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Instytut Archeologii UJ

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Collection of ancient relics

Description of the collection

Since the very foundation of the Chair in Classical Archaeology in 1897, genuine historic items have played a central role in the research and educational activities of Kraków archaeologists. The collection of real ancient items from Mediterranean region was supplemented with numerous plaster casts of the most important works of classical art. At the moment, the collection consists of about 700 authentic items and more than 100 plaster casts. Unfortunately, lack of sufficient space has always been a problem that made the access to the collections difficult. In 1871 three Jagiellonian Library rooms in Collegium Maius were allocated for this purpose. Then, until 1921, the items were kept on the ground floor of Collegium Novum and, later, in Collegium Novodvorscianum. After the Second World War, there has never been enough room for the archaeological collections, neither in the modest premises of the archaeological Department nor in other university buildings.

The collection mainly consists of small artefacts, including ceramics, lamps, terracotta figurines, bronze figures, and utensils. Many of them are of high academic and artistic value.     

In terms of quantity, the largest group of relics come from the broadly understood Greco-Roman civilization (including Greece, Italia, Cyprus, Asia Minor, North Africa, and the coast of Black Sea), from the Bronze Age to the late antiquity. The ancient Middle East is mainly represented by Egyptian items: a sarcophagus with a mummy, ushabti figurines, small artefacts, stone vessels, amulets, scarabs, and fragments of Coptic textiles, whereas Mesopotamian civilization is represented by a single relic, an Acadian cylinder seal. Besides, our collection contains items which should be rather considered souvenirs or curiosities, such as "a stone from Servius Tullius wall in Rome", lava fragments from Vesuvius, "a foot of a marble statue", "a finger of a bronze statue", or "mosaic tesserae from Pompeii". They, however, are an interesting testimony of the attitude of the 19th-century collectors. The largest and most important group within the collection are the ceramic vessels. There are 220 such items, the most numerous and precious of which are the Greek and Cypriot ones. The collection also contains vessels of Egyptian, Punic, Etruscan, Italic, and other origin.

The Cypriot part of the ceramics collection consists of more than 40 vessels, which have been an object of interest of both Polish (M. Ruxer, K. Bulas, Z. Kapera) and foreign scholars (P. Aström). They illustrate the development of pottery on Cyprus, from the early Bronze age to the classical period, that is from the 21st to the 4th century BC. The items include jugs, lekythoi, kraters, bowls, amphorae, goblets, and other vessels, displaying various ornamentation techniques (red polished, monochromatic, with black engobe, with ornaments painted on bright engobe, black ornaments on red engobe etc.).

Greek ceramics are the most valuable part of the collection. Before it was presented in the prestigious international series Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (by K. Bulas in 1935), the most precious items from the Jagiellonian University collection had been noticed by the most eminent expert in Athenian ceramics , J. D. Beazley. As the collection of Greek vessels has not been systematically assembled, it lacks some types of vessels, and not all ancient production centres are represented in it. Yet, the collection certainly illustrates the general trends in development of Greek pottery from the13th to 3rd century BC.

The development of classical studies gradually led to the creation of ancient sculpture casts collections at the chairs in archaeology at various European universities. The university in Kraków also followed that trend: its plaster casts used to serve not only university students and professors, but also secondary school students and their teachers, as, from 1901 on, Prof. Bieńkowski organized public lectures, during which he used the casts to present the development of ancient sculpture. Sporadically, the casts were used to supplement the temporary exhibitions held in Kraków museums. More recently, in 1992, the cast of Laocoön Group was displayed in the Czartoryski Museum during the presentation of Laocoön painting by El Greco. Several casts were also put on display in late 1995 and early 1996, during the exhibition Malczewski's Mythology.

Generally speaking, it must be stressed that the collection, besides its academic and educational value, has played a very important role in the history of Polish culture. The gifts made to the collection bear a vivid testimony to the generosity of Polish nation towards its oldest university, and the emotional ties between the Jagiellonian University and its graduates. During the period of foreign rule before 1918, the donations were also a token of patriotic feelings, because of their value to the Polish culture. The donors came from various social groups, such as the aristocracy (Czartoryscy, Lanckoroński), rich landowners (S.Larysz-Niedzielski, B.Wołodkowicz), exiled military commanders (generals H.Dembiński, L.Bystrzonowski, K.Stahel), famous artists (J.Matejko, S.Chlebowski), writers (J.I.Kraszewski) and intelligentsia members living abroad (Z. Mineyko, M.Sandecki). There were also some gifts from professors of the Jagiellonian University (S.Grzepski, M.Sokołowski, P.Bieńkowski, T.Kruszyński, K.Bulas) and other academic institutions (T.Zieliński, F.von Luschan).

Collecting ancient relics at the JU began much earlier than the establishment of the Chair in Classical Archaeology in 1897. In fact it was the collections that directly contributed to the institutionalization of this field of study. The scholars of various disciplines, e.g. historians, philologists, orientalists, and theologians had long been interested in the ancient Mediterranean relics, which had been used for both individual research and educational purposes (e.g. during classes in classics). The earliest account of the presence of such items at the Jagiellonian university is the information about the collection of ancient coins donated to the University by Stanisław Grzepski in 1570.

Collections in the 20th century

As already mentioned, the collections were moved to separate premises as late as in 1871. This enabled their systematic enhancement and greater availability to students. The Egyptian sarcophagus with a mummy (from the period of the Twenty-first or Twenty-second dynasty) became part of the collection in the same year. In the years to follow, thanks to the efforts of  J. Łepkowski, the University received a generous gift from Prince Władysław Czartoryski. It consisted of about 100 classical ancient vessels, some Egyptian, Cypriot, and Etruscan relics, numerous Greek and Roman terracotta items, bronze items, and clay lamps.  At that time, the university also received a smaller collection, consisting primarily of Egyptian items, from Marceli Czartoryski. Besides, some items from the Black-Sea region were donated by Karol Stahel in 1882, and an older Michał Sołtyk's collection was obtained by the Jagiellonian University in 1883.

In the time that followed, when Marian Sokołowski was the head of the Institute, items donated by Karol Lanckoroński, Bolesław Wołodkowicz, and Mieczysław Sandecki became part of the collection. Thanks to the efforts of the next head of the Institute, Piotr Bieńkowski, who assumed office in 1911, the collection of archaeological relics and the growing collection of plaster casts became linked with the Department of Classical/Mediterranean Archaeology. In the following years, there were relatively few new acquisitions, the most notable of which is probably the 1913 donation by Zuzanna Czartoryska, consisting of five votive terracotta heads from Italy, and three "Campana reliefs". The Department also received a collection of ancient coins from Zygmunt Mineyko (1925) and a set of Cypriot relicts from Stanisław Larysz-Niedzielski (1927). Besides, terracotta items and vessels from the collection of a well known painter, the late Stanisław Chlebowski, were purchased in that period.

Right after the Word War II, the collection made some modest gains thanks to several antiquarian purchases and the acquisition of some items from the Jagielonian Library and the JU Chair in the History of Art, whereas in the 1970s a collection of Roman Relics from York was donated to the JU by Violet Włoch and Władysław Włoch.

In the years 1979-1981 the collection was added to with several dozen relics obtained during two student trips to Africa.

At the moment, the collection is unavailable to visitors.

Egypt, Grece, and Italy: Ancient relics from the former JU Archaeological Studio

Three different anniversaries of events important for Kraków archaeology were celebrated in 2007. Firstly, this year saw the 140th anniversary of the foundation of the Archaeological Studio, from which the current JU Institute of Archaeology developed. The second jubilee is related to the beginning of Mediterranean archaeology in Kraków, originated by Piotr Bieńkowski in 1897. The earlier, 100th anniversary was marked with an international academic session at the Jagiellonian University. Thirdly, it was 100 years since the archaeologists from Kraków conducted their first excavations in Egypt, which marked the start of Polish archaeological research in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. 

The intention of the authors of this volume was to present the most important facts related to these anniversaries, and, even more importantly, to remember the people who contributed to our collection and laid the foundations of the Jagiellonian University archaeology. In recent decades, the collections were only sporadically made available to students and the general public. Hence, until sufficient room for the collection is found,  this volume will be the only way to see some relics, which became part of the University collection thanks to the generosity of Polish nation. We owe great gratitude and respect to those who created this collection, and thus it is our duty to maintain the relics, use them for educational purposes, and remind the world about their value.

Egypt, Grece, and Italy: Ancient relics from the former JU Archaeological Studio

Author: Joachim Śliwa
Back/Cover: hard
Pages: 354
Publisher: Księgarnia Akademicka
Publication place: Kraków
Publication date: 2007