Joanna Frońska


In the age of concise Internet catalogues and databases created as a part of short-term projects or grants and almost purposefully left as unfinished “open-works,” the book of Katarzyna Płonka-Bałus presents itself as an accomplished result of a thoroughly thought-out and documented project. The Catalogue of Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts and Miniatures in the Princes Czartoryski Library and Museum, Part 1: The Netherlands (15th-16th Centuries) is the result of long-term research conducted by the author, who during the past ten years devoted a book and a series of articles to several manuscripts from the collection.1 Indeed, the catalogue is another step towards a systematic description of the illuminated manuscripts at the Princes Czartoryski Library and Museum, the goal first announced  by the 2001 exhibition “the Puławy Collection of Izabela Czartoryska’s Illuminated Manuscripts” co-organized by the author  and Barbara Miodońska.2

The first overview of the Czartoryski collection by Maria Jarosławiecka-Gąsiorowska was published in the 1934 issue of the Bulletin de la Société Française de Reproduction des Manuscrits à Peintures.3 It played a crucial role in the dissemination of scholarly awareness of the collection internationally, but, as the research on European miniature painting progressed, its specific findings required verification. Płonka-Bałus's new catalogue provides this necessary update  of our knowledge of the Netherlandish manuscripts in the Princes Czartoryski Library and Museum through a comprehensive review of the recent scholarship, verifications  of attributions, affiliations and dates of production of particular manuscripts, and suggests possible further inquires.

The Princes Czartoryski collection of manuscripts, though it cannot be compared to the biggest European collections, is in some respects exceptional. Its beginnings are entangled with the origins of institutional collecting in Poland in the age of Romanticism. The first library was established by Adam Czartoryski in the Blue Palace in Warsaw (and  catalogued ca. 1770), but the core of the collection together with the most valuable illuminated manuscripts  was assembled by his wife, Izabela Flemming Czartoryska, the founder of the Temple of the Sybil (1801) and the Gothic House (1809) in Puławy – the two first museum establishments on Polish lands. Other illuminated manuscripts come from the Poryce collection of Tadeusz Czacki, purchased in 1818, and from subsequent acquisitions by Prince Władysław Czartoryski (1828-94). Today, the Czartoryski Library, along with the Działyński Library in Kórnik (now  the Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences, PAN), is one of only two extant former Polish  aristocratic collections, gathered to form future national institutions. Thus, the collection together with the abundant archive documenting in detail its history and the present catalogue are at the centre of interest not only of art historians, but also of researchers in the history of collecting and museology.

As a group, the illuminated manuscripts produced in the Southern and Northern Netherlands constitute the biggest and the most artistically coherent part of the Czartoryski collection. Hence the unsurprising choice of Katarzyna Płonka-Bałus to start the series of publications devoted to the collection with a catalogue of this portion of the holdings.

The catalogue includes descriptions of sixteen manuscripts presented in chronological order. Eleven of them originated in Flanders (Southern Netherlands) and four in  Holland and Guelders (Northern Netherlands). The entry on one codex, probably copied in Valenciennes and once comprising miniatures attributed to Simon Marmion, has been attached as an annex due to its marginal decoration added in the 16th century in France. All manuscripts are described with exceptional accuracy. Each catalogue entry not only contains the basic information related to their physical characteristics, state of preservation, provenance and decoration, but also — which is not a frequent feature in catalogues of illuminated manuscripts — it enumerates in great detail their text contents  together with a full transcription of relevant rubrics  and incipits. Miniatures, initials and other decorative elements of the page are described with a similar degree of accuracy. The author dedicated, however, slightly less attention to the codicology. Along with such detailed descriptions of pictorial and textual contents, one may wish the author had also  analysed the composition of gatherings and included at least  a brief account of it. Such information would have made it easier for the reader to understand the structure of those manuscripts, which were not preserved in their original and integral state (e.g. MS Czart. 3025 I, from which the leaves with illustrations were cut out, or MS Czart 2945 II whose whole sections of text are missing). Each catalogue entry is accompanied by a series of illustrations reproducing several leaves (or their details). It is the first such extensive publication of the manuscripts from the Czartoryskis’ holdings.

The most interesting section of the catalogue are the comments that follow  the descriptions. In the form of a short essay, the author explains here her opinions regarding  the origin and date of individual manuscripts  or the attributions of their decoration to particular artists or workshops, and makes a short review of the previous scholarship devoted to them. In these sections of the catalogue the author also presents her new hypotheses, observations and discoveries. A few of them deserve our attention.

1 K. Płonka-Bałus, So-called Prayer book of Władysław IV Vasa. Metamorphosis of the Medieval Book of Hours 2945 II in the Czartoryski Library, In: Ars graeca-ars latina. Studies dedicated to professor Anna Różycka-Bryzek, Kraków 2001, pp. 352-64; Eadem, David im Gebet eine aus dem Gebetbuch Karls V herausgeschnittene Miniatur (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. Vind. 1859) in der Czartoryski Bibliothek zu Krakau, In: Kunstchronik, 2004, pp. 445-48; Eadem Vita Christi [et] La Vengeance de Nostre Seigneur Jhesu Christ. Issues concerning the content of style and function of manuscript miniature 2919 in the Czartoryski Library, Kraków 2004; Eadem, Madonna and Child with an Angel. Miniature by the Master of the Dresden Prayer book in the Czartoryski Library, In: Artifex Doctus. Studies dedicated to professor Jerzy Gadomski for the seventieth anniversary of his birthday, Kraków 2007, pp. 91-105.

2 B.B. Miodońska, Katarzyna Płonka-Bałus, The Puławy Collection of Izabela Czartoryska’s Illuminated Manuscripts, Kraków 2001.

3 M. Jarosławiecka-Gąsiorowska, Les principaux manuscrits à peintures de Musée des Princes Cartoryski à Cracovie, In: Bulletin de la Société Française de Reproduction des Manuscrits à Peintures, xviii, Paris 1934.