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In June 2023, an exhibition will be held to open the last wing of the Princes Czartoryski Museum. The exhibition, held in the Klasztorek building, will showcase items that are beyond the contemporary canons of the museum arts as well as what has survived up to our Times, in contrast to other European museums of this type, giving the Czartoryski collection an absolutely unique character.
When reckoning with the past of his grandmother Izabela Czartoryska and her collection, prince Władysław Czartoryski left out some of the mementos that had been brought from the original home of the collection in Puławy. These, together with copies, forgeries, and other debris of history, survived the ages stored within the depths of the museum, as if on the bottom of a drawer, and now having been brought again to the public eye, they present to viewers the exceptional atmosphere and charm of a place which no longer exists, and comprise a valuable object of study on the history of the collector’s art for researchers.
The interior of the first floor of the Klasztorek building is the oldest exhibition space at the Princes Czartoryski Museum in Kraków and was opened to the public shortly after the Arsenal, where the Library was located, earlier than the Gallery of Painting, which was opened in … on the second floor of the Palace at ul. św. Jana 19. At the time, this space was used to present artistic handicrafts, historical collections, and mementos from Puławy. It was this character that was the inspiration for renovations in 1993, making the Klasztorek home to a permanent exhibition dedicated to the collections from the Temple of the Sybil in Puławy, the Gothic House, the family portrait gallery, and to a display of a small number of keepsakes from the period in which the Czartoryski family were based in Paris. The current design also alludes to the original use of the historic interiors, to some degree “quoting” the exhibition strategies and techniques used in the distant past (the Armoury room, the Masztarnia, and Szabelnia) yet also introduces works which have not been display thus far and new themes.
Thanks to the revitalisation of the original 19th-century exhibition infrastructure, the Klasztorek has become its own kind of “nature reserve” of museums. The exhibition of paintings and carefully selected, sometimes strange yet often captivatingly beautiful items allows visitors to appreciate their sensual and emotional qualities, while the historic interiors and furnishings create an inimitable atmosphere. The exhibition combines two themes, the first of which complements the historical narrative (begun in the Palace) about the Napoleonic period, the times of the November Uprising and the Great Emigration, culminating with the centrally located 19th-century Parisian and Cracovian salon containing a grand piano which had once belonged to the princess Marcelina Czartoryska née Radziwiłł and a collection of mementos related to Chopin. The second presents attractive memorabilia from the collections at Puławy, comprising an unusual type of gallery of personalities which have become permanently enshrined in thee history and culture of Europe and the world; here for example, among other precious treasures, can be found Shakespeare’s chair.
Some of the items exhibited which may seem unintelligible or comic to the contemporary visitor (such as the biscuit of the Emperor Napoleon I or the now lost grass from the place where Troy once stood) require a new interpretation. An exhibition understood in this way is a reflection on “the speech of things” throughout history and in contemporary museum arts. The items gathered here “transport the viewer to a place of personal memory […], to myths, expectations, and events which are shared by a single nation and epoch. […] they are documents […] which are capable of calling forth memories and a host of information useful not just for the understanding of material culture […]. They begin to show traces of both the natural and social processes which created them and also of the ideas, prejudices, tendencies, and tastes of the entire society.” (R. Bodei, O życiu rzeczy [On the Life of Things], trans. A. Bielak, Łódź 2018 , p. 37). They become a mirror which reflects not only our culture, but the human condition as well.