The National Museum in Krakow continues a series of presentations of outstanding but less known, or sometimes unknown, works of European art in Polish collections. Following a show of a privately owned relief by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, the Europeum Centre for European Culture will put on view one of the most valuable pieces of painting discovered lately in Krakow: The Lapidation of Saint Stephen, an oil on canvas from a church devoted to that saint, from November 8 on.
While examination of the work conducted by Krakow-based art historians Beata Frey-Stecowa and Jerzy Żmudziński is still in progress, there is a lot we can already say about the piece. It found itself in its present location only in the 20th century, after a new Saint Stephen’s church was built, and all the historical objects that had been collected in the former parish church of the same devotion from the early 19th century on were moved there.
Perfectly preserved and painted, distinct for its intricate composition (modelled after a 1581–1582 fresco by Niccolò Circignani known as il Pomarancio in Rome) and intense colour scheme, the painting on view is an exquisite example of an art style termed Mannerism, which reigned in European art in the 2nd half of the 16th century. Taking the art of great painters of the Italian High Renaissance for their basis, the Mannerists created works on sophisticated, often allegoric subjects, marked by artificiality and refinement, particularly in the poses of the figures, and intended especially for the courts of European rulers as well as art buffs and art collectors.
As Rudolph II’s seat, Prague was one of the leading centres of European Mannerism at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. The emperor commissioned works from a range of celebrated painters, including Hans von Aachen (1552–1615), a Cologne-born artist who, at the outset of his artistic career, spent long years in Rome and other Italian cities (1574–1586). With some obvious hallmarks of his technique (landscape, facial types, colours, painting manner), the painting presented at the Europeum has to be regarded as his as-yet unknown piece, presumably datable to the last years of the 16th century. One thing that is still unclear is whether the painting was brought to Saint Stephen’s church in Krakow from Rome or from the Bohemian Prague. The high artistic quality of the piece makes it one of the most significant art discoveries in Poland over recent years.
In order to set Hans von Aachen’s work against an appropriate context, two celebrated works will be brought to the Europeum, made by another great master active at the same time in Prague, Bartholomaeus Spranger (1546–1611): Vanitas, drawn from the collection of Wawel Castle, and The Baptism of Christ from the National Museum in Wrocław. A pendant to the show is a jewellery cameo featuring the protector of the Prague painting school, emperor Rudolph II; it was executed by Ottavio Miseroni, a stone cutter working for his court, and comes from the holding of the National Museum in Krakow
Curators: Beata Frey-Stec, Jerzy Żmudziński