Artibus et Historiae no. 85 (XLIII)2022, ISSN 0391-9064
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OJCUMIŁA SIERADZKA-MALEC - The Collection of Gilt-Leather Wall-Hangings of King Augustus II the Strong at Wawel Royal Castle in Cracow (pp. 221–275)
The gilt-leather wall-hangings adorning the chambers of Wawel Royal Castle in Cracow form the largest such collection in Poland, which also counts among the most numerous in Europe. The leather wall-hangings were not among the castle’s original furnishings. It was only in the 1930s, in the course of the renovation and refurbishment of the royal residence, that they were acquired from Moritzburg Castle near Dresden, one of the seats of King Augustus II the Strong, elector of Saxony and king of Poland. These historic wall-hangings were used in the decoration of eight rooms, mainly in the castle’s north wing, imbuing the interiors with a character and atmosphere of the Baroque period.
Thanks to archival evidence, it was possible to reconstruct the process of the furnishing of the royal chambers, to establish the dates of purchase of the wall-hangings, identify the amount of leather bought and the identity of companies employed in the cleaning and installation on walls of the leather panels. The amount of historic leather was insufficient to cover the huge expanse of the castle’s walls and a task of producing new leather panels, identical to the historic ones, was entrusted to Wacław Szymborski, an art conservator. He set up a specialised workshop in which leather wall-hangings were manufactured, using the same historic technologies and procedures that had been employed in the production of the original leather panels – an extraordinary accomplishment on a worldwide scale.
The present paper provides a detailed account of the amount of leather wall-hangings at the castles of Moritzburg and Wawel, which form a single collection. Their patterns, consisting of a variety of geometrical, vegetal and floral designs, have been described and differences in the arrangement of patterns on walls in the respective residences have been identified. A unique asset of the leather wall-hangings is the fact that individual panels can be arranged in various combinations, a feature that must have been intended already at the point of designing the patterns.
Another problem discussed in the paper is the provenance of the Moritzburg gilt-leather wall-hangings. Following a clue found in a letter of Augustus II the Strong, in which he mentioned his interest in Venetian leather wall-hangings, collections of gilt and tooled leather from various regions of Italy have been presented in the paper. In most cases, Italian leather panels date from the seventeenth century – earlier than the hangings at Moritzburg and Wawel – and their patterns and general appearance are different as well.
A separate treatment was given to gilt-leather manufactured in Venice, where three different panels whose patterns and colour hues match those that appear on the Moritzburg and Wawel wall-hangings survive – at Museo Correr and Palazzo Vendramin Calergi – and should be dated to the 1720s (around 1722–1727).
In light of the current knowledge and formal features of the gilt-leather wall-hangings surviving at Wawel Royal Castle, discussed in the present paper, there is no doubt as to the fact that the collection of the Moritzburg and Wawel leather wall-hangings is unique worldwide.