Epitaph of Wierzbięta of Branice on display in the Gallery ‘Art of Old Poland. 12th – 18th Centuries’ in the Bishop Erazm Ciołek Palace.
One of the objectives of Gothic art was honouring those who passed away. It was also the function of epitaphs, which portrayed the deceased in a prayerful attitude, turned towards a divine person or a saint. In addition, epitaphs bear an inscription containing information about the deceased as well as a pious invocation. Thus, these depictions often constituted complex compositions.
Apart from the epitaph painting presented in our Gallery, the epitaph of Wierzbięta (old Polish form of the name Grzegorz [Gregory]) – a knight from Branice, Gryf coat of arms, a Krakow pantler and Sanok prefect – also included a tombstone and stained glass, which were preserved in St Gregory’s parish church in Ruszcza near Krakow, furnished by Wierzbięta.
The painting, acquired for the Museum, depicts the deceased kneeling at the throne of Virgin Mary with Child. Behind the knight stands his patron, St. Gregory, entrusting Wierzbięta’s soul to God, through the gesture of putting his hand on the shoulder of the deceased. The frame bears an inscription stating the date of the knight’s death (15 June 1425) and a list of the offices he held.
The painting is considered to be the oldest dated epitaph in Małopolska. The date – 1425 – defines solely the moment of cropping and second framing of the originally wider board, which also included the figure of Dorota – Branicki’s wife – who is referred to in Leliwa coat of arms. Stylistically, Wierzbięta’s epitaph is associated with the painting of the late beautiful style in the Czech Republic and Austrian countries.
Dr Wojciech Marcinkowski – senior curator in the Department of Polish Painting and Sculpture till 1764, Gothic Art researcher.