17th-century polychrome art discovered during revonation of Żupny Castle

TVN24 News in English, PAP

Żupny Castle in Poland's famous saltmine town of Wieliczka, located in the country's southern region of Lesser Poland, is undergoing general renovation in order to make it more accessible for sightseers. During the works, a number of original polychrome wall paintings have been discovered, dating back to the times of the Vasa dynasty. "Here we have beautiful original paintings, which we didn't even know existed," said the director of Cracow Saltworks Museum in Wieliczka, Jan Godłowski.

Director Godłowski says the discovery came as a "big surprise" to everyone. Polychrome art is an element of the original decor of this place. Among the paintings, a coat of arms of the Vasa dynasty can be found.

From the second half of the 13th century, until 1945, Żupny Castle in Wieliczka was the seat of the company managing Wieliczka and Bochnia salt mines. Currently it serves as a seat of the Cracow Saltworks Museum Wieliczka. As the castle is on the UNESCO Heritage Site List, a decision has been made to make it more accessible for tourists.

"We wanted to adapt the castle to serve exhibitionary purposes and so we've launched a general renovation. It turned out that we've had beautiful polychrome art here, which didn't even know existed," said the director of Cracow Saltworks Museum Wieliczka, Jan Godłowski.

Temporary exhibitions have been scheduled to take place in the renovated rooms. The museum now has to figure out how to exhibit its regural collection, and at the same time be able to show the visitors the recently discovered polichrome artwork, which was concealed for hundreds of years underneath layers of paint.

Many layers of coloured art from various periods

According to art conservator Marcin Chojkowski, who is overseeing the works, the paintings spread across five rooms were covered with numerous layers, which date back to a period between the 17th and the 20th century.

"The preserved layers, which come from various periods, interpenetrate each other. In some places only small fragments have been preserved, whereas in other - bigger parts," the conservator said. "We're planning to possibly exhibit all of the layers to show them as the history of this place. If such possibilities appear and a decision is made, we can also remove the outer layers - it's called transferring, moving to a new surface - and exhibit them in a different part of the castle, with available exhibition space," Chojkowski explained.

Process of layer separation allows to reconstruct bigger parts of older polychrome. "Just because any of them is younger doesn't mean that it's less valuable, as it can be even more interesting. Partial removing or transferring of the layers to a new surface is important for us mainly because, most likely, even older layers are hidden underneath. Although at the moment it's difficult to say whether any polychrome layers are there," he added.

Polichromic art in most characteristic rooms

The discovered polychrome art - which the experts say have been preserved fairly well - depict, among other things, floral motifs - flower bouquets in vases or flowery vine. It's an example of figurative art of illusionistic character, depicting for instance stone sculptures in the overdoors or draped fabrics in the ceiling friezes. Other uncovered fragments show ornaments in arabesque and oriental style.

Art historian Klementyna Ochniak-Dudek, who is the head of art and ethnography department at the museum, says that the rooms in which the paintings have been found are among the most characteristic spaces in the whole building, and were used as residential spaces. Valuable discoveries had been made there before.

"In the 16th century, there once was a baroque-style residential apartment in the eastern wing of the royal castle. What's been left of it is a well-preserved painting, which was once used a window decoration, later replaced with a fitted wardrobe. We discovered the painting and restored it during renovation which took place in early 1990s," Ochniak-Dudek said.

Neoclassical paintings with illusiory columns

In the 18th and 19th century, the castle served as a home of the chief director of the salt mine. "We know for certain that the easternmost room, in which the paintings can also be found, was once used to receive guests. However, we don't have any precise information as to the decor of these rooms, and that's why we were surprised to find these impressive, perfectly preserved paintings - and so many of them - ornamenting these rooms," said the art department chief.

"In one of the rooms, we have very well-preserved neoclassical paintings depicting architecture, illusiory of course as the walls are flat. But the person who made this decoration made sure to expose the landscapes stretching beween the columns. And painted above them are fragments of stone arches, the kind that was popular in the early modern and neoclassical periods," Ochniak-Dudek added.

"Illusiory painted columns stem from underneath, so in a way it's a reference to the previous decoration, which had a very similar character: noticeable landscape panoramas in the space between the columns," she explained.

Research required

Klementyna Ochniak-Dudek assessed that the paintings require fine conservation care. Also necessary is a research of the substances and pigments which were used to complete this work. This will help to learn more about the history of the paintings and possibly establish a more exact date of their creation.

"At the moment we're certain that the oldest painting comes from the 17th century. It's a fregment of the emblem of the Polish state from the times of the Vasa dynasty, that is from the 17th century," she said. "Right now we're happy to have a set of paintings of monumental character, suited for a flagship seat of an important Old-Polish company such as Cracow Saltworks, she said.

According to experts, the found paintings underscore the role of Żupny Castle as the administrative centre of the salt mining industry, which included the salt mines in Bochnia and Wieliczka.


Źródło: TVN24 News in English, PAP

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