29 April 2018 - 30 July 2018


Place ul. Długi Targ 24, 80-828 Gdańsk, POLAND
Organizer Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku / National Museum in Gdańsk
More info

The Portrait in 16th and 17th century Gdańsk is an exhibition which will present the portraits of the people of the city by the Baltic: merchants, clergymen, scholars, members of the city authorities and their families. They present a cross-section of Gdańsk’s society: through a reflection of its hierarchical divisions and the accepted norms. But they can also be seen as a medium that made it possible to create one’s one mythos and manifest the philosophical positions one identified with.
The exhibition will feature portraits produced over the course of two centuries: from the beginning of the 16th until the end of the 17th century, including paintings, drawings, sculpture and medallic art. Altogether, 150 portraits of the people living in Gdańsk at the time, both native Gdańskers and people associated with the city, will be presented. The exhibits include objects that have never been shown in Gdańsk before or have not been recorded in earlier literature on the subject.

The exhibition is divided into two parts: Public Image and Personal Mythos, and opens with portraits that illustrate the beginnings of the genre’s early modern history in Gdańsk. They include, shown for the first time in Poland, a portrait of Gdańsk merchant Heinrich Schwarzwaldt painted circa 1540 by Hans Holbein. The section of the exhibition dedicated to images of representatives of the city authorities will address such topics as the issue of visual propaganda that was about both building up one’s own image and ridiculing one’s political rivals.
Next we will show images of scholars and thinkers, those who worked in Gdańsk at the time and ancient sages quoted by, for example, Johann Hevelius on the frontispieces of his books.
Further on, the portraits of Lutheran clergymen let us see how the portrait concept developed by Lucas Cranach manifested in the images of the followers of Luther and Melanchton and how it changed over time.
The section of the exhibition dedicated to official portraits concludes with portraits of married couples, in line with the then prevalent opinion, that marriage was an institution of primary importance for society and that the spouses should duly play their respective roles.

In the second part of the exhibition, dedicated to personal stories in Gdańsk portraits, we will show objects, miniature portraits and drawings, made to be offered as gifts, tokens of friendship. We will also show portraits which manifest an attachment to Neo-Stoicism and the ensuing attitude towards a life full of uncertainty and threat, and towards an inevitably approaching death.
In their portraits, Gdańskers would often display their personal statements with rhetorical gestures that were clearly understood by the viewers. Rhetoric played an important role in the curriculum of Gdańsk’s Gymnasium school, while in everyday life knowing the symbolism of gestures showed one to be a sophisticated person who knew how the elite were supposed to act. The portraits in this section show Gdańskers who use the language of gestures in order to underscore their virtues, especially honesty, a welcome feature in Early Modern society with its attachment to keeping up appearances and hiding behind masks.
The Gdańsk portraits also display an attachment to the traditional ancient idea of the personality being shaped by the four temperaments. The melancholic personality had a special role here; in the 17th century, melancholy meant that a person was unique, chosen and gifted with a specific sensitivity. This is how the patrician Constance von Holten Schumann is shown in a portrait (by D. Schultz, 1675), which also contains an allusion to her first name. In the Self-Portrait by Andreas Stech (ca. 1675), in turn, we have the artist’s melancholia generosa understood as a source of creative potential.

The exhibition closes with a group of artworks that refer to the theory and practice of the work of a portrait painter in Gdańsk, including Allegory of Art, War and Eternity (1617), a drawing by Hans Krieg that, through the presence of a self-portrait, defines the role of art versus transience and conflict. Herman Han’s painting Allegory of Pride (ca. 1604), in turn, contains an ambivalent judgement on the portrait as a genre of painting in service of conceit and pride.
The exhibition also includes archival documents: the Book of the Guild of Painters and Portraitists, the Commemorative Book of the Guild of Painters and Portraitists, and supplications sent to the Town Council in which portraitist who did not belong to the guild would describe their professional situation. We will also show 17th century posthumous inventories of Gdańsk townspeople, with portraits among the entries.

Place:National Museum in Gdańsk/Green Gat Department, Długi Targ 24, Gdańsk
Date: Preview 28.04.2018; exhibition open 29.04. through 30.07.2018.
Curator: Aleksandra Jaśniewicz