Agata Pietrzak

This drawing is not a reproduction, nor a faithful rendition of shapes. Norwid never copied other artists’ works, but interpreted them in his
own creative way. The figure touched with watercolours came into being following a detailed analysis of the build of the human body and
its muscular system, carried out on the basis of the lithograph that recorded the then state of anatomical knowledge. The observations made
during such analyses served Norwid to give them permanent form in his plastic notes,15 which he referred to as “scraps, bits and pieces” and “intrusive sketches”.16 Another drawing – Study of a male nude seen from the back (fig. 6) – is an example of such small-scale work, which as a free representation registers another stage of artistic reflection on the same human form. Such works, preserved as part of his artistic stock in trade, allow us to trace Norwid’s train of thought. His artistic oeuvre contains many similar studies of human and animal forms. Looking at them, we come to the conclusion that the anatomy of the body, its reflection in motor movements and gestures was what the Artificer found particularly interesting. The drawing mentioned earlier, Study of the figure of Eve from Raphael’s fresco “Original sin”, is also a good illustration of such investigations, while at the same time being an attempt to fathom the technical secrets of the old masterpiece. Norwid built his own works from such “scraps”, putting together various visual borrowings to form a new whole, though he always made this “pictorial alphabet” absolutely clear to the viewer.17

At this point, it seems proper to signal another research problem. As mentioned above, apart from Original Sin, we know about only one etching ascribed to Norwid that is obviously a reproduction. This shows Mary Magdalene kneeling at the feet of lifeless Christ. In fact it is a detail from a graphic reproduction of the painted Pietà by Andrèa del Sarto (1486–1530) from the Galleria Palatina in Florence. The print can be seen in the Album Berliński, now in the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw (cf. fig.7).18 Next to the etching there is a note, written by an unknown hand (not Norwid’s): “Magdalene cut out from Norwid’s etching.” This note persuaded  J. W. Gomulicki to ascribe the work to Norwid.19

Our experience with the erroneous attribution of Consòni’s etching to Norwid makes us cautious in this case too. Saint Mary Magdalene is stylistically just as distant from Norwid’s remaining graphic oeuvre as is Original Sin. In addition, the annotation on the album page does not necessarily refer to the authorship of the etching. It may just as well mean that the graphic that served as the basis of the etching of the saintly woman belonged to the Artificer’s artistic archives or his collection.20 As is known, apart from his own work, Norwid included in the Album Berliński also two drawings by other authors.21 So the album is not a homogeneous work. Gomulicki looked for evidence relating to this work in the preserved correspondence of Norwid. He suspected that

it was perhaps about this etching that Norwid wrote to Vincenzo della Bruna (1804–1870), who taught the Polish artist graphic techniques, but in fact Norwid probably referred to one of his original works in the letter. The artist assures his teacher that he had not given up the idea of etching his own composition – “mia invenzione” – but had introduced some changes in order to make it more lucid. It seems worthwhile to quote this letter in extenso

    Carissimo Signor Della Bruna!22
    Voglio assicurarlo che non ho cambiato il mio progetto di incidere la mia
    invenzione. Io ho principiato di nuovo a dissegniarla e cambiato anche
    qualche cosa per via che sia fatta con tanta pulitezza è possible.
    Suo affettato

The provenience and above all the authorship of the fragment of the etching are intriguing, especially so because St. Mary Magdalene is a rather significant figure in Norwid’s oeuvre. Motifs associated with the story of Mary Magdalene – not only in the Bible, but also in the apocrypha – in Norwid’s writings have been analysed by Dariusz Pniewski24 and Magdalena Kowalska.25

The ultimate confirmation of the thesis that Norwid is not the author of the etching with Mary Magdalene would obviously be the discovery
of a print based on del Sarto’s painting that is identical to the one from which the cutting comes. Unfortunately, so far we have failed in our
searches. By comparing the arrangement of lines in the accessible graphic reproductions of the Pietà di Luco, we have only succeeded in ruling out certain trails. We can only say with certainty that this is not a fragment of etchings by Carlo Lasinio (1791–1794),26 Carl Ernst Hess (1804–1815),27 Pietro Bettelini (ca. 1811),28 Jean Louis Charles Pauquet (1819),29 Giuseppe Mari (1837–1842),30 nor prints published by the Fratelli Giachettis (1826–1829).31 To establish the origin of the cutting we need more searches, but the solution is probably only a matter of time.

As with the two previous cases, there are serious doubts regarding the attribution of the fragment of a lithographic print showing a bird with
a broken wing (fig. 8), which can be seen in the Department of Iconographic Collections. In the above quoted article by Hanna Widacka from
1986, this cutting was given the title An eagle on the rock and was included among Norwid’s works.32 

The fragment of an unrecognised print, tinted with watercolours, also comes from the Norwid archives, acquired together with the collection of Zenon Przesmycki. The lithograph is not signed by its author. It bears no features of a reproductive graphic work, therefore it could be an original composition. However its style does not recall that which is typical of Norwid’s own graphic works. It is more likely that the cutting was one of the motifs that the Artificer collected, than another unique graphic work by him. It is hard to say whether the cutting really inspired the drawing White eagle on the rock (fig. 9)33 which Hanna Widacka seemed to believe when she set the two pieces together.34

Establishing the correct attribution of Original Sin, together perhaps with the confirmation of foreign authorship of the etching Saint Mary
Magdalene, seems all the more important in that it shifts Norwid’s earliest preserved graphic works along the time axis from the 1840s closer to the middle of that century. This means that nothing is known about the first graphic attempts by the Artificer, of which he wrote in a letter to Antoni Zaleski in 1845, “In Florence, where I encountered various obstacles, I occasionally made aqua forti….”35 There are still many unknowns in Cyprian Norwid’s artistic oeuvre, which requires thorough studies – also of only apparently minor, trifling works.

translated by Bogna Piotrowska


The article discusses the wrong attribution of three engravings to Cyprian Kamil Norwid. The author has determined the actual authorship
and origin of Original Sin, an etching previously believed to be a unique copy of an early engraving by Norwid. The engraving Il peccato originale was made by the Italian artist Nicola Consòni and published in 1841 in an album entitled Raccolta delle opere di Raffaello. The author also discusses doubts as to the attribution of the etching St. Mary Magdalene glued into the so-called Berlin Album as well as of Eagle on a Rock, a lithograph. Additionally, the paper reflects on how Norwid used themes from works by old masters as well as from contemporary graphic patterns.

15 Some of them feature the annotation “remember”, see two drawn sketches Studies of hands (ZZI BN inv. no. R.660 – and ZZI BN inv. no. R.661 – [accessed 14.11.2015].

16 Norwid’s own terms from Album ofiarowany Teodorowi Jełowickiemu w 1874 r., k. 3r. (ZZI BN inv. no. AFR.1593 – [accessed 14.11.2015].

17 The phrase “pictorial alphabet” comes from Jerzy Wolff’s article “Dwie wystawy”, Głos Plastyków 1947, no. 12, p. 82. Remarks on the sources of inspiration and artistic motifs used by Norwid in his art were presented in an article by Anna Borowiec, “Grafik-montażysta. O pracach graficznych Cypriana Norwida“, Studia Norwidiana 2009–2010, vol. 27–28, pp. 193–222.
18 MNW inv. no. Rys.Pol. 1843/69.

19 PWsz., vol. 11, pp. 228, 360, ill. 207.
20 Norwid owned valuable drawings in his collection – by Raphael, Federico Barocci, Eustache Le Sueur, even Leonardo da Vinci. Whenever he was short of money, he tried to sell them, or else use them to meet his financial commitments (Z. Trojanowiczowa, Z. Dambek, I. Grzeszczak, Kalendarz życia i twórczości Cypriana Norwida, Poznań 2007, vol. 1, pp. 430–431, vol. 2, pp. 44, 582, 589, 592–593). The authorship of one of Raphael’s drawings was, according to Michalina Zaleska née Dziekońska, confirmed by experts from the Louvre, who wanted to buy it for the their museum (A. Krechowiecki, O Cypryanie Norwidzie. Próba charakterystyki. Przyczynki do obrazu życia i prac poety, na podstawie źródeł rękopiśmiennych, Lwów 1909, p. 217. The authenticity of Leonardo’s drawing raised so many serious doubts that, by 1877, Norwid had failed to sell it (PWsz., vol. 10, pp. 99–100, 224).
21 E. Chlebowska, Cyprian Norwid. Katalog prac plastycznych, vol. 1, Prace w albumach 1, Lublin 2014, p. 54.

22 Letter to Vincenzo della Bruna, before September 1844, PWsz., vol. 11, p. 441.
23 “Dear Signor Della Bruna! I would like to assure you that I have not given up my intention to etch my own idea. I have begun drawing it anew and have also changed some things in a way that have made it as lucid as possible. Yours truly, Norwid.”
24 D. Pniewski, “Religijne poszukiwania Norwida. Postać Marii Magdaleny jako złożone zjawisko kulturowe wpisane w poemat ‘Quidam’”, in: Spotkania w przestrzeni idei – słów – obrazów. Księga pamiątkowa dedykowana prof. dr hab. Zofii Mocarskiej-Tycowej, ed. J. Bielska-Krawczyk, K. Wikliński, S. Kołos, Toruń 2012, pp. 27–34.
25 M. Kowalska, “Norwid wobec Prowansji czasów rzymskich”, Studia Norwidiana 2013, vol.31, pp. 41–70.
26 C. Lasinio, Cristo morto colla Vergine, ed altri Santi, 1791–1794, etching with burin, 36.5 x 28 cm – [accessed 14.11.2015].
27 C.E. Hess, Déposition de croix 1804–1815, etching with burin, 25.3 x 16.5 cm – [accessed 14.11.2015].

28 P. Bettelini after P. Ermini, Compianto sul Cristo morto, after 1811, etching with burin, 42.4 x 62.4 cm – [accessed 14.11.2015].
29 J.L.C. Pauquet, Le Christ au tombeau, 1819, etching, 47 x 29.5 cm – [accessed 14.11.2015].
30 G. Mari, Il deposto di Croce, 1837–1842, etching with burin. 35.5 x 27.7 – [accessed 14.11.2015].
31 Fratelli Giachetti, Opere dei Maestri predecessori, contemporanei, e successori di Raffaello XVoe XVIo Secolo, 1826–1829, etching, 35.3 x 23,2cm – [accessed 14.11.2015].

32 Op.cit., p. 166, ill. 14.
33 White eagle on the rock, ZZI BN inv. no. R.841 – [accessed 14.11.2015].
34 For the sake of accuracy it should be added that the lithograph depicts a falcon rather than an eagle, as indicated by the characteristic shape of its short beak and light-coloured spotted colouration of the body, contrasting with the dark feathers of the wings.
35 Letter to Antoni Zaleski, 24–25 February 1845, PWsz., vol. 8, p. 16.