Wawel Metamorphoses

20 June 2022

In the summer, Wawel Royal Castle reveals its latest collection: the great metamorphosis of the former royal residence includes all important permanent exhibitions!

The New Crown Treasury opens in July, telling the story of the castle’s treasures presented in a space three times larger than before. The State Rooms and Royal Private Apartments have also been rearranged to showcase even more artworks, including the collection of Renaissance paintings donated by Prof. Karolina Lanckorońska. An impressive addition to the collection is the temporary exhibition Masterpieces from the Lanckoroński Collection – three works from the former Viennese collection of Karolina’s father, on loan from renowned galleries in different countries. The exhibition is accompanied by events held as part of the Year of Karolina Lanckorońska – 25 August marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of this extraordinary donor and Polish patriot.

The Opening Festival of the latest exhibitions at Wawel Royal Castle is planned for 1–3 July 2022.

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Read on to learn more about the history of the Lanckoroński family collection, outlined by Dr. Joanna Winiewicz-Wolska, curator of the Department of Painting at Wawel Royal Castle.

Treasure Trove of the Lanckoroński Family

Paintings from the former Viennese collection of Karol Lanckoroński – donated by his daughter Karolina in 1994 – are a permanent fixture at Wawel Royal Castle. Secular artworks inspired by ancient masters such as Ovid, Apuleius, Virgil, Livy and Flavius Josephus decorate the Renaissance interiors of the first floor, blending perfectly with 16th-century ceilings and friezes. The paintings once decorated furnishings such as chests and beds, and hung on the walls of wealthy Italian patricians in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 19th century they reached the antique market as individual works, stripped of their original function. Karol Lanckoroński was one of the few fans of this type of art, and he popularised it through his collection.

Religious paintings from the collection include parts of reredos from Italian churches and monasteries, dispersed in the 19th century, and small devotional paintings used for prayer and contemplation at home. They are shown in the intimate tower known as Jordanka – the remains of a Gothic section of the castle, now a part of the Renaissance residence. The two standout works are Simone Martini’s Angel and Bernardo Daddi’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, once the central part of the polyptych at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. One of the three depictions of St. Francis is a part of the reredos from the Church of San Francesco in Piza, painted by Taddeo di Bartolo in 1395. However, not all the paintings can be linked with specific locations or documented commissions, even though other collections, both public and private, hold artworks originating from the same altars.

This extraordinary collection was created by Karol Lanckoroński, afficionado of Italian art known as Quattrocento to his contemporaries. He acquired artworks on the European antique market in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century. His collection of Italian paintings, heavily dominated by 15th and 16th century artworks, was one of the most famous private collections in Europe. His neo-Baroque palace at 18 Jacquingasse held masterpieces such as Paolo Uccello’s St. George and the Dragon, now at the National Gallery in London, Masaccio’s St. Andrew sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and Francesco Pesellino’s Annunciation, now at the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco. The beautiful painting by Giovanni di Paolo, depicting the crucifixion with Mary and St. John by the cross, was sadly lost during the Second World War.

Lanckoroński collected the Italian works himself, and he also inherited an extensive collection of painting from Northern Europe. These works, including two by Rembrandt, once belonged to the last king of Poland Stanisław August Poniatowski. They included the Portrait of Philipp Alder by Hans Holbein the Elder, regarded as one of the greatest works by the German master and now at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, and the now lost portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam, attributed to Georg Pench. Paintings by Lanckoroński’s contemporaries from Austria and Germany – evidence of his active support for artists – were sold after the war. Portrait of Anna Risi by Anselm Feuerbach is now at the Augustinermuseum in Freiburg (as a deposit of the Kunstmuseun in Stuttgart), while Hans Thomy’s Apollo and Mars is at the Art Institute in Chicago.

After the Second World War, the Lanckoroński siblings also sold off some of the family portraits, including works by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, formerly of the Potocki family collection. Portrait of Anna Potocka née Cetner is now at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, the portrait of Iwan Szuwałow at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, and the portrait of Barbara Gołowin at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham. Although the beautiful portrait of the young Karol Lanckoroński by Hans Makart has sadly been lost, we remain hopeful that it was not destroyed during the war, and that it will one day be rediscovered.

Karol Lanckoroński’s great collection, which also comprised ancient and oriental art, textiles, ceramics and coins as well as paintings by artists from Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain, was gradually sold off by his heirs after the Second World War. Karolina Lanckorońska, aware of the artistic and historic importance of the Italian 15th and 16th century paintings and works which once belonged to King Stanisław August Poniatowski, chose to forgo selling this part of the collection with the aim of donating it to a Polish museum. On the 20th anniversary of her passing, we recall the donor’s life and her extraordinary donation, unequalled in the post-war history of our country.

The paintings which found their way to the antique market after the war included three of the most valuable items in Lanckoroński’s Viennese collection. They are now presented at Wawel Castle: Paolo Ucello’s St. George and the Dragon, likely acquired by Lanckoroński before 1892 and now at the National Gallery in London, Portrait of a Woman by a follower of Bartholomaeus Bruyn the Elder acquired by Lanckoroński in 1888 at an auction of Hans Makart’s art collection, and Company in a Garden by Barend Graat from the former collection of King Stanisław August Poniatowski and now at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Joanna Winiewicz-Wolska

Text edited by the Wawel Royal Castle.

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