Hello again! This weekend I took the opportunity to return to Kraków, a city with which I have fallen in love, but this time… with a special reason.
That’s right, the first post I made was about my first visit to Kraków, a city whose culture has made me fall in love. On this occasion, however, it was for a specific reason: a special visit from Barcelona, my home, was enough to go to the precious Czartoryskich Museum. It was a visit that I’d wanted to do for a long time for academic reasons. There I wanted to see Da Vinci’s original Lady and the Ermine (ca. 1490). The reasons go beyond pure art, but let’s start at the beginning.
The Czartoryskich Museum belongs to the most important aristocratic family in Kraków. The Museum is located in the Stare Miasto of Kraków, next to its most famous entrance, the Saint Florian gate. It is the former seat of the Czartoryskich family, which has donated its location for public enjoyment. There one is disconcerting, but at the same time attracting: the play of colors and lighting are typical of a magnificent designer or interior designer.
To begin with, we were welcomed by a whitish lobby that not even a grayish, rain-spoiled sky could color. That hall, white and shiny, serves as the museum’s administrative headquarters for visitors: tickets, a modern looking system for our belongings, toilets… All its brilliance contrasts with its interior. Inside one finds oneself hidden by the darkness, with a spectacular set of illuminations. Moreover, when one enters, one finds the imposing golden keys of the rooms, floating, illuminated, like a relic.
The museum offers, more than a visit to the building, which has been profoundly restored and preserved, the ability to enjoy its magnificent gallery of objects and treasures. So we come to the jewel in the crown. After a multitude of portraits and pictorial works, there is found, sunlit by only two lights in a completely dark room, the original of Da Vinci’s La Dama con l’ermellino.
I have always been fascinated by Da Vinci’s ability to capture the movements of the ermine in his painting, however, it is not what fascinates me most about that painting, but its history in 1945. When Hans Frank, leader of the General Government, the territory of Poland occupied by Germany during World War II, saw that Germany would lose the war, made a very risky decision.
Hans Frank was staying at Wawel Castle, one of the most significant buildings in the city. As a fan of art, he owned thousands and thousands of works, but when he noticed that Germany would lose the war, he decided to pack up his favorite paintings and smuggle them back to his hometown in Reich territory. Among these works stood out, as you can imagine, Da Vinci’s picture. The most spectacular thing happened when the Allies discovered him, and for which he was judged. In addition to the death penalty for his War Crimes, Frank was given 20 years in prison for art theft. From here began a legal battle to return the paintings to their original site; battle that Poland, by the way, won.