Agata Pietrzak

"I OCCASIONALLY MADE AQUA FORTI..." ON THE ALLEGED UNIQUE PRINTS BY NORWID

The Department of Iconographic Collections at the National Library (ZZI BN) has an etching depicting Eve handing a fig to Adam. Until recently, this etching was erroneously attributed to Norwid (fig. 1).1 The print is a reproduction of Raphael Santi’s composition from the fresco
Original Sin – the second of the four paintings illustrating the story of Adam and Eve that adorn the vaults of the second arcade of the Vatican
Loggias.2 The print is trimmed close to the frames around the depiction of the biblical scene. The imprint of the plate is indiscernible and from
among the original inscriptions, only the signatures have survived. On the left-hand side, below the frame, it is possible to make out the mark of
the author of the original: Raff. Urb. inv., and on the right-hand side the mark of the etcher: N.C.inc. The print comes from the Archive of Zenon
Przesmycki, which found its way to the National Library collection soon after the end of the Second World War. This fact was probably the reason for the serious error in establishing the attribution of the print in 1986 by dr Hanna Widacka.3 Influenced by the provenience of the print and the monogram of the etcher, the researcher saw the etching as a graphic work by Norwid himself, and regarded the print as a unique copy of his work.

Meanwhile even a cursory stylistic analysis of the print raises many doubts as to its attribution, as suggested by Hanna Widacka. In fact, the
researcher herself mentioned a “purely reproductive, contour” character of this work, though she failed to draw any further conclusions from this fact. Indeed, the composition represents all the features typical of nineteenth century graphic reproductions. However, by the same token, it is so distant, so different from the individual style of the remaining etchings by the author of Promethidion, that its otherness should be a cause to wonder. 

The style of Norwid’s graphic work corresponds ideally with the style of his drawings, both as regards the modelling of the figures, characteristic gestures, the type of physiognomy, and the complex ideological programme, which has an elaborate and ambiguous symbolism. With one exception (of which later on), Norwid’s etchings are original works and never straightforward imitations of foreign compositional patterns. This becomes obvious when we look at such prints as There was no room for them in the inn, Dialogue of the dead, A child’s prayer, Echo of a ruins, Scherzo or Solo.4

An interesting fact is that Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki, familiar with both the contents of the Przesmycki archive and the Norwid collection of the National Library, did not include our print in the graphic oeuvre of the artist,which is another reason why Norwid’s authorship should be thoroughly analysed. The etching was not mentioned or reproduced in anthologies of Norwid’s plastic works – neither those compiled by Przesmycki, nor those published after the war by Janina Ruszczycówna.6 Neither was it shown in the first monographic exhibition of the artist’s oeuvre in 1946.7

The main element that puts into question the correctness of Hanna Widacka’s proposition that we are dealing with a work by Norwid is the
etcher’s signature: “N.C.inc.”, which features in the print. Cyprian Norwid used to sign his works with his initials fairly frequently, though he
always put them in the generally accepted order as “C.N.”, never as “N.C.”. Therefore, the signature under the etching suggested that we should look for its author among artists with surnames beginning with a C. Following this obvious trail, painstaking research was undertaken, and as a result it became possible to establish correctly the author of the etching, as well as to discover and acquire for the National Library collection its complete copy (fig. 2). Beyond any doubt, therefore, the author of the etching was the Italian painter Nicola Consòni (1814–1884).8 This, by now forgotten, artist did not leave behind many original works. Among his contemporaries, he was known above all as a “conservator” of works by great masters. 

He worked on inventorying and restoring by then seriously worn out  frescos by Raphael and Perugino in the Capella di San Severo. In the years 1866–1867, he was asked to produce decorations in Pius IX’s loggia in the Vatican. However, this most ambitious work in his entire career was to be in fact a continuation of the paintings produced by Raphael and his pupils. It was then that, following in the great master’s footsteps, he opened his own bottega or studio. He himself painted 24 scenes illustrating the Passion of Jesus, while the rest were done by his collaborators: Alessandro Mantovani, who painted grotesques, and Pietro Galli, who was responsible for stucco ornaments. The etching representing the scene of picking the forbidden fruit was produced in connection with Consòni’s interest in Raphael’s work. It comes from a large cycle of fifty etchings reproducing the works of the Master of Urbino, which were published in 1841 in the form of an album entitled Raccolta delle opere di Raffaello. 9 The size of the composition Original sin included in this publication is the same as the dimensions of the print from Przesmycki’s collection. 

In addition, the signatures are located in exactly the same place in both. The print in the album bears an extra title: Il peccato originale, as well as a top heading: Loggie Vaticane and the number of the plate: T.XVIII. Any comparison of all the details of the two prints makes things certain: these are two copies of the same graphic composition.

Some words are due to another of Norwid’s works associated with the above mentioned etching by Consòni. The work in question is a small
drawing showing Eve in a pose known from Raphael’s composition (fig.3). In her article,10 Widacka regarded it as a preparatory sketch for our
etching. Since we have now attributed the etching correctly, it is only right to say that the drawing is indeed a sketch inspired by the etching Il peccato originale, a print of which was in Norwid’s possession and formed part of his artistic collection. We know many drawings (and graphic prints) by Norwid that feature motifs taken from paintings by Raphael and Michelangelo, as well as by Ribera, Rembrandt and Le Sueur. The graphic print of Consòni’s etching, which the Artificer11 had in his archive, was certainly useful for studies of the model of universal beauty, a kind of canon with its roots in antiquity, the traces of which Norwid tried to discover at all stages of civilizational development. In particular, the art of Raphael and other renaissance masters constituted – according to the author of Quidam

a combination of the ideal of classical beauty and the idea of Christianity.12 It is a known fact that Norwid loved collecting newspaper cuttings
and etchings, and using them in his albums. The prime examples of this specific system of work are three volumes of his Album Orbis, described in detail by Piotr Chlebowski and Anna Borowiec.13 These volumes contain not only original drawings by Norwid, but also press cuttings, reproductions, graphic prints and photographs, often covered with his annotations and tinged with colour by the artist. In a letter to Bogdan Zaleski, Norwid described his “artistic portfolio” as “a collection of motifs comprising the whole course of world civilization from its very beginning – not all of them by my own hand, because this would have been impossible!”14 In the part of Przesmycki’s Norwid Archive to be seen in the Department of Iconographic Collections, there are, next to the print of Consòni’s etching, several dozen other prints coming from various other album publications and newspapers, which served the Artificer as technical models, a store of motifs explored and transformed in accordance with his own ideas. A perfect example is the anatomical sketch (fig. 5) made by Norwid on the basis of a lithograph (fig. 4) he possessed in his collection.


1 ZZI BN inv. no. G.22189. Trimmed print, the size of the composition within frames: 12.1 x 13.9 cm, with inscriptions: 12.4 x 13.9 cm – http://polona.pl/item/391401/0/ [accessed 12.11.2015]. 
2 Note that the latest findings concerning the complicated matter of authorship of the decoration of the Vatican Loggias considerably differ from the state of knowledge available to Norwid and his contemporaries. Nicole Dacos has established that the fresco Original Sin was painted, according to Raphael’s original idea, by his pupils, Pellegrino da Modena and Tommaso Vincidor. Cf. N. Dacos, Rafael w Watykanie, Kraków 2009, pp. 10, 143, plate 104. 

3 H. Widacka, “Grafika Cypriana Norwida”, Studia Norwidiana 1985–1986, vol. 3–4, p. 157 (the same text appeared in a slightly altered form in: H. Widacka, Nieznany Norwid: grafika, Warszawa 1996).

4 Prints from the ZZI BN collection, available in digital form on the CBN Polona page: Il n’y avait point de logement pour eux dans l’hôttelerie [i.e. hôtellerie], inv. no. G.4412 – http://polona.pl/item/391226/0/; Dialogue des morts, Rembrandt Phidias, inv. no. G.4412 – http://polona. pl/item/391289/0/; On n’allume point une chandelle pour la mettre sous un boisseau, inv. no. G4408 – http://polona.pl/item/391286/0/; L’Écho des Ruines, inv. no. G.4418 – http://polona. pl/item/391330/0/; Scherzo, inv. no. G.4422 – http://polona.pl/item/391358/0/; Solo, inv. no. G.4421 – http://polona.pl/item/391365/0/ [accessed 14.11.2015].

5 The etching Original sin was not mentioned by Juliusz W. Gomulicki, who listed in chronological order all known works by Norwid: C. Norwid, Pisma wszystkie, compiled, edited, introduced and provided with critical remarks by J. W. Gomulicki, vol. 11, Warszawa 1976 [hereinafter: PWsz.] and Cyprian Norwid: przewodnik po życiu i twórczości, Warszawa 1976.
6 Cypryana Norwida antologia artystyczna [compiled and with an introduction by Z. Przesmycki], Warszawa 1933; Rysunki i grafika C. K. Norwida, Kraków 1946; Rysunki i grafika K.C. [!] Norwida, Warszawa 1946; Rysunki i grafika Norwida [introductory remarks and captions by
Janina Ruszczycówna], Kraków 1947.
7 Cyprian Norwid. Wystawa w 125. rocznicę urodzin. Katalog, Warszawa 1946.
8 L. Barroero, Consòni, Nicola, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 28 (1983) – www.treccani. it/enciclopedia/nicola-consoni_%28Dizionario-Biografico%29/ [Accessed 16.07.2015]. Consòni, born 1814 at Ceprano Romano, died in 1884 in Rome. He studied at the academy of fine arts in Perugia and in Rome. He worked on the decoration of many Roman churches and other buildings. The mosaics adorning the façade of St. Paul’s Basilica Outside the Walls was produced according to his design. He was also the author of two paintings in this church. Among other projects, he took part in the decoration of the Palazzo Torlonia in Piazza Venezia.

9 Raccolta delle opere di Raffaello disegnate e incise da Niccola Consòni, Roma 1841. ZZI BN inv. no. A.7081.

10 H. Widacka, “Grafika Cypriana Norwida”, Studia Norwidiana 1985–1986, vol. 3–4, p. 157, ill. 3.
11 In Polish sztukmistrz (Lat. artifex), used by Norwid in the sense of a total artist, master of form and technique (editor’s note).

12 “With the Greek artificers, formal contemplation undeniably reached the highest degree – nevertheless Raphael and other leading Christian artists not only equalled these formal ideals, but even most obviously exceeded them. Ancient art never rose to the ideal of the
Holy-Family, where the Child-God, the Virgin-Mother, the Old Man-Angel are shown in the most abject circumstances. However, it does not do to deprecate or to lose that which the ancient workers attained in the formal field, and it is pleasant indeed to note that the tomb
of Beato-Angelico da Fiesole, that most Christian of painters that we know, rightly bears the following inscription: ‘Non mihi sit laudi, quod eram velut alter Apelles, sed quod lucra tuis omnia, Christe, dabam’ etc.”, Norwid explained in a footnote to his poem Quidam, PWsz., vol. 3, p. 185. About the constant presence of ancient motifs and symbols in Christian art, Norwid wrote also in Una picolissima osservazione al Ilustre Autore del “Magnificat delle arti, PWsz., vol. 6, pp. 395–397.
13 P. Chlebowski, Romantyczna silva rerum. O Norwidowym “Albumie Orbis”, Lublin 2009; A. Borowiec, “Album Orbis” Cypriana Norwida jako księga sztukmistrza, Gdańsk 2016.
14 Letter to J. B. Zaleski of July 1872, PWsz., vol. 9, p. 513.