The artistic patronage of Władysław II Jagiello. Beyond the opposition between Byzantium and the Renaissance
By Grazyna Jurkowlaniec
Paper given at the conference Byzantium and Renaissances. Dialogue of Cultures, Heritage of Antiquity – Tradition and Modernity, University of Warsaw (2011)
Introduction: In 1386, Jogaila, the son of pagan Grand Duke of Lithuanian Algirdas and Ruthenian Orthodox Princess Uliana, was baptized in the Roman rite, married to the Queen of Poland, Jadwiga of Anjou, and crowned as King of Poland, Władysław II Jagiełło. Due to his semi-Ruthenian roots, the king’s customs, piety, aesthetic taste, and artistic patronage are all frequently regarded as strongly influenced by Eastern elements. Indeed, Jagiełło brought Ruthenian masters to Poland to paint frescoes.
Today, some of these frescoes are still at least partially preserved while others are known from a variety of written sources. In 1393 and 1394, the earliest sets of Ruthenian paintings (unpreserved) were executed in the Benedictine monastery on Łysa Góra and in the king’s bedroom in the Wawel Castle in Cracow. In the last years of the fourteenth century, the paintings in the choir of the collegiate church in Wiślica, which are now only fragmentarily preserved, were completed.
Around 1418, Ruthenian painters decorated the chapel of the Holy Trinity in the Lublin castle. A few years later, another set of frescoes were painted in the choir loft of the collegiate churches of Sandomierz (ca. 1421) and in the Chapel of the Virgin in the Cracow Cathedral (ca. 1420). Just before Jagiełło’s death, his last wife, Sophia of Halshany, commissioned a Ruthenian painting for the chapel of the Holy Trinity. Situated next to the main entrance of the Cracow Cathedral (1433), it was opposite the chapel of the Holy Cross where Jagiełło’s son, Casimir IV Jagiellon, later had Ruthenian frescoes painted (1470). It was also during this time that a Polish chronicler, Jan Długosz, wrote Annals or Chronicles of the Famous Kingdom of Poland, where he characterized Jagiełło mentioning, among others, that the king “embellished the churches of Gniezno, Sandomierz and Wiślica with Greek sculptures (which he preferred to the Latin ones).”