Serpentes et dracones. Uwagi o motywach fantastycznych w dekoracji kaplicy Firlejów w Bejscach

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Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL
The Firlejs’ mausoleum in Bejsce occupies an important place among the monuments of the Polish Renaissance. It is thought to be an example of vernacular, provincial, or even naive art, mainly because of the lush and dynamic decoration of the interior. The chapel was founded by the Cracow voivode Mikołaj Firlej, who died in 1600. He was a well-educated man, rich, with a high rank in the state. Probably, he started the construction as early as 1593. The basic work was completed fairly soon, nevertheless the decoration of the interior would be supplemented in the first decade of the seventeenth century. Fantastic hybrids played an essential role in the decoration of the tomb: dragons, serpents growing out of sprouts. Similar motifs in the Renaissance tomb sculpture in Poland were used only occasionally up to then. In Bejsce we are struck by their accumulation and variety. An attempt to establish the genesis of this phenomenon leads us to Ulysses Aldrovandi, an Italian naturalist, polymath, physician, and philosopher. Firlej met him when young during his educational journeys. Owing to his contacts with the Italian, Firlej himself became an eager naturalist. There is some information about his discoveries of prehistoric animals in Kazimierz Dolny, the discoveries he had made together with doctor Marcin Fox, and his learned correspondence with Aldrovandi. We do not know too many details about Firlej’s scientific interests, we do know that Aldrovandi studied the issues related to dragons and serpents. On the basis of his notes his disciples had worked out an enormous encyclopaedic work, in which one book is entitled Serpentum et draconum historiae libri duo. The scholar as much as he could relied on the observation of nature. When he lacked immediate experience, he would draw on the legacy of the ancient naturalist Aristotle or Pliny. Aside to information on natural history, Aldrovandi collected also other things: allegoric and symbolical contents about animals, relying in this respect on early-Christian and medieval literature. Therefore the topic of his works extended beyond what we understand by the natural sciences today and touched upon religion and theology. Aldrovandi’s example makes us aware of the fact that at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the allegorical and symbolical interpretations of fantastic and real animals were still vivid. These contents on the Firlej’s tomb are very clear. The form of the tomb allows us to ascribe dragons and serpents to the symbols of Satan, sin, evil, and death. Such interpretation is also justified in other sources, e.g. literature about the images of the beyond. Dragons and serpents are specific incarnations of devils there. The question of hybrid creatures, such as dragons, were still a subject matter of academic studies at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Therefore it is well justified that the decorations of the Firlejs’ chapel might have been a reflection of the then considerations on natural history or symbolism.
nagrobki renesansowe, nagrobki manierystyczne, rzeźba nagrobna, fundacje Firlejów, Mikołaj Firlej, Ulisses Aldrovandi, Bejsce (woj. świętokrzyskie, pow. kazimierski), smoki, węże, ikonografia chrześcijańska, sztuka sepulkralna, sztuka renesansowa, sztuka manierystyczna, sztuka polska, renaissance tomb monuments, mannerist tomb monuments, tomb sculpture, the Firlejs' foundations, dragons, snakes, Christian iconography, sepulchral art, renaissance art, mannerist art, Polish art
Studia nad sztuką renesansu i baroku, T. V, red. J. Lileyko, I. Rolska-Boruch, Lublin 2004, s. 33-59