Villa as a Model of the World
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Passage to knowledge

Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Villa as a Model of the World Magdalena Górska

An ideal ruler presented by Pliny the Younger in his Panegyricus Traiani is reflected in Cicero’s writings. Based on an analogy between a home, a state and the world, Cicero juxtaposes political matters with home matters and security of a state with constancy of affection. In the epigram Allusiones in gratiam Villae Novae composed in honour of Wilanów and quoted by A. Ch. Załuski, Cicero compared the palace to the world and admitted his failure to comprehend all the meanings conveyed by “nowa willa” [“a new villa”] (“Par orbi Villa haec, quin toto vastior orbe/ Non capit hunc orbis, quem nova Villa capit”). The aim of Cicero’s analogy was to present the world arranged in a similar fashion to a villa by a sage celestial administrator. In his treatise On the Laws the author observed that a man gets acquainted with the world and consequently no longer “feels enclosed within the walls of a city, but instead becomes a citizen of the entire world.” Such a man will become convinced of the existence of a providential administrator; “he will enter into a society of love with those equal to him and will consider all those bound by society ties as his own brothers.” The basis for the Wilanów architectural solution was possibly also Horace’s metaphor of a flying thought. Entwined in Sarbiewski’s poetry with cosmological concepts and known from works of the Neo-Platonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino (De vita, 1489), it translates into the activity of contemplating a home model which imitates the structure and movement of the world headed by Saturn.

Saturn symbolised the highest intellect and the contemplation of the divine (M. K. Sarbiewski). The observation of the construction and activity of the machinae coelestis (celestial machinery) convinced 17th-century thinkers (inter alia Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz) of how real was the project of an analogical political, ideal and objective order. Works of Cicero (On the Republic) and Seneca (On Leisure; On Providence) two types of a republic  were discussed. Apart from the smaller state, to which people are bound by pure chance, there is “a great, real, common state which encompasses the world of gods and people alike, where it is irrelevant to speak of this or that part of the world, and whose borders are outlined with the sunshine.” In his De constantia (1584) Lipsius rejected the widespread interpretation of the notion of the love of state. Instead, he believed that the observation of nature resulted in the need to adopt the entire world as one’s true homeland. Determined in this way were the fundamental Neostoic notions of reason and virtue as well as the rational cosmic order exemplary for social and individual life. The Neostoic ideal of a harmonious unity was illustrated with a body being subordinated to reason, a state to a ruler and the world to the sun. Well-known is King Sobieski’s liking for “the Christian Seneca” and his work.

Although from the end of the 16th century Lipsius was associated in Poland unambiguously with the defence of a monarchical idea, the references found in Wilanów allude chiefly to the Belgian’s idea of a ruler-and-sage, submitted to his duties and virtue. Following Seneca and Lipsius, the recurring motif was that of dedicated rulers, choosing to be vigilant rather than asleep, and at work rather that at rest, all for the public good. Presumably, Jan III was also attached to Cicero’s ideal of a ruler; as a conservator (protector) and moderator (leader) he was to prove the proximity of the divine and human virtue in the establishment of a new state or the consolidation of an existing one. The protagonist of the Wilanów apotheosis is “a slave to no passion [...]; he does not impose on people laws that he would not abide by, [...] he motivates citizens with his own life, acting like the embodiment of law itself” (Cicero, On the Republic). A ruler succumbing to passion „Fails to be [...] a good protector, a saviour of his homeland and a support for his friends” (Seneca, On the Happy Life). Likewise, Saint Augustine’s Civitas Dei (The City of God) containing his lecture on “a double state of dual Love” addressed a peaceful rule of Christian sovereigns, “willing to govern their contradictory passions rather than to govern nations.” Christian Neostoicism adopted the Augustinian sense of love perceived as a virtue of social life.

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