Report from the exhibition “Amber. Treasure of the Baltic Sea” in the Gliwice Museum

January 3, 2024 /  

How did Baltic amber end up in Gliwice? What are the amber fruits doing there straight
from the royal table, amber Lady with an Ermine and how did carnival characters from Venice appear there? Until January 7, 2024, Villa Caro presents a true and fantastic vision of amber in art, history and cultural history. So if anyone thought that amber was boring, see how wrong they were...

It turns out that amber was long ago like a jewel in the crown of Silesia, whose artists willingly and with extraordinary skill used this raw material in their works. It was also long before a certain exhibition appeared at Villa Caro and decided to change everything.

It would seem that the presence of amber in that region was covered with dust
in the pages of history, but nothing could be further from the truth, because amber fits here just as it does in Krakow, Jarosławiec or Gdańsk. Why? Because it concerns each of us and the hidden love for the history of the vast lands and regions of Poland. And all this in the historic heart of Villa Caro, which belongs to the Gliwice Museum, was brought together by an exhibition curated by Mr. Robert Bartkowski - an art historian, museologist, curator in the Department of Art and Artistic Crafts of the Museum in Gliwice, and a man who is himself a living passion for history, art , culture and… to amber!

This exhibition takes an extremely extensive approach to the context of Baltic amber
in history, but not only the historical one, but also the one belonging to specific people. Already at the very beginning, two symbols of the exhibition emerge - the myth of Phaeton based on Ovid's sketches, which showed the son's begging from his father (Helios) for permission to travel in his chariot drawn by pegasi, then his thunderous and tragic fall into the Eridan River, and finally his regrets Phaethon's mother and sisters over the loss of her son and brother. As the second symbol, we see right next to the incredible work of Mariusz Drapikowski - an artist known all over the world, among others. for the famous star of peace placed in the Grotto of the Nativity of Christ
in Bethlehem. At the Gliwice exhibition, we will see a work announcing a great historical feast - a fruit plate from the artist's private resources. It is a sight worth contemplating the artistry and talent of man, but also the vision and beauty of nature itself.

From the right: Phaeton in the Palace of the Sun; Zeus slaying Phaeton; Phaeton's tomb
In the display case: Bernard Salomon LA VITA ET METAMORFOSEO D'OVIDO

Mariusz Drapikowski, Platter with amber and silver fruits

The above-mentioned historical issues have been presented in amber so many times, including in two extremely rarely seen specimens: the famous lame of Sigismund III Vasa (the item is most often associated with this ruler) and an amber suspension, which is the oldest sentimental gem, belonging to Anna Jagiellon, and given to her by her husband - Stefan Batory (with his own image). Thanks to Mr. Bartkowski's invaluable knowledge, you can learn something extraordinary about the lame bag or the king's medallion hidden in it. Who would have thought that the king himself made his own image in amber and placed it at the bottom of the cup? Or maybe it's just a rumor and Sigismund III Vasa is not the author of this small amber nuance? The truth probably lies
in the depths of historical secrets, and according to the knowledge of the exhibition curator, this item will soon return to the treasury of the Wawel Cathedral and after perhaps a short display it will disappear from public view. Therefore, this is a wonderful and at the same time the last opportunity to see a unique item that initiated the interesting practice of breaking the stems of goblets like this lame, which had a truly widespread impact in fashion.

From the left: Kulawka - a cup associated with Sigismund III Waza;
From the right: A sentimental jewel belonging to Anna Jagiellon

In addition to extraordinary historical artifacts, viewers have the opportunity to see souvenirs truly marked by historical events, including: once belonging to members of the Czartoryski family, and later transferred to other institutions in honor of both the objects and the events in which they took part. Here, for example, a platter with amber plates from the mid-17th century or a copy of the famous and somewhat mysterious necklace of Dorota Sybilla Hohenzollern, Duchess of Brzeg, by Marta Włodarska. Next to it, the photos also show an extraordinary wooden and amber box belonging to the Jagiellonian University Museum (donated by Father Can. Michał Sołtyk).

From the left: A box made of amber and wood;
From the right: A plate with amber plates from the Czartoryski family collection and a necklace by Marta Włodarska - a replica of the necklace of Dorota Sybilla, Duchess of Brzeg.

Another item that cannot be overlooked in terms of symbolic importance is a knife from the hunting cutlery collection of Klara Isabella Eugenia Habsburg. This is an interesting specimen because it is a never-before-seen combination of ivory and amber at the handle.

The exhibition is extremely enriched by the colorfulness of two carnival figures decorated with Venetian masks and costumes (women's and men's) by Jola Słoma and Mirek Trymbulak and Sergio and Massimo Boldrin's "La Botega dei Mascareri". The masks were specially studded with Baltic amber!

We will also see various insects enlarged there, but interestingly - in this part of the naturalia we will learn about the amberoscope by Zbigniew Włodarski. It's fun for everyone, and therefore good - learning and an idea on how to enchant people with the magic of amber. The natural habitat room also offers close encounters with... a lizard, a buffalo horn, or even a whale vertebrae!

Books are also an important element of the exhibition at its various stages. Small and large books, some obtained from far away and others are native, but each mentions amber. For example, we have Historia Naturalis or 19th-century texts about healing stones, which feature amber almost on the first page.

The book with the first sketch of the amber lump presented (top) and Historia Naturalis Curiosa from the 18th century by the Polish Jesuit - Gabriel Rzązyński

When talking about amber, even in the context of this exhibition, it is impossible to ignore jewelry. After all, amber is a real decoration! Therefore, we will find here jewelry of great importance for the jewelry and amber world. These are real works of art, both ancient and very modern. The artists whose jewelry we can admire at the exhibition include: Paulina Binek, Dorota Cenecka, Jarosław Westermark, Jacek Baron, Danuta Czapnik, Danuta Kobielska, Giedymin Jabłoński, Wanda and Bogdan Frydrychowicz, Andrzej Boss, Maciej Rozenberg, Arkadiusz Wolski and many other wonderful artists whose jewelry is not only a body decoration. Many times, the viewer can see that it is, above all, a work of art, a demonstration of a true vision and, at the same time, its carrier. Fashion for jewelry, fashion for precious metals, and finally fashion for amber - this is also applied art.

And what if next to this one - we will also find sugar bowls, napkin holders, spoons... Finally, also sculptures. Between them - Lady with an Ermine designed by Bogumiła and Marian Kellar, and made by Przemysław Kuś, Horse Krzysztof Jacek Sumeradzki, sculpture of the Amber Nightingale by Bogdan Mirowski, Elation Mariusz Drapikowski or introducing unusual states of interpretation of myth - Myth I and Myth II Paulina Binek.

Przemysław Kuś (commissioned by Bogumiła and Marian Kellar) - amber version Ladies with ermine
From the left: Mariusz Drapikowski - Elation; Bogdan Mirowski - Amber Nightingale statuette; Krzysztof Jacek Sumeradzki - sculpture Horse

On the wall - Paulina Binek - Myth I and Myth II

It is worth remembering that some of these specimens, such as the mentioned lame, do not often appear to visitors, which motivates them to visit the Gliwice Museum and take a closer look at its treasures. As the curator recalls, it was not easy to bring individual monuments to Villa Caro due to their form or symbolic value for culture, but after many efforts it was possible. As a result, we managed to show the unique face of amber and its diversity, which is often emphasized when describing it.

As the curator of the exhibition himself, Robert Bartkowski, says:

Of course, there will be works from one of the largest museum collections of artistic jewelry in Poland, managed by the Museum in Gliwice, accompanied by modern works by today's amber and goldsmiths from other outstanding collections. Full variety! The fact that in one exhibition we can see royal treasures, natural inclusions and the statuette of the Amber Nightingale belonging to Stanisław Soyka should not surprise anyone - amber is more embedded in our culture than we think. This is also what this exhibition is about.

A visit to Villa Caro itself, but also seeing this exhibition, helps you see amber
in a different context - not scientific, not jewelry, although both threads appear, of course. You gain a specific feeling of understanding amber through the prism of how it has been valued for centuries in various forms. Little by little, more and more boldly, and finally completely, it ceases to be understood only in the context of belonging to the sea, to Gdańsk, to seaside merchants and fishermen. Amber is simply ours - from Pomerania to Silesia.

Exhibition “Amber. "Treasure of the Baltic Sea" gives the opportunity to take a broader look at our Polish "gold" and wonder - is it still just a stone from which grandmothers made beads? Because after such a feast for the eyes and absorbing knowledge, can you still think of amber as just a stone?

After all, these are chalices, caskets, brooches, platters, medallions, masks, altars, figures... After all, these are raptures and delights, warmth, the sound of the sea, history and cultural history... These are all our treasure that nature has given us. And this treasure no longer belongs only to the sea. Each visitor takes something with them in their thoughts and thus spreads amber further, just as rivers spread it along amber trails thousands of years earlier.

Picture - On the amber trail Thomas Steifer;
Face urn (Archaeological Museum in Gdańsk);
Amber necklace from the Neolithic era (copy, Archaeological Museum in Gdańsk);
Pendant Solar amulet Giedymin Jabłoński (Amber Museum - Branch of the Gdańsk Museum);
Amber beads from the Iron Age (Museum in Gliwice)

Link to information about the exhibition (Museum of Gliwice):

(access: December 30, 2023)

(Own photos taken with the consent of the exhibition curator)

Anna Ciećko

Visiting the exhibition Amber Museum

Ladies and Gentlemen! From November 2023 the form of our Amber Museum is changing. The current exhibition is smaller and available to you as part of the Boruni Gallery.

Adults and children with guardians can visit the Museum without prior reservation during the museum's opening hours.

Opening hours:
Mon - Thu 10:00-20:00
Fri - Sun 10:00 - 20:00
Admission is free.
Telephone: +48 513 511 512

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