Exhibition of plafonds from the King’s Library | in the palace
Join us at an exceptional presentation of paintings which usually hang several metres above the heads of visitors to the King’s Library. The plafonds we brought down for you are: Philosophy, a tondo paining, and six portraits of outstanding scholars and great artists. You can now take a much closer look at these ceiling paintings, and learn the fascinating tales of secrets surrounding the decorations of King Jan III’s Library!
History of the King’s Library
Library in the Wilanów Palace was constructed for King Jan III. He was not only a great warrior and the triumphant victor of the Battle of Vienna, but also an enlightened and open-minded person with broad horizons. An avid reader, he would not part with his books even during military expeditions. When a passage caught his interest, he would mark it with a pencil and later discuss it with scholars. The King’s Library certainly heard more than one such discussion.
The decorations of the King’s Library date back to the 1680s. The complex symbolic concept for Library design is the work of Adam Adamandy Kochański, a Jesuit scholar, royal librarian, and mathematician. Initially, the task of creating paintings for the Wilanów library was entrusted to Claude Callot, a Frenchman who had been working in Poland for many years. Callot painted the two large tondos depicting Theology and Philosophy. At least some of the smaller plafonds were produced by other artists (perhaps members of Callot’s workshop), after Callot had left Wilanów. The moulding decorations and three-dimensional illusion marble floor are another elements of the original interior which have survived to date.
At the library, King Jan III gathered a collection of several thousand volumes. As the monarch’s life neared its end, the books – and probably the furniture as well – were moved to the residence in Żółkiew. The room’s function changed – from then on, it served as a cabinet with direct access to the most important apartments – the King’s Antechamber and, further on, the King’s Bedroom. Over the next centuries, the role and shape of the room which once housed the King’s Library underwent numerous changes. Around the mid-19th century, Aleksandra Potocka née Potocka initiated the construction of a small chapel in the adjacent room. The chapel was to commemorate the place where King Jan III allegedly died, according to records which escape full verification. In that period, the former library was used as a sacristy. When restoring the room after World War II, a ‘hybrid’ decision was reached – the library-cabinet would be restored, but the adjacent chapel would remain as well.
Present condition of King’s Library decorations and preparations for conservation treatment
At present, the ceiling of the King’s Library is in a poor condition and requires comprehensive conservation, which can only start if the Museum succeeds in obtaining sufficient funding. The last thorough conservation treatment was completed nearly 60 years ago, and failed to protect Library interiors from further degradation. In December 2020, parts of the ceiling were drenched after a water leak. The binding of sculpted and moulded decorations loosened, local delamination occurred, decorative features detached from their support, and yellowish-reddish discolouration and salt deposits became visible on the surface. To prevent further deterioration as a result of the leak, one of the tondos and six medallions were removed from the ceiling. The technical conditio and aesthetic appeal of the Baroque stone flooring also deteriorated. The entire room is in dire need of comprehensive conservation treatment, which would help the invaluable decorations dating to the times of King Jan III regain their lustre.
While making preparations for this complex project, we decided to display the dismantled decorative elements and tell the story behind their creation, symbolism and previous conservation attempts. This is a unique opportunity to see how plafonds were painted more than 300 years ago, and learn about their history as well. The decorations of the King’s Library are rich in symbolism, which holds many secrets. Who knows, maybe the exhibition will reveal at least some of them.
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