One of the attractions of the Ottomania exhibition is an ecclesiastical cope with a carnation motif and a depiction of the Annunciation scene, from the monastery of Canons Regular of the Lateran in Krakow. In recent years this object has become one of the most popular exhibits from the collections of Polish monasteries. The cope, frequently exhibited not only in Poland but also in Istanbul, has always caught the eyes of both connoisseurs and amateurs of old art. What makes it so unusual that it became an object of desire for curators and researchers into Polish and Turkish art?
The first thing that attracts our attention is the look of the cope. An enormous piece of fabric (275×135 cm) strikes with its still vivid scarlet colour. Its surface is embroidered with a recurring carnation motif, with a characteristic fan shape. This net pattern of flowers is so dominating that it is difficult to notice other motifs featured on the surface of the fabric, like those in form of a leaf-and-tenfril pattern and tulip flowers made with gilded, silver and silk threads. Carnations and tulips are among the two most popular flowers in Turkey, where the fabric was produced.
It not completely clear how the cope ended up in Poland. It is highly probable that it arrived here from Italy along with an extensive luggage of Nuncio Francesco Simonetta, who reached Krakow in January 1607, after a journey lasting over six months. Italian workshops probably converted this fabric into a liturgical cope and decorated it with embroidery before his journey.
The fabric features an orphrey – a later addition in form of a horizontal strip with an embroidered design depicting the busts of the six apostles (Peter, John, Andrew, Paul, James and Thomas), the Holy Spirit and two identical reserves with the coat of arms of Simonetta. The embroidered areas are complemented by bust-size portrayals of the Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael surrounded by leaf-and-tendril designs similar in style to the 16th-century moresque ornamentation.
Another possibility is that this embroidery was created after the arrival in Krakow – which was home to a sizeable Italian community – since around 1610 the cope became the Lateran possession as a donation from Francesco Simonetta.
Not only is this exhibit an outstanding example of craftsmanship and a precious historic memento of a church dignitary but it also has its symbolic dimension as a rare illustration of cultural contacts between these three countries: Turkey, Italy and the Republic of Poland. This Turkish fabric found its permanent place in the Catholic Church at a time when Europe was immersed in a protracted conflict with the Ottoman Empire, which encroached upon Europe, and when the papacy played an important political role, planning its crusade.
However, the very same Catholic Church drew extensively on the cultural heritage of the “barbaric” Turkey and this cope, along with other similar objects, constitutes an interesting example, laden with meanings, of how arts and crafts can rise above the divisions designated by wars and religious differences.
Michał Dziewulski – curator of Ottomania exhibition
Minor preparatory procedures were carried out prior to the exhibition by a team from the Textile Conservation Studio in the Main Building of the National Museum in Krakow.
Photo by Bartosz Cygan – Photography Studio, National Museum of Cracow.