From the Palace to an Outhouse and a Doghouse – Old Polish Fashion for Inscriptions
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Passage to knowledge

Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

From the Palace to an Outhouse and a Doghouse – Old Polish Fashion for Inscriptions Radosław Grześkowiak
Słońce i tarcze na elewacji pałacu wilanowskiego.jpg

Erasmus of Rotterdam encouraged his reader: 'Some short but accurate expressions, like proverbs, parables and phrases, should be noted at the beginning of books. You can carve some of them on rings and goblets. Paint them on doors, walls, window glasses, so that you can never lose the sight of what enriches your knowledge'.

The practice postulated be Erasmus, to be surrounded by scholarly inscriptions became a common fashion in XVI century. They were placed on houses, above doors and gates, as well as inside, on roof beams, walls, chimneys and over windows. They were also placed on furniture and even spoons.

 Renaissance demand to fill private space with epigraphic sentences was met by the collection of Mikolaj Rej's 'Apothegms or various lyrics to hang to be written on buildings, or elsewhere according to wishes'. A reader in need could find there a short rhymed inscription for gates, pantries (charms against thieves), bathrooms, or even a spoon or a grave. The inscription on a gate could for instance announce to guests: 'Whoever enters these gates/please leave behind your aches'. If this should not be effective another phrase could be chosen: 'To those don't open the door / who'll make the host feel sore'. Residences of the Republic quickly deserved the fame for their luxury and architectural grandness but also for a well composed web of sentences covering more and more living space and gardens. A copy of handwritten Sentences written in Verki near Vilnius, in a bishop's court rooms, dining room and a hall, contains 80 Latin inscriptions from the court of the Vilnius bishop Konstanty Wolowicz (1572-1630). Marshall Stanislaw Herakliusz Lubomirski (1642-1702) was known for his love for inscriptions, with which he richly covered houses raised from his funds. Not only the Czerniaków convent and Bernardines' chapel, but also his private residences around Warsaw: Łazienki., Hermitage, and Arcadia. On his visit in 1726, to the famous castle of the Royal Equerry of Jerzy Stanisław Dzieduszycki (1670-1730), Benedykt Chmielowski praised it in these word in his New Athens: 'Cuculovce a province in Russian voivodship in Zydaczev district, another Hesperides' Garden, Polish Versailles. Inscription on houses are great for erudition'.

So did the author of New Athens succumb to the new fashion. He treated writing inscriptions as a peculiar form of recreation: 'Having written two New Athens books [...], with this hard, sedentary, literary work, I found entertainment to relax my mind [...] whatever time I have left, except for reading and composing books, kind visitors, private and public sermons, I spent embellishing my residence, and making ornaments, giving an inscription to every work of art.' Chmielowski's mind must have been really exhausted, since the whole estate was covered with inscriptions – Polish, Latin, sometimes Russian. They could be found not only on every building but also on most equipment – on each of 8 chapel benches. Even on a doghouse. Chmielowski's Burek could not get lost. At the entrance to the courtyard, there was a doghouse with an inscription:

Dogs right:

Wait on guard,

Bark on strangers,

Bite the thief,

Lick the master

The popularity of this type of epigraphy developed to an unknown so far scale, as stated by Karol Żera: 'It is quite common among noblemen and parsons to put various inscriptions and paintings on walls inside buildings between wallpapers, over doors, fireplaces, on beams, shutters, and folding screens. In Chancellor Krajewski's house in Zambrów there is no more space for maxims and proverbs, they can be even found in secret sheds, so one can pass the time by reading them in bulk'. Krajewski did not waste time, he enjoyed reading clever texts even in the outhouse!

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