Date: December 18, 2018 - March 24, 2019
Venue: Room A, B1
Theme: Silesia Rediviva: The Baroque period in Silesia -- Collection of Art and Handicrafts from the National Museum in Wrocław, Poland
Silesia is a historical region of Central Europe located mostly in what is now the southwestern part of Poland, with small parts in the Czech Republic and Germany. Throughout history, a number of regimes became active war players in acquiring stakes and interests. Confrontational relations among regions often drove wars, which made the geopolitics of the area even more complicated. Silesia endured being a critical battlefield for forces fighting against each other over its rich natural resources. Constant turmoil resulted in Silesia's borders and national affiliation having changed over time. From the 9th century up to the 18th century, Silesia had been under the control of Great Moravia, the Duchy of Bohemia, the Kingdom of Poland, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia and so on. Nevertheless, the changes of regimes benefited Silesia to celebrate multi-national exchanges and integration on cultures, arts and, ethnic influences from various channels, sources and, backgrounds.
The characteristics of the Baroque period in Silesia empowered a renascent Silesian society in all aspects of life. The end of the Thirty Years War that was the most brutal and violent conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants in the 17th century, finally brought about not only the religious movement which led to artistic boom, but also initiated social stability and economic recovery. This exhibition is presenting the historical artifacts from the Baroque Silesia in the hope of that they could help you to appreciate both the common life of the people and the creativity of artists.
I.Restructuring the Elite
Frequent changes of governments in Silesia over the centuries prompted the structural change of the elite members who had different family roots and backgrounds. The 17th century was a critical period of time during which the old and the new aristocrats, the religious and the secular institutions, as well as the newly emerged burgher class were all competing for powers and recognition in Silesia.
The Piasts played the role of the actual governors of Silesia since the 10th century when the area was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland. The family was still in power even after Silesia became a part of the Bohemian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire with many of the Piast dukes' privileges and rights remained. However, the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire gradually increased the administrative control over Silesia during and after the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Imperial officials dispatched directly from the court, such as the treasurers, were holding the executive power in implementing policies on behalf of the emperors. They were one of the few influential people in the region. Other notable powerful members of the elite were the Protestant nobility, most of whom came from German speaking areas. As early as during the Fragmentation of Poland (roughly from the 12th to the 14th century), the immigration of German-speaking people had already started in Silesia. In the 16th century, the Protestant community in Silesia expanded as the Reformation continued. More and more Protestant German nobles came to this region for settlement. Alongside the full-fledged prestigious Cistercian Abbey, the clergy in the Catholic Church became eminent within the elite group. After the Thirty Years War, Jesuit sent by the Holy See to various places also gained importance among the elite. Noticeably, struggling to improve their social status under the absolutist rules, the newly risen burgher class however became politically influential through the wealth generated and accumulated from the works they had been undertaking in Silesia's city construction and the economic development process. Objects displayed in this section reflect the elite from this particular period of time.
II. Flourishing of Baroque Art
The Baroque originated from Italy in the mid-16th century, and flourished through the entire 17th century. It arrived in Silesia nearly a century later due to instability caused by wars. Being a primary war zone during the Thirty Years War, Silesia had suffered heavy losses. Cities were sabotaged, most people lived in poverty; and stagnation in social development was holding the cultural recovery back. However, the results of this war provided opportunities for the arrival of the turning point for artistic development in Silesia: firstly, Silesia was once again back under the control of the Catholic Churches. And secondly, Silesia was, geographically, close to two Baroque art centers: Vienna in Austria and Prague in Bohemia — the domains of the Holy Roman Emperors. Being in this location had a significant impact on art in Silesia during the Baroque period. When the Protestant churches were replaced by the Catholic establishments, the reserved, simple-formed art was also substituted by the imaginative, passionate and, flamboyant Baroque art. It was then that the shaded Silesian art stepped into the limelight and flourished. Michael Lucas Leopold Willmann the painter and Matthias Steinl the sculptor were the two great artists who stood out representing the highest achievement of early Baroque art in Silesia. They devoted their lives to the creation of artwork for churches and the public, and have gained worldwide appreciation and recognition by their masterpieces of imagination and artistic inspirations. Therefore, they were the most renowned Baroque figures in the Silesian art history.
III. Rebuilding People's Lives
The Thirty Years War (1618~1648) fought between Catholics and Protestants was driven by religious tensions rooted deeply in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire. It gradually developed into a more general conflict involving most of the European great powers. It was one of the most destructive conflicts in the German speaking area including Silesia. The postwar economic recovery in Silesia provided opportunities for the arrival of the city burgher class. This group of people engaged in all kinds of social activities and skilled occupations. Craftsmen in trade guilds, owners of small businesses, doctors and, government officials were some fine examples. The rapid growth in wealth empowered this newly risen burgher class to play a crucial role in the Baroque era's city development. Hard working and well-to-do, the burgher class valued the importance of education and had active minds. Having realized that common people's lives could be threatened, at any given moment, by catastrophic events, such as plagues, wars, natural or man-made disasters, yet they did not cease performing their professional duties, adding values to society, or celebrating the joy of life, and was always longing to be well remembered. Just as the handicrafts are presented in the exhibition, which are items with excellent skills and showcase the riches and the foot prints of people who produced or possessed them.
Silesia was also taking great pride in these handicrafts representing high-level applied arts. The funerary shields, pewter tankards, silver vessels, welcome cups and, elements of armaments are examples that were famous for, and were exported to both Western and Eastern of Europe. The admiration was the driving power to encourage and inspire the artisans. This is a world created by man to fulfill all his needs — a Baroque world.
The Baroque period of Silesia was a time filled with beauty and yet pain. The pursuit of beliefs and eternity was not restrained by struggles and contradictory in ideology. A yearning for art and aesthetics mingled with heartbreaking suffering from wars. The admiringly enjoyable feelings brought about beautiful things and objects created for artistic purposes inspired artists; meanwhile artists' creativity which sparkled with passion and enthusiasm was appealing dearly to the public. What legacies one could leave to the world is always a proposition for many of us. Once we move our eyes away from the area of Silesia to view the continent of Europe as a whole, to no one's surprise, throughout history wars and conflicts have never been obstacles for social progress. New patterns of international relations in modern Europe could be forming quietly before they are even noticed.