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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » December 30, 2014
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History on Canvas
December 30, 2014   
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A rare 19th-century painting until recently considered lost has gone on show at the Wola District Museum in Warsaw.

Entitled ¦więto Jordanu (Epiphany), the picture was painted in 1836 by Marcin Zaleski (1796-1877), who excelled in panoramic views of Warsaw.

¦więto Jordanu is believed to have been added to a private collection in Russia in the 19th century. Several years ago, a private collector brought it from Russia to Poland and the painting is now part of the collection of the Museum of Warsaw, of which the Wola District Museum is a branch.

Eastern Christians celebrate Epiphany Jan. 19 to commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. The scene painted by Zaleski is set at the foot of the Royal Castle in Warsaw and depicts a double line of Russian soldiers holding flags. They stand on a pier reaching into the Vistula River, guarding a procession of Russian military dignitaries, officials and priests wearing liturgical robes. The procession is headed by Ivan Paskievich, the Viceroy of the Kingdom of Poland, in a field marshal’s uniform. In the bottom part of the picture, Zaleski painted groups of Varsovians standing on the ice-covered river.

Artistic qualities aside, the painting has an interesting historical background. It was painted after the November Uprising (1830-31), an armed rebellion by Poles against the Russian Empire, one of the three powers that partitioned Poland in the 18th century.

The Russians suppressed the uprising and went on to restrict the autonomy of the puppet Kingdom of Poland and invalidated its constitution. Martial law was introduced and the local administration was subjected to the control of the Russian imperial police and military. Polish Roman Catholic churches were converted into Eastern Orthodox churches.

Ostentatious celebrations of Eastern Orthodox religious holidays near the former residence of Polish kings and the Polish parliament in Warsaw were part of Russian propaganda. The czar wanted to show to the local population who was in charge, while by highlighting the importance of the Orthodox Church, the Russians emphasized their political domination.

The Museum of Warsaw collection contains eight original paintings by Zaleski and another 11 pictures once credited to him, but in fact painted in the 19th century by his students and imitators.

¦więto Jordanu is on show at the Wola District Museum until Feb. 1
Wola District Museum, branch of the Warsaw Museum
12 Srebrna St.; Open Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
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