Category Archives: Embassy

Rembrandt and Poland (NL Embassy in PL)

On June 29, the exhibition Świat Rembrandta (Rembrandt’s World) opened in the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Rembrandt has many links to Poland. To begin with, he produced numerous etchings and paintings of Poles or people in supposedly Polish guises. There is much debate about several of these works, however. Much has been written, for instance, about his so-called Polish Rider from 1655, which shows a horseman in what many scholars have defined as a Polish costume. The rider has been identified variously as a specific Polish nobleman, a generic Cossack, a personification of a Christian knight, a champion of religious freedom, or a literary character. Another of Rembrandt’s paintings is commonly entitled A Polish Nobleman. This portrait, dated 1637, might depict the Polish diplomat Andrzej Rey, but he has also been described as a Russian boyar. Apart from these examples, Rembrandt’s oeuvre also includes drawings and etchings of people who appear to be wearing Polish dress.

Furthermore, Rembrandt’s brother in law was Jan Makowski (or Joannes Maccovius), professor of theology at the University of Franeker. Makowski’s portrait is part of the exhibition in Warsaw.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 18.

A Polish Officer in Dutch Brazil (NL Embassy in PL)

Numerous Poles live and work in the Netherlands today, and they have been doing so for hundreds of years. One of the most colourful and famous examples is the Protestant nobleman Krzysztof Arciszewski (1592-1656), an officer, engineer and author, who through became something of a celebrity in both the seventeenth-century Netherlands and Poland. Arciszewski first arrived in Holland in 1624, at the time of the Eight Years’ War, and until 1629 actively participated in a number of battles in both the Low Countries and France, always fighting on the Protestant side. For example, he partook in the Dutch attempts to end the Spanish siege of Breda in 1624-1625, and he fought in the siege of ’s-Hertogenbosch in 1629. Moreover, he studied military engineering and artillery at Leiden University. In 1629, Arciszewski was offered a three-year contract with the Dutch West-India Company and in the rank of captain left for Brazil. He celebrated multiple victories against the Portuguese, and was eventually promoted colonel. After the arrival, in 1637, of the new governor-general, Count John Maurice of Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679), Arciszewski continued to play a key role in the Brazilian campaign, but disagreements between the two men led to Arciszewski’s return to Holland in 1639. He broke with the Dutch military, but stayed in the United Provinces until 1646, at which time he was summoned back to Poland and nominated royal general of artillery. Arciszewski next participated in a number of battles against the Turks and Cossacks, before retiring in 1649. He died in 1656.

Arciszewski had a keen interest in cartography and ethnography. He made maps of Brazil and wrote descriptions of indigenous Brazilian populations, which were used and published by Dutch scholars. In addition, he wrote poetry, and the Dutch West-India Company awarded him a golden necklace and medal for his services. Writing about Brazil in 1642, a Dutch jurist stated that “most commanders are not best pleased with the rule of Count Maurice. It is Arciszewski whom they esteem.”

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 17.

A Dutch-Polish Tennis Tandem (NL Embassy in PL)

Roland Garros or the French Open 2021 starts today, and both Polish and Dutch tennis players are represented. Among them are such well-known players as Iga Świątek – last year’s winner – and Kiki Bertens. Perhaps they will end up playing against each other directly. In the past, however, Polish and Dutch players have also been successful as a pair. You may remember that, in other tennis tournaments, multiple doubles events were won by the Dutch-Polish tandem Tom Okker and Wojciech Fibak.

Tom Okker was born in Amsterdam in 1944 and was active as a tennis player from the mid-1960s until 1980. He won 40 singles titles and 78 doubles events, and was ranked world No. 3 in singles in 1974 and world No. 1 in doubles in 1969. Fibak was born in Poznań in 1952 and won his first tournament in 1976. Throughout the 70s and 80s, he won 15 singles and 52 doubles, ranking world No. 10 in singles in 1977 and world No. 2 in doubles in 1979. He was particularly successful in the late 70s with Okker, who together won 17 doubles. Fibak’s last victory in a doubles final occurred in 1987, which he achieved with another Dutchman, Michiel Schapers.

Good luck to all Polish and Dutch players at this year’s Roland Garros tournament!

Left: Tom Okker in 1972. Right: Wojciech Fibak in 1982.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 16.

A Medieval Pilgrim from Gdańsk in the Netherlands (NL Embassy in PL)

Did you hear about the medieval pilgrim from Gdańsk who visited the Netherlands? The story begins around Christmas 1444, when something remarkable occurred in Amersfoort, near Utrecht: a local girl, Margriet Gijsen, purportedly had three visions, in which God told her to go to a canal outside the city and find a statue of the Virgin Mary. Margriet did so and pulled the statue out of the icy water. This event was interpreted as a miracle, and Amersfoort quickly grew into an well-known place of worship. Pilgrims from all over Europe came to honour the statue, particularly on the Sunday before Pentecost. The miracle of Margriet and ca. 550 other miracles related to the statue are recorded in the so-called Mirakelboek, which starts in 1444 and ends in 1545. The statue was especially popular with shipmen and evoked in case of sea storms, shipwreck and drowning.

One miracle tells of a man from Gdańsk, whose ship was lost in a storm at sea. He floated on a raft for nine hours, until he thought of the Holy Virgin from Amersfoort, asking her to save him. He promised to wear a shirt made of coarse hair – an instrument of penance. Suddenly, he saw a shining light from the east, together with an image of the Holy Virgin. The man soon drifted ashore and wore the shirt as he promised, until he travelled to Amersfoort. Upon his arrival, he offered the shirt to the statue in memory of his pilgrimage and as a token of his gratitude.

The story can be related to a pilgrim’s badge from Amersfoort, which was found in or near Gdańsk. The badge depicts the moment when Margriet pulled the statue of Mary out of the water. Such badges were made at the place of worship and could be purchased by pilgrims, who then took them back home. The badge shows the importance and popularity of Amersfoort as a medieval pilgrimage site, which really was visited by people from Gdańsk. Perhaps the man from the story took a badge home as well…

The painting was made ca. 1525. It hangs in the Oud Katholieke Parochie van de Heilige Georgius op ’t Zand in Amersfoort. The badge lies in the Muzeum Archeologiczne in Gdańsk (MAG/GD/255/133/03/3814, nr. GKPP 389).

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 15.

Dutch Sleeping Caps with Polish Royalty (NL Embassy in PL)

A few days ago, it was King’s Day in the Netherlands, and we wrote about William of Orange’s interest in the Polish royal elections. We remain in the company of royalty with King Zygmunt III Waza, who ruled the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1587 until his death in 1632. Zygmunt was a devout Catholic and ally of Spain, and his relations with the Calvinist Dutch were not particularly warm. Interestingly, however, Dutchmen during the seventeenth century could go to bed with Zygmunt and his son, Prince Władysław Zygmunt Waza. How? By wearing a sleeping cap with their portraits. The artist Magdalena (van) de Passe, member of a famed family of engravers, in 1630 obtained an official privilege from the States-General to print portraits on linen canvas. One year later, she presented several so-called “mans mutsen”, men’s sleeping caps, including one with the likenesses of King Zygmunt and his son. She may have sold them to Dutch Catholics, or shipped them to Poland itself. Sadly, no examples have survived, but Magdalena produced arguably one of the most intriguing and original depictions of Poles in the seventeenth-century United Provinces.

Perhaps the caps looked something like this 😉


*I originally wrote (a different version of) this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 14.

William I of Poland? (NL Embassy in PL)

Coming Tuesday is King’s Day in the Netherlands. Did you know that William of Orange, who is often called the Dutch “father of the fatherland”, had an interest in the royal elections in Poland in 1575? He may even have considered making a bid for the Polish throne himself. At the time, William was leading the Dutch in a war against Spain. In March 1575, his councillor Philips of Marnix, Lord of Saint-Aldegonde, visited Cracow, where he met with the Polish nobleman and influential Calvinist Piotr Zborowski. The Polish throne was at that time vacant, and preparations were being made for the election of a new monarch. Zborowski wrote to William, praising his struggle “for religion and for the freedom of your fatherland”, and explaining how Marnix’s visit had been essential for “our actions”. It is not known what these “actions” were, however. Perhaps Marnix was meant to inquire about William’s chances, should he submit his candidacy for the Polish throne. As King of Poland, William’s odds in the fight against Spain would increase significantly. On the other hand, William may not have considered entering the elections at all. Perhaps Marnix simply wished to offer support to the Polish Calvinists’ “actions”, trying to influence the royal elections in the hope of gaining the favour of the future king. In any case, William did not make an official bid for Polish power. Instead, Stephen Báthory was elected King of Poland in 1576.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 13. For more information, see this previous post.

Olga Tokarczuk and the Netherlands (NL Embassy in PL)

Photograph by Łukasz Giza.

Jaag je ploeg over de botten van de doden, the Dutch translation of Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych by Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk, has been nominated for the Europese Literatuurprijs 2021, an award for the best European novel published in Dutch translation in 2020. But did you know that Tokarczuk already has a close relationship with the Netherlands? In early 2007, for example, she was Writer in Residence of the Dutch Foundation for Literature in Amsterdam. She performed research there for her book Bieguni (translated in Dutch as De rustelozen), which won the Polish Nike Award in 2008 and the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. Discussing her book, Tokarczuk said that it “incorporates elaborate details about the history of anatomy, a science that finds its foundation in the Netherlands of the seventeenth century. Because of my residency in Amsterdam, I was able to check all kinds of details.” Tokarczuk’s research led her to several of Amsterdam’s museums, antiquarian bookshops and the reconstructed anatomical theatre of the university in Leiden. “Looking back,” Tokarczuk wrote, “this has been a very creative, intensive and good time for me, for which I am very thankful.” In addition, Tokarczyk was Writer in Residence at the NIAS in 2009.

Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych was translated into Dutch by Charlotte Pothuizen and Dirk Zijlstra. Bieguni was translated by Greet Pauwelijn.

The anatomical theatre in Leiden on a print from the seventeenth century.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 12.

Erasmus and Poland (NL Embassy in PL)

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1467/69-1536), the most famous and influential humanist of his age, maintained friendly relations with numerous Poles. He dedicated his works to Poles, was visited, read, printed and translated by Poles, and Poles had pictures of him hanging in their homes. Erasmus’s writings had a profound impact on the development of the Polish Reformation. “Polonia mea est”: “Poland is mine” or “Poland is favourable to me”, Erasmus famously stated in 1524. His Polish contacts included King Zygmunt I the Old, grand marshal Piotr Kmita Sobieński, archbishop and author Andrzej Krzycki (Andreas Cricius), and bishop and poet Jan Dantyszek (Johannes Dantiscus). One of Erasmus’s closest Polish friends was the reformed humanist Jan Łaski (Johannes a Lasco), to whom Erasmus even sold his library. More information about this story, and about the fate of Erasmus’s books, can be found here.

This portrait was made by Hans Holbein. It hangs in the Louvre in Paris:

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 11.

The Polish Roots of the Tuschinski Theatre (NL Embassy in PL)

The Tuschinski theatre in Amsterdam has a lot to celebrate this year. Not only does it turn 100 years old in October, it was also crowned the most beautiful cinema in the world last week by the much-read Time Out magazine, which praised the building as an “elegant mash-up of art deco and art nouveau styles with sleek modernist touches”. The Tuschinski, which is nowadays owned by Pathé, was built by the Polish Jewish entrepreneur Abraham Icek Tuschinski (Tuszyński, 1886-1942), who was born in Brzeziny, near Łódź. He first came to Rotterdam in 1904, intent on travelling to the United States. He settled in the Netherlands, however, where he started a range a successful businesses, including four cinemas in Rotterdam,  established in 1911. Ten years later, the Tuschinski theatre opened its doors in Amsterdam, having cost around four million guilders. During the Second World War, the theatre was taken over by the Germans, who renamed it Tivoli. Abraham Tuschinski himself was captured and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was murdered in 1942. His famous theatre, which has been renovated several times, once again carries his name. To this day, it continues to amaze audiences with its characteristic façade and fairy-tale-like interior.

Image: Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, Amersfoort / 10353-2351.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 10.

Fryderyk Chopin and Ary Scheffer (NL Embassy in PL)

Dutch-Polish historical relations comprise many close friendships. One such friendship existed between composer Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) and the Dutch-French painter Ary Scheffer (1795-1858). Scheffer was born in Dordrecht and came from a family of artists. In 1811, he moved with his mother to Paris, where he quickly gained popularity as a painter. He made portraits of numerous well-known people, such as Marquis de La Fayette and Franz Liszt. Chopin arrived in Paris in 1831 and would never return to Poland, becoming one of the famed expatriates of the Polish Great Emigration. Scheffer and Chopin met in Paris and became good friends. Chopin gave concerts at Scheffer’s home on the Rue Chaptal 16, and Scheffer made three portraits of his Polish friend. The painting shown here dates from 1847 and is one of the best-known depictions of Chopin. It hangs in the Dordrechts Museum, in the town where Scheffer was born. He became a naturalized Frenchman in 1850. A statue of Scheffer stands in the center of Dordrecht.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 9.