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Abstract

This article discusses the sculptural decorations of the façade of the Grand Theatre in Warsaw, one of the best examples of Polish neoclassical architecture. The theatre was built by the Italian architect Antonio Corazzi in the years 1825–1833 and is considered the pinnacle of his creativity. The building has been remodelled several times since the 1830s and was practically destroyed during World War II. The greatest damage occurred during the siege of Warsaw by the Germans in September 1939 and during the Warsaw Uprising. Only the façade survived, with few changes made since Corazzi’s times. In keeping with the trends of the period in which the National Theatre was erected (the name National Theatre was changed to Grand Theatre after the November Uprising), the structure and decorations of the façade make reference to antique culture and theatrical art. Objects such as theatrical masks and musical instruments, especially lyres, were used as ornamentation. The sculpted figures on the façade were drawn from Greek and Roman mythology. The decoration of the façade was carried out by Italian sculptors selected by Corazzi, as well as Polish artists from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Warsaw, including Konstanty Hegel and Paweł Maliński. The designs that inspired these artists were either drawn directly from antique art (Pompeian frescoes, Parthenon frieze, etc.) or from contemporary works by artists such as Canova or Thorvaldsen. Of the Italian artists, Corazzi especially favoured Tommaso Acciardi, who was charged with the execution of the tympanum. The contract stipulated that the bas-relief on the pediment was to show the bust of Anacreon with three nymphs dancing around him accompanied by shepherds. The composition on the tympanum recalls an image illustrated in Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s book Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums. The pedestal was to carry a bust of Anacreon, as can be seen in an 1827 drawing. However, it now carries an inscription ΣΟΦΟΚΛΗΣ. It is not known when Anacreon was changed to Sophocles. Acciardi’s bas-relief refers perhaps to the first theatrical performances as suggested by Ludwig Kozubowski, who supervised the construction of the theatre. It might also have illustrated Anacreon’s poetry. At the same time, the choice of Sophocles is justified since he is often considered the most famous writer of antiquity, especially nowadays. The main decorative element of the front façade is Apollo’s quadriga, which became the symbol of the Grand Theatre-National Opera. The sculpture was initially to be executed by Paweł Maliński, but the idea was abandoned after the November Uprising. Eventually, in 2002, two Professors from the Academy of Fine Arts, Adam Myjak and Antoni Janusz Pastwa, executed the quadriga in accordance with Maliński’s and Corazzi’s project. The most time consuming work took place on the frieze around the entrance porch. The bas-relief was executed by Paweł Maliński, and has been remodelled several times since, with today’s composition rather far removed from the one placed there in 1830. In 1891, a four-column portico was erected (extant today), where the bas-relief was transferred. Maliński’s frieze was divided into three parts and 29 figures were added. The frieze was badly damaged during World War II. The front of the frieze visible today is a copy of the bas-relief that existed before the war. The composition of the sides has been changed and added on. Maliński was probably inspired by Sophocles’s tragedy Oedipus Rex, but this is only evident upon reconstruction of the original relief. All the bas-reliefs visible on today’s façade are copies made by Teresa Rostworowska in 1953–1957. Archival photographs and inventory drawings show that the decorations of the façade had been only slightly damaged, but during the reconstruction it was decided to remove and replace all the bas-reliefs with stone copies (the decorations were originally made of plaster). The authentic fragments are kept in the Museum of Warsaw.
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