Long-forgotten piece of Polish art history resurfaces after 149 years
A long-forgotten piece of Polish art history has finally resurfaced after being hidden away in a private collection for 149 years.
The sketch in oil painted by Jan Matejko in around 1874 as a preliminary study for his iconic work Prussian Homage, was shown to the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I when he visited the painter's studio in Kraków in 1881.
Matejko then sold it to a private collector and it has remained in the buyer’s family to this day.
Now on public display at Wawel Castle in Kraków, spokesperson Urszula Wolak-Dudek, described the reemergence as "sensational,” adding that it is a rare opportunity to view such a valuable artifact and offers a fascinating insight into Matejko's creative process.
Based on the oil sketch, Matejko set to work on the main painting in1879 and wouldn't complete it until 1882.
Prussian Homage was presented to the public for the first time in May 1882 in Kraków’s Cloth Hall. A few months later, Matejko donated it to the nation.
The plan was that a room at Wawel Castle would be specially designed to display it. While work was underway in the 1930s, the painting was given on deposit to the National Museum in Kraków
However, the furnishing of the Senators’ Hall in Wawel Castle was never finished and the painting has been held in deposit at the National Museum ever since.
The painting itself has become an iconic symbol of Polish culture, representing for Poles the nation's greatness and the righteousness of its kings.
It depicts the subjugation of the Prussian Hohenzollern duke to the Polish king, which made it a priority for Nazi art thieves during World War Two. Fortunately, it was hidden safely and survived the war.
The unveiling of the sketch in the Senators' Hall of Wawel Castle marks the start of the Year of Jan Matejko, commemorating the 130th anniversary of the painter's death.
While the sketch is broadly similar to Matejko's final painting, there are several key differences, such as the absence of Queen Bona and the figure in the loggia of the Cloth Hall. The court jester Stańczyk is also depicted differently.
The Prussian Homage itself was a landmark event in Polish history and dates back to 1525, when on April 8 Albrecht Hohenzollern and Zygmunt the Old signed the Treaty of Kraków, which secularised the monastic state and transformed it into Ducal Prussia, a fief of Poland.
The signing of the treaty was completed by the Prussian Homage, a landmark event in Polish history in which Albrecht bent the knee to Zygmunt on Kraków’s market square two days later.
The event, the consequences of which are much wrangled over by historians, is commemorated by a stone inscription to the south of the Cloth Hall, marking the spot where the act took place.