Thursday, July 25, 2013

History and Art

This week has not been terribly exciting, but I've gotten a chance to learn about some finer points of Polish history and culture.  On Monday, I attended the Free Walking Tour of the Old Town.  Although I didn't learn as much as I did on the one through the old Jewish district, I still learned a fact or two, and I appreciated the guide's enthusiasm and spunky commentary.  One thing I learned was that there were certain official "rules" that dictated the layout of medieval cities, especially the main square's specifications.  And although it's not the largest main square in Europe overall, Kraków's is the largest medieval square in Europe.

On Tuesday, I visited some exhibits in the one museum I wished I had seen last year: the main branch of the National Museum in Kraków.  I saw a very cool exhibit of surrealist paintings by a Chilean artist, but the exhibit more pertinent to the theme of this post is the Polish Arms and Armor collection.  This series of galleries takes you through the entire history of what Poles marched into battle carrying and wearing, from about 1000 A.D. until World War II.  I found it really helped me see the big picture of Polish military events.  I even got to dress up as a Hussar (those winged horsemen from the 17th century)!

 Puffer got to play with stuff, too.

I will go back to the museum at some point to see more exhibits, because my ticket is good for two weeks from the date of purchase (the time I have remaining here). 

Today, I didn't travel very far and visited two smaller museums close by in the Old Town.  The first was all about the art of the Young Poland movement of the late 19th century, and the second was about the January Uprising of 1863.  One note before I describe these: during the time period of both these exhibits, Poland didn't really exist as a country.  It was shared among Russia, Prussia/Germany, and Austria. The January Uprising (as near as I can tell) was in rebellion against Russian occupiers.  There was an entire underground movement, including an unofficial government.  Of course, the Poles were not successful in overthrowing their Russian masters, but the Uprising came to be viewed with rosy lenses as time went on, especially after World War I, when Poland really did gain independence.

The Young Poland movement was a sort of awakening of artistic spirit and creativity right at the end of the 1800s.  It was like Poles were finally getting so fed up with being occupied and repressed that creative people just started bursting with ideas.  Influences of Impressionism showed up in art, and artists began making cartoonish drawings of famous people--actors, actresses, professors, and other artists--to express a different perspective on life.  Ah, Polish Bohemians!


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