context of the great dynasty of which they were members – especially when taking into account their connections with the Habsburgs, Wittelsbachs, and Swedish Vasas. For the first time in the museum, we take up the subject of Vasa diplomacy, portrayed as a whole.

The exhibits consist of outstanding works of art, as well as documents, books and prints. We have tried to bring together art collections that have been dispersed for many years. We are pleased we have been able to succeed thanks to the collaboration with museums from Stockholm, Vienna, Munich, Rome, Paris and with private collectors. Some of the pieces are returning to the Castle after 350 years, such as View of Warsaw by Christian Melich from Munich, which was part of the dowry of Ladislaus IV’s sister and since then has been in Germany. We have managed to loan Guido Reni’s extremely valuable Rape of Europa from the National Gallery in London, which was commissioned by Ladislaus IV Vasa, as well as Portrait of an Old Man in a Hat Decorated with a Pearl from Dresden, from the collection of Jan II Kazimierz. From Florence, we have imported a portrait of Prince Ladislaus Sigismund in Polish Dress, similar to that in which he received the Moscow envoys at an audience. Also on display is a selection of valuable drawings, including two sketchbooks by Giovanni Battista Gisleni – stage designer and architect of the Polish Vasas. One of them contains designs for the funeral of Ladislaus IV; a separate room has been devoted to funeral art. The valuable objects from the little-known collection of the Convent of the Visitation Sisters – the only repository in Warsaw dating from the Vasa era – are worthy of special attention. A collective portrait was loaned from Łowicz which shows almost the entire court of Jan Kazimierz portrayed in a scene paying homage to the relics of St Victoria. In the epilogue we shall show a selection of architectural relics found at the bottom of the Vistula river in the years 2011–2015.

Miniature portraits in wax depicting Anne of Austria and Sigismund III, on loan from Berlin, will be shown for the first time in Poland. A unique medal bearing an equestrian portrait of Ladislaus IV, minted in Gdańsk, and until recently believed lost, is being loaned from Dresden, as well as a painting from France, Battleof Kircholm by Pieter Snayers commissioned by Sigismund III in 1619. Polish viewers will be seeing this painting for the first time. However, the real gem of the exhibition is the small sculpture of St John made of solid gold on an ebony pedestal, the only surviving example among the few dozen found in the collection of Sigismund III. Finally the portrait of Vasa by Rubens which has hitherto not been shown; we have even more treasures like this on display.

Among the documents, in addition to e.g. royal diplomas, is presented a beautifully bound journal of Ladislaus IV’s tour of Europe in the years 1624–25. Alongside it is displayed one of the letters of the traveller in which he tells his father of his art purchases in Brussels. His tour will be commemorated in a separate room, in which we have attempted not only to recreate his route, but also to show its influence on the future king.

The Vasa era is called the ‘silver age’ or the age of the silver Sheaf, albeit a thickly gilded one. The exhibition reveals just how colourful an era it was, in fact one of the most interesting in our Polish history.

Curators: Jacek Żukowski PhD, Zbigniew Hundert PhD

Opening hours

Tuesday – Thursday, Saturday 10 a.m. 6 p.m.

Friday 10 a.m. 8 p.m.

Sunday 11 a.m. 6 p.m.

On Mondays – closed

Last admission 1,5 hour before closing time

Ticket prices:

20 PLN (regular), 12 PLN (reduced), 1 PLN (children aged up to 16) available at the ticket office and online.

From December 1st, 2019 special ticket price applies (12 PLN – normal, 6 PLN – reduced) if combined with a ticket fot the Castle Tour.

Scenario: Jacek Żukowski PhD

Design: Barbara Kowalewska, Monika Rzepiejewska (Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw)

Graphic design: Bazyli Krasulak, Maciej Małecki, Magdalena Wiśniewska (Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw)

Realization: Perfect Events Agencja Reklamowa Rafał Krauze

Multimedia: LIDEX Sp. z o.o.