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Crown Treasury

The exhibition conceptually refers to the historic institution that once existed in the same place, namely the Crown Treasury—a manifest sign of the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Poland and later of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Since the fourteenth century the crown jewels and other insignia of royal power (crowns, scepters, orbs, and the sword Szczerbiec) were kept in the Treasury alongside various other precious objects and exotica, comprising together the official state treasure. The monarch also had a private treasury which held his or her personal insignia, jewels, and display vessels. The holdings of the Crown Treasury were enriched by diplomatic gifts and royal bequests, such as King Sigismund II Augustus’ enormous collection of jewels. Only the king monarch could authorize the removal of individual valuables for special occasions, such as royal coronations and other state ceremonies.

Inventories were taken regularly during so-called inspections. The crown jewels were displayed to the public for the first time in 1792. After the third Partition of Poland in 1795, the Prussians broke into the Treasury emptying it of practically all its contents; several years later they melted down the crown jewels. In light of the loss of the crown jewels and nearly all of the valuables from the Treasury, the present exhibition can only evoke its former splendor. Since 1930, the collection has been systematically enlarged through the acquisition of significant works of art and historic heirlooms, including several surviving objects from the former holdings of the Crown Treasury, headed by Szczerbiec, Poland’s most important historical object.

Symbols of Statehood

Banners and standards are among the most important symbols of the sovereignty of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but they are also among the most fragile. Made of delicate materials, the condition of surviving banners often leaves much to be desired. The oldest preserved original one was made for the coronation of Catherine of Austria, the third wife of King Sigismund II Augustus, which took place in Krakow on July 30, 1553.
One of the most precious relics of the historical Crown Treasury, it was recorded during reviews until the end of its existence. It functioned as an insignia in the state ceremonial (coronations, homages, funerals of rulers). It is characterized by outstanding painting qualities which, considering the unusual scale of the monument, make it one of the most important artistic testimonies of the power of the last Jagiellons.

Trophies and Signs of Military Glory

Wawel Royal Castle holds the most valuable collection of historical artifacts associated with Polish military achievements, primarily from the 16th and 17th century. Among them are extant examples from the Jagiellon and Vasa armories and an important set of arms with a documented provenance, which includes trophies from the Battle of Vienna (1683), as well as arms and armor saved by Tadeusz Czacki in 1796, after the Crown Treasury was looted by the Prussians.

King John III Sobieski’s Decorations of Honor

King John III Sobieski has become a symbol of the military power and glory of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was celebrated for his spectacular victories over the Ottoman Turks, from the Battle of Chocim (Khotyn) to the unforgettable Battle of Vienna in 1683, but he was also known to have been an excellent politician and diplomat, an architect and partner of significant international alliances. He restored the Poland’s standing in Europe and reinforced the state’s internal structures and its defenses, which had been destroyed during the Déluge, a mid-17th century Swedish invasion of the Commonwealth.
In recognition of his authority, as well as his military and diplomatic successes, he was awarded the highest honors by the French king Louis XIV (the mantle of the Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit) and Pope Innocent XI (the sword and the consecrated hat). They are both masterpieces of the European Baroque and the most valuable surviving mementos of one of Poland’s greatest rulers.

Royal Jewels

As a result of dramatic events in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, leading up to its disappearance from the map of Europe in 1795, royal and aristocratic residences were destroyed. Today, their extravagance and diverse adornments are known only from randomly preserved descriptions, inventories, and surviving objects scattered all over the world. Due to successive wars, changing borders, and the perturbations of history, even the grandest families lost wealth and collections built over many generations.In the troubled times of the last two centuries, palaces, manors, townhouses, and even royal tombs were looted. For these reasons surviving Old Polish jewels are primarily ex votos in churches, while museums can boast of only small collections of jewelry. The Wawel Royal Castle collection is one of the largest in Poland and includes such rarities as gold Romanesque jewelry excavated on the site of the ducal and royal residences on Wawel Hill, royal gifts from the 15th and 17th centuries, and several Western European Renaissance and Mannerist masterpieces.

Gold and Silver Treasure

The main narrative element in this room is the collection of tankards and other silver and gold vessels displayed on a period table, which unambiguously but creatively alludes to the row of treasury tables on which valuables were arrayed in the historic Crown Treasury. This, Poland’s most valuable collection of ceremonial sideboard silver, originating from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Gdańsk, Toruń, Vilnius) and from major European goldsmithing centers (Augsburg, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Berlin), evokes the royal opulence of the Commonwealth’s heyday. The exquisite collection of vessels decorated with coins is complemented by a small collection of Polish or Polish-related medals and gold coins, including several exceptional objects. Order stars and medallions which represent Old Polish chivalric orders, had often been bestowed as rewards or gifts. This is one of the most valuable collections of its kind, containing several pieces found nowhere else in the world.

Szczerbiec, the Coronation Sword of the Kings of Poland

Szczerbiec belongs to an elite group of medieval swords representing the highest artistic, historical, and symbolic values. It is the most important witness of almost all coronations of Polish kings from Ladislaus I, byname the Short, in 1320 to Stanislaw August Poniatowski in 1764, during which it had an important ceremonial function. Today, it is Poland’s most precious historical object. In 1928 it entered the Wawel museum collection as one of the few surviving objects from the former Crown Treasury. It returned to its original, historical repository—a Gothic chamber built in the late 14th century, now called the Jadwiga and Jagiello Room.

Collector’s Cabinet

The final room in the Crown Treasury exhibition in the Tower of Sigismund III Vasa. It makes reference to the kunstkamera, or cabinet of curiosities, which undoubtedly existed at Wawel during the reign of this monarch in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. A chessboard given to the king occupies pride of place here, while other exceptional and sometimes exotic objects have been specially arranged in a chessboard pattern.
Among them is an eye-catching silver-gilt figure of a lion with a crown on its head, which served as a stopper for a luxurious vessel, which was not only an ornament for a collector’s cabinet, but could also, when filled with wine, serve as a toasting cup. Such costly and artistic goldsmiths’ creations, in this case from Augsburg, were particularly sought after from the late 16th through the 17th century, while their makers enjoyed well-deserved renown.


Crown Treasury – Acquisitions

Silver casket for writing utensils

Chalice so-called Royal