Gallery – The Czartoryski Museum




In the January of the 2010, the city of Krakow has lost one of its great tourist attractions and important place to study the art and the history. The Czartoryski [pronuncation: char-to-ri’-ske] Museum was closed down – at least for a couple of long months. The Czartoryski Foundation, which manages the Museum, decided to make a general renovation of the museum buildings and to make serious changes in the present exhibition. The plans are very wide and everybody hope they will be realized in 100%. But there’s also a fear of the future. The present Museum was a very special place in Krakow, run as a branch of the National Museum. The “horror vacui” way of presentation and 19th century style of the exhibition has created a great atmosphere around the collection. We don’t know if this will be recreated as well.


The collection of the Czartoryski Museum covers a lot of fields of art and antique craftsmanship. One could find there European paintings from the 15th to the 19th century with great highlights of the exhibition: “The lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci and “The Landscape with the Good Samaritan” by Rembrandt. Another great part of the collection are miniatures, graphics and prints. There are also ancient sculptures from Greek and Roman times and many examples of fine decorative art from modern times. Many of them are attributed to famous personalities of the European history like: chair from William Shakespeare house or powder flask after Henry VIII, king of England. And also there is the Armoury, with one of the finest collection of Polish, Islamic and European arms.



The family has its roots in Lithuania and was related with king Wladyslaw Jagiello, the same who was victorious at Tanennberg in 1410, though it is supposed that the name of the family was taken from the town in Ukrainian Wolyn. This noble family, using the “prince” title, was always very active in public and military life of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The highlight of their political career fall on the second part of the 18th century, when Stanislaw August Poniatowski, son of the Konstancja Czartoryska, was elected for the king of Poland in 1764. Together with Poniatowski family the Czartoryskis created a very strong political party, called “the Family”, with great plans of healing and improving the Polish rules of law, against the malcontents fixed on sarmatian tradition of “golden freedom” rule, which was indeed plunging Poland into a darkness and inevitable fall. This led to the strong political conflict. Enough to say, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was participated by Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1772, 1793 and 1795 and the country was dropped into political oblivion for the next 123 years.



Participated and plundered country faced a very serious danger of losing its national heritage and consciousness of its great history. The hard time revealed great patriots who were fighting for freedom in military or cultural way. One of this persons was Izabela Czartoryska from Flemmings (1746-1835), wife of Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski. This woman always had a great interest in the past. Travelling through the Europe she has always paid great attention to its antiquities and heritage, and was especially fascinated by England, which she visited few times during her life. When Russians destroyed her estate in Pulawy in 1796, she decided to rebuild it and give it a special meaning. She recreated there the “Temple of Sibylla” based on the temple in Tivoli near Rome, where she decided to set the “Pantheon of Great Polish Personalities”, under the motto “The Past for the Future”, that would remind everybody about great Polish history and Polish victories in the history, to keep the faith and spirit in participated nation. Travelling through the Poland she gained many contacts with antiquarians and historians that helped her to collect many objects of art and mementos after great Polish personalities. She also visited Wawel, the Royal Castle in Krakow and other important places trying to rescue everything what was valuable for her “Pantheon” and to prevent further plundering of it by invaders.


All in all in 1801, just few years after Louvre in Paris, she managed to open first Polish public museum (though the definition “museum” was granted later) in Pulawy. There were some great objects after famous Polish commanders, nobles, scholars, queens and kings. She managed to get the collection from Sieniawy estate (belongings to the Sieniawskis family) including collection of fabulous Turkish trophies taken by one of Sieniawskis after the Vienna battle in 1683. There were weapons, decorative arts, paintings, and many other witnesses of the past, silent, but moving everybody’s imagination. Just to mention the few famous objects one could find in the Czartoryski Museum: the Russian standard taken by hetman Zolkiewski during victorious Kluszyn battle in 1610, Turkish banner taken by king John III Sobieski at the Vienna battle, sword after king Stefan Batory given to him by pope Gregorius XIII and other mementos including sabres, kalkan shields, armours etc.


In the second building of the Pulawy estate, called “The Gothic House”, she secured European mementos like: mentioned above – chair brought from William Shakespeare’s house, mementos after famous captain Cook, bought from his sister during one of the Izabela’s trips, leather coat after Oliver Cromwell, hunting water-bottle after French king Francis I, part of the armour set after Albrecht VII of Netherlands (other pieces of the armour are still in Brussels, Belgium) and many objects of art made by famous artists including paintings (by da Vinci, Rafael Santi, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Holbein, Cranach & others) and furnitures.

  Pulawy03Pulawy04 Pulawy09

Overall she collected thousands of objects of the highest quality. And she didn’t have enough. During the Napoleonic wars, she managed to collect some present mementos, including the belongings of the Napoleon I. Many of them survived in Museum up to today.

Of course many objects collected by Izabela Czartoryska were attributed to famous people quite wrongly, with very romantic ideas in mind, instead of historical reasoning or knowledge. One could find objects attributed to even fiction personalities from legends or literature. Some people made jokes of Izabela because of her romantic visions. One of the local officials decided to make a practical joke, donating to her museum pair of old bedroom slippers after his wife, as the mementos after Genghis Khan. Of course Izabela wasn’t such naive, even without proper knowledge she was a great connoisseur of art after all.


The November Uprising against Russia in 1831 brought the end for the museum in Pulawy. The collection was evacuated to other families estates, abroad or hidden against the revenge of tsar Nicolaus I, who was searching for his private revenge on the Czartoryskis. There were some moments where it seemed the collection is lost. When Russians soldiers seized huge library and prints collection from Pulawy, the Polish soldiers set up a military campaign called “the librarian campaign” for rescuing the stolen Polish heritage. Unfortunately some of the objects from the collection remained missing.

The Czartoryskis family created strong political party in Paris, concentrating the whole Polish political emigration and trying to support Polish struggles for the independence from the outside. Part of the family collection also found its place in Paris, but part of it remained in the country, hidden or moved to the Austrian part of Poland”

Soon, in 1835, Izabela Czartoryska died, hopefuly in peace of mind believing that her life achievement is safe and secured.


The ideas of Izabela were continued by her grandson, Wladyslaw Czartoryski. He collected a great variety of objects from ancient sculptures from Roman times up to some 16th and 17th century antiquities. His sister Iza, was a huge help for him in searching and choosing the best possible objects available on the market. He was much more real collector then his grandmother, trying to build a complete collection in each of the branches he was interested in, while his grandmother was focused on single historical objects.

Wladyslaw had the same idea as Izabela – to shed the knowledge and spirit amongst the Poles in participated country. He was bearing in mind the move from Paris to Poland along with the collection considering few places like Lvov or Krakow, that were under Austrian annexed territory. The reason for his choice was very liberal politics of Austrian government towards the Poles, letting to use Polish language, to propagate Polish art, history and the use of Polish national symbols – something what was impossible under Prussia and the more so under Russia rules. After the events of Parisian Commune in 1871, when his collection was again endangered, he finally decided to move to Krakow.


In Krakow, Wladyslaw bought few buildings, including old city arsenal, which were rebuilt and connected together to be able to fit his family collection. The new Czartoryski Museum was open for the public on the 1st December 1876, despite the only small part of the collection was transported until then from Paris and other locations. The ideas of Izabela Czartoryska were alive again.

The museum and the collection was in constant development. The final shape of the museum was obtained around 1900. It is worth of mention that Wladyslaw created a very modern and well organized public museum protected also by the law.

The 1914 and the World War again threatened the collection. Thankfully Krakow was not under heavy fights in those times, but despite it the most valuable paintings were evacuated to Dresden, from where were returned to free and independence Poland in 1918.


The tragedy of 1939 met the museum staff and management ready for the worst. The most precious objects, including paintings by da Vinci and Rafael, were already evacuated in crates to Sieniawia, and hidden in in the cellars of the Czartoryski’s manor. Unfortunately Sieniawia estate became the place hit by the war front line. On 15th September German troops barged into the manor and found the hidden collection. Soldiers opened boxes and scattered all the antiquities around. The Leonardo’s painting has been damaged by the one of the soldiers’ foot. The domestic service gathered to crates what was only possible, trying to save these treasures. Anyway soldiers took “only” golden and silver things, so the most valuable paintings and masterworks were saved so far. On 22 September Augustyn Czartoryski decided to move the collection into another place, knowing that now the Red Army is enclosing to Sieniawa. The collection was transported to Pelkin, but information about it reached Germans. While Soviets were destroying everything on their way, Germans were collecting arts and transporting them to Germany. This fate was shared also by the part of the collection of the Czartoryski Museum. The chosen by the German objects were gathered in the building of the Jagiellonian University Library and then moved to the Reich.

After the war most of the stolen by the Germans objects were revindicated. Not everything. The famous painting by Rafael is missing up to today, and enlisted as one of the greatest Polish war losses. Overall in 1946 the museum staff have enlisted 843 objects as a war loss, including 15 paintings, 12 tapestries, 156 golden works, 64 mementos attributed to royal families, 33 illuminated manuscripts. Some of these objects were found later during next 50 years, around the world.


In 1950 the Czartoryski Museum was included to the National Museum in Krakow. The exhibition was redesign and objects were put under the custody of qualified staff. In 1991, after the collapse of the communism, the private owners could regain their property, taken by the communist state after the war. The Czartoryskis set up the Foundation which managed and run the museum alongside the National Museum as an advisory body. Now, the Foundation is taking the control over the museum, thought it is still under the National Museum’s custody. The future will show how the situation around the museum will develop.

The pictures below presenting the exhibition of the Czartoryski Museum just before the closing it for the renovation works. The Armoury is only one room, but arms and armaments are important part of all rooms in the museum.

The gallery below contains 100 pictures. Please enjoy!

Literature and pictures above:

Muzeum Czartoryskich. Historia i zbiory, red. Z. Zygulski jun., Krakow 1998;

Z. Zygulski jun., Dzieje zbiorow pulawskich. Swiatynia sybilli i dom gotycki, Krakow 2009










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