© Muzeum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów
Silva Rerum   Silva Rerum   |   06.10.2021

Wilanów citrus collection in the eighteenth century

Elżbieta Sieniawska, owner of the Wilanów estate since 1720, followed in the footsteps of King Jan III and continued to cultivate citruses. In the eighteenth century, these plants “took root” in Poland. Citruses enjoyed remarkable popularity as they found wide applications in cooking and medicine. “The Common Dictionary of Medicine…” (“Dykcyonarz Powszechny Medyki...”), published in Warsaw in 1788, states that [...] Lemons are broadly used in daily life and the medical art [...].
Citrus juice was a popular remedy for many ailments, such as lack of appetite, inflammation, fever, chickenpox, gastric issues, scurvy, and was even used to “calm the whirling blood and humours”. Chewing lemon peel improved the smell of one’s breath, and keeping it on oneself together with cloves protected one against the plague. The symbolic meaning of citrus plants, linking their affluent owners with the strength and virtues of Hercules, did not change. In his manuscript dedicated to Elżbieta Sieniawska, “Miscellanea: or the Garden of the Hesperides…” (“Miscellanea: albo Hesperyiski ogród…”) dated to 1727, Jakub Kazimierz Rubinkowski compared the most powerful rulers in history to trees bearing golden fruit: […] the Garth of the Hesperides, planted with golden trees […] You have here in some parcels branches laden with golden apples, as their soil is graced with the presence of Royalty [...]

Much like King Jan III, Elżbieta Sieniawska took delight in the taste of citruses, both fruit and blossoms. Józef Łukszyński, the steward of Jaworów estates, wrote in his letter to the Cracow Castellan’s wife on 29 June 1714: [...] Fully maturated [ripe] fruit of the types: white French cherries, currants, French parsley, and three score [60] of cucumbers from the local garden I’m sending by boat, whatever could now be available, the orange blossom is ripening, which you, Your Grace Lady Patron, may order to send to you or give to His Grace, the gardeners await your instruction, since the pastry chef of His Grace wrote them to send it all to him to Sieniawa [...] The royal post master, Jakub Kazimierz Rubinkowski, imported oranges grown in Portugal to Gdańsk for the magnatess. In his letter of 18 April 1718, he gave her advice on how to store the fruit so that it remained fresh for as long as possible: [...] take it out of the box to dry a bit, because it quickly rots away when left in stuffy confinement [...]. To maintain a steady access to citrus fruit, the magnatess kept her own collection at Wilanów. She purchased orange and lemon trees imported from Italy in Wrocław and other towns. According to a detailed garden inventory written down soon after her death in 1729, the orangery held an impressive 830 plant specimens, including 300 citrus trees: seven trees of common lemon (Citrus limon), seven of citron (Citrus medica), three of pomelo (Citrus decumana), six of bitter orange (Citrus × aurantium), five of bergamot orange (Citrus bergamium), and 271 other orange and lemon plants. Based on comparative botanical literature, mostly “The Dictionary of Plants” (“Dykcjonarz Roślinny”) by rev. Jan Krzysztof Kluk, published in three volumes in 1786–1788, it was established that apart from the earlier mentioned species, the range of orangery plants could have been even broader. It probably housed other species known in Poland at the time: sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), trifoliate orange (Citrus trifoliata), mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata), myrtle-leaved orange (Citrus myrtifolia), key lime (Citrus aurantifolia), and common lemon varieties Peretta and Melarosa (Citrus limon). The single specimen of an [...] Orange from Gdańsk bearing Clove-Colour Blossoms [...] is something of a mystery. Most likely, this passage refers to a double-flowered variety of bitter orange (Citrus × aurantium flore pleno) with slightly yellowish flowers, their colour resembling that of the oil extracted from clove trees, a product known and available in Europe at the time.*

Citruses were accompanied by other exotic and Mediterranean plants: 88 bay laurel trees (Laurus nobilis), three shrubs of common box (Buxus sempervirens), 47 common jasmine (Jasminum officinale) or Spanish jasmine plants (J. grandifolium), 11 Italian jasmine plants (J. humile) and one Sambac jasmine (J. sambac), nine Mediterranean cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens), 11 Spanish gorse shrubs (Genista hispanica), 16 Spanish daggers (Yucca gloriosa), 23 pomegranate trees (Punica granatum), 159 larger rosemary shrubs (Rosmarinus officinalis) and nine wallflowers (Cheiranthus cheiri), 44 clove pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus), and 75 other unnamed herbaceous plants. A true botanical curiosity was the […] one tree of Terkinuz Gdanska […]. In all probability, this is a reference to the tanner’s sumach (Rhus coriaria) known in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as Rhus terginus or tergorarius. Equally intriguing are the […] seven trees of “Punt Tyxes” […], which may have been myrtle (Myrtus communis) or styrax (Styrax sp.), a source of fragrant resin. This species had already been known in Ancient Egypt, and even became one of the goals of queen Hatshepsut’s expedition to the land of Punt, famous for as many as fourteen species of this tree. Despite thorough studies, the meaning of [...] twenty “Abliznowe” trees [...] remains inscrutable. Some researchers connect them with similarly sounding albizia (Albizia sp.), even though this species wasn’t imported to Europe until the mid-eighteenth century. Although the phonetics of “abliznowe” resembles “blizna”, the Polish word for scars, it is rather unlikely that this is a reference to the olive tree (Olea europaea), whose old trunks were sometimes described as decayed, as if covered by scars.

All the above were cultivated at Wilanów in special containers. The most decorative were faïence vases made in a workshop in Delft in the Netherlands. Twenty-one of them were decorated with cobalt-painted acanthus leaves and elaborate coats of arms borne by Elżbieta Sieniawska, thus emphasizing the great symbolic value of the citrus plants kept in them. Additionally, the Wilanów orangery also had at its disposal two smaller Delftware vases without any coats of arms, three large gold-plated vases left by King Jan III, 25 simple ceramic vessels, 53 pots made of oak staves bound together by iron hoops, and other purely wooden pots. Plants and containers were kept in the orangery situated south of the Palace, built specifically for this purpose. The brick building with the red tiled roof was designed by Giovanni Spazzio or Giuseppe Giacomo Fontana. Construction began in 1725 and lasted well into the 1730s, when Fontana took over after Spazzio’s death. The orangery façade was decorated with sculptures, while the interior comprised a vestibule, a cellar, and a room with a green tiled stove and shelves for plants. In the winter, the windows were additionally covered with bast fibre mats lined with thick cloth. These solutions greatly impressed Johann Georg Zeidler, a Saxony-born gardener at Wilanów, who in May 1725 wrote to Elżbieta Sieniawska in praise: [...] JMc P. Szpadz [the gentleman Mr Spazzio] discovered such an invention of the orangery as I have never seen neither in Poland, nor in Saxony, with which I’m greatly content, as it’s meant to be so fortified, that neither fire, nor any other ignitions will harm it [...] The building, roughly 45 metres long and nine metres wide, provided 400 square metres to store plants. Given the scale of Elżbieta Sieniawska’s collection, this was hardly an exaggeration. The old orangery of King Jan III was demolished in 1724. According to Giovanni Spazzio, the architect of the Cracow Castellan’s wife, an unfortunate accident occurred during work performance. A collapsing wall killed one bricklayer and severely wounded three others.

After Elżbieta Sieniawska’s death, her plant collection was taken into the care of her daughter, Maria Zofia, and her husband Duke Aleksander August Czartoryski. Another enthusiast of citrus trees, King Augustus II, came to rent the Wilanów residence between 1730 and 1733. Much like King Jan III, he saw citrus plants as the attribute of Herculean power and virtues (bolstering King Augustus II’s image as Hercules Saxonicus). This motif found its fullest expression in the Zwinger Palace complex in Dresden, where a large parterre, called “The Garden of Hesperides”, served the sole purpose of displaying citrus trees. Based on historical inventories of royal residences in the Commonwealth and Saxony, prepared around 1735, it is estimated that Augustus II could have owned some 5,000 citrus trees. In his 1726 letter to Countess Tekla Róża Flemming, he wrote: [...] Do you know that oranges are like porcelain? Those who become infected with one of these diseases can never stop and always want more [...]. The King’s great passion for citruses became a source for legends. Tales emerged that it was Augustus II who brought citrus trees to Poland. The most popular story was even published in Samuel Orgelbrand’s 1861 “Universal Encyclopedia”(“Encyklopedyja Powszechna”): [...] It’s common knowledge that King Augustus II the Saxon played with woodturning in his spare time, and since lemon and orange wood is easy and pleasant in turning, a large amount of it was once delivered to the King from Portugal. Once the wood reached Poland, the royal gardener saw that the trees, freshly pulled out of the soil, were still alive, despite the long journey. He chose then the thickest and put them into vases. [...] Another version of the story can be found in the famous 1873 novel by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski titled “The Countess Cosel” (“Hrabina Cosel”): [...] There is a magical story behind the beautiful orange trees that nowadays add to the charm of Zwinger in the summer. In the year 1731, the King sent a scientific expedition to Africa, and as ballast 400 felled trees were loaded onto the ship, to be used in woodturning; as an experiment, they were planted: most of them came back to life […]. The King also harboured an ambitious vision to redesign the Wilanów Palace garden, as proven by the plan in the Poturzycki Album from around 1732, now kept in the W. Stefanyk National Science Library of Ukraine in Lviv (inv. no. K. 44). An unknown author from Augustus II’s court prepared a design for a new orangery whose proposed dimensions were 45 metres in length and 15 metres in width, in the northern part of the residence complex.

After the King's death, this idea was followed up on by Maria Zofia and Aleksander August Czartoryski. However, the expansion plan for Wilanów gardens from around 1740 kept in the National Library in France in Paris (inv. no. Vd. 29 T. 6 Ft. 6) shows that a much larger facility was delineated. The impressive building, around 100 metres long and 15 metres wide, was meant to be heated by six stoves lighted from a corridor running along the northern wall. Additionally, the orangery was to have a bathroom with access to the garden, and a main hall of more than 800 square metres in size. Most probably, the specimens grown in wooden and ceramic vessels were to be lined up along the northern wall and arranged by height to ensure best sun exposure, with the tallest plants in the rear and the shortest at the windows. The new orangery was finally erected in the years 1746–1748, based on the design by Saxon architect Johann Sigmund Deybl. It was one of the most innovative buildings of this type in the Commonwealth, and became a model for other residences, for instance in Białystok. Towards the end of 1748, Ignacy Koziebrodzki, a resident of Hetman Jan Klemens Branicki in Warsaw, sent the plans of both Wilanów orangeries, with their precise dimensions, to the Hetman. On 21st December he wrote: [...] I visited Mr Deybl twice around the orangery in Wilanów, but he wasn't there. And since there are two orangeries in Wilanów, so I gave a horse to the caretaker and told him to measure the length, width, and height of the old and new orangery alike, which I’m including in this letter, whilst their outlines I will send with another post, as I have asked Mr Deybl for them and have been granted this wish [...] Several days later he added: […] I am sending the two outlines of Wilanów orangeries, provided by His Lordship Deybl as declared; should it be your desire, Mr Deybl is willing to assist by providing the outline of the Wołczyn orangery as well, and awaits only the instruction of Your Lordship […]. The new orangery continued to greatly impress Palace guests until the very end of the eighteenth century. In an account from his visit to Warsaw published in 1780, Count Carl Ludwig von Dönhoff remarked that the orangery, the vegetable garden, and the utility buildings are magnificent, and stood proof to the extreme wealth of the Grand Marshall’s wife, Izabela Lubomirska. In another report dating to 1791, German journalist Johann Erich Biester mentioned [...] There is an orangery of truly incredible length here [...] At the same time writer Joachim Christoph Schulz praised: […] There is much beauty in the garden surrounding the palace on three sides. Entering from the front, one sees the magnificent long orangery and hothouses, pleasant to the eye even after the Zwinger in Dresden, especially taking account of the climate here and the difficulties and costs of this whole arrangement [...]

The method of citrus collection presentation had also changed, as new pots were acquired. On 21 August 1746, a purchase was noted of 29 oaken pots for laurel and orange trees, and 54 chests were delivered to the carpenter for repair. All were painted in diagonal grey and green stripes, aimed perhaps to commemorate King Augustus II, who kept citruses in similar pots, e.g. at Zwinger (there the stripes were white and blue). Two years later, 62 new oaken vases for orange trees were made in three sizes (ca. 82 cm tall and 120 cm wide, 82 cm tall and 104 cm wide, and 66 cm tall and 87 cm wide). In 1750 and 1757, once again the Czartoryski family ordered that 36 oaken vases, 11 chests for orange trees, and 28 oaken vases for laurel trees be painted in white and green stripes. Their daughter, Duchess Izabela Lubomirska, continued their efforts. In March 1781, she ordered [...] smith Stein in Wilanów to bind 69 new vases for the orange and laurel trees of the Wilanów garden [...]

The first depictions to show the arrangement of orangery plants in the garden are the three landscapes by Bernardo Bellotto, a painter also known as Canaletto, from the collection of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, painted between 1776 and 1777. Trees were planted in plank pots painted in a regular pattern of diagonal white and green stripes, and added to parterres de gazon and carpet lawns. Additionally, gilded vases with dwarf trees stood in the corners of the parterres located in front of the façade of the main part of the Palace. The artist depicted a total of about 300 orangery trees. Around 1784–1785 Szymon Bogumił Zug wrote: [...] The garden is divided into two parts. The one adjoining the palace gives place to flowerbeds decorated by orange trees, statues, and bronze vases, mostly leaden and poor copies of several antique sculptures. This part is surrounded by alleys ‘en berceau’ [arbours], very thick with leaves [...]. Such an arrangement lasted at least until the end of the century, as confirmed by Karol Alberti’s view onto the Wilanów palace from around 1795–1800. Zygmunt Vogel’s 1791–1792 watercolour documents an interesting scene where two women gardeners transport small citrus trees on a wooden wheelbarrow. The painting, entitled A View onto Wilanów Palace from the South (“Widok Pałacu w Wilanowie od Południa”), currently belongs to the collection of the Royal Palace in Warsaw (inv. no. FC-ZKW 524).

Further historical developments led to the dispersion and dwindling of the Wilanów collection. In the late 1770s and early 1780s, Elżbieta Sieniawska’s orangery (the one on the southern side of the Palace) was pulled down to make room for the landscape garden design by architect Szymon Bogumił Zug. In February 1793, the “Catalogue of Various Removed Garden Trees at Wilanów” (“Katalog Drzewek Różnych Ogrodowych Skasowanych w Willanowie”) was prepared. It lists 476 plants from the orangery collection, most likely specimens designated for sale. The Catalogue enumerates, among others, 299 [edible] pineapples (Ananas comosus) in different sizes, six swamp lilies (Crinum powelli), 33 aloe vera plants (Aloe sp.), five capsule-fruited passion flowers (Passiflora capsularis), two Egyptian acacias (Vachellia nilotica), three Indian shots (Canna indica), two banana plants (Musa × paradisiaca), nine Syrian ketmias called hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus), one date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), and even cacti, such as: Cissus quadrangularis and Rhipsalis bacciferaCereus repandus, large-flowered selenicereus (Selenicereus grandiflorus), pitayas (Hylocereus triangularis), and fig opuntias (Opuntia ficus-indica). Another part of the collection was moved by Izabela Lubomirska to her palace in Łańcut in 1795. In the same year, Helena and Michał Hieronim Radziwiłł bought back about a dozen pomegranates and laurels for their orangery in Nieborów. This may suggest that a large part of the collection did in fact remain in Wilanów. Under an agreement signed on 19 September 1799 in Łańcut, Duchess Izabela handed over the residence together with [...] Garden, Treibhauses [Hothouses], Orangeries, Trees, Plants [...] to her daughter Aleksandra, who with her husband Stanisław Kostka Potocki maintained the orangery collection, but in the spirit of the new age.

*I extend my gratitude to dr hab. inż. arch. Katarzyna Rozmarynowska and dr Krzysztof Gos for offering their assistance in plant species identification and the commentary on clove oil.

Translated by Katarzyna Bartkowiak

This article has been written as part of the “Citri et Aurea” project carried out in cooperation with the Uffizi Gallery – the Boboli Gardens in Florence, under the patronage of the European Route of Historic Gardens.