Traces of Poles from Chicago to Tbilisi
The POLONIKA Institute invites you into the magical world of Tytus Brzozowski, architect and watercolour artist. Our proposal was to create images of twelve world cities, from Chicago to Tbilisi – cities whose history is inextricably linked to the history of Poland and Poles.
This series of paintings for the Institute was a very important voyage for me. I love discovering and getting to know cities, their atmospheres and unique natures. This time I was able to travel the world and get to know places that are significant for me in a completely new way. Uncovering the Polish stories was incredibly satisfying and I learnt a great deal. It was particularly important for me that the idea behind each painting reflected the city’s character, harmoniously intertwined with the sites that matter to Poles. I was looking for the impressions a place can make on us, and I travelled through a range of emotions, from wonder at the scale of a big city, to surprise or nostalgia.
Lviv – churches of four rites and rococo master sculptors
For seven hundred years, regardless of the borders of kingdoms and states, Lviv welcomed inhabitants of different nationalities, religions and languages. It was the crossing point between former trading routes between the Black Sea and the Baltic, and it became home for Rusyns, Poles, Germans, Armenians, Italians, Hungarians, Russians, Jews, Tatars and Karaites. In the early modern period, Lviv was the only city in the world to have cathedrals of three Christian rites: Armenian, Catholic and Greek Catholic. There were also Orthodox churches and synagogues.
Lviv. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
The Latin Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was built thanks to Casimir the Great, who acquired papal consent for its construction. The work took over a hundred years, lasting the whole of the 15th century. The cathedral survived two huge fires that swept through the city in the 16th century and nowadays is the best-preserved local gothic building.
The Armenian Church has an equally rich history. The first Armenian church in Lviv was built in the 14th century in the style of churches found in Armenia and Crimea. The building was gradually redeveloped and extended. In the early 20th century, the then Archbishop of the Armenian Catholic Church, Józef Teodorowicz, undertook to restore the Church’s glory and commissioned Polish artists to design the new interior.
Saint George’s Cathedral of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church also has a very long history. By the 13th century, there was already a chapel and hermitage on St George’s hill. Later a gothic church was built there, which in the 18th century was pulled down for the construction of the current one, in the late Baroque style. The sculptors who designed the church’s interior and façade had ties to the master rococo sculptor of Lviv, Jan Jerzy Pinsel. The group of artisans around him are known in art history for their unique style. Sculptors from Lviv portrayed their figures in movement full of expression.
In terms of the city’s architecture and culture, the 19th century ended with the construction of the City Theatre (today the Lviv National Theatre of Opera and Ballet) on an elegant avenue. The building was officially opened in 1900, with special guests including, among others, Henryk Sienkiewicz and Ignacy Jan Paderewski. In 1894, Henryk Siemiradzki painted the theatre curtain with an allegorical representation of Inspiration, Beauty and Truth, Comedy, Tragedy and Eros. The building was designed by Zygmunt Gorgolewski and still astounds with the beauty of its painted and carved décor.
The Cemetery of the Defenders of Lviv (the Cemetery of the Eaglets of Lviv) was built in the 1920s. It is part of one of the world’s oldest necropolises of the early modern period – the Lychakiv Cemetery. Lviv’s “Campo Santo” for over three thousand Polish so Polish soldiers who died in the Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Bolshevik wars was designed by Rudolf Indruch, an architecture student at Lviv Polytechnic, who himself participated in the battles for Lviv in 1919 and 1920.
St Petersburg – a refuge for engineers and artists
Poles had settled in St Petersburg ever since the city was founded by Peter the Great in the early 18th century. The city guaranteed its residents religious freedoms. When it became the capital of the Russian Empire, it attracted aristocrats and emigrants, businessmen, artists and scientists. It was here that the last king of the Commonwealth of Two Nations, Stanisław August Poniatowski, spent his final months after abdication. Poles were also imprisoned in St Petersburg for patriotic activities, from Tadeusz Kościuszko, to participants in the November and January Uprisings, to activists of the Polish Socialist Party established at the end of the 19th century. Following in the prisoners’ footsteps, their families came to plead for milder sentences and the return of confiscated wealth, increasing the circle of Polish the community.
Saint Petersburg. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
Most Polish families in St Petersburg had ties to the Dominican Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, which is one of the oldest functioning Catholic churches in Russia. It is on the city’s main street, Nevsky Prospekt. Stanisław August Poniatowski, who died in St Petersburg on 12 February 1798, was buried there.
The bascule Palace Bridge in the heart of the city, right next to the Winter Palace, is one of the icons of St Petersburg. It was designed by Andrzej Pszenicki, who was born in Pabianice. This Pole was a graduate of the city’s Institute of Communication Engineers. He won an international competition to build a modern bridge on the site of the former pontoon crossing in 1904, and the bridge itself was built between 1911 and 1916.
Tsar Peter the Great established the Kunstkamera in St Petersburg. The building is in the characteristic style of St Petersburg residences, known as Petrine Baroque. The collections in the Tsars’ Kunstkamera were typical of old cabinets of curiosities. It brought together rare natural specimens, minerals and ethnographic collections. Today it is Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. It houses the scientific collections of many Polish travellers and naturalists, including Benedykt Dybowski. He was sent to Siberia in 1864 for organising the January Uprising in Lithuania. He started his scientific research in exile, including his work on the in exile, including his work on the fauna of Lake Baikal. After exile he travelled to the Kamchatka Peninsula.
St Petersburg’s statue of Alexander Pushkin and the statue of Alexander Mickiewicz in Warsaw – Mickiewicz’s list of ‘Muscovite friends’, whom he addresses in the third part of 'Forefathers’ Eve', also includes Alexander Pushkin. The poets met du during Mickiewicz’s wanderings between St Petersburg, Odessa, Moscow and Crimea (1824-1827). They were united by sincere, almost legendary friendship, poetry and political involvement.
Tbilisi – Georgian hospitality and the builders of the new city
Like St Petersburg, in the nineteenth century Tbilisi became a refuge for Polish exiles and fugitives escaping Tsarist repression in their homeland. Mutual affection between the two nations, arising from a similar sense of patriotism and experience of the fight against the Russian empire, meant that by the end of the nineteenth century there were around twenty thousand Poles living in Tbilisi. Among them was a circle of architects, engineers and artists who came there to make the most of Georgia’s dynamic growth at that time and helped build the new Tbilisi.
Tbilisi. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
The son of a Polish nobleman from Kaunas, Aleksander Szymkiewicz came to Tbilisi in 1885 after his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg. Between 1885 and 1891 he was the municipal architect of Tbilisi. He designed several buildings, including certain stately edifices that have shaped the character of Tbilisi: the Palace of Justice, the National Theatre, the Caucasian Silk Station ) and the Music School of the Russian Musical Society. In 1912 he designed the building of the Bank Szlachecki, which today houses the National Library of the Georgian Parliament.
Aleksander Szymkiewicz also designed a ‘temple to the art of engineering’ – the lower station of the funicular on the Mtatsminda hill, which opened in 1905. This small building, with its air of the Orient and fairy-tales, has two narrow towers like a mosque with minarets.
On Rustaveli Avenue, opposite the parliament, is the Kashveti Church, a Georgian Orthodox Church built in 1910 and dedicated to St George, the patron saint of Georgia. A first church is said to have been built here as early as the fifth century. Inside the current building there is an early twentieth-century iconostasis by Henryk Hryniewski. He was the son of a Polish exile and the co-founder, professor and rector of the Georgian Academy of Fine Arts, which was established in 1922. He studied ancient Georgian architecture and illustrated works of the Georgian literary canon.
A centre of Polish culture in Tbilisi was St Peter and St Paul’s Church, the construction of which was funded by contributions from the faithful in 1877 on the initiative of the Polish priest Father Maksymilian Orłowski. Father Orłowski commissioned the furnishings and decorations from Polish artists – for instance the image of the Virgin Mary with a Child by Wojciech Gerson and a neo-baroque monstrance from the Norblin factory in Warsaw.