Nicolaus Copernicus in the Works of Polish Medalists

Nicolaus Copernicus in the Works of Polish Medalists – from the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum Collections

temporary exhibition
Former Bishops’ Palace (Main Building)

The origins of medallic art date back to ancient Greece and Rome, but Italy is considered the homeland of this unique art. Antonio Pisano, a 15th-century Italian painter restored medallic art. Many sculptors, goldsmiths, and painters followed in his footsteps. Already at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, medallic art began to spread into Germany and France and then at the beginning of the 16th century, also into Poland.

The center of the Polish medallic art at the time of its birth and development was Krakow. The earliest Polish medals were elite, commissioned by the royal court. They depicted portraits of the rulers of the Jagiellonian dynasty, crown dignitaries, bishops, and rarely, representatives of the richer patriciate.

With time, the fashion of recording one’s memory for posterity by ordering a medal became more and more widespread. With the development of the medallic art, the subject of the medals changed. The medal became a document of historical events, a kind of souvenir of weddings, birthdays, battles won. It became an element of propaganda, a glorification of the ruler, an increasingly favorite and popular form of a gift.

Nicolaus Copernicus began to be commemorated with medals quite late, in the 18th century, and in Poland at the beginning of the 19th century. Since then, medalists have eagerly placed the image of the great astronomer on their works. The occasions to struck medals were the anniversaries of his birth and death, jubilees of cities, inaugurations of museums or scientific symposia. Nicolaus Copernicus was usually depicted with heliocentric motifs, city panoramas, or a lily of the valley. Over time, some artists departed from the traditional form of a medal as a flat disc and began looking for new forms of expression.

The exhibition „Copernicus in the works of Polish medalists – from the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum collections” presents medals by outstanding Polish medalists active after World War II, who turned to the Copernican theme. At the exhibition, we present medals of outstanding medalists, including: Edward Gorol, Ewa Olszewska-Borys, Bronisław Chromy, Józef Gosławski, Franciszek Habdas, Józef Stasiński, Józef Markiewicz, Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz, Anna Jarnuszkiewicz or Barbara Lis-Romańczuk.

Each of the artists is a great individual, looking for new opportunities to make this small sculpture a field of free creative expression, carrying an emotional charge that acts on the audience. Edward Gorol’s medals refer to the best models of classical art. The works of Ewa Olszewska-Borys are distinguished by their excellent composition and sculptural perfection. In her art, she extracts two or more planes, depth, and space. Bronisław Chromy transformed the flat metal disc into a spatial shape. In the work of Józef Stasiński, sensitive to light and color, the painterly value dominates.

The 548th anniversary of the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus is a golden opportunity to show him in the Polish medallic art, with its diversity, and versatility.

Curator: Marta Jagła