Bling it on! Stunning royal jewellery goes on show at ‘Rule and Dazzle’ exhibition
The diamond dress that adorns Poland’s most venerated icon, the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, has left the holy confines of the Jasna Góra monastery and can now be seen at the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
The breath-taking exhibit is the standout attraction at the castle’s new exhibition To Rule And To Dazzle, which for the first time brings together in one place such a large amount of royal jewels from Poland.
Over 500 items, including crowns, brooches, necklaces and rings as well as richly decorated goblets and holy relic vessels have been begged and borrowed from museums, churches, galleries and private collections from throughout Polish lands past and present as well as from the Louvre in Paris, a private collection in London and museums in Florence, Berne, Munich, Uppsala and New York.
The jewels all come from Poland’s Golden Age in the 16th century when the Jagiellonians were in charge, and the 17th century when Poland reached the largest size in its history under the Vasa dynasty.
The jewels on display were not only decorative but also indicated the bearer’s rank at court and bestowed the prestige befitting of a king or queen.
Fascinatingly, art experts had up to recently believed that the jewellery in Poland in this period must have come from specialist workshops in other countries.
However, recent scholarship has shown that these dazzling items were actually produced in Polish workshops, thereby creating a completely new branch of Polish art history.
Dariusz Nowacki, a curator from the Wawel Museum involved in preparing the exhibition, told TFN: “Jewellers working in Poland were fully plugged in to global trends. Poland was not provincial in this regard, it was an epicentre. Polish goldsmiths didn’t just follow trends, they also developed a unique Polish style.”
The exhibition, whose patron is Poland’s copper mining behemoth KGHM S.A., has taken several years to put together and is one of the costliest and logistically complex that the castle has ever undertaken.
Obtaining the most precious items was no easy task. When the castle suggested borrowing the diamond and ruby dresses of the Black Madonna from Jasna Góra, monastery bosses were initially sceptical.
The Pauline fathers only relented after several years when the castle proposed that art historians would make a full inventory of the hundreds of individual votive offerings attached to the priceless garments.
Now, for the first time, visitors to the castle can see the two oldest dresses to have adorned the Black Madonna. The diamond dress has left the walls of the monastery for the first time, just like the one-metre-plus gold relic vessel from 1672, which was made with thousands of diamonds by a Warsaw jeweller as a votive offering for saving Jasna Góra during the Swedish Deluge.
In another example of castle cajoling, Louvre bosses in Paris only agreed to release a painting on loan after an offer was made to restore it using castle art conservation resources.
A further highlight are two amulets that come from a huge haul of coins and jewels discovered last year hidden under the floor of the cathedral in Bydgoszcz. The treasure was squirreled away to stop it falling into the hands of the avaricious Swedes when they plundered and pillaged the city in the mid-seventeenth century.
Visitors could easily be disconcerted on entering the first exhibition room, which is empty of jewels apart from a few links of a regal chain.
The room is a reminder of Poland’s lost Crown Jewels that were held in a specially built treasury at Wawel Castle in Kraków.
The jewels dating back to the early 14th century were in large part stolen by the Prussians after the partitions and melted down.
Castle staff are understandably nervous about revealing insurance values for the items on display, but the sums involved far exceed even the highest king’s ransom.
Security, therefore, is tight. Visitors are required to run the gauntlet of an airport-style x-ray machine in order to get in.
Once inside, well-muscled security guards, rather than snoozing septuagenarians, eyeball visitors’ every move. Castle staff have been primed to launch themselves at anyone who commits the ultimate malfeasance of taking a photograph.
However, this heightened focus on security provides a sense that something truly remarkable is on display.
The jewellery theme is an ideal platform to delve into this fascinating period of Poland’s history.
To Rule And To Dazzle can be visited up to August 4th, 2019.