"Festa" and music in Marie Casimire’s court in Rome
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Passage to knowledge

Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

"Festa" and music in Marie Casimire’s court in Rome Aneta Markuszewska
Maria Kazimiera Sobieska na koniu, malarz dworski z kręgu Jana III.jpg

This article is a fragment of book published by Museum of King Jan III's Palace at Wilanow in 2012


When Marie Casimire Sobieski reached the gates of Rome on 23 March 1699, she was beginning a completely new chapter of her life at the age of fifty-eight. It was quite an advanced age for the time, especially given the more than a dozen childbirths and a sizeable baggage of experiences that fate had not spared her. Nevertheless, as in every individual’s story, there was no shortage of wonderful and happy moments in this one. Marie Casimire was first the favourite lady in waiting of Queen Ludwika Maria, then she married Jan Zamoyski, one of the richest men in the Commonwealth, only to be unexpectedly raised to the throne of her adopted homeland at the side of her beloved second husband, Jan Sobieski. As Madeleine de Scudéry said, “this is a wonderful fortune for a maid without a fortune. It is an honour for French nobility”.1 Unfortunately, years of ruling – despite fulfilling beautiful Marysieńka’s ambitions, through, among others, the victorious battles of Jan III and the ever stronger position of the Sobieski family in foreign politics – also proved to be extremely difficult. The worsening economic situation and the ineffective way of ruling the Commonwealth, and consequently the ongoing conflicts with the subjects and Marie Casimire’s intrigues, the capricious nature of the Queen did not endear her to Poles or gain her the trust of foreign envoys residing in the Commonwealth. The death of Jan III in 1696, which caused Marysieńka to throw herself into politics, exposed only negative aspects of her character and the scandalous relationship between her and her oldest son, Jakub. After squandering all chances for maintaining power in the Commonwealth and bringing infamy down on the Sobieski name, a departure from Poland was the best solution. Rome seemed like an ideal destination – the Pope still revered the memory of the conqueror of the infidels, the great husband of the dowager queen, which gave her a hope for a peaceful, but dignified stay, and the approaching jubilee year provided a convenient, official pretext for departure. Unexpectedly for Marie Casimire, but also for the Roman authorities, her stay in the Eternal City lasted almost fifteen years.

The Queen quickly adapted to the local environment. The power of her husband’s name and her royal past opened the doors to the palaces of the most important people in the city. She frequented the residences of Roman and foreign aristocrats, diplomats, cardinals who held the power in the Eternal City, as well as noble-born ladies. She also organised meetings in the residence at Piazza dei Santi Apostoli, which was loaned to her by Duke Livio Odescalchi at the beginning of her stay. She attended services at numerous Roman churches with almost a Counter-Reformatory zeal, but she also greatly enjoyed secular entertainments. Understanding the power of art working on behalf of politics, she very carefully prepared theatrical spectacles and performances of special occasion pieces in her won Palazzo Zuccari, her permanent residence from 1702 on. The content of these compositions was focused mainly on remembering and glorifying the figure of her husband and the Sobieski family. Thus, despite the fact that Marie Casimire’s power in the world of the male-dominated Roman and European politics was frail at that time, thanks to her consistency and the need to participate in public life, as well as her love for the brilliance, splendour and awe, the Queen clearly marked her presence in Rome.

It is worth remembering that focusing the Romans’ power on herself was not easy. Marie Casimire had serious rivals in the area of patronage of the musical and theatrical arts. The most important of these was Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who nevertheless always advised her and even loaned her his artists. Another important competitor was Prince Francesco Maria Marescotti Ruspoli, one of the wealthiest Romans of the time and the main patron of Georg Friedrich Handel and Antonio Caldara. Besides these two rivals, there were also smaller and larger courts of various countries’ ambassadors, as Teatro Capranica, the only public operatic theatre operating during the Polish Queen’s stay in Rome. A figure no less important than the aristocrats mentioned, although deceased, was Marie Casimire’s predecessor in the Eternal City, the Swedish Queen Christina, with whom Marysieńka was compared during her stay in Rome, as well in later literature discussing the period. It is worth to focusing for a moment on the person whose fame cast a long shadow on the judgement of Marie Casimire’s accomplishments.

In 1654 Christina converted from Protestantism to Catholicism and abdicated the throne, after which she travelled to Rome, where her conversion “was planned as a huge propaganda victory for Rome”.2 It soon became obvious that the Queen did not easily give in to the Pope’s dictates. After the detection of the conspiracy she plotted with Cardinal Jules Mazarin3, Christina lost the image of the God-fearing convert4, especially since it was at her orders that Neapolitan Marchese Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi was executed after betraying the plans of the attack on Naples to the Pope and the Spanish. For the obvious reasons, the Pope attempted to find a place for Christina outside Rome. As a result of this search, various ideas solutions were suggested, including Christina’s candidacy for the Polish throne in 1668. When all the initiatives failed, Christina settled permanently in Rome, where she gained the respectable title of a patron of arts and a group of intellectuals connected with her. Her real influence on European politics passed into history and is it this, as well as her conscious patronage of the arts, that makes her history similar to the fate of Marie Casimire. The Polish Queen, however, was far less respected in Rome than her predecessor, which is evidenced by one of the poems most frequently cited by researchers, noted by Francesco Valesio, a Roman chronicler at the time, at the beginning of Marie Casimire’s stay in the Eternal City:

I was born a simple hen from a cock,
I lived among chickens, and ruled as Queen,
I came to Rome a Christian, and not Christina.5

In only three verses, using a wordplay difficult to translate into English, the anonymous author aptly, although maliciously, summed up the story of Marie Casimire’s life, reminding his audience of her un-royal birth, at the same time refusing to put her on an equal footing with Christina. He succinctly stated that Marysieńka was characterised by piety bordering on religious fanaticism, but she did not have Christina’s mentality and personality. Undoubtedly, Christina’s intellect, wide interests and education surpassed Marie Casimire – the Swedish Queen spoke several modern languages, as well as Latin and Greek, she was interested in philosophy, theology, history and art, and corresponded with important minds of the era.6 But it should not be overlooked that she came from a royal family and, unlike our heroine, was prepared for the role of a ruler from a young age. Her lively and versatile mind facilitated this task. On the other hand, the musical patronage of Christina of Sweden – despite being associated with names as representative of the Baroque as Giacomo Carissimi, Alessandro Stradella, the young Alessandro Scarlatti or Arcangelo Corelli – was not well documented in historical sources and leaves much room for speculation.7 In most cases, not only are there no preserved scores, but not even the librettos of the drammi per musica sponsored by Christina. Most likely, many operatic works associated with her were not performed in the palace she occupied, because none of its halls met the basic requirements of the theatrical stage. Nevertheless, the contributions of Christina of Sweden to the Roman culture in the second half of the 17th century are enormous. Among the most significant and irrefutable were events such as: the opening of Il Tordinona, the first public operatic theatre, a cycle of Easter oratorios presented in a secular environment, the organisation of various academies dedicated to science, philosophy, art, all of them with the constant element of music.8 All this took place despite the constantly diminishing funds allocated to her by subsequent Popes.

Christina’s significance can neither be diminished, nor is it the goal of the author of this work. It seems, however, that Marie Casimire’s art patronage cannot be examined solely through the prism of the Swedish Queen’s accomplishments. Despite certain similarities in their life stories as well as a character difficult for those around them, they both created interesting places in Rome, commissioned works which speak positively about their tastes and which to this day amaze with their beauty. They were works made to scale of their aspirations, experiences and – let us not forget – their financial capabilities. It is worth remembering that the early modern social system imposed many limitations on poor noblewomen. Marie Casimire overcame these obstacles, demonstrating strength of character and above-average intelligence with her work. Her attitude should therefore inspire respect, confirming the words of one of the last biographers of Jan III, Zbigniew Wójcik, who wrote that despite her many faults she should be “considered as one of the most brightest and most outstanding women who ever sat next to their husbands on the Polish throne in the modern era”.9 Marie Casimire’s patronage of Roman art proves that she also proudly represented her adopted homeland outside the Commonwealth.

The Figure of Marie Casimire

Marie Casimire Louise de La Grange d’Arquien, known in Poland as Maria Kazimiera, the future Queen of Poland, was born on 28 June 1641 in Nevers and was one of seven children of Henry Albert de la Grange, marquis d’Arquien, and Françoise de la Châtre.10 She did not remain in her homeland very long, since towards the end of 1645, as a lady in waiting to Marie Louise Gonzaga – soon to become Ludwika Maria in Poland, married per procura to Polish King Władysław IV, she began the first, most important journey of her life, traveling to the remote Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was to become her adopted homeland. Nothing indicated that the four-year-old girl, sent to an unknown country because of, among other reasons, the financial problems of her parents, would become one of the most important women of the Commonwealth, as well as a significant figure in the international political arena. How did this happen? What chain of events, or perhaps the personal characteristics of Marie Casimire herself, elevated the representative of the poor French nobility to the throne and thrust her into the main current of European politics? An indirect cause was the policy of strengthening French influence in the Commonwealth, consistently practiced by Queen Ludwika Maria. For this purpose, she married women from her court to wealthy and influential Polish citizens, expecting loyalty in exchange. Marysieńka, as she was affectionately known in Poland, was notable from an early age for her extraordinary beauty, which was often the subject of diplomatic correspondence, as well as inspiring poets, as evidenced for example by Jan Andrzej Morsztyn’s verses, often quoted by historians:

First in face, although last in years,
Born among polite Frenchmen,
Is able to burn both worlds into ashes,
From sun rise to where it dips
Do not regret your heart to such a loss!
If the Heavens prolong her life,
Her excessive sleekness, let alone the world,
Before its noon even kings will capture.11

There was no shortage of observers and admirers sensitive to the charms of the beautiful Marie Casimire, including her first husband, the voivode of Sandomierz, Jan Sobiepan Zamoyski, as well as the future King Jan III Sobieski. Zamoyski’s wedding on 3rd March 1658 to the not-yet seventeen year old Marie Casimire, of whom Michel Rousseau de la Valette wrote that she is “young, beautiful, and has the honour to be a favourite of the Queen”,12 was among others, the expression of the royal couple’s gratitude for the magnate’s heroism during the famous Swedish “deluge”. Unfortunately, married life turned out to be a series of disappointments for the Queen’s favourite. Lonely and deprived of her husband’s attention, Marie Casimire began contact with Grand Standard Bearer of the Crown Jan Sobieski.13 The initially innocent letters transformed into permanent correspondence and a feeling that would last a lifetime, and which was able to develop thanks to the unexpected death of Zamoyski in April 1665.

Marysieńka’s new choice was much to the liking of Ludwika Maria, who wished to make Sobieski a member of the pro-French faction. Their secret wedding took place on 14 May, and the official on 6 July 1665 in Warsaw. Subsequent events – the death of Ludwika Maria in 1667, abdication of her second husband, King John II Casimir, a year later, the unsuccessful attempts to introduce a French prince to the Polish throne as part of a vivente rege election, the short and rather unlucky reign of Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, Sobieski’s victory at Chocim (Khotyn) in 1673 – increased Sobieski’s popularity with the Polish people, and as a consequence he was elected to the throne of the Commonwealth on 21 May 1674. Some, including the papal nuncio Francesco Buonvisi and Louis XIV’s ambassador Toussaint de Forbin-Janson, however, thought that the king owed his great success to the beautiful Frenchwoman at his side. Buonvisi wrote that Marysieńka was “a woman of the male mind and an invincible will, ready, as it turned out later, to do anything to elevate her husband”14Forbin-Janson, in a letter to his monarch, also pointed to Marie Casimire as the originator of Sobieski’s candidacy in the upcoming election.15 This opinion was then confirmed by another French politician of the time, Simon Arnauld de Pomponne, who emphasised Marysieńka’s unbridled ambition and its powerful influence on the actions of her husband: “she was full of terrible ambition and transferred it to her husband at every opportunity. She was the one who made him think of the crown, she guided his friends, reassuring him in all the steps to be taken to get his way”.16 It seems, therefore, that it was the reciprocated love for Jan Sobieski, their favourable situation in the Commonwealth after the Chocim victory, but also the diplomatic aspirations and talents of Marysieńka herself, developed earlier at the side of the equally ambitious and energetic Ludwika Maria, that elevated Mademoiselle d’Arquien to the throne of the Commonwealth.

Marie Casimire as Queen of Poland

The beautiful Frenchwoman sitting on the throne of the Commonwealth alongside the valiant King Jan III Sobieski, the famous conqueror of the Turks, exists today in Polish consciousness primarily as the addressee of letters from her husband, who was utterly in love with her. In the letters, he did not address her in any way other than “the prettiest and most beloved solace of the heart and soul!” or more ribaldly, “my most beautiful wifey, the greatest solace of my soul and heart!” or “unique maitress de mon coeur [the only mistress of my heart], prettiest Marysieńka!”, “mon coeur, mon ame et mon tout! [my heart, my soul, my everything!]”.17Her contemporaries were not as accommodating. The opinion that she was an unpredictable, capricious schemer, who had seduced the brave Piast. The foreign envoys confirmed that she could not gain the sympathy of her subjects, that she was “more hated than loved by the knights and ladies, and did not have even one friend”.18 They emphasised that she had great influence on the king and was difficult to negotiate with. Another opinion also existed, that she conducted “wise and well-prepared conversations”.19 Meanwhile, Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon outlined a clearly negative image of the Queen in his famous Mémoires, writing, sometimes erroneously, that she had a “pernicious influence on her husband in the last years of his life, which meant that no one regretted his death, and none of her children inherited their father’s throne despite the great attachment that Poles have to the bloodlines of their kings and the custom of passing the father’s crown on to his sons. […] In the end, hated by everyone in Poland, down to her animals and children, she took her husband’s fortune and removed herself to Rome”.20

As Michał Komaszyński has shown in numerous works, most of the opinions about Marie Casimire as the Queen were part of the black legend created by her political enemies, such as bishop of Plock Jędrzej Chryzostom Załuski, the author of the Latin-language Epistolae, or the already mentioned Saint-Simon. 19th century historiography stubbornly repeated opinions coined by both diarists, adding its own, highly emotional comments. Similar, unilateral opinions of Marie Casimire survived in the works of western musicologists, due to the French-language work of historian Kazimierz Waliszewski, which was available to them, in which the author expressed a decidedly negative opinion of the Queen’s character. Some of his academic arguments are as follows. Citing names by which Marie Casimire is known in history – Mariette, Marysieńska – he added “The name of ‘beloved wife’, is it not? Alas! What she was capable of doing with him is synonymous with malice, capriciousness and perfidy. It is because of this that she will live on in legend and history as a completely bad woman, bad mother and a bad queen”.21

Reading the surviving texts, correspondence, memoirs and accounts of people who functioned at the royal court during the reign of Jan III, such as Abbot Bonportu Melchior de Polignac, François-Paulin Dalerac,22Philippe Dupont,23 or M[onsieur] de Mongrillon,24 shows how ambiguous and difficult to assess is the figure of Marie Casimire. The author of the anonymous account from 1687 wrote that “the Queen of Poland is intelligent, clever and cunning, active and fond of intrigue. But she is also restless, volatile and inordinate in her desires. To satisfy them, she is capable of sacrificing even the greatest benefits. She will also sacrifice them to take revenge on those who hinder the realisation of her designs”.25 On the other hand, Mongrillon, the secretary of the French embassy in Poland stated that “no mind was ever more under the control of the heart”,26 suggesting that this was not conducive to running a consistent, well thought-out policy. This trait of the Queen was quickly noticed and used for their own purposes by successive diplomats arriving in the Commonwealth. Marysieńka’s brother-in-law, Francois Gaston de Béthune, marquis de Chabris, confirmed that “the Queen is dangerous like an enemy, but she can also be the greatest friend”27, and that “there are few things which she does not succeed in at the appropriate time”.28 In 1690, the papal nuncio Andrea Santa Croce described Marie Casimire in the following way: “the Queen is tall, with white complexion and beautiful appearance, although she is over 40 years of age, she keeps so well that in a gathering of very young ladies, she towers over them visibly. She is a woman with a penetrating mind, and she can keep secrets. She is hungry for command. She can address not only the key issues, as she does in this court, but also rule the whole country alone”.29 This image of Marie Casimire as a schemer with shifting moods, who possessed her husband in order to rule the Commonwealth, is contradicted by her letter to the referendary Stanisław Antoni Szczuka after the death of Jan III, maintained in a very personal tone: “There is no pleasure here for me without him. […] After all, my happiness was based on rejoicing in his person rather than his crown. He would have set it aside long ago, as you know, if he had trusted me to take care of his health, which was the content of my life”.30 In a letter written from Rome to her son-in-law, Maximilian II Emanuel, she confided: “It was on me that all matters of the state rested, since my departed King and Lord had more love for me than I deserved. Thus whatever he did or did not do was dependent on whether he thought it consistent with my opinions and whether I would approve. He thought of me as far more talented than I am”.31 Ruling the Poles was not easy, which was emphasised in their correspondence by foreign diplomats, and what the next generations of Polish historians attempted to forget at all costs. Komaszyński also believed that the lack of sympathy for the Queen stemmed primarily from the dislike of Poles for women in power, and additionally of female foreigners.

Précieuse on the Vistula

The negative assessment of Marie Casimire’s political role overshadowed her mentality, personal culture, interests, as well as her accomplishments as a patron of the arts. And yet, in the letters and diaries of numerous guests at the court of the Sobieski family, there is no shortage of flattering remarks about the intellectual qualities of the Queen. Rousseau de la Valette wrote that Marysieńka “has been painstakingly raised by the Queen and has a very keen mind, which goes hand in hand with her personal charm”.32 Another Frenchman staying at the Polish court, Dalerac, claimed that “her mind is of delicate nature and engaging acumen, which gives it a great advantage over all others: it attracts with its charm, disarms with its sweetness and it is hard to resist its power”.33

Unfortunately, there is still little known about Marysieńka’s formal education. On the basis of individual information and the knowledge of the system of raising – rather than education – of young girls, a hypothetical picture of her spiritual shaping can be drawn. As a child, she spent several years at the Ursuline school in Nevers (1648-1653), where she was cared for by the Mother Superior Mary of the Mother of God.34She also stayed with her aunt, the Countess de Maligny. “The convent education emphasised piety and morality (customs) more than academic subjects, teaching by memorisation”.35 The most time was devoted to so-called agréments, or sewing, embroidery, dance, housekeeping, and reading and writing only as additions.36 Komaszyński emphasised that as a fille d’honneur (maid of honour) to Queen Ludwika Maria, Marysieńka would “learn to assess historical events. She will also gain insights into the turbulent political cases of the time [the Polish-Swedish wars]. She will also learn the rules of the diplomatic game”.37

It seems that the biggest influence on Marie Casimire’s mentality was the culture and lifestyle of the French femmes savants, passed on to her through Ludwika Maria, who was connected with their closest circles in Paris.38 Thanks to the Queen, Marysieńka could absorb ideas professed by the regulars of the “blue room” in the palace of Catherine de Vivonne-Savelli, the Marquess de Rambouillet, or other numerous salons, which were established in France after the fall of the Fronde, modelled on the meetings organised by the incomparable Arthénice.39 The circle of the French savants was made up of both women of noble birth and wealthy townswomen, who believed in the intellectual capabilities of women, the independence of the judgements they made, and in their literary abilities. As Dorothy A. Liot Backer put it in her monograph on the heroines of the first wave of French feminism, they were “a new kind of woman. Unsatisfied with being only a passive object of men’s feelings, [they] wanted to experience and express [their] own emotions”.40 For this purpose, the savantes created their own language, with which they could ask the difficult social questions about women’s rights, about the meaning of being a maiden, a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter.41 Using somewhat artificial metaphors and allusions, often understandable only to them, they debated about love and the consequences of early marriage and numerous births, but also about female sexuality being controlled by men. They argued for women’s right to freedom – paying and receiving visits, taking up the things they liked, spending their time according to their own tastes, and above all to freedom in art, conversation, thinking and reading.42

In an era in which the art of writing letters was admired, ladies who mastered the art of epistolography gave themselves over to it with abandon. They also gladly read and reread their favourite novels. Among the most popular titles were Amadis de Gaule by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, in a French translation by Nicolas Herberay des Essarts, Astrée by Honoré d’Urfé and works by women from their circles, mainly Madeleine de Scudéry, Le Grand Cyrus, Clélie or Conversations morales. Ludwika Maria imported the Parisian salon traditions to Poland, but above all, the ideas near and dear to her French friends and the books they read. She passed on her enthusiasm to her ladies in waiting, including her favourite maid, Marie Casimire.

Marysieńka loved to write letters, in which she referred to characters from her favourite novels, primarily from Astrée. Along with Sobieski, especially in the first year of their correspondence, she used camouflaged allusions and metaphors referring to the style of the precieuses, mainly the ideal of tender friendship or friendship-love. Together with Sobieski, she also created the popular at the time maps of “the land of sensitivity”, as well as portraits of the people she met, in reference to portrait literature created by the circles of the French savants. Just like they did, she loved social games,43 conversations, and roman à clef novels. This is evidenced not only by her correspondence, but also the preserved Sobieski library, in which we can find interesting feminist literature.44 From reading, she could draw confidence in her own abilities, ambitions and a feeling of self-satisfaction and exceptionalism. Unfortunately, similarly to the majority of the salon regulars, Marie Casimire was characterised by superficial knowledge and religiosity,45 which – combined with an unstable character and lack of consequences – hindered her in practising wise politics that went beyond a particular interest of the family.

Marie Casimire’s education was completed by court celebrations, during which she enthusiastically dedicated herself to dancing and music playing, as well as several stays at the French court, without a doubt one of the most important European political centres of the time.46 Inspired – much like the majority of Louis XIV’s guests – by the atmosphere of his residence, first as Zamoyski’s wife, and later as Queen, she tried to move and adapt the theatrical novelties,47 French dances, balls and divertissements48 to the Polish conditions.

The Sobieskis’ art patronage was shaped by the interests of Jan III and the aspirations of his wife. Theatre and music became Marie Casimire’s domain, since not much is known about the musical preferences of Jan III. Sources note that the monarch sang vespers on 30 May 1694.49 A little less than a year earlier, the Te Deum hymn was performed in his presence.50 The King regularly took part in religious celebrations and many times sang church songs himself.

Marie Casimire took care of the court theatre, initially dominated by French works. In addition to Racine’s Andromache, various plays by Molière and Corneille were performed. The Queen, who was an excellent dancer, also organised numerous ballets and balls that lasted through the night. Carnivals were celebrated joyfully, with festivities, balls, masquerades and comedies”.51 In the late 1680s, Italian influences began to predominate in the court. The arrival to Warsaw of a Venetian group of comedia dell’arte actors under the direction of Giovanni Nani  did not change the Queen’s attitude, however and – according to Karolina Targosz – she continued to run her amateur French court theatre. It is likely that it was at the initiative of Marie Casimire at the beginning of the 1690s that the reconstruction of the theatre hall at the Royal Castle – supposedly the largest in Europe, and at the same time devoid of decoration – was ordered.52 In addition to comedies, the Venetian artists presented operas in the theatre all. The ensemble’s repertoire must have been very well received, since the apostolic nuncio in Poland, Giacopo Cantelmi, complained in his letters to Cardinal Alderano Cibo, that even during Lent, the entire court amused itself by watching Italian theatrical performances.53 The popularity of the ensemble in the court of Jan III and Marie Casimire is also confirmed by the notes of Tomasz Talenti, their secretary.54 The Venetian actors entertained the Sobieskis during the carnivals of 1689 and 1690. Thereafter, the group, enhanced by the voices of two castrati, put on two Italian operas on the occasions of the marriages of Prince Jakub and Princess Theresa Kunegunda. Consequently, during Jakub’s wedding festivities on 29 March 1692, the drama per musica Per goder il amor ci vuol constanza with a libretto by Giovanni Battista Lampugnani and music by Viviano Agostini. Three years later, in 1694, the same ensemble graced the marriage of Theresa Kunegunda with the Lampugnani and Viviani opera Amor vuol il giusto. We know the names of three actresses who appeared in it: Rosetta, Angiola and Cintia.55 The aforementioned castrati were most likely Jacopo Jacopetti and Giuseppe Luparini. The latter served as musico della camera at Marysieńka’s court in Rome, where he used the double name Luparini-Becari. Supposedly, one of the female roles was performed by Livia Nanini, Constantini after her husband, also called La Polacchina.56

Based on the documents of the Dresden Sächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wanda Roszkowska attempted to identify other musicians who played in Jan III’s royal band. The list she assembled contained 19 names of Polish and Italian descent.  It shows that the core of the group consisted of musicians who played string and wind instruments. Two organists were also hired – Piotr Kosmowski and François de Tilly. Apart from the previously mentioned Agostini, the post of composer and bandmaster was also held by Jacek Różycki. The makeup of the ensemble probably changed depending on the repertoire – of which we still know very little – as well as the residence of the Sobieskis. In the Ruthenian Żółkiew, Jan III’s favourite residence, the band numbered merely 13 musicians, and that was after its expansion in 1691. This happened, among others, as a result of the establishment of a boarding house for students of singing and various instruments. This speaks to the relatively low interest of the king in the matters of the art of sound. Jan III was not a fan of European court music, à la française, and thus he did not pursue the latest in the field. “The musicality of the king corresponded exactly to the musicality of the nobility of the time, who valued an atmospheric song, the dumka – a ballad thriving mainly in the troubled lands of Russia, and dance full of temperament”.  Performing at the king’s court was a singer named Kaczorowska, who performed the king’s favourite folk songs. The king also gladly listened to Ukrainian and Jewish music. The tastes of Queen Marie Casimire were different, which means that it was thanks to her that French and Italian harmonies rang out in the Sobieskis chambers. Nevertheless, regardless of the royal pair’s tastes, it seems indisputable that the knowledge and experience of being a patron of the arts, which Marie Casimire gained in the Commonwealth, as well as the fate-given penetrating mind,  “high intellect”, “a mind agile in all things” and “incomparable wit”  lay at the root of the artistic decisions she made later while in Rome.

The journey to Rome

What made Marie Casimire change her place of residence and leave – permanently, as it turned out – the Commonwealth? Why did she choose Rome? The previously cited Saint-Simon gives a partial answer to these questions. The motivation for the Queen’s decision should be sought primarily in the events that took place in the Commonwealth after the death of Jan III. In short, they were as follows: the King died on 17 June 1696, and Marie Casimire personally informed Pope Innocent XII of this in a letter from 26 June, asking him for “gracious consolation after the loss of her beloved Husband and Ruler of immortal, but painful memory”.  She also shared the sad news with the protector of the Commonwealth in Rome, Cardinal Carlo Barberini.  In both letters, she emphasised the role of Jan III as the defender of the Christian world.

The situation in the Commonwealth did not, however, allow her to grieve for long, since the struggle for the throne had already started during Sobieski’s illness. On the one side of the electoral battle stood the Queen, counting on the assurances coming from France, in which Louis XVI confirmed his support for her chosen candidate, while on the other an alliance formed against the Sobieski family, gathering mainly nobles from the circles of the Lubomirski and the Załuski. Jakub, the first-born son of Jan III and Marie Casimire, born while Sobieski was still a hetman, and married to Hedwig Elisabeth of Neuburg, the sister of the Empress, could not count on French support. The Queen suggested her son-in-law, Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria, for the king of Poland. He did not, however, express any particular interest in the Commonwealth throne. There were also rumours that the Queen was trying to remarry, to rule the country herself like her predecessor, Ludwika Maria. Supposedly, this solution did not appeal to even her staunchest allies. She thus proposed the candidacy of her younger sons, but such a possibility was never seriously considered. Melchior de Polignac, Louis XIV’s ambassador, previously the Queen’s confidant, tried to take advantage of the time she wasted on the fruitless struggle between these options. Convinced of the Sobieskis’ slim chances of election, he began a secret campaign – exceeding the instructions of Louis XIV himself – on behalf of the French candidate for the throne of Poland. Supposedly, this was done at the behest of the Lubomirski family.  The chosen candidate was François Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conti. In the spring of 1697, the betrayed and offended Queen finally decided to support the candidacy of her oldest son, holding onto the illusory hope of Louis XIV’s support. This choice, however, was in sharp conflict with the Sun King’s policy. First, because Louis XIV was the main opponent of the Holy Roman Emperor, who had organised the Augsburg League, which was hostile to Louis; and second, because Jakub’s position had significantly weakened by this time; and third, because of the appearance of a new, serious pretender to the Commonwealth throne, Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony. In the end, he became king of Poland as Augustus II the Strong. Thus the struggle for the Commonwealth throne reached its end.

In retrospect, it seems that it was Marie Casimire herself who was one of her greatest enemies. She was hindered in conducting decisive politics by her impulsive character, and as a consequence the inability to gather around herself true allies and trustworthy advisors. Unwelcome in her adopted homeland, after arranging her financial affairs, she decided to leave the Commonwealth. She chose Rome, the capital of the Church and the Mondo Cristiano as her place of residence. She needed tranquillity to gather her strength for the fight for the memory of Jan III Sobieski, defender of Christianity – the fight that was to sanction her status as a queen without a crown. She wrote that she was travelling to Rome with the desire to find spiritual solace thanks to visits to holy places, as well as with the hope of spending the rest of her life in greater peace and rest of body and spirit.  The fulfilment of this desire was favoured by the upcoming year 1700, which had been proclaimed a Jubilee year by the Pope – the official reason for Marie Casimire’s departure from the Commonwealth.

The journey to Rome began on 2 October 1698.  From Warsaw, Marie Casimire reached Krakow. Here, she fondly listened to an aria sung with great delicacy by Countess Malakowska, and then presented the skills of her musico della camera, Giuseppe Luparini, a singer-castrato who travelled with her numerous entourage to Rome. The evening was made more pleasant for the hosts by Marysieńka’s beautiful maids of honour.  

From Krakow, the Queen’s route led through Silesia and Moravia. She reached Vienna on 25 November and stayed there for nine days. On 3 January 1699 she was already in Tyrol, and then travelled through Trento to Verona, where in the evening on 8 January, she was honoured by una bell’Opera in musica, with a prologue which celebrated the qualities of her husband, which – as Bassani reported – greatly moved the Queen. During the performance, however, a small accident occurred. With the sounds praising the invincible Sarmat, when an image of Jan III appeared in front of the spectators, part of the decorations and elements of the costumes of the singers who were portraying celestial deities caught fire. After putting out the fire and calming the audience, a comedy was presented, to the great satisfaction of all. The prepared attractions put the Queen in an excellent humour, both because of the “sweetness of the voices and instruments, as well as because of other charming circumstances”.  Marie Casimire spent the subsequent days in Verona, much like in earlier places, on paying and receiving visits from the local aristocracy, listening to complements about herself and her deceased husband, as well as prayer and sightseeing. On 9 January, after visiting the wonders of the city, including the Anfiteatro dell’ Arena, a magnificent ball was organised for her, with nearly two hundred ladies and even more excellent gentlemen.  “The Queen asked her ladies-in-waiting and gentlemen from Poland to present several dances alla Rutena, which turned out fairly refined, but not as much as was expected, since the instruments never allowed for the understanding of melodies played for the balletti: it was only when the Veronese ladies and gentlemen danced, they were heard as pleasant and sweet, which did not happen, as was already said, when persons of a different nation danced”.  This is the first passage in Bassani’s relation that shows that the Queen returned the favour to her hosts by presenting Polish dances and music. The example also illustrates how significant the differences in the way dancers of different nationalities understood music.

Around 19 January, Marysieńka reached Venice. Here, she wanted to meet Capuchin friar Marco d’Aviano, one of the heroes of the Battle of Vienna. While in La Serenissima, as in other Italian cities, she was welcomed with all due honours. She was invited to the Senate and gifted with 150 crystal bowls, containing, among others, wax, sugar, candles, jams, fruit and wine.  She took part in church and private celebrations, meeting with ambassadors, local aristocracy and the pope’s emissaries. She also visited the Venetian opera theatres renowned across Europe. Already on 19 January, the ladies, maids and other people of her court attended the Teatro di S. Luca. The work they listened to was most likely the dramma per musica Il duello d’amore e di vendetta, with music today ascribed to Marc’Antonio Ziani, with a Francesco Silvani libretto (unfortunately, only single arias have been preserved to this day from the Silvani–Ziani opera). That evening, the Queen decided to rest, but the next day, accompanied by the apostolic nuncio and her court, she attended the same theatre. On 21 January, she honoured with her presence the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo, attending an opera with an unknown title, and on 22 January, she went to the most refined Venetian theatre – the Teatro S. Giovanni Gristomoso, where the Pollarolo opera Lucio Vero was performed, with a libretto by Apostolo Zeno. In total, Bassani lists five operas performed in Venice at the time, not counting many magnificent, extraordinary performances, which made allusions to the Queen. It appears that Marie Casimire took a particular liking to the repertoire of the Teatro San Cassiano. Eleonor Selfridge-Field suggested, that due to the Queen’s stay in Venice, the theatre prepared a performance of the opera Teodosio, with music by Ziani and a libretto by a poet whose name is unknown today.  In the meantime, her younger sons,

Aleksander and Konstanty Sobieski, who accompanied her on the journey, were seen on 30 January at the Teatro di S. Giovanni Grisostomo at the opera Il colore fa la regina with a Matteo Noris libretto and music ascribed to Pollarolo, who was very popular in Venice at the time.

All in all, the Queen spent approximately 20 days at the city on the lagoon. At the beginning of February, she crossed the border or the Papal States. From Ferrara, where she was feted with a ball,  she travelled to Bologna. There, she was welcomed by a hundred carriages with the eminent citizens of the city, who organised varij divertimenti for her. Marysieńka gladly stayed in Bologna longer than she had planned. During one of the balls, where a grand orchestra played, she once again organised a ballo alla Polaccha, performed by her maids of honour. 

Unfortunately, because of unspecified obligations, the Queen had to give up on viewing an opera prepared for her in the private theatre of Count Silvio Montecuccoli. She spent the period of the carnival in the city, but was saddened by the news she received from Munich of the death of her grandson, the first-born son of Theresa Kunegunda and her husband, Maximilian II Emanuel, the Elector of Bavaria. From Bologna, the Queen’s route led through Faenza,  Cesena, Rimini, Fano, Senigallia and Ancona. On 16 March, she reached Loreto, where she stopped to admire the sanctuary. Her stay in the city was recorded in a report published by Luca Antonio Chracasa, as a result of which it was known outside the Papal States.  Three days later, she embarked on her journey to Rome, through Macerata, Tolentino, Foligno, Spoleto, and Narni. On 23 March 1699, after over six months’ travel, she reached the gates of Rome. Initially, at the Queen’s request, her entry into the city was to be incognito. She gave the long, tiring journey as argument for this. In the end, however, the Pope ordered a truly triumphant welcome, comparable only to the entry of her predecessor, Christina of Sweden. After a night spent in the palace of Baron Giovanni Battista Scarlatti, Marie Casimire moved with her entourage to the palace prepared for her at Piazza dei SS. Apostoli, and which belonged to Duke Odescalchi, a relative of Pope Innocent XI, who was also one of the heroes of the Battle of Vienna. Antonio Bassani, who travelled in Marie Casimire’s entourage, left behind – in addition to reports from the journey, the triumphal entry into Rome, the audience with the Pope, as well as the so-called public audience organised for Romans – a detailed description of the rooms that Odescalchi prepared for the Queen.  The notes show that the rooms filled Marysieńka and her court companions with amazement and undisguised delight.

In the following days, the Queen accepted visits from Roman aristocracy, members of the College of Cardinals, including the protector of the Commonwealth, who sent her excellent rinfreschi (refreshments).  During this time she and those around here were dutifully preparing for the most important meeting – the official welcome by the Pope. In Foglio di Foligno, the event is described as follows: “On the twenty first [of June], Her Majesty the Queen appeared in public and proceeded to kiss the foot of Our Lord, preceded by a rich, six-horse carriage di riserva vota, two other [carriages], also six-horse, with knights and nobles, then the carriage with Her Majesty, drawn by eight horses, accompanied by a great number of mounted guards, pages and a guard made up of Poles, followed by another six-horse [carriage] with the ladies. When she alighted she was welcomed by the Prince of Conti, as Our Lord’s first equerry, who offered her his arm, she was accompanied to the stairs on foot by Msgr. Colonna Majordomus, in the presence of bishops and servants, she was led halfway up the stairs by maestro di camera Acquaviva, with secret and honour papal chamberlains, and she was led by them to Our Lord, who gave a magnificent rinfresco in her honour”.

The meeting, characterised – like all meetings of this type – by a precisely drafted ceremony – had clear political overtones: the recognition of the position of Marie Casimire. In this way, the Queen began her almost fifteen-year stay in the city on the Tiber.

Marie Casimire in Rome

Rome must have made an enormous impression on the Queen, since, in a letter written to her close friend Elżbieta Sieniawska, the wife of the Grand Crown Hetman, she wrote: “If you could see the beauty of Rome, you would condemn Nero for tormenting this beautiful city”.  She eagerly explored the wonders of Rome, its ancient remnants, magnificent Baroque palaces, majestic basilicas, as well as works still being created, such as the Carlo Fontana baptismal font.  The mostly unknown canon Pisani wrote a guide to the most important places and most interesting corners of the Eternal City especially for Marie Casimire, introducing her to their history.

On 26 September 1699, she met with a group of famous Arcadians. The meeting proper, intended to, on the one hand, honour the new shepherdess, from then on known to the group under the assumed name Amirisca Telea,  and her noble family, and on the other hand to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Academy, took place on 5 October. “On that day, the gentlemen scholars of Arcadia organised a celebration in a hall of the palace of the Queen of Poland, with the participation of Their Eminences 18 cardinals, during which Count D’Elci gave a speech, honouring the memory of His Majesty the late king and the cardinal, Her father, as well as other knights. The virtuosos of the Academy recited various compositions gladly welcomed by Her Majesty the Queen, who gave a lavish and magnificent feast”.  Diarists of the time do not note further meetings of the Academy in the Queen’s residence. It is worth nothing that on that day, in the group of those reciting sonnets dedicated to her, was Marysieńka’s future secretary and poet, Carlo Sigismondo Capece, the author of eight drammi per musica staged in her home theatre at the Palazzo Zuccari.

The Queen, however, maintained close contacts with members of the Accademia dell’Arcadia, and certainly with its curator, Crescimbeni, who devoted a passage of his prose poem, L’Arcadia (after Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia) to her. In the fourth chapter, we read: “tell me, he asked, gentle Benaco, who is the dignified nymph we see painted on the shell of the statue, and who are those who surround her? The nymph you see is the famous Amirisca. She was born in the rich lands through which the Seine flows; before she came to Arcadia, for her outstanding virtues she was given the honour of ascending to the throne of brave Poland: wife of the great king to whom, as you well know, the Roman Empire owes its liberation from the chains of Ottoman perfidy: whose miraculous deed brought freedom to our compatriots, which [deed] is recalled by the Venetian Senate which he [Jan III] liberated. Those who appear next [to the nymph] on the right and left are Poliarco [D. Annibale], Cleandro [D. Carlo] and Crisalgo [D. Alessandro Albani], cousins of Our Lord [Pope Clement XI]”.

The jubilee year of 1700 was conducive to the Queen going on pilgrimages to numerous Roman churches. During these visits and the accompanying ceremonies, she aroused much admiration with her extraordinary piety and great modesty. Marie Casimire’s religiousness definitely exceeded the scope of the jubilee year, taking on the form of ostentatious devotion, which characterised her entire fifteen-year stay in the Eternal City, although in many cases referring to her traditional behaviours from the Commonwealth. An example of this is the following description noted by Valesio: “The Queen of Poland, a lady leading an exemplary life, committed to piety through these last days of the carnival, has given on this day a dinner for thirteen poor people, offering each of them a robe of white fabric and other gifts (alms), serving them in person at the table”.

Among Marie Casimire’s customs were frequent visits to Roman churches and the worship of various saints. One of such expeditions is described on 28 August 1703 by Abbot Valesio: “on the occasion [of the Martyrdom of St John the Baptist] and the ordination of a nun, the Queen of Poland entered the S. Silvestro monastery, which she left an hour after dusk and, driving through Colonna square at the first hour, with the example of great devotion ordered the carriage stopped, and upon coming out, knelt (as the bells began to ring) on the steps of the church of de’Pazzarelli”.

Some Italian researchers, such as Gaetanina Scano or Filippo Clementi, doubt the honesty of the Queen’s piety.  As evidence, they cite numerous secular entertainments she gave herself over to with as much zeal as to prayer. However, the essence of Baroque culture were sharp contrasts, perfectly visible in the capital of Christianity. The hedonistic tendencies of the people of the Church are not a secret; therefore, it is strange to level similar accusations against a person who was, after all, lay person, dependent on the splendour of past power, exposed to the interests of the Romans; a person, who was passionate about pleasures in her youth, and was now obligated to ensure it not only for herself and her guests, but also her granddaughter and her sons. Additionally, in a letter to her son-in-law, Maximilian II Emanuel, she wrote that she found great pleasure and comfort for her cares in prayer and devotion.  It also appears that beyond a few exceptions, Marie Casimire’s behaviour did not cause the Pope troubles; what is more, her ostentatious religiosity fit perfectly into the Church’s policy of indoctrinating the Roman people. It was also part of the religious culture that the Queen brought with her from the Commonwealth.

The Romans excelled at writing nasty pasquinades, which circulated around the city to the annoyance of the people they were about. This fate was not spared Marie Casimire, either. After the ceremony of awarding the Order of the Holy Spirit to her sons, in an August entry of his diary, Valesio cited a popular three-verse about the Polish Queen (cited in the introduction), painting her in an unfavourable light against Christina of Sweden.

Marysieńka’s accomplishments were overshadowed by the unfortunate behaviour of her and her family – father and sons. There was a scandal caused by the relationship of her youngest son Konstanty with a certain Vittoria alias Tola di Bocca di Leone, whose nickname came from the name of the street on which this publica meretrice  and la pricipessa delle puttane  lived. With extremely generous gifts, the young Sobieski, with the extravagance veramente di polacco  seduced the “lady” away from Gaetano Cesarino, the son of Duke Federico Sforza Cesarino. One night, Tola, supposedly a talented singer, dressed as a man, performed an aria underneath the balcony where the Queen was eating supper with her sons. The sight aroused jealousy in the young Gaetano, who turned the blade of his sword toward her face, and only a hat saved the young woman’s face from the blow. The next day, the entire city was telling the story. The Queen, in the dispute with the Sforzas, took the side of the aggrieved, and firmly rejected the apology. Finally, Cardinal Ottoboni was asked to mediate, and it was only thanks to his efforts that Marysieńka decided to receive Gaetano in her palace. The matter was smoothed over, although the behaviour of the Queen, favouring the mistress of her son and entering into a conflict with one of the oldest Roman families, caused understandable astonishment. The Tola history made itself felt for the Queen again. Konstanty’s mistress openly advertised her intimate relationship with the Sobieski family. She showed up uninvited to festas organised by aristocratic ladies, participated in entertainment in Corso in unsophisticated company, thereby insulting the dignity of the Queen. In reaction to this situation, sonnets appeared in Rome, concerning everything from the rule of prostitutes during the jubilee year to the pregnancy Tola miscarried.

Poor world, your faithful support,
Ere it was born, it was already gone,
And without giving a sign of its birth
Disappeared from the breast of lovely Tolla.
The kingdom of Poland sends sighs
Because the future king has been miscarried.

The queen forced the courtesan to leave Rome. On 12 February 1701, the beautiful Tola, stocked with money and a letter of recommendation, in a four-horse Sobieski carriage (!) headed to the south of Italy to, for a time, entertain the viceroy of Naples with her voice. She eventually disappeared, but the scandal she caused definitely lowered the prestige of the Queen and her family.

Aleksander did not spare his mother, either. On 13 October 1702, Valesio wrote: “On Wednesday, the beautiful madamigella di Tornelle of Venice joined the Queen with her small child whose father is the Prince Aleksander, the Queen’s son, while he passed through the city”.

Compared to such news, the arguments of the Queen or her Swiss guard over right of way in the narrow streets of Rome are trifles, even if people died as a result.

The Queen’s aging father, for whom Marie Casimire arranged a cardinal’s hat, also caused her troubles with his eccentric behaviour, a taste for loud entertainment and beautiful singers. The description of this colourful character would certainly provide enough material for an interesting article; however, in his place, I will limit myself to saying that Henri Albert de la Grange quickly acclimated to Rome and gladly enjoyed its charms, which often caused his daughter embarrassment and made it necessary for her to explain his excesses.
In 1702, Marie Casimire moved along with her court to the Palazzo Zuccari on the Trinità de’Monti, although for a while still, for representative purposes, she continued to take advantage of Duke Odescalchi’s hospitality, e.g. receiving Christmas and New Year’s wishes from the College of Cardinals in his palace on Piazza dei SS. Apostoli. Wanda Roszkowska has written in detail about the history of the Roman residences of Marie Casimire;  however, certain facts should also be quoted here. In July 1701, Valesio writes that for her villegiatura (country holiday) Marie Casimire rented the country house de ‘Torres, located on the Roman hill Pincio,  neighbouring a Medici garden. Because the villa wasn’t able to house the Queen’s numerous court (approximately 160 people), she also rented two nearby homes.  In July, Valesio states that for the anniversary of the pontificate of Clement XI, Marie Casimire lit up her home on Pincio hill, wanting to congratulate the Pope in this way.  The Queen thus spent the second half of 1701 in the Villa Torres. It was only in 1702 that she moved to the expanded rooms of the Palazzo Zuccari, which then became her permanent residence in Rome. The palace, preserved until today, is located between via Gregoriana and via Sistina on the Trinità de’Monti hill.

Later that same year the Queen received permission to build a bridge connecting the palace with the house where she settled her father and the nuns brought from France. The bridge has passed into Roman history as arco della Regina. Despite being planned as a temporary structure, it survived until 1799, when it was finally demolished. In addition to the purely utilitarian function – namely a fast connection of the Queen’s palace with the home of the nuns and the chambers of her father – it also served as a kind of concert stage, on which Sobieska’s artists performed songs on special occasions. Listeners gathered directly below it or on the plaza in front of the Palazzo Zuccari, from which a beautiful few of Rome could be seen.
In 1711, another building became the place of musical presentations organised by the Queen. This was the tempietto designed by Juvarra, integrated into the façade of the Palazzo Zuccari (from the Piazza della Trinità de’Monti), and which represented a lasting contribution of Sobieska to the architecture of Rome. Today, it attracts crowds of tourists on account of the adjacent famous Spanish Steps, which connect Trinità de’Monti with Piazza di Spagnia, while in the times of Marie Casimire, it was the site of a sandy hill covered with wild bushes and the occasional tree.

The Queen once more gained notoriety in connection with the imprisonment in 1704 of her sons Jakub and Konstanty by the army of King Augustus II. In a letter to Aleksander from 22 March 1704, Marie Casimire wrote: “What a fatal blow, my darling son! Why have I lived to hear this sad news? I, who would gladly give this little bit of life which is left me, to keep each of you. If it is needed to satisfy the implacable hatred that the tyrant [Augustus II] holds against us, who has in his hands someone from our family, to protect against it, I am willing to give myself over into his prisons if only my beloved children stay free and their lives be safe […]. What a coup! To kidnap the sons of a great king, the Emperor’s brother-in-law! […] If anything could reduce or sweeten this misfortune, it would be honesty, which His Holiness has shown with such kindness. The entire College of Cardinals, mainly cardinals Sacripante, Ottoboni and de Janson, gave evidence of being greatly moved. But in general, all of Rome, men and women, people of every standing are very sensitive here. Everyone, great and small, remains in great consternation. Having found out the unfortunate news, all the convents are praying and I hope that the Lord, as the Holy Father put it, wanted me to take part in his passion, striking me in a sensitive place. I hope that He will have pity on me, telling me about the release of my poor children. Tell me if I am needed for something, if there is a need for me to ask the all-powerful for help. I would gladly sacrifice myself to save and ensure your existence and your freedom, old and poor as I am, caring for life out of love for you, dear children, whom I bless, asking God to give you prosperity and embracing you with all my heart”.  Sobieska shows herself here as a tender, loving and caring mother, not indifferent to the unhappiness experienced by her children, contradicting Waliszewski’s theory. This impression is confirmed by many letters she wrote to her son-in-law, the Bavarian Elector Maximilian II Emanuel. In one of them, she complained that she had not heard from him for month, or from her daughter for almost a year: “If you could look into the depths of my heart, my dearest son, you would see how much pain there is caused by the lack of a letter from you for so many months […] my daughter has developed the habit of not writing to me for over a year […] these demonstrations of her indifference hurt me very much and I cannot think about them without spilling tears, even when I tell you about them, I cannot stop them from falling on the page; never has a mother loved her children as tenderly as I do, and seen less reciprocity;[…] I do not cease to pray constantly to God for my daughter and your children […] and you, my dear son for all the blessings, but when you cannot change others, you must change yourself”.

Prayers for her children, inquiries about their health, and blessings for her grandchildren are constant elements of Marie Casimire’s correspondence with the Bavarian Elector and his wife. Of course, they were also within the epistolographic conventions of the time, but it is difficult to resist the idea that Marie Casimire cared for her children and wanted to be near them, even though fate did not give her the satisfaction. She sought recompense in devotion, among other things. Undoubtedly, she felt valued when all of Rome, beginning with the Pope, shared her grief and expressed their sympathies after the capture of her sons. The situation in which the young Sobieskis found themselves, as well as Marie Casimire’s efforts, both with the Pope as well as other rulers during the three years her sons were held, also show the helplessness of the Pope and his allies in general European politics. They also show explicitly that, less than a decade after death of Jan III, the slayer of the non-believers and defender of the holy Catholic faith, the Sobieski family’s position on the international arena was at most symbolic. Neither the Queen nor her sons had any realistic influence on current politics.

The feeling of loneliness and abandonment intensified even more after the death of Marie Casimire’s father, which occurred in 1707. The Queen made it clear in a moving letter to Maximilian II Emanuel (whom she often described as the only person to whom she could confide her thoughts): “My beloved son, I have lost my father, and with him the last of my comfort. There is no person as deserted as I am [deserted] by my entire family; I have become accustomed to a life with him, and without him, my life is unbearable”.  Despite this, she still remained fully committed to obtaining the Polish crown for one of her sons. This is evidenced by two letters that Poerson sent to France. The first one, from 28 September 1709, informed about the ambitious plans to marry Konstanty off: “Here at the Polish Queen’s court, there is a lot of talk about the marriage of her third son, Prince Konstanty, to the daughter of Palatine of Beltz [sic!], who is the wealthiest Lord in Poland, which allows this excellent family to believe in assuming the throne again.  In a second letter from 31 October 1711, Person wrote that “the Queen of Poland has sent the Marquis of Bourati to Milan to act as [her] ambassador, whether he could give her support in a new election; a fact that surprises many people”.

In the year 1707, Marie Casimire had occasion to joyously celebrate the merits of the Sobieski family. This was a long-awaited message, noted in numerous diplomatic dispatches and chronicle entries, about the freeing of her sons. On 1 January, an anonymous papal chronicler reported: “A servant has arrived with the post, sent by the sons of the Queen of Poland, and in the evening, at Her Royal Majesty’s residence, an illumination took place, with trumpets, drums and other sounds to celebrate the message of their [the sons’] release.  Poerson, who was a frequent visitor wrote: “The Queen of Poland has organised a celebration of the release of her sons the princes, about which she found out via an extraordinary courier.  On 2 January, Valesio wrote about a similar news in his diary: “In the morning a courier sent by the new king, Stanisław Leszczyński reached the Queen, and informed her about the peace established with King Augustus, the elector of Saxony, as well as sending congratulations on her sons, Princes Jakub and Konstanty being freed; the courier added that the three kings, Swedish [Charles XII], Augustus [II] and Stanisław [Leszczyński], had breakfast with the princes. Her Royal Majesty sent the message to the College, ordered a singing of Te Deum in the small church of her convent…”  On 3 January, the papal chronicler reported in turn that “At approximately 10pm that day, in the church of Trinità de Monti, as thanks for freeing the Polish queen’s sons, with many instruments and excellent singers, Te Deum was sung with the participation of Her Highness and numerous nobility”.  To celebrate the occasion, Marie Casimire commissioned a componimento per musica to celebrate both her husband and her sons, called L’Amicizia d’Hercole, e Theseo (libretto C.S. Capece, music by unknown composer). After the serenade, there was a performance of Introduzione al Ballo Della Gloria.

From 1709, Poerson noted more and more often that the Queen of Poland wanted to permanently leave for France. In part, this was due to the increasing financial problems she was facing. On 3 May 1710, the French painter reported to Louis-Antoine Pardaillan de Gondrin, the Duke of d’Antin, son of Madame de Montespan, former mistress of King Louis XIV, that the Queen wanted to go to France, because “she couldn’t find money in this city, despite offering very beautiful jewels as collateral”.  On the other hand, the director of the French Academy repeatedly reported on Marie Casimire’s poor health and her melancholy, although she herself viewed her advanced age with distance and understanding, writing to her daughter after an illness, that she treated them as “a necessity of old age and inseparable from it”.  In October 1709, the Queen fell ill with measles.  Almost every year, she contracted colds and fevers. According to Poerson, the reason for her poor condition was the deep melancholy she suffered.

Marie Casimire spent the entire carnival of 1714 in bed, appearing to guests at the Palazzo Zuccari only a few times, when they gathered for the opera prepared by Aleksander (L’Amor d’un’Onbra e Gelosia d’un’Aura). Only a doctor named Monsieur Garnier, sent from France, managed to strengthen her weakened health. On 20 March, Poerson reported that the Queen was feeling better, “which [gave] great joy to everyone in Rome, and much honour to M. Garnier, the Paris medic, who took her under his care”.  Much improved, the Queen decided not to delay her departure to France, reportedly claiming that only the air of France could prolong her days”.  Her departure from Rome to France took place on 19 June. After an official farewell from the Pope and with Alexander, who did not want her to go, she headed to the sea, where a papal ship was waiting for her. As Poerson wrote, she left Rome without regret, because she was not treated here with the respect due to a person of her rank.  She left behind, in the Eternal City a son, who, only a few months later, at the age of merely 38, died after a serious illness. Poerson noted that the sickness made the one tall and handsome man into a true skeleton.

Marie Casimire spent almost 15 years in Rome. While the city and its ostentatious luxury thrilled her, the Romans, who initially tracked her every step, gradually began to lose interest in her. They because accustomed to the presence of the regina vedova di Polonia. They also observed that, despite the royal glitz, she did not play a larger role in the politics of the Papal States, and her pretensions to participating in European politics were ignored. Only Marie Casimire did not see – or did not want to see – the true situation. In any event, both she and her son Aleksander, who accompanied her in Rome between 1709–1714, turned to music and the theatre. These arts in Rome aroused emotions as hot as politics. After 1709, reports regarding Marie Casimire appeared mainly in the context of opera spectacles she organised, and special occasion performances that attracted crowds of Romans to the plaza in front of her residence. Sobieska managed to create in the Palazzo Zuccari one of the most interesting opera houses I the Eternal City, a place that attracted the attention of foreign ambassadors, diplomats, significant tourists and Roman aristocracy, including the cardinals, who played the most significant role. Only in this way could Marie Casimire achieve – and indeed did achieve – here goal: to be once again on the lips of the Romans.

Tolemeo et Alessandro ovvero la corona disprezzata (19 January 1711)

The official premiere of Tolemeo et Alessandro took place at the Palazzo Zuccari on 19 January 1711. Anonymous chroniclers reported that the work was considered superior to other operas performed at the time in Roman theatres. In Avvisi di Roma of 24 January 1711, we can read, “On Monday evening, the Queen of Poland began in her home on Trinità de Monti performances of an opera, which features singers and good musicians [instrumentalists], and which has been widely declared better than others”.  In contrast, an anonymous author wrote in Folio di Foligno: “The Queen of Poland initiated a pastoral opera, which she presents with music in her home theatre, achieving superiority over all other [operas] presented in the remaining theatres”.  More on the subject of the work and the circumstances of its performance appears in the Diario of the inestimable Valesio: “That evening, for the first time in the home theatre of the Queen of Poland, the dramma titled Tolomeo was presented – an excellently performed composition of the invaluable Carlo Capece; among invited guests were Cardinal Ottoboni and Prince Ruspoli, who arrived with all their musicians, exaggeratedly called virtuosos”.  On the other hand, recently discovered dispatches from Rome contain the following report: “On Monday evening, an opera was presented for the first time at the residence of the Queen of Poland, thus inaugurating the fourth musical theatre [in Rome]. Appearing here are three women and three men, and the work was a success and gathered a large audience in the subsequent days of its presentation”.

Notably, the opera had serious rivals in the form of the drammi per musica performed during that year’s carnival in the palaces of Cardinal Ottoboni and Prince Ruspoli, as well as the Teatro Capranica. Teodosio il giovane played at the Palazzo della Cancelleria, with a libretto by the cardinal and music by Filippo Amadei, but it was praised mainly for Juvarra’s set design, while in the Palazzo Bonelli, Prince Ruspoli put on, much like Marie Casimire did, two operas composed by his bandmaster Antonio Caldara: L’Anagilda with a Girolamo Gigli libretto and La costanza in amor vince l’inganno with a libretto by Pietro Pariati. Presented at the Teatro Capranica was the opera L’Engelberta o sia la forza dell’ innocenza, adjusted to Roman tastes, with a Zeno libretto and music most likely by Antonio Orefice and Francesco Mancini, with the changes for Romans made by Giuseppe Maria Orlandini. We also know that in the carnival of 1710, on private stages in Rome, over 90 theatrical-musical spectacles were performed.  If a similar number of works was performed in 1711, then the positive opinions expressed about Tolomeo et Alessandro should be taken as a sign of the particularly high level of the dramma per musica and its performance.

Crescimbeni included an extremely flattering description of the performance of Tolomeo et Alessandro in his Arcadia (book VII, Prosa XIV): “The most beautiful was the theatre, proportional and ideally suited to the occasion: nice voices, interesting action, the most charming costumes based on great design, excellent music, outstanding orchestra, and most of all a poetic composition worthy of respect; all of this mean that everyone recognised this entertainment as worthy of the royal hand that initiated it”.  Unfortunately, this opinion described the summer replay of the work, which was presented in a roofed theatre constructed outside of the palace, most likely in the garden of the residence. In the argomento that preceded the printed libretto of Tolomeo et Alessandro, Capece invoked the historical source he used. It was a fragment taken from the 39 book of the Historianum Philippicarum T. Pompeii Trogus Libri XLIV by the Latin historian Justinian: “In Egypt, Cleopatra, being unsatisfied with sharing the throne with her son Tolomeo, incited the people against him and, separating him from his wife Selene (in the most shameful way, as he had two children with her), forced him to go into exile, at the same time bringing in her younger son Alessandro, whom she installed as king in his brother’s chambers. Not only was she pleased with overthrowing her son from the throne, but had her army pursue him in Cyprus, where he lived in exile. She sentenced the general of her armies to death, because he let Tolomeo escape with his life; Tolomeo in fact left the island, because he was ashamed of waging war against his mother, not because he was weaker compared to her forces”.

Capece also revealed the plotlines he added: Tolomeo’s stay in Cyprus under the assumed name of Osmin and in the guise of a simple shepherd; a series of calamities that hit his wife Seleuce, given as a gift to the ruler of Syria, the happy rescue of Seleuce and her arrival on the same island in the guise of a shepherdess under the assumed name of Delia; the search for Tolomeo by his brother Alessandro, who wanted to give him the crown of Egypt; love clashes between the heroes; the love of royal blood of Dorisbe, who was living on the island under the assumed name of Clori and dressed as a gardener, for Araspe, who had once seduced and abandoned her. Appearing in the libretto are the following characters: Tolomeo – king of Egypt, under the assumed name of the shepherd Osmin; Alessandro – his brother; Seleuce – Tolomeo’s wife, under the assumed name of the shepherdess Delia; Araspe – king of Cyprus; Elisa – his sister; Dorisbe – the daughter of Isauro, Prince of Tyre, under the assumed name of the gardener Clori.

Researchers claim there are allusions to events that took place in the Commonwealth after the death of Jan III and the imprisonment by the army of Augustus II of the Princes Jakub and Konstanty Sobieskis in strongholds in Saxony.  Indeed, after the abdication of Augustus II, the Swedish King Charles XII supported the candidacy of Prince Aleksander to the throne, but Aleksander – much to the surprise of the Swedes and his countrymen who were friendly to the Sobieski family – refused.  He explained his decision with the fear for his brothers’ lives. He recalled the public threats of Augustus II, who threatened to execute the imprisoned Sobieskis if Aleksander proclaimed himself king. The Prince was said to have replied that he had no intention of “ascending to the throne over the corpses of his brothers and wear purple stained with their blood.”  Not even letters sent by his mother from Rome could change his decided stance. As has been rightly noted by Anna Ryszka-Komarnicka, “the Tolomeo et Alessandro libretto refers to the Polish history in a perverse way – it presents an excerpt from the history of a man who refused to have a hand in co-creating it. The work was intended as a panegyric on the virtues of Aleksander, which made possible a heroic deed, that ‘disprezzar la corona’”.  Such vision finds confirmation in Crescimeni’s explanation, who had been a visitor of the Sobieskis” “but the wise Meristo [C.S. Capece] of noble soul allows for the release of emotions for Armonte [Aleksander Sobieski], creating a take from this story; because he has brought to life in it, as in a gleaming mirror, one of the purest and most heroic deeds of Armonte; who, like Aleksander, had the opportunity to take over the throne after his brother’s death and chose a private life rather than that of a brother-killer; in this way, having the chance to possess his father’s kingdom from his people, he chose to reject it rather than cause harm to his elder brother; and this was the real goal of Metisto, who showed it in the course of the dramma in act 2, scene 9, where he said ‘that Aleksander does not want the royal robes/given a blasphemous colour by the blood of his brother’”.

Similar interpretations can be found in 18th century sources, including sonnets Rime di diversi autori per lo nobilissimo dramma del Tolemeo, et Alessandro Rappresentato nel Teatro Domestico della Sacra real Maestà di Maria Casimira Regina di Pollonia, dedicate alla Maestà Sua, published after the premiere of the opera. They praise Aleksander as a man who rejected the throne for a higher purpose. And so, in the fourth sonnet, the poet hiding behind the Arcadian names Clidemo Trivio writes: “this example, generous and worthy / shows that for ALEKSANDER worth / more was the desire of glory than the desire to rule.”

The noble motivations of Aleksander Sobieski were particularly strongly emphasised by the monologue of the operatic Alessandro (II, 9). It is worth pausing at the conversation that precedes the monologue, between Alessandro and Elisa, who informs him that she will become his wife only for the promise of the throne, which means for the price of Tolomeo’s death (II, 8). For Elisa, killing Tolomeo is supposed to be proof of Alessandro’s strength – strength that will clear his road to her heard. However, by urging Alessandro to fratricide, Elisa wants to revenge herself on Tolomeo, who once scorned her feelings for him. Her demand seems inconceivable to Alessandro. His monologue is thus a commentary and gives a sample of Alessandro’s character: “The feeling that knows / no reason or law / is worth of your heart, but not mine”.  Alessandro admits he loves Elisa and wants to rule in her heart more than on any throne, but not at that price. For who illegally ascends the throne, becomes a tyrant.  Instead, he wants to give Tolomeo his freedom and the throne of Egypt.  Alessandro is guided by noble motivations, and the scene shows another important feature of a reformed Arcadian hero – he is able to control the impulses of the heart and be guided by reason, conscience and virtue.

In the conversation of Alessandro with Araspe (III, 5), we can pinpoint certain allusions to the situation in Poland after Jan III’s death. Alessandro has just received information from Egypt about Cleopatra’s death. The even has contributed to unrest. He would therefore like to return to Egypt with his brother as soon as possible. He is still hiding, however, his desire to hive his brother the throne. He is concerned about his homeland, and looks for the changes of restoring peace in returning Tolomeo to the throne. When Araspe tries to convince him that returning to Egypt together is dangerous, and that Tolomeo should be killed by his brother, Alessandro violently protests – he cannot shed Tolomeo’s blood.

In yet another scene (III, 7) Alessandro reveals his noble intentions. He demands that his troops swear fealty to Tolomeo as their rightful ruler. He imagines his brother as free and ruling again: “Yes, he has to rule / My arm will be proud / that it did not allow for the usurpation of the crown”.  Alessandro will not usurp the crown intended for someone else. On the other hand, it seems that power holds no temptation for him, since in subsequent verses of the recitativo he calls it an illusory shadow (l’ombra vana) and a false pleasure (falso piacer). Had Aleksander Sobieski considered achievements in art, music and theatre, which he gladly enjoyed in Rome, to be more lasting, as historians attribute to him today? It appears that his decided “refusal to co-create the history of Poland” and later attitude in the Eternal City confirm that it was the ephemeral works created by Roman artists that were the il vero piacer (true pleasure) for him.

Despite Alessandro’s name appearing second in the title of the opera, he was the main character of the work. This is evidenced not only by the allusions to Aleksander Sobieski’s during the period of struggle for the throne of Poland. As the only male character of the dramma, he exhibited characteristics dear to the reformers of the Italian dramas. He was guided by reason, he was just, he loved his brother, and above all valued family ties and law-abiding power. Not even the flames of love could shake his convictions. Betrayed by Araspe, he demonstrated the actions worthy of a ruler – in retaliation, he declared war on the king of Cyprus. In contrast, Tolomeo is the type of effeminate hero (effeminate), constantly mourning his own fate and the harm done to him. Pathetic, often exalted, he embodied the heroes that Muratori criticised. In turn, Araspe was a ruler enslaved by the passions of the heart, not showing the slightest interest in the affairs of state. He expresses his attitude directly in one of his arias, singing that “justice and faith are a figment of the free soul, unseen and unheard by the mind deprived of freedom by Cupid”.  The amorous claustrophobia is intensified by the pastoral landscape, which enhances erotic tension. It is also important that the opera is set in Cyprus, the island of Venus.

Thus, the Arcadians watching the spectacle at the Palazzo Zuccari could only be satisfied by one hero – Alessandro. The poet who signed his sonnet, published after the premiere of the opera, with the initials C.Z., wrote: “Between the three shining ALEKSANDERS I see in him: / The one who lived in famous Egypt; the Great one / Who tamed Asia; and not the least [of them], thank to whom Sarmatia is famous and Italia beautiful”.

Translation: Lingua Lab

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