Visual Cultures of Death in Central Europe

Contemplation and Commemoration in Early Modern Poland-Lithuania


In Visual Cultures of Death in Central Europe, Aleksandra Koutny-Jones explores the emergence of a remarkable cultural preoccupation with death in Poland-Lithuania (1569-1795). Examining why such interests resonated so strongly in the Baroque art of this Commonwealth, she argues that the printing revolution, the impact of the Counter-Reformation, and multiple afflictions suffered by Poland-Lithuania all contributed to a deep cultural concern with mortality.
Introducing readers to a range of art, architecture and material culture, this study considers various visual evocations of death including 'Dance of Death' imagery, funerary decorations, coffin portraiture, tomb chapels and religious landscapes. These, Koutny-Jones argues, engaged with wider European cultures of contemplation and commemoration, while also being critically adapted to the specific context of Poland-Lithuania.

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Aleksandra Koutny-Jones, Ph.D. (2007), University of Cambridge, is an art historian of early modern Central Europe. She has published on artistic and cultural transmission within Europe, dealing especially with macabre art, orientalising portraiture, and the impact of the printed image.
"..her book is the first comprehensive overview of many of the varied aspects of what [the author] calls 'visual cultures of death'. [...] Koutny-Jones [...] points to unique or unfamiliar iconographical features of monuments or images that previously have been unduly ignored or neglected. [...] Her well informed study takes up the argument for considering alternatives to earlier models of cultural innovation and diffusion."
Professor Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Princeton University, in Print Quarterly, XXXIV, 2017, 1

"As the author states, the goal of this monograph is to ‘synthesise a diverse body of artistic material previously omitted from international scholarship’ (p. 13). It delivers handsomely on that promise. Making this material available to the English-speaking reader for the first time in such a comprehensive format, K.-J.’s study will appeal to historians of Polish-Lithuanian art and visual culture, scholars of East Central Europe and specialists in death studies. Clear and informative, the book has the potential to become a standard English-language reference on the subject."
Tomasz Grusiecki, in: Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung, 66 (2017).
Acknowledgements ix
A Note on Proper Names xii
List of Maps and Figures xiii
Glossary xvi
Introduction: The Central European Age of Contemplation and
Commemoration 1
1 Frameworks for Visual Cultures of Death in Poland-Lithuania 16
Artistic Patronage in Poland-Lithuania 18
The Commonwealth and the Counter-Reformation 23
The Central European Printing Revolution 33
Plague and Warfare 40
Conclusion 52
2 Death Personified: The Skeleton and the Printed Image 54
Anatomical Treatises and the Melancholy Death 56
The Triumph of Death 65
Allegories of Death: The Wheel of Death 75
Conclusion 87
3 The Dance of Death in Central Europe: Indigenous Variations on a
Familiar Theme 91
Dancing with Death in Medieval Western Europe and beyond 93
Performing the Dance of Death in Medieval Poland: Master
Polikarpus’s Dialogue with Death 99
Death and the Friars: The Role of the Observant Franciscans 102
Conclusion 117
4 Triumphant Funerals: Ceremonial, Coffin Portraits and Catafalques 121
Processional Pomp: Heraldic Displays and the Theatre of Death 123
Church Decorations and the Castrum Doloris 131
Coffin Portraits: Images of the Spiritual body 146
Commemoration in Context: The Burials of the Opaliński
Magnate Family 154
Conclusion 164
5 Architectures and Landscapes of Death: Funerary Chapels and
Jerusalem Sites 167
The Introduction of the Domed Chapel to Poland and Lithuania:
Genesis and Symbolism 169
Central European Landscapes of Death: Jerusalem Sites 175
Decorating the Seventeenth-century Funerary Chapel:
Sculpting the Passion and Personalising the Dance of Death 185
Conclusion 203
Conclusion 206
Appendix: The Kraków Taniec śmierci (Dance of Death):
Transcription and Translation of Textual Cartouches 213
Bibliography 217
Index 249
All those interested in Baroque macabre art, early modern printed imagery or the artistic impact of the Counter-Reformation, as well as those concerned with Poland-Lithuania and its ‘noble’ culture.