Category Archives: Embassy

Amsterdam 1928: Gold Medal for Polish Poetry (NL Embassy in PL)

Recently, I wrote about Dutch-Polish sporting history, specifically regarding the Summer Olympics of 1928 in Amsterdam. Another fascinating anecdote from that event concerns poetry and art. Back then, the Olympics also included cultural contests. Medals were awarded for artistic works inspired by sport, in several categories: architecture, literature, music, visual arts and sculpture. The gold medal in the category of literature was won by the Polish author Kazimierz Wierzyński, who had written a series of fifteen poems entitled Laur olimpijski (the Olympic Laurel). The poems discuss several sporting disciplines, such as the 100 meters sprint and discus throwing, but also applaud specific contestants. One of the poems describes a race by female athletes. Furthermore, the Polish artist Władysław Skoczylas won a bronze medal in the category of drawing.

The picture shows the front and back of the gold medal as awarded during the 1928 Olympics. Wierzyński won a similar medal.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 40.

Amsterdam 1928: The First Olympic Polish Gold (NL Embassy in PL)

Poland and the Netherlands share a rich history in sports. Right now, for instance, the two countries together host the Volleyball World Championship for women. An interesting older Dutch-Polish connection relating to women’s sports dates from 1928, when Amsterdam hosted the Summer Olympics. It was the first time women were allowed to participate in athletic and gymnastic events at the Olympic competition. The world champion in the field of discus throwing, the Polish Halina Konopacka, won the gold medal in that discipline, smashing both her personal and the world records. In addition, it was the first Olympic gold medal ever won on behalf of Poland. Konopacka was considered a beautiful athlete, which earned her the nickname “Miss Olympia”.

The picture shows a colorized photograph of Konopacka in action during the 1928 Olympics.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 39.

Groningen 1869: Recreating Sobieski’s Entry into Vienna in 1683 (NL Embassy in PL)

On this day in 1869, the city of Groningen witnessed a wondrous spectacle: the re-enactment of the entrance of King Jan III Sobieski of Poland into Vienna, in September 1683. At 7 pm, a masquerade of over seventy lavishly clad Dutch students began its passage through the city center, both on foot and on horseback. Such student masquerades were a common phenomenon in the nineteenth-century Netherlands, and they often portrayed specific historical events. An accompanying booklet enthusiastically relates Sobieski’s victory over the Turks at the Battle of Vienna, on 12 September 1683, and it also lists the masquerade’s participants, the roles they played, and the route they took through Groningen. Moreover, the booklet contains a small print based on a larger, colored illustration by the local artist Otto Eerelman. It depicts the masquerade as a long string of men in historical costumes of Polish and Austrian or German soldiers and clergymen, many wielding sabers, war hammers, lances, and flags. At the center of the print stands the masquerade’s main figure: Sobieski. Naturally, the print gives a fictional impression of the event, but one can imagine the excitement the masquerade must have caused in Groningen, which for one evening in 1869 played the role of Vienna welcoming Jan III Sobieski in 1683.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 38.

Dutch Praise for Jan III Sobieski (NL Embassy in PL)

On 12 September 1683, King Jan III Sobieski of Poland achieved a decisive victory at the Battle of Vienna. In July that year, Turkish forces had laid siege to the imperial city as part of a campaign designed to strengthen the Ottoman Empire’s influence in Europe. Emperor Leopold I allied himself with Sobieski, who rode to Vienna’s aid and took command of the city’s relief. After the final battle took place, the Turks were routed and forced to retreat, eventually losing their foothold in Hungary and Transylvania.

As news of the battle travelled across Europe, authors and artists in many countries sought to congratulate Sobieski, celebrating his victory as a grand Christian achievement. Perhaps surprisingly, this also happened in the Northern Netherlands: Calvinism was the state’s so-called public religion, but that did not stop the Dutch from eulogizing the Catholic Sobieski. In fact, numerous poets praised the Polish sovereign as an acclaimed general and saviour of Christendom, and the Dutch Republic even became an international hub for the production and proliferation of prints in honour of Sobieski. The example shown here was printed by Pieter Schenk, an originally German artist who spent much of his life in Amsterdam. The poem beneath was written by the little-known author Jan Norel, who compared Sobieski’s “brave deeds of war” with those of Alcides, another name for the mythical Greek hero Herakles/Hercules.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 37.

Dutch Carillons in Gdańsk (NL Embassy in PL)

At this moment, the city of Gdańsk is busy hosting its annual Carillon Festival. An interesting example of the cultural relations between the Netherlands and Poland concerns the carillons in Gdańsk. In 1561, a carillon consisting of 14 bells was installed in the new tower of the Main Town Hall. The bells had been cast the previous year in ’s-Hertogenbosch, Brabant, by the bell-founder Johannes Moor. Together, they made up the oldest carillon outside the Low Countries. Each bell was adorned with the coat of arms of Gdańsk, Prussia and Poland, and carried a Latin sentence: “Time covers the whole world and everything under heaven passes in its spaces. Johannes Moor from ’s-Hertogenbosch made me in the year 1560.” Every hour, the carillon played two alternating melodies, which were changed weekly according to the liturgical calendar. Furthermore, a second carillon from the Northern Netherlands was installed in St. Catherine’s Church during the eighteenth century. It was cast by Johann Nicolaus Derck in Hoorn, Holland.

Sadly, most bells from the original carillons have been destroyed, respectively during World War II and by a fire in 1905. Only a few original bells survive. However, new carillons were installed both in the Town Hall and in St. Catherine’s Church. Once again, they were made by bell-founders from Brabant: the Royal Eijsbouts Bell Foundry in Asten, not far from ’s-Hertogenbosch. This year, the Carillon Festival features several Dutch performers: Paul Maassen, Richard de Waardt and Boudewijn Zwart.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 36.

Queen Beatrix in Poland (NL Embassy in PL)

Twenty-five years ago, in July 1997, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands visited Poland. It was the first official state visit to the Rzeczpospolita by Dutch royalty. Together with her husband, Prince Claus, Queen Beatrix spent three days in Poland, journeying to Warsaw, Wrocław, and Gdańsk. In Poland’s capital, the royal pair was welcomed at the Presidential Palace by president Aleksander Kwaśniewski. That day, the Queen admired Warsaw’s city centre and the Royal Castle, and she paid her respects at three war memorials: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Warsaw Uprising Monument, and the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. Wrocław also provided several interesting sights, including the Town Hall, the university, and the Racławice Panorama: a monumental cycloramic painting showing the Battle of Racławice, one of the first battles of the Polish Kościuszko Uprising against Russia in 1794. In Gdańsk, finally, Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus made a tour of the old city, visited a number of museums, and met with the former Polish president Lech Wałęsa. Apparently, the Queen felt right at home in Gdańsk, as she knew much about the city’s close historic ties with the Netherlands.

Queen Beatrix at the Racławice Panorama in Wrocław.

Seventeen years later, in June 2014, Beatrix’s son King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Máxima, made Poland the destination of their first state visit as the new Dutch royal couple.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 35.

Sigismundus: A Famous Dutch Play about a Polish Prince (NL Embassy in PL)

In the 1650s, a play set in Poland won the hearts of Dutch audiences: Sigismundus, Prinçe van Poolen (Sigismundus, Prince of Poland), also known as ’t Leven is een droom (Life is a dream). The piece is a translation of La vida es sueño from 1635, by the famed Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca. The Dutch version premiered in Amsterdam in 1654. Sigismundus attracted large crowds until well into the eighteenth century and was also performed by travelling theatre companies, both in Holland and abroad. All in all, Sigismundus became one of the best-loved plays of the early modern United Provinces. But what is it about, and why was it so popular?

The plot can be summarized as follows. The Polish king Basilius keeps his son Sigismundus locked in a tower, as he believes in a prophecy which states that his son will bring the country to ruin. One day, Sigismundus is set free and claims his father’s throne, but his behaviour is so beastly that he is once again imprisoned. He is released by Polish rebels, however, who prefer him to his rival, a Muscovite prince. Bloodshed follows, but when Sigismundus realizes the cruelty of his actions, he offers his father his services. Impressed, Basilius surrenders the crown to Sigismundus.

Spanish drama was vastly popular in Dutch theatres at the time. One of the reasons why Sigismundus in particular took off, however, may lie in the fact that during the 1650s, Poland was making headlines. Ever since 1648, the Polish gentry had been at war with the Cossacks, who were joined by Russian forces in 1654. That same year, Sigismundus made its premiere in Amsterdam. The play tells a fictional tale, but the fact that parts of its plot – such as the Muscovite threat – showed similarities with the time’s events, undoubtedly aided its popularity.

The image shows the frontispiece of the 1647 translation from Brussels. The play is still performed today. For example, the Dutch theatre company Toneelschuur staged an adaptation in 2017.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 34.

Dutch Poetry Against Russian Aggression in 1794 (NL Embassy in PL)

Many Dutchmen and -women strongly support the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression. A comparable situation occurred over two hundred years ago, in 1794, when the young Dutch poet David Jacob van Lennep spoke out in support of the Poles, who fought for freedom and independence. The Polish general Tadeusz Kościuszko at that time led an armed uprising to defend his country’s territorial integrity and autonomy, a year after the Second Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. The image shows Kościuszko’s Proclamation, a painting by Franciszek Smuglewicz depicting a speech Kościuszko gave in Cracow in March 1794, which is considered the beginning of the uprising.

Van Lennep responded to the uprising with two long poems. One celebrates an important Polish victory in September 1794, when the Siege of Warsaw by Russian and Prussian forces was lifted. The other composition carries the title “Lyre Song to the Poles”, and is dated May 1794. Van Lennep rejoices in the Polish uprising and slanders the Russian and Prussian oppressors. He enthusiastically describes how the Poles defend their freedom, which is threatened by the “tigress of the north” – Catherine II of Russia, known as the Great – and the “treacherous” Prussians, who lay waste to Polish lands and murder and enslave the population. “Legitimizing violence with the appearance of justice / Strengthens tyrants’ crowns, / And accusing innocent people of terrible deeds / Solidifies the foundations of their thrones,” Van Lennep wrote – words which would be just as appropriate today.

Furthermore, Van Lennep compares the Polish uprising with the Dutch fight against Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He heralds “the crowds of Polish heroes” as the bringers of freedom for all oppressed peoples and foreshadows that the aggressors will flee, thus “trampling Russia’s honor in the dust”. Lastly, Van Lennep expresses the certainty that Poland will once again prosper, and he asks God for universal peace and freedom.

Portrait of David Jacob van Lennep by Hendrik Hollander Cz.

Kościuszko’s uprising sadly did not end well for the Poles, who were eventually defeated by Russian and Prussian forces. The following year, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was conclusively partitioned out of existence by Russia, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria. Van Lennep, meanwhile, went on to become professor of Latin and Greek in Amsterdam, as well as a respected poet. Years later, he wrote that he never regretted supporting the Poles, who had been “treated with terrible injustice, which filled me with indignation”.

Just as Van Lennep did in 1794, we must continue to speak out against Russian aggression.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 33.

The Earliest Maps of Ukraine (NL Embassy in PL)

Dutch cartographers and publishers played vital parts in the production and dissemination of the earliest maps of Ukraine. In 1648, the Dutch printer Willem Hondius, who worked in Gdańsk, published the so-called “general map” of Ukraine. This map was designed by the Frenchman Guillaume le Vasseur de Beauplan, who worked for the Polish court. At that time, it was the most detailed map of Ukrainian lands ever produced, showing 1293 distinct objects, such as settlements, rivers, forests and marshes across various Ukrainian territories both inside and outside the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. While Le Vasseur de Beauplan visited many of these regions himself, not all of the elements on the map were based on first-hand observation. Still, the map corrected several false notions about Ukraine, for example concerning its span, or the flow of the Dniepr river.

The 1648 “general map” of Ukraine, with North at the bottom.

Moreover, Le Vasseur de Beauplan produced a so-called “special map” of Ukraine, which was once again published by Willem Hondius in Gdańsk. This map is even more detailed than the “general” one. It was commissioned by the Polish king Władysław IV Waza in 1645, who planned to use the map during a war he meant to wage against the Turks. However, as these plans did not come to fruition and Władysław himself died in 1648, the “special” map wasn’t printed until 1650.

Both maps were reproduced multiple times by seventeenth-century Dutch printers, such as Joan Blaeu and Joannes Janssonius, who used them in the atlases they published in Amsterdam. According to cartography experts, the maps of Le Vasseur de Beauplan and Hondius thus revolutionized the image of South-Eastern Europe, contributed to the propagation of the name “Ukraine”, corrected numerous older errors, and added significantly to knowledge about both Ukrainian territories and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a whole.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 32.

A Royal State Visit to Poland (NL Embassy in PL)

Last Wednesday was King’s Day in the Netherlands, which celebrates the birthday of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander. Interestingly, the king chose Poland as the destination for his first ever state visit, where he travelled together with his wife, Her Majesty Queen Máxima. The visit took place on 24 and 25 June 2014. The royal couple was kindly received at the presidential palace in Warsaw by president Bronisław Komorowski and his wife, Anna Komorowska. Amongst other things, the king and queen paid their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, visited the Warsaw Rising Museum, and met with Polish veterans at the monument of the 1st Armoured Division of general Stanisław Maczek, which played a vital role in the liberation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. King Willem-Alexander personally thanked Marian Słowiński, at that time the oldest surviving liberator of Breda. On the second day of their visit, the king and queen travelled to Poznań, where they had meetings concerning transport, agriculture, and other industries.

In a speech held during a banquet in Warsaw, the king expressed his admiration for Poland’s historical struggle for freedom and independence, and called Poland an important partner in many respects. Together with president Komorowski, he toasted to the close cooperation between Poland and the Netherlands.

The photograph shows King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima, president Bronisław Komorowski, his wife Anna Komorowska, and Marian Słowiński at the meeting with Polish veterans (source: ANP).

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 31.