Collecting Central Europe  
  The History of Collecting of Central and Eastern Europe  

National Museum in Gdańsk, Poland



18 October 2021

Franciszek Skibiński (Gdańsk National Museum) The National Museum in Gdańsk: Collection, War Losses, Research, Guided tour to the National Museum in Gdańsk

Recorded guided tour of the museum followed by live q & a session

The National Museum in Gdańsk was established by the merger of two institutions: the City Museum (est. 1870) and the Museum of Applied Arts (est. 1881). The core collection of Jacob Kabrun (1759–1814) comprises several thousand paintings, drawings and prints by European masters from the end of the fifteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. In the first half of the twentieth century the museum further enriched its collection by acquiring works by modern German artists. Since a large part of the original collection was lost in 1945, the National Museum is now rebuilding and developing its collection, while actively researching its history before and after 1945.

The tour will focus on the museum’s history, war losses and acquisitions as well as current research by the curatorial team. It will be hosted by Franciszek Skibiński, PhD, Vice Director of the Museum and Magdalena Mielnik, PhD, head of the Pre-1945 Fine and Applied Arts Department.

Franciszek Skibiński holds a PhD from Utrecht University. He is assistant professor at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland, where he held a position of Vice-dean responsible for scholarly matters and international exchange. Currently, he is  Vice Director for scholarly matters at the National Museum in Gdańsk. In his research he explores the phenomenon of artistic exchange in Early Modern Europe, in particular in relation to sculpture and architecture.

Recently, he published a book Willem van den Blocke. A Sculptor from the Low Countries in the Baltic Region (Brepols, 2020). His other publications include "Early Modern Netherlandish Sculptors in Danzig and East-Central Europe. A study in dissemination through interrelation and workshop practice." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 63 (2013), and "Between Paris, the Low Countries and the Baltic: an episode in the history of artistic exchange in sixteenth-century Europe." In Arts et artistes du Nord a la cour de Francois Ier, eds. Laure Fagnart and Isabelle Lecocq, Paris 2017.

20 July 2021

Orsolya Bubryák (Institute of Art History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Budapest)Hans Steininger (1552–1634) and his ‘studio famosissimo’ in Augsburg

Lecture of ca. 40 minutes followed by discussion

The lecture will be dedicated to the Kunstkammer of Hans Steininger (1552–1634), a wealthy textile merchant of Augsburg. Although less well-known today, the collection was one of the most prestigious collections of its times in Augsburg and mainly comprised paintings and antique statues. Hans Steininger built his collection in the 1610s and 1620s, but it was sold off by his son not long after Steininger’s death, in the 1640s. The high quality of the collection is proven by the fact that pieces from it were purchased by the greatest collectors of the day including Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria, Christina, Queen of Sweden, Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici Among the prospective buyers also was Cardinal Jules Mazarin.

The only item of Steininger’s Kunstkammer known so far was a painting cycle on a mythological theme by Paris Bordone which has long been traced back to the Fugger family and which was believed to be acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria. Some of these paintings have even been identified in the imperial collections of Vienna and Prague. The lecture will argue that Hans Steininger neither owned the paintings associated with him by researchers nor that he acquired them from the Fugger. Neither were the works of Paris Bordone sold by his heir in Vienna nor were they purchased by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. Rather, the presentation will show how Steininger's painting cycle by Paris Bordone can be reconstructed, which of his works of art were acquired by the imperial family and which painting can actually be traced back to the Fugger family.

Orsolya Bubryák, PhD, is an art historian, senior research fellow at the Institute of Art History, Research Center for the Humanities (former Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Budapest, Hungary. She received her doctorate in art history from the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest in 2010. Between 2011 and 2013 she was chief curator of the Art Collection of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Since 2016 she has been editor-in-chief of the Ars Hungarica, scholarly journal published by the Institute of Art History. She is the author of two books: Family History and its Visual Representation. Collections of the Erdődy Castle in Galgóc (2013) [in Hungarian] and Collecting Clues. In Search of an Art Collector in Seventeenth-Century Vienna (2018) [in English]

22 June 2021

Armoury Workshop with
Maurizio Arfaioli (Medici Archive Project, Florence),
Stefan Krause (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna),
Szabolcs László Kozak (ELTE-MTA, Budapest)

Three ten-minute presentations followed by discussion

Maurizio Arfaioli

The Medici Armoury in its European Courtly Context

In 1775, the Lorraine Grand Dukes of Tuscany finally (and regrettably) scattered what was left of the Medici armoury in the Palazzo Ducale (Palazzo Vecchio). It had been equal – and often superior – to any of the other great European dynastic collections of arms and armour. Its formation had however followed a rather unique trajectory. The Medici had become Dukes of Florence as late as in 1532 and as such were a new, late and, in many respects, unwelcome addition to the Italian and European aristocratic system.

As an enclave in a largely republican context, the small and new court of Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574), second duke of Florence and future first Grand Duke of Tuscany, presented itself as more “martial” than most, lacking much of the veneer of ceremony and etiquette that characterised other, well-established Italian princely families. The guardaroba (the office in charge of the ducal household’s moveable goods) handled the flow of weapons and ammunition which sustained the court’s military lifestyle and functions, making of the Palazzo Ducale “slightly less than an arsenal, much more than a personal armoury.” This short presentation will discuss the origins and later development of the Medici armoury.

Maurizio Arfaioli is Senior Research Fellow at the Medici Archive Project (MAP) in Florence, overseeing scholarly research activities involving the Project’s digital platform (BIA). He has published essays and articles on Florentine military history and iconography. In 2019, he curated an exhibition at the Uffizi on the Medici German Guards. Maurizio’s current projects focus on the Florentine military system during the reign of Cosimo I de’ Medici and on the Italian troops in Spanish service in the Low Countries.

Stefan Krause

Heroes and Ancestors – Habsburg Armour Collecting

The Imperial Armoury in Vienna numbers among the best of its kind in the world. It preserves the key parts of the former imperial armoury, i. e. the collection of arms and armour for war, tournament and representation for the personal use of members of the Habsburg family. The two most important sources of the collection are the former imperial armoury in Vienna and the collection of Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol at Ambras Castle near Innsbruck.

The origin of the Habsburg armoury in Vienna can be traced back to the early 15 th century, but the core of this collection dates from the Renaissance. As early as the Middle of 16 th century we have the first archival documents proofing historic armour of family members to be kept in the imperial palace for dynastic reasons. The most important Habsburg armoury in Vienna was housed at the so called Stallburg-Wing of the Palace. At first installed for the personal use of the young Emperor Maximilian II it continued to be used as an armoury with museum-like installation well into the 18th century.

Archduke Ferdinand II. of Tyrol is one of the most important collectors of arms and armour of all times. At Ambras, he realised a very early systematic presentation of objects based on a novel museum idea of methodically collecting. The core of his armour collection was the Heroes’ Armoury with armours that had been owned by famous personalities of his and previous times. He wanted his armoury to preserve the memory of their deeds and to emphasize the leading historical role of the Habsburg dynasty.

Stefan Krause is Ronald S. Lauder Director of the Imperial Armoury at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. He studied Art History at the University of Vienna. In 2010, he was awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 2014, he was Paul Mellon Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

His research focuses on arthistorical and cultural aspects of arms and armour, particularly from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. He has published on the decoration of German renaissance armour, armour as fashion, the history of the Habsburg collections and tournament manuscripts. One of his most recent publications is: Fashion in Steel. The Landsknecht Armour of Wilhelm von Rogendorf (Yale University Press 2017).

Szabolcs László Kozak

Arms and Armour at the Royal Court of Hungary in the Late Middle Ages: Collecting, Exchange and Use

In 1408, Sigismund of Luxemburg (1387–1437) moved his court from Visegrád to Buda castle. Entries from the royal account books tell us that the court employed several weaponsmiths. Precious arms were a symbol of high status and nobility; therefore the Hungarian kings tried to impress their illustrious guests with tournaments, processions and military games. Late mediaeval sources indicate the existence of a royal armoury in the royal palace, destroyed in 1686 during the recapture from the Ottomans. From accounts, testaments and reports of envoys we know about the colour schemes in the rooms and can also indentify some of the objects once stored in the castle.

At the turn of the fifteenth to the sixteenth centuries, Prince Sigismund (then King of Poland) spent a few years in Buda as the guest of his older brother Wladislaus, King of Hungary. His account books provide precise details of the court‘s everyday life, including information on dozens of target shooting games and jousts. The court’s account books also suggest that the tournaments were executed by a handful of professionals during the reign of the Jagellonian dynasty. The kings’ amourers (politors) maintained the equipment for knightly jousts (rennen and stechen).

Szabolcs László Kozak is a mediaevalist historian and PhD student at ELTE University, Budapest and has been working on projects related to mediaeval and renaissance arms and armour at the Hungarian National Museum. In 2020, he started to work at ELKH (ELTE–MTA) as a research assistant.

Szabolcs believes in a comprehensive scientific approach including craftsmen and guilds as well as technical aspects. As part of his ongoing PhD research, he has published on the production of weapons and on civic roles in self-defence and parades,  arsenals and military games (shooting games and jousting) in the most important cities of Transylvania during the late middle ages. Arms and armour are therefore regarded as part of the mediaeval culture uniting practice and fashion.

In his recent work, Szabolcs focuses on the late Royal Armoury of Buda.


18 May 2021

Aistė Bimbirytė–Mackevičienė (Kazys Varnelis House-Museum)

Guided tour to the Kazys Varnelis House-Museum

Recorded guided tour to the museum followed by live discussion

The house-museum of the artist and collector Kazys Varnelis (1917–2010) is reminiscent of a residential house. Its small rooms rich in details of early Gothic architecture contain the exhibits of historical prints, maps and Western European sculptures, supplemented by sets of Renaissance and Baroque furniture and abstract paintings by Varnelis.

Harmony based on contrast makes the entire exhibition extraordinary. Accumulated for fifty years and given to Lithuania, Kazys Varnelis’s collection is a significant contribution to the collections of cultural treasures of Lithuania. It enriches the existing collections and introduces new principles of building an exhibition.

Aistė Bimbirytė-Mackevičienė’s main research focus is on the history of collecting in Lithuania and on the traditions of Lithuanian aristocratic culture with its links to Western Europe. In 2019, she gained her PhD from the Lithuanian Institute for Cultural Research with a thesis on “Count Władysław Tyszkiewicz and Western European Fine Arts in Nineteenth-Century Lithuanian Collections.” In 2016, she joined the Kazys Varnelis House-Museum (the National Museum of Lithuania), where she has been researching the collection, curating exhibitions and organising conferences. Aiste has published numerous articles and conducts guided tours through the museum. In 2021, she became a lecturer at Vilnius Academy of Arts.

27 April 2021

Renate Leggatt-Hofer (independent scholar, Vienna)
The Kunstkammer of Emperor Ferdinand I in Vienna: Kunstkammer Building (1558), Collection, Garden and Residential Architecture

Lecture of ca. 40 minutes followed by discussion

The lecture will focus on the imperial residence in Vienna, in particular on the purpose-built Habsburg Kunstkammer of 1558. As far as we know, it was the first time a dedicated building was designed to house the imperial collection. Positioned adjacent to the ballhouse in the Untere Lustgarten, it was part of the residential area but separated – an essential innovation –from the official ceremonial apartment within the Alte Burg. The connections between garden (nature), the collection in its separate building and the official ceremonial space will be analysed, as well as the terminology and meaning of “kunstkammer” and “kunsthaus” in the written sources.

What did the idea of having a separate museum in Vienna mean for the set-up of kunstkammern within the Habsburg Empire and across Europe, e.g. in Munich? After Ferdinand’s death in 1564 his son Maximilian II significantly enlarged the Viennese Kunstkammer building. In 1582, under Rudolf II, it was finally connected to the Old Castle by a bridge across the moat.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Vienna Kunstkammer was swallowed by new structures. Nevertheless, its exact position, appearance and building history were recently discovered: Between 2005 and2017, the imperial Hofburg, its building, meaning and functional history from the thirteenth century to the present time was the subject of an interdisciplinary research project of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Renate Leggatt-Hofer (until 2015 Holzschuh-Hofer) completed her degree in Art History, Archaeology and Philosophy at the University of Vienna in 1984 with a PhD on ecclesiastical architecture of the sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries. After post-doctoral fellowships at The Albertina Museum (Vienna) and at the Austrian Historical Institute (Rome), she participated in numerous research projects, e.g. on the pleasure palace Neugebäude, Vienna, and several exhibitions. From 1994 to 2016, Renate worked for the Federal Monuments Authority Austria (Bundesdenkmalamt) at the Research and Scientific Inventory Department; from 2010 to 2016, she served as the Head of the Executive Department for Public Relations. From 2005 to 2014, she took part in the research project on the Vienna Hofburg organised by the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Renate currently works as an independent scholar. Her main research interests include architectural iconology, central European Renaissance architecture, early modern residences, early modern art collecting displayed in residential architecture and the semantic history of Burgundian symbolism.

Inaugural Event, 17 November 2020, 19.00 CET

Workshop: Issues of Provenance – Provenance as Issue

  • Dr. Patrick Hunt, Stanford University, "Who Owns Priam’s Treasure?”
  • Dr. iur. Avraham Weber, Weber & Co., “Contemporary International Thoughts as for the Importance of Provenance Research to Identification and Understanding of Nazi Looting”
  • Dr. Andrzej Jakubowski, University of Opole, “What is Provenance Research? What Purpose does it Actually Serve?”