This foreword comes from the book published by the Museum of King Jan III's Palace at Wilanów in 2010, which can be purchased at the e-shop
The Lion of Lechia, East Lightning, Redeemer of the Homeland, ruler of the entire Christianity and creator of its rampart – these are but a few of the titles abundantly given to Jan III Sobieski, especially after his memorable victory in Vienna in 1683. And even though the Polish monarch never received officially the honourable title of the Defender of Christianity, in fact, it was sanctioned by the countless epithets of the hero functioning in the panegyric literature of the last quarter of the 17th century as well as in subsequent ages. It should be noted that no other Polish monarch was similarly honoured and these undoubtedly glorifying titles were not but a vain fantasy of the flatterers, but they were unquestionably founded in the reality. Sobieski, one of the few rulers, if not the only one, has forever remained in the awareness of Poles as a great victorious leader who was the last one to glorify the country and make it famous before its definite collapse. Even though the Polish national awareness often did not coincide with the actual knowledge, meticulously constructed in the past in the present, there was no such divergence in the case of Sobieski.
Thus, it could be said that Jan III's has star never faded and he has become a legend. Thus, irrespective of the strongly rooted and inevitable in such situation stereotypes – any (especially recent) attempts to demythologise him can do him no harm – either now or in the future. A much more noteworthy seems the observation made between 1965 and 1966 by Paweł Jasienica: "If the fate had put the personality of Jan III in more favourable circumstances, perhaps our history would have acquired the third king nicknamed the Great".
It should be added that it was a complex personality, very rich and exceeding the standards of those times, and perhaps even surpassing the personalities of such European luminaries as Leopold I Habsburg or Louis XIV, of which evidently neither Jan III nor his family, nor his contemporaries were aware. Nonetheless, his unusual qualities were noticed and usually properly characterised. An anonymous 17th century Polish panegyric writer exclaimed in admiration:
Show me another hero
Who can shoot a bow and reads Moliere,
Admires flowers and scolds like thunder,
Surprises his audiences and loves his wife!
Asian luxury and Parisian manners,
Helmet in roses and laurel in crown!
Undoubtedly, the author's earnest admiration translated into the apt conciseness of the poem founded on the principle of the antithesis, but at the same time free of any confabulating undertones. Sobieski's image presented in the poem was reflected in the exceptionally rich – over the ages – Polish and international historiography. Let us then enumerate after the author some of the features of the character of the Hetman and later the King.
In the first place, Sobieski's military talents (important for a Sarmatian) indisputably made him the most outstanding commander in Polish Early Modern history. It goes without saying that the defeats suffered by him (like the first battle of Párkány in 1683 or the Moldova campaigns in 1686 and 1691, respectively) could not overshadow the glory of the victories in Podhajec, Khotyn or Vienna. Sobieski, known for his excellent ability to make use of the terrain and its natural assets in a battle against the enemy, was as equally brilliant commander in the battlefield and he led the attack himself – he never became the "cabinet" commander. In his aggressive operations, he always strove to achieve their goals in the shortest time possible and with the fewest number of victims. He masterfully controlled the cavalry, but he appreciated the infantry and perfectly coordinated the use of all the types of weapons. The opinions of both his contemporaries and later generations (who were not always favourably disposed to him) about Jan III's military genius were remarkably unanimous and uniform.
The monarch, characterised by an exceptionally vivid mind, read not only Moliere (nota bene the dramas The School for Wives and Love is the Doctor were staged at the royal court in Jaworów in 1684). Preoccupied by politics and wars, he was at the same time one of the best educated European leaders and had broad intellectual horizons. The permanent habit, developed over the years, to have contact with books (which was not common among the Polish nobility and magnates of the 17th century) transformed into a passion for reading, which, combined with a constant hunger for knowledge, resulted in Sobieski's impressive erudition, admired by many, even by the scholars of his times (e.g. Leibniz). The royal intellectual library, constantly increased, was used by the King on a daily basis and it was never a mock-up in his residencies in Wilanów or Żółkiew. Philip Dupont, an engineer and artillery officer at Jan III's court, wrote in his memoirs that "never had a person of similar descent like him [i.e. a king] read so much as him and benefited so much from reading." Devouring books was the easier for Sobieski that he fluently spoke foreign languages: Latin, German, French and Italian, and after the turned 50 years old, he took up learning Spanish. He was equally communicative in Turkish and Tatar languages, and he bewildered Austrians and Germans after the Battle of Vienna, when he started talking to the more prominent captives of the combated Vizier.
"Admires flowers" – this is obviously an allusion to Sobieski's fondness of the countryside, him being the most Polish of the monarchs of the 17th and 18th centuries. He hated the etiquette in favour of the simplicity of life of a simple nobleman perceived as a thrifty and provident landowner. He did not like to stay in his Warsaw residencies (especially at the Royal Castle) and he escaped from urban tumult to the seclusion of Wilanów or his private estates in Red Rus. There, he enjoyed the duties of a gardener, bee keeper, huntsman or the breeder of fish, dogs and horses. He built mansions and created parks, where he himself planted trees and bushes, in Jaworów, Wysocko (where lines of very tall trees survived until appr. 1950) and the new residence in Wilanów. However, he did not abstain from feasts or from good food and drinks, and he did not spare money on professional cooks and confectioners. He liked to entertain himself by listening to the music (French, Russian and Jewish) and the jokes of the court jester Winnicki, and by playing cards. He also enjoyed meetings with casual people, during which he usually remained unrecognised and was treated as "one of us," and found out about the joys, sorrows, dreams and grievances of his subjects. Accounts of such meetings have survived to this day in vivid anecdotes.
"Scolds like thunder" – the poet's words are not at all a Baroque apotheosis of Sobieski as Jupiter, the god of thunder. Being of gentle and very kind nature, the King also had exuberant temperament. He was moody and often became impetuous and violent, and his attacks of fury and anger could be awful. His company, shivering with fear, impatiently waited for the King to calm down; this is one of the reasons why Sobieski was treated with both fear and respect by his army. His "humours" manifested themselves long before he took to the throne; it was not without reason that Duke Bogusław Radziwiłł wrote in 1665 to his fiancée Anna Maria that Mrs Zamoyski "will have the most moody husband in Poland." At the same time Jan III was sensitive to injustice and had a great sense of fairness.
How did Sobieski "surprise his audience?" He did surprise them, and mightily so, when after King Michał's death and his own victory in the battle of Khotyn, he was not at all eager to accept the crown that was offered to him. In fact, it was not the first time he refused the crown: he did not want to take it in 1668, when he was de facto stronger than Jan Kazimierz, who was preparing for abdication at that moment, or in 1670, when he could well conduct a coup d'etat in Warsaw and knock down young Wiśniowiecki. He just simply ignored the two opportunities, to the disadvantage of both himself and Poland. Frenchmen staying at the Warsaw court agreed that Sobieski, "languid" and "indecisive," did not take on the chase for the crown.
Instead, it was intentionally taken on by Marie Casimire, the great and only love of his life ("he is in love with his wife"), recently fully rehabilitated by the historian Michał Komaszyński. Sobieski's youthful Parisian flirtations or his later casual (and not at all so rare) love affairs with, for example, Cherkessk or Vlach women in the Pielaskowice baths (for which Marysieńka rebuked him jokingly) stopped counting the moment the couple made the Carmelite vows before the altar of a Warsaw church on Saint John's day in 1661. Sobieski, who at that time was Jaworów Starosta (senior), promised never to marry another woman, and he kept his promise. As the historian Jerzy Besala noted: "the life of Jan Sobieski and Marie Casimire d'Arquien was indeed a great mutual love, comparable perhaps to Zygmunt August's love of Barbara Radziwiłłówna". Their love is forever recorded in their letters to each other, first as lovers and then as husband and wife, a true pearl of the 17th century stylistics that occupies an important place among Polish epistolography.
"Asian luxury" was omnipresent at Sobieski's court, since Orientalism had become a part of Sarmatism. The fashion for Turkish goods developed in Poland especially after the Vienna victory. Following into the King's footsteps, the nobility wore Eastern caftans with golden buttons, loops and buckles, and Persian or Turkish silk belts, and shaved their heads high, Eastern style. They liked in particular golden and silver cloths, which were manufactured in Poland on a masterful level. Sobieski loved Eastern weapons and harness, which he passionately collected. He was the one who popularised the fashion for corazzina armour by his passion for wearing this kind of armour, and the goldsmiths hired by him (e.g. the Armenian Bedros Zachariaszowicz) remade and ornamented Western armour into the Oriental style. The king used to slip – as the Italian traveller Figgiuoli reported – on a bed he had received from the Persian Shah, worth 6 thousand ducats; it was ornamented with a canopy made of gold, pearls and precious stones.
Jan III, always wore Polish clothes, casual on normal days, but on bigger occasions, he would dress up with fabulous splendour. The French traveller L’Arbe, when he was staying at the Sobieskis' court, evaluated royal garments during the audience attended by him at 200,000 thalers and described it in the following way:
[The King] was wearing a caftan made of golden brocade, with a diamond belt, a sable overcoat with a diamond buckle and a sable hat with precious stones, a preciously decorated sabre at his side and a pickaxe in his hand.
During particularly solemn celebrations, the main hero's outfit was beyond any comparison. For example, when he was entering Krakow on the occasion of his crowning, Sobieski was wearing (according to an account of an eyewitness):
a blue furred cloak interwoven with gold and silver, lined with sable fur, a crimson caftan interwoven with gold and decorated with diamond buttons and a diamond and carbuncle buckle, so big the like of which you will not find in Europe. His calpac had a diamond bow and three pearls of exceptional size, and a few black heron feathers sticking out of the pearls.
On another occasion, when he was passing the town of Racibórz on his way to besieged Vienna, Jan III was depicted ad vivum by a Silesian chronicler:
The King is stout and looks splendid. He was wearing a blue caftan embroidered with a golden thread and a blue ribbon on it. A wonderful priceless diamond star was hanging from the ribbon on the King's left-hand side. On top of the caftan, he was wearing a dark brown overcoat made of beautiful Dutch fabric and a star made completely of pearls the size of large peas was fastened to it, also on the King's left-hand side. On his right-hand side was hanging a huge winding golden chain with a small gold case attached to it. His head was covered with a beautiful crimson sable hat, which the king took off every now and again.
During the battle, the monarch was sitting on a beautiful Arabian horse and wearing "a white caftan of Chinese silk and dark blue overcoat, and a calpac with a heron feather fastened with a diamond pin”.
However, Sobieski's fancy for such splendours (not in the least blameworthy) went hand in hand with his darker and less praiseworthy side of his nature – his greed and meanness, which increased with age. The Irish physician and historian, Bernard O’Connor, who was staying at the Polish royal court and was familiar with Polish affairs, claimed that Jan III had been for many years depositing 500,000 Polish zlotys in his private treasury. It was not a secret that he hated depleting those funds, even for the dowry of his beloved daughter Teresa Kunegunda. On the other hand, it should be noted that the King never stinted money on the country's defence; he spent large amounts from his private funds to maintain the irregularly paid army (for example, in 1683, he spent appr. half a million Polish zlotys).
"Parisian manners" accompanied Sobieski ever since his return from Paris in the summer of 1648. As a young sub-colonel, famous for his bravery, having a captivating appearance and manners, courtly, witty, with a good sense of humour, he easily became the favourite of Warsaw's social circles. He frequently visited the court of Jan Kazimierz and Maria Louise as well as the capital's magnate courts and attended all the parties organised there. He was considered a very desirable and attractive candidate for a husband, so ladies did not spare his their favours and signs of liking him, which he freely took advantage of.
And what did the hero in a "helmet in roses and laurel in crown" look like?
Tall, of impressive dignity and magnificent, majestic posture. Rev. François des Stigmates (1688–1689) wrote in his account of a trip to Poland:
He is one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen: tall, well-built and obese; obesity is a typical feature of many Poles; he has white facial complexion and red cheeks; eyes beautifully set, eagle's nose, graceful mouth and healthy teeth.
Nearly an age later, rev. Gabriel François de Coyer wrote an equally favourable description of Sobieski (1761):
He was forty-five years of age and if one could win a throne for his beautiful posture, Sobieski certainly would. Tall, with a round face and regular facial features, eagle's nose, eyes full of fire, noble and open physiognomy – in fact, he was beautiful. He was not yet so obese as he later became, which deprived him of much of his charm; he was only stout, like a healthy man should, and it made him look good in Polish clothes. The majestic posture that court flatterers added to all the rulers was given to Jan III by nature.
The above glittering image of Sobieski certainly seems incomplete and one-sided. It lacks other vast areas of activity that would demonstrate the King's talents, interests and attributes. It is worth at least mentioning his substantial cultural and artistic sponsorship, contacts with the most eminent European scholars or exceptional literary talents that promoted Jan III as a master of Baroque love literature. It is not popularly known that the Polish King, who was knowledgeable about geography and not much less about architecture, was also a quite good drawer (one of his drawings is kept at St. Florian's church in Austria); he was also planning to create at his court and art university and at the same time an academy-society of artists.
Looking through the prism of ages at the successes and failures as well as the behaviour and personality of the most Polish of all the monarchs on the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, one must remember that the King suffered for most of his life from various painful diseases, the source of which was syphilis, incurable at that time, a common illness among the 17th century noblemen and magnates, both in Poland and in Europe. The death that took Sobieski by surprise on 17 June 1696 was in fact liberating for him, as, according to Leszek Sługocki, the King's organism was in a catastrophic condition and "all the organs below his head were in a state of decomposition." The face of the dead king was decaying too fast, so it was covered with an artificial mask with glass eyes and fake moustache, so that the monarch's body could be displayed in an open coffin in public. The mystification was so perfect that it remained undiscovered both then and on 15 May 1733 (when the king's body was once again exposed in public), and in 1783 (when his remnants were moved from the old coffin to a new sarcophagus founded by King Stanisław August).
Even though the fate of the royal remnants confirms the maxim that dates back to the times of Thomas à Kempis: Sic transit gloria mundi, but the memory of Jan III Sobieski survives today in Poland and in Europe, because the Battle of Vienna is deeply rooted in the historical awareness of many nations.
That memory and the subsequent glorification of the Sarmatian Mars could not but be adequately reflected in literature and poetry, and most importantly in art – not only in the epoch of Baroque but also in the following two centuries: 18th and 19th. Thus, as can be imagined, Sobieski's iconography exists in almost every field of plastic arts: painting, drawing, engravings, sculpture, numismatics, and artistic crafts, and the actual number of all the objects created in Poland and in Europe was hard to count, and it still is so – countable but so far uncounted. Even though the cataclysms that devastated the world, in particular the two wars in the 20th century, undoubtedly reduced the royal iconography, the number of surviving monuments is all the same impressive.
Unfortunately, it is hard to determine now which of Jan III's surviving portraits, both painted and drawn, were made from nature, unless this is confirmed by a relevant note on the work or on its back. Even engravings are not helpful here, as none of the known 17th century engravings recording (mostly lost) models of the epoch contains the ad vivum pinxit or ad vivum delineavit note in the pressmark. This kind of images, painted directly from a model, are the most precious and the most rare. We are thus left with speculations and hypotheses that are hard to verify due to lack or sources or of the work (drawing or painting), as is the case with two lost painting made by Daniel Schultz, the Gdansk painter, whom the King knew personally. It is reported that the two portraits of Sobieski were at the Gdansk City Hall and in the Royal Chapel, respectively. Due to the fact that Sobieski frequently stayed in Gdansk and was very popular there, it seems certain that the artist portrayed him on the spot, which makes the loss of the above two pieces of art particularly painful for Sobieski's iconography.
Nonetheless, we do have one depiction of Jan III that is unquestionably authentic. It was most certainly drawn from the model by an anonymous Dutch artist before 1692. It is a quill drawing from the collections of King Stanisław August Poniatowski, bearing a note made by the King with a quill: Dessein, apparement destine pour la peinture / ou la gravure d’un portrait du Roy Jean Sobieski. Notes made with a quill in Dutch language concern the colour of clothes and appearance of the model (the final line of the note, translated into English, says: "in these clothes, he is obese, too"). The author of this interesting sketch for a painting or engraving as well as the circumstances of its creation are not known (did Stanislaw August know only so little about it?), but there are no proofs that it was ever used in painting or engravings. The drawing presenting Jan III to below his hips, wearing Polish garments and with the Order of the Holy Spirit on a ribbon, represents a decent artistic level, or else it would not be included in Poniatowski's collection.
On the other hand, engravings, especially those created during Jan III's life or soon after his death, immortalised, as was mentioned above, many of the lost or damaged over the ages works of art that propagated in the first place the monarch's military fame. Cheaper than painting, mobile and easy to disseminate, it was ideal for this kind of purposes, especially that Sobieski, unlike his crowned predecessor Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, had substantial funds. Accordingly, he maintained higher standards at the court and generously remunerated the best foreign artists (such as Romeyn de Hooghe), especially during the first and most ambitious period of his sponsorship.
In 1987, I undertook the effort of collecting, arranging and analysing Sobieski's engravings of only the 17th and 18th centuries. The effect was nearly 200 prints solely form Polish collections, including a dozen or so known to me only from literature. 20 years later, the overall number of items did not increase substantially, even though a few prints previously unknown to Polish researchers were discovered. It does not mean that the list of engravings associated with III is final. It is likely to grow significantly once the European engraving centres and libraries (i.e. engravings and old prints offices) have been explored, especially those in Austria and Germany, where many a sobiescianum may be found.
The characteristics of engraved depictions of Jan III Sobieski should begin with a comment on the disproportion between the iconography of him as the Hetman and as the King. In fact, we know only one image presenting him as the Grand Hetman of the Crown. It is the Parisian copperplate of Nicolas de Larmessin I (item 73), which, although it was made shortly after the battle of Khotyn, is detached from the Polish reality, which makes it not very reliable, both due to little similarity to the model and details of what was conventionally regarded as Polish garments.
What is also noteworthy is the fact that the entire iconography (not only engravings) lacks images of Sobieski in his official crowning garments, either in a standing or sitting "in majesty" position; it is probably a negative effect of Sobieski postponing the ceremony for nearly two years (he was elected on 21 May 1674 and crowned on 2 February 1676). According to Wojciech Fijałkowski, the ceremony is referred to only in two majestic depictions of Jan III and Marie Casimire by Jan Tricius (1676) and two representations of the royal couple on horseback (pendants) painted after 1685 by an anonymous court artist (all at the Museum of King Jan III's Palace at Wilanów), but they too are not crowning portraits sensu stricto.
The most numerous group of engravings constitute portraits of Jan III in armour (72 items). This is due not only to the need to emphasise the fact that the Polish King was first of all a true rex armatus, but also a ruler having certain specific features of an ideal monarch. Since the Antiquity, armour had symbolised the virtue (virtus) understood as bravery and each emperor was believed to be its personification. Sobieski was most often portrayed in corazzina and full knight's armour, less frequently in munition armour, rarely in mail helmet and armour and never in Hussar armour. There are also images of antiquated armour with lion's heads and gorgons (the symbols of virtus heroica – the heroic virtue and invincibility) and the accompanying quasi-Antiqe paludamentum.
Engravings in this group are characterised by major differences in their artistic level. The most numerous are images of the King in corazzina and plate armour, in more or less balanced proportions; portraits in antiquated armour and mail armour are in minority. One of the earliest depictions of Jan III in corazzina was a small copperplate published in 1676 in Königsberg as an illustration to Mikołaj Chwałkowski's print Regni Poloniae Ius Publicum. The engraver (probably local) is not known, the same as the possible author of the model – drawing or painting. The awkwardness of this work disqualified it as a model for copying, but the fact is that foreign engravers often used engravings created in Poland. This was the case with the copperplate made by Isaak Saal in Gdansk, in 1679 based on his own ad vivum drawing or perhaps based on a painting by Daniel Schultz. The engraving was used twice by Peter Schenk I when he was making the King's mezzotint portraits in appr. 1680 and after 1683. Jan III's countenance that Saal presented as relatively elongated and thin with small, as if puffy eyes, was arbitrarily modified by Schenk in one of his mezzotints making it shorter and much wider, as a result of which the proportions changed negatively and the face looked dangerously round. The third interesting example of the Polish engraving school is a copperplate by Aleksander Tarasewicz (1680) characterised by an original and in fact unique concept of transforming all the elements of a coat of arms into three-dimensional sculptures and combining them with a royal portrait into an organic whole 9).
Particularly noteworthy is a set of six engravings (four mezzotints and two copperplates) created in London in the early 1680s. They most probably duplicated – with minor deviations – a single painted original. These are the works of, respectively: an anonymous English engraver at Edward Copper's workshop, François (Francis) Place, Paul von Somer (Someren) II (2 different mezzotints), Frederick Hendrick van Hove (van der Hooven) and Robert White. They are noteworthy not only because they are rare, but also because they contain a strong Oriental element, visible in particular in the luxury of royal garments: pyramidal or round fur hats richly decorated with strings of pearls, expensive brooches or aigrettes, or precious elongated buckles fastening thedelia coat. Such details as the fluffiness of fur or feathers, or light reflexes on the armour and jewels that looked as if they were real, were best registered by the “black art”, namely the mezzotint, which makes the engravings so eye-catching. Among the changing elements and arrangement of garments, often being a mirror image, one (apart from the corazzina, of course) is invariably repeated, as if an identifying detail. It is the horizontal diamond buckle that fastens a coat on the left or right arm. The above London engravings were perhaps based on a painting (perhaps surviving?) similar to the canvas from the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich (b. Baw. Inventory no. 7551/6664) and the National Museum in Warsaw 190898).
Among other representations of the King in corazzine, it is worth mentioning a copperplate by Barthollomäus Kilian the Younger according to a drawing by Adriaen Bloem presenting Sobieski's bust of an almost natural size; burins of various thickness were used: the thinner for the face, which was treated in a soft painting manner and gently lit with dispersed light. This great engraving is copied as a mirror image in a German copperplate of a poor quality. The copy looks different and at the bottom it has an added five-field escutcheon, where the anonymous artist placed – alongside the White Eagle and the Lithuanian Pahonia – the Waza Sheaf instead of the Sobieski Janina. It is hard to determine whether the two coats of arms were replaced because of the author's ignorance or his carelessness.
Sobieski's iconography also includes the corazzina armour (and cuirass) with overlapping large flat wings of the pauldrons. As Janina Ruszczycówna noted, they cannot be found among the surviving corrazzinas, and she rightly claimed that their representation in engraved work "may be considered as individual interpretation of an engraver not familiar with Polish customs." Jacques Blondeau's copperplate that illustrated this type of armour, copied at Giovanni Giacomo de’ Rossi's engraving workshop in Rome (1696-1697), with a characteristic diagonal light reflex on the royal armour, became a model for other Italian engravers: Niccolò Billy the Elder (mirror image, post 1696–1697) and two anonymous artists who worked at more or less the same time. We can find a similar corazzina cuirass on Jan III's full portrait engraved by Robert Bonnart in Paris according to his own drawing (post 17 June 1696).
Equally interesting are Jan III's portraits in plate armour, often very decorative – gilded, covered with matt ornaments and making use of rivet heads and brass strips as decorative elements. Among the domestic engravings, the first is the matchless and rare copperplate by Aleksander Tarasewicz from 1680, of exceptionally beautiful composition and masterfully made. It is original in that it presents Sobieski as the Knight of the Holy Spirit, additionally distinguished by a radiant glow that the symbolic dove spreads above his head. Such concept corresponds to the poetry presented below in the cartouche. Tarasewicz's work was beyond comparison, also in the 18th century, which is proven for example by the poor anonymous woodcut made in Krakow in 1737 that presents the king in full armour sitting on the throne, with the attributes of power.
Engravings by foreign artists are usually more numerous and on a higher level, even though technical correctness does not always guarantee similarity of the monarch's features. Such engravings, characterised by decorativeness and representativeness, sometimes fail as iconographic sources, as Sobieski's countenance presented by them – despite bushy moustache and eyebrows – has little to do with what he actually looked like. This is for example the case with the following copperplates: anonymous Parisian, by Nicolas Arnoult, by Jean Frosne or by Michel Joran. On the other hand, there are some excellent engravings, too, like the copperplate made by Johann (Jean) Hainzelman according to his own drawing and copied at his workshop in Paris. The engraving, made in three versions and marked with different publishing addresses, was once again repeated, probably by the author himself, in a smaller mirror image and by an anonymous London engraver. It is also worth mentioning the magnificent engraving by Peter Stevens II copied in Amsterdam and in particular the masterful work of Benoît Farjat based on a painting by Henri Gascar, where the Sobieski family is gathered around the image of the King, who attends the ceremonial scene only in effigie.
Antiquated armour is also presented on the magnificent copperplate (so-called large version) made in Warsaw by Karol de La Haye according to a painting by Jerzy Eleuter Szymonowicz Siemiginowski, which is a reliable work as it is a "first hand" record of the facial feature of the "Sarmatian Mars". The engraving was repeated twice in around 1692, first by La Haye as a smaller version and then by J. Andreas Scharffen as a mirror image and using a different technique (mezzotint). In around 1707 it was remade as a woodcut by Antoni Swach, who added a closed crown on Sobieski's head. Some of the above engravings present a drawing of the White Crown on a fold of the leopard coat, with or without crown. Derivative works of the abovementioned large version of La Haye's copperplate are reduced engravings made in the 18th century by Pierre Chenu, Gottlieb Leberecht Crusius and an anonymous Dutch engraver.
So far, the only representation of Jan III in mail armour is the rare copperplate by Jeremias Winckler.
Another kind of royal representations are portraits in Polish garments. The King would never wear any other clothes – as the only one of the elective monarchs. Paradoxically, however, these portraits were not created in the Commonwealth; all the known engravings are of French, Dutch or German, or in a few cases Italian or Swedish – but none are Polish. Moreover, these engravings are usually small in size and their prototypes (paintings or drawings) are unidentifiable.
Strongly Oriental and fascinatingly exotic for Western Europe, Polish garments (whose basic feature was combination of a caftan and delia coat) were presented in engravings in many different ways – from conventional (such as the portraits of Sobieski as Hetman and King, respectively, by Nicolas de Larmessin I) to realistic forms (e.g. King's full portrait engraved in copper by an anonymous German artist). It cannot be disregarded that among foreign artists, there are virtually no outstanding individuals, the only exceptions being Jacob Gole, who made Sobieski's mezzotint portrait in a peculiar crown put on a calpac with an aigrette and the obligatory caftan with loops and Peter Schenk I – the author of another mezzotint which is a relatively early and not very successful portrait of Jan III.
Nonetheless, there exist two interesting and rare engravings: a mezzotint by the Londoner Richard Tompson and a large mezzotint (a bust of nearly natural size) of Madeleine Masson, which particularly effectively present such details as floral ornaments of the caftan, fluffy fur of the delia coat, light reflections on the jewels on buttons and the horizontal buckle.
The above group of engravings contains another type of portraits that present Sobieski – usually his bust – with bare head and in plain or patterned caftan almost always decorated with rows of buttons and loops, and a heavy delia coat with a large ermine collar and fur lining on his arms. The entire surface of the coat is thickly covered with floral ornaments or floral embroidery. The visible, much elongated buckle is in the shape of a chain with fancy links. The ruler is holding a sceptre or a baton in his hand. This type is presented, for example, on the copperplates made by: Johann Jakob Thurneysen, Friedrich Wilhelm Schmuck, Philibert Bouttats, Johann Alexander Bönera, Carl Erik Bergqvist as well as other anonymous engravings.
Other engraved portraits of Sobieski on horseback sensu stricto created outside Poland are not numerous – there are less than 20 of them, and they are not uniform. There are two dominant types of composition among them.
The first stems directly from a very well-known work by Romeyn de Hooghe: Glorification of Jan Sobieski against the background of the Battle of Khotyn (1674). Subsequent engravers – German and Dutch, and one Silesian, with various results imitated the original work by taking the figure of the rider (often as a mirror image) and setting it against the background of a battle scene, landscape with battle or a hillside stripped of greenery (engravings by: Johann Martin Lerch; Johann Jakob Vogl; Gerard Valck; Jan van Luyken; or Johann Tscherning).
The second, more numerous group is associated with an etching created in Romeyn de Hooghe's circle and copied in Peeter Smith's engraving workshop in Amsterdam, presenting Jan III on horseback against the background of the Żurawin camp. The characteristic elements copied in subsequent, quite arbitrary imitations, is the unusual calpac-crown on the rider's head (turned in three-fourths to the left) and the drawing of the horse's head with a long and narrow muzzle. In subsequent imitations, artists turned the King's head, conventionally similar to his facial features, to the right, in a pure profile. The sketch of the calpac-crown also changed. This can be traced on copperplates made by: Peter Stevens II, Jacob Peeters, Johanna Azelta, Michael Heylbroeck and an anonymous German engraver.
The portrait on horseback made by Thomas Hirschmann differs from the above types. There, the King, wearing Polish garments and holding a mace in his hand, is sitting on a large horse against the background of a clouded sky.
Nearly all of Sobieski's portraits on horseback were engraved in the 17th century; in the 18th century, they are much rarer and of poorer artistic quality, and they raise doubts as to whom exactly they present, as is the case for example with Jan Lauwryn Krafft's woodcut from a Parisian collection.
Medallic art, so important for royal iconography and richly represented mainly thanks to Jan Höhn the Younger from Gdansk, was poorly, accidentally and not very interestingly reflected in the engravings of the 17th and 18th centuries. It is only worth mentioning here the copperplate made by Siméon Thomassin in 1696 presenting an enlarged obverse side of Höhn's medal with the King's profile portrait and miniature engraved representations of ceremonial medals (obverse and reverse sides) of the same artist, made by Jan Donnet and issued in 1762 and -1763.
Sobieski's military iconography was the most numerously presented as battle scenes, in the case of engravings limited to a few instances only: Komarno, Khotyn, Vienna and Parkany. This paper focuses only on such images that present Sobieski as the Hetman or King, and it disregards for example the impressive copperplate panoramas of the Battle of Khotyn or the Battle of Vienna by Romeyn de Hooghe (in around 1675 and 1683, respectively), depicted from the bird's eye view and displaying dense masses of people.
This field was definitely dominated by the personality of Romeyn de Hooghe, who, commissioned by Jan III, made his most famous works related to Poland: Expedition against the Tatars (also called the Battle of Komarno) and three versions of Jan Sobieski's Glorification against the background of the Battle of Khotyn. Characteristically, the artist, when presenting the victorious Hetman among staffage, treated him as the monarch – which contradicts the chronology of events – with a crown on his helmet, in a scene of the Battle of Komarno or glorifying him in the dedication inscription on the depiction of the Battle of Khotyn. The above representative compositions were copied on a more modest level and format in the engravings of Jacob von Sandrart, Jan Luyken and Jacobus Harrewijn. Domestic artists tried to match West European engravings, and the effects were not devoid of certain charm, such as Jerzy Eleuter Szymonowicz Siemiginowski's etching based on the artist's own drawing (The Battle of Khotyn), an exceptional and noteworthy example of the work of a peintre-graveur of the Polish Baroque era.
It could be expected that the memorable Vienna Battle would be reflected in a large number of engravings. However, unlike paintings, the 17th and 18th century engravings are disappointing and leave a feeling of insufficiency, both because of the limited number of engravings and their low artistic level. No significant individualities can be found here, the selection of artists is rather mediocre and the originals (paintings or drawings) are not trustworthy. This state of affairs was probably affected by the fact that both Polish and foreign engravers had virtually no access to first-rate paintings, such as for example the Battle of Vienna or the Battle of Esztergom by Marcin Altomonte commissioned by Jan III at the turn of 1694 for the parish church in Żółkiew. Thus, there are very few proper scenes of the battle and the King. Apart from the infallible de Hooghe (a small etching presenting a struggle over the Vizier's bunchuk from the cycle of engravings issued in Amsterdam) and its repetitions – by Jacob Peeters (Johann Jakob Vogl and an anonymous German engraver, we only know a Parisian copperplate copied at the engraving workshop of François Jollain the Elder as a magnificent illustration for the 1684 Almanac, the Padua copperplate by Noël-Robert Cochin and the Augsburg copperplate by Andreas Matthäus Wolfgang, all of them mediocre. All the attempts to interpret this subject, even those taken in the 18th century, were a complete failure, as for example the primitive anonymous copperplate that may have been created in Warsaw in 1717. More ambitious seem two engraved presentations of the Battle of Párkány, one presenting concentrated infantries and cavalries of the Christian and Turkish armies with asymmetrically positioned Charles V of Lorraine and Jan III in the foreground (etching by Johann Ulrich Kraus) and the other – the King's escape from deadly danger, saved by his loyal companion Matczyński and nobleman Czerkas (etching by Andreas Matthäus Wolfgang).
The Battle of Vienna is also associated with quite numerous and almost entirely German engravings that constitute a reliable representation of Leopold I's cold and reluctant attitude towards Jan III. The negative attitude was reflected (also in the literature of that period) in consistent diminishing of Sobieski's role as the chief leader and liberator of the empire and highlighting the role of the Emperor, anxious for his weakened authority. An excellent example of pushing Sobieski to the background, literally and figuratively, is Johann Azelt's copperplate presenting a collective portrait of defenders on horseback. Here, the Polish King, clumsily pushed back into the corner of the composition, behind the back of the proud Habsburg, seems to play the role of a "poor relative" who was refused not only a laurel but also the regiment that was due to him. Jan III was presented somewhat more advantageously in the scenes of his encounters with the Emperor after the Battle of Vienna. The Polish King was depicted either in the company of his eldest son Jakub Ludwik and numerous dignitaries, assisting both parties (anonymous German engraver; Daniel Mikołaj Chodowiecki) or alone with Leopold, usually in an allegorical setting (Giuseppe Mitelli; two anonymous German engravers. In most cases, however, Sobieski was pushed into the shadow and degraded to the role of a supernumerary only, standing with the other allies on the left or right-hand side of Leopold sitting in majesty on the throne, therefore these compositions (e.g. the Dutch copperplate published by Abraham Casteleyn), or Melchior Haffner's near-to-allegory copperplate are in fact an apotheosis of the Habsburg, rather than Jan III.
Another aftermath of the Battle of Vienna were oval portraits of the busts of the defenders of Vienna, arranged decoratively on a single plane, created shortly after the Battle. They were arranged in two different ways: either by regularly positioning the medallions against the background of entangled laurel and palm branches under the two-headed eagle of the House of Habsburg and portraits of the imperial family or Leopold alone (two different copperplates by Thomas Hirschmann) or by grouping them into one or two frieze rows with a bird's eye view depiction of the Battle of Vienna between them (anonymous German engraver; Joachim Wichman). At other times, such small portraits were mechanically arranged into a "chequer", taking little effort to smoothly combine them into an organic whole. In this type of compositions, the dominance of Leopold I is also visible. The artistic level of the above, also German engravings, is nothing but mediocre.
Of a higher quality is royal iconography in allegorical and symbolic scenes, if only for the fact that it includes the masterful engravings of Romeyn de Hooghe (it should be noted here that the contribution of Francis Gratta the Younger, after Anna Treider's assertion traditionally believed to be the author of original drawings, ought to be excluded in the light of recent research by Ewa Czepielowa). There are four of them: Jan III Sobieski's apotheosis on the rim of the Dodecameron Triumphans Joannis III, two versions of Jan III Sobieski's entry to Krakow for the crowning ceremony of 1675 and appr. 1710 and Marcjan Dominik Wołłowicz's Thesis of 1685. The above engravings are some of the most excellent works related to Poland of the Dutch artist, however, they were created only in his imagination (the engraving presenting Sobieski's entry to Krakow for the crowning ceremony was composed before the actual ingression rather than as a reflection of the real event) and have virtually no documentary value.
The same applies to Wołłowicz's Thesis, interesting as a study in the field of apotheosis iconography, but not Sobieski himself, whose idealised appearance denies the passage of time. However, the lack of up-to-dateness and other drawbacks are compensated by the artistry of the composition and virtuosity of technique – properties unattainable to the Polish engravings (and specifically Warsaw and Gdansk engravings) of the mature Baroque.
The splendour and wealth of the means used in the above compositions, regardless of the professionalism of the burin, were manifested in particular in so-called theses or conclusions – usually large engraved leaflets with a religious, allegorical, historical or heraldic engraving in the upper part and a text with the addressee's name in the lower part. Theses – popular especially among university students – were engraved to commemorate an event and a person associated with the event whose favours were sought. An excellent example of a triumphant glorification of Jan III and his eldest son Jakub Ludwik, elaborately framed in symbols and allegories, are the ephemeral, but at the same time high-class copperplates of substantial sizes: The thesis of Andrzej Kuropatnicki by Bartholomäus Kilian II (the Younger) and the Thesis of Urban and Taddeo Barberini by Jacques Blondeau and Arnold van Westerhout. They could be described as Baroque theatra with a peculiar horror vacui of allegorical and symbolic elements serving the glory of the House of Sobieski and fall of the Crescent.
Also noteworthy are two rare allegories of the victory of Vienna: one made by an anonymous German engraver as a composition presenting a tête-à-tête encounter between Jan III Sobieski and Leopold I Habsburg, illustrating the 1684 Almanac and the other – by Paolo Pagani presenting three allies (the Roman and German Emperor, the Polish King and the Duke of Lorraine) symbolically defeating a fettered Turk. Elsewhere, the triumph of the allied victors of Vienna (this time, Habsburg was replaced by the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian II Emanuel) took the original form of a whirling dance (le branle), where historical figures mix with personifications of the provinces liberated from the Turkish oppression (Hungaria, Ukraine, Croatia) and the city-states of Venice. The gathered are dancing at the foot of a tall hill, where the Christian artillery are bombarding the Turks on a battlefield below; this way, the allegorical and symbolic world was combined with the real one. This rare copperplate was made at François Jollain the Senior's workshop as an illustration to the 1688 Almanac.
In this group of compositions, domestic engravers had a more significant share than previously. It is worth mentioning here an anonymous (but above-average) engraving by a Dutch or Gdansk engraver illustrating Reinhold Curick's print Der Stadt Dantzig (published in Amsterdam and Gdansk in 1687 and 1688, respectively), depicting Sobieski as an Emperor ascending on an eagle in the company of an allegory of the Truth and personification of the city of Gdansk, both staying on the Earth. One of the most popular is a large copperplate made in Warsaw by Karola de La Haye presenting an apotheosis of Jan III in the form of the Vienna liberator's portrait on horseback. Whether this engraving is related to a possible (not surviving) drawing by Szymonowicz Siemiginowski or a (surviving) oil painting attributed to the same artist, is still disputed among Polish researchers, who are far from answering the question which work – the painting, drawing or engraving – was the actual prototype of the other (painting – drawing – engraving or perhaps engraving – painting).
The other works of Polish engravers do not reach a comparable level. Three Krakow copperplates by Tobiasz Steckel, associating the person and cult of Saint Hyacinth with the royal House of Sobieski are characterised by too many elements of the composition on a relatively small space and "mobile", or rather naive perspective. These small engravings, even though they show a mediocre picture of the local engraving art are not devoid of certain primitive charm, the same as the anonymous copperplate depicting an apotheosis of Jan III Sobieski, included in Jakub Antoni Mogilnicki's print The Acquired Decree (Lublin, 1701).
The most recent symbolic engraving is the anonymous German copperplate published in 1721, presenting the then fashionable "dialogue of the dead," that is a conversation between Jan III Sobieski and Jan Kazimierz Waza at a table with the royal crown and abbot's garments on it. These attributes symbolise Sobieski's royal dignity and the clerical function of the last Waza as the abbot of the Saint-Germain-des-Près monastery in Paris.
When evaluating the engravings devoted to Jan III Sobieski, it should be noted that the most interesting and artistically the best pieces were created in the last quarter of the 17th century; the next century did not yield equally splendid work. Undoubtedly, this evaluation omits the anchoring of at least some engravings in the royal artistic sponsorship and their analysis in the context of Sobieski's informed patronage. However, not until the issue of the comprehensive royal sponsorship becomes subject to separate research (as was already discussed) will we have a clear picture of not only the creation of a piece of art but also, even more importantly, of the relationship between the King and an artist.
Finally, it should be noted that a quite rich collection of 19th century engravings devoted to Jan III and the entire House of Sobieski is waiting for being analysed. In general, it is disregarded (as second-hand) and undervalued (unjustly), but all in all it is worth taking note of. Even though it is naturally based on previous iconographic sources rather than a live model, it has some substantial achievements, associated mainly with the Polish school.
Translation: Lingua Lab