Medieval art in Poznań museums

Medieval art. Sightseeing in Poznań museums

The first article in our series “Visiting Poznań Museums” is Medieval Art at the National Museum.The described exhibition includes monuments of Romanesque and Gothic sculpture from the 12th to the 16th century. There are also quite a few objects of medieval artistic craftsmanship. The monuments come from Wielkopolska, Silesia and the Lubusz Land. A visit to Poznań’s museums will allow you to get to know outstanding objects of great importance for a researcher of the art of the Middle Ages. These are: fragments of Romanesque sculptures from Strzelno, the figure of St. Catherine from the workshop, the Master of Beautiful Madonnas, the painting of the Sorrowful Christ from Brzeg (1443). As well as a late-Gothic painting of the Homage of the Magi from the end of the 15th century, as well as a thematically extremely rare processional sculpture of Christ on a donkey. It is not always easy to see and understand its essential values from a distance of several centuries.

Sculptures and paintings on sacred themes

Sculptures and paintings on sacred subjects were objects of worship at the time of their creation. At the same time, they were a didactic instrument, a “bible of the poor” of the society of that time, recorded with a chisel and brush. Today, they are an important document that allows us to learn about the culture of the Middle Ages, the beliefs and customs of the people of that distant era. In addition, she sets high formal requirements for herself, is guided by her own aesthetics, her own sense of beauty. They were legible both in the austere composition of the twelfth-century tympanum and in the lyrical charm of the Madonna.The works of medieval art were created in the workshops of guild artists of masters with a high level of skill, settled in large centers. There are also works of craftsmen from more modest provincial workshops. The work in the guild workshop was collective. The master – the workshop manager, who signed a contract for the execution of the work, supervised the whole and usually worked on its most important parts. For example, in the altar there are paintings or sculptures of the central part and the inner wings. Entrusting the less important fragments to helpers. That is why we often notice, within one ensemble, the heterogeneity of the artistic level and the differences in the style of performance. Archival documents have provided a large number of names or surnames of guild masters. Usually, it is difficult to associate specific, preserved works with them. Bearing the artist’s signature on them was one of the exceptions. Therefore, these are anonymous works, hypothetically only attributed to artists known from documents. Comparative research, on the other hand, allows for a grouping of monuments with common features belonging to the same period and style trend. Technical issues, efficiency of workmanship and solidity of the material used were a very important matter in medieval workshops, regulated by guild regulations. The paintings were painted on boards (linden, pine, sometimes oak) which were covered with chalk soil. Tempera paints were used, and the background on which the floral or geometric ornament was imprinted was covered with gilding. The sculptures also had multi-coloured polychrome and gilding. Unfortunately, such polychrome was often covered by layers of later unskilful repainting, which had to be removed in the conservation studio. The most important order for the guild workshop was the production of a magnificent altar in terms of sculpture and painting. Such work often lasted for many years. A visit to Poznań’s museums will allow you to get to know three relatively well-preserved triptychs (wardrobe altars, tripartite altars), showing various systems of decoration. An early Gothic triptych from Szydłów in the Lubusz Land (ca. 1400) with an elongated reredo, filled with small, bas-relief figures of the apostles and Mary, standing under canopies made of delicate slides, characteristic of altars from the late 14th and early 15th centuries, represents the type of the century. Richer, sculptural and pictorial decoration is filled with the late-Gothic triptych of St. Martha Magdalene (Wrocław workshop, ca. 1500): in the central part there are three large, full-plastic figures of saints (Mary Magdalene, Martha and their guardian bishop Maximilian), and in the panels of painted wings there are colorful, multi-figure scenes from the history of Mary Magdalene, as they were told in the popular “Golden Legend”. A small triptych from Ulesia (early 19th century) XVI century) With only three sculptures and a painting on the back of the wings, 33 is an example of a modest altar that could have adorned a village wooden church. Sightseeing in Poznan museums that will be planned and carried out by our team. Up-to-date information about exhibitions, the museum’s offer and price list can be found on  the website of the  National Museum. If you want to see what the museum building looks like – watch the shot from Liberty Square.