Unknown Polish Subscriptions to the Emblems of Otto van Veen and Herman Hugo. A Study on the Functioning of Western Religious Engravings in the Old-Polish Culture

Radosław Grześkowiak,

Jakub Niedźwiedź


The Seweryn Udziela Etnographic Musem in Cracow holds an impressive collection of old engravings, among which there are also copperplates by Cornelis Galle. He used selected prints from Amorum emblemata (1608) and Amoris divini emblemata (1615) by Otton van Veen and Pia desideria (1624) by Herman Hugo to create his own emblematic cycle on metaphysical relations between the Soul and Amor Divinus. The drawings from the works of Veen and Hugo were very popular in the seventeenth century and inspired numerous poets and editors around Europe. In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it was Hugo’s Pia desideria that aroused particular interest. The cycle was imitated and translated by e.g. Mikołaj Mieleszko SJ, Zbigniew Morsztyn, Aleksander Teodor Lacki, and Jan Kościesza Żaba. On three of Galle’s prints stored in the Cracow museum an anonymous author wrote epigrams, unknown until now, that accompany the icons taken from the cycle by Veen (no. 8 and 21) and by Hugo (II 5). This emblematic microcycle was, with all probability, written down at the end of the seventeenth or at the beginning of the eighteenth century by a nun or a monk in one of the Lesser Polish convents or monasteries. Possibly, the origins of the cycle may be linked with the Carmelite convent in Cracow. And whether it is the actual place where the cycle was created or not, it is a good point to begin studies on the employment of emblematic practices in Catholic convents and monasteries in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Imported copperplates and woodcuts were a typical piece of the equipment of a cell. They were hung on the cell walls or were simply collected in sets of prints and often exchanged as gifts among nuns or monks, e.g. on the occasion of the New Year (an example of such a gift from 1724 is given in this paper). It was a common practice to write notes of diverse character on the reverse side of such prints, e.g. autobiographic details, short prayers or excerpts from sacred texts and religious literature. Still, the main purpose of the emblems was their application in everyday meditations and other forms of personal prayers. The three subscriptiones in the Ethnographic Museum in Cracow are also prayers of this kind, combining word and image.


Publication of this paper was financed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education uder the grant 643/P-DUN/2018.

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