Jan III Sobieski in Łazienki Park

Strollers walking along Agrykola Street towards Łazienki Park in Warsaw pass by a statue of Jan III Sobieski. The monument’s placement was by no mans accidental, either in space or time. Its unveiling in 1788 was a grand ceremony organized on the order of King Stanisław Augustus. Published was a few-page-long official description of the ceremony, reflecting its artistic and ideological programme, and was handed to eye-witnesses as well as non-participants. Adam Naruszewicz, the author of the description added as a supplement to Gazeta Warszawska paper, reported that around 30 thousand people gathered in Łazienki Park and the surrounding area. The writer managed to build up suspense by parenthetically adding the comment that additional military units were sent to the deserted city to prevent potential burglaries. On 14 September in the afternoon Łazienki Park started filling with guests invited by the king. 6 thousand tickets were issued among others for senators, ministers, members of the Permanent Council and the Commission. In his report, Naruszewicz commented on the outfits of the gathered guests. Ladies wore white dresses with crimson sashes and hats decorated with the same colour ribbons and feathers. Members of Brotherhood of the Order were dressed in outfits stipulated by the act. A special amphitheatre was constructed in the square near the little White House. The theatre comprised four viewing boxes decorated with damask and four gates bearing the coats of arms of Stanisław Augustus, Jan III Sobieski, the Crown and Lithuania respectively. Raised right in the middle of the square there was a round arena (called “a carousel”) featuring young nobles’ display of skills. Pages and cadets picked with lancets rings hanging on wooden posts, fired at “Black figures”, decapitated and picked with their broadswords “heads” lying on the podium. Seven four-person teams partook in the tournament which was repeated three times “to the contentment of His Royal Highness”. The tournament ended with duels and “a staged skirmish as if in a real battlefield”. The display was eagerly watched by the gathered crowds and lasted an hour and a quarter. The following point on the agenda consisted in the premiere performance of a cantata composed specially for the occasion. The lyrics are attributed to Adam Naruszewicz and the music to Maciej Kamieński. A somewhat pompous text was presented in a bucolic setting and the lyrics were put into the mouth of a shepherd and three shepherdesses. The composition contained also a military march. Moreover, the guests were presented a “heroic ballet” performance inspired by classical Hellas. The less demanding audience was entertained with the “à la Borghese” illumination. Constructed behind the king’s statue there was a gate resembling a Roman triumphant arch. The shores of the canal connecting the palace with the statue, and the shore of the pond on the other side of the building, featured “knight’s pillars – trophaea”, depicting various items of weaponry. The garden courtyard and lanes were additionally lit by many lanterns. “The king then received expressions of gratitude from Michał Sobieski, son of Hilara née Buyn and Józef, the Voivode of Liw (...), [the king] took him in for royal protection and decided to cover the costs of his education.” The following point on the agenda was the ceremony of awarding gold and silver medals to the tournament participants. The medals were handed by ladies related to the Sobieskis: from the Sapieha family – Jabłonowska, wife of the Voivode of Bracław; from the Godzki De Nassau Siegen family – Duchess Karolina; from the Rzewuski family – Humięcka, wife of the Crown Sword-bearer. Inside the Grand Hall and other rooms of the Palace on the Water (back then referred to as the Royal House) as well as in tents pitched outside the palace, Stanisław Augustus treated 600 guests to dinner. Regretfully, the menu has not been preserved and consequently, we do not know whether the king selected for the occasion his favourite dishes of the French cuisine or perhaps opted for the old Polish and more traditional selection of meals. The ceremony was crowned with a 30-minute-long display of fireworks. The event was wickedly summarized in an anonymous brief poem: “I’d pay for three million carousels, even five / For Stanisław to perish, Jan III to revive.”

The described ceremony of unveiling the statue of King Sobieski in Łazienki Park was in keeping with currently practiced customs. Decorated gates, illuminations, fireworks, the musical setting – all contributed to rendering the occasion more solemn. But the attempt to immortalize the great king and vanquisher of the Turks had its political meaning too. Near the southern frontiers of Poland, a war was fought between Russia and Turkey. An incessant reformer of the state, Stanisław Augustus hoped that Empress Catherine II would consent to an increase in size of the Polish army in return for Poland’s military support in the ongoing conflict. One may presume that the ceremony of paying tribute to the victor of the Battle of Vienna was an outcome of the current political situation as much as a mere intention to revive a glorious episode from the past history of Poland.