The foundational stained glass of the duke of Oels (Oleśnica)

Published on: 02 / 03 / 2010

Authors of this entry:
  • Beata Fekecz-Tomaszewska (Muzeum Architektury we Wrocławiu)

In the rich fund of Architecture Museum in Wroclaw, of particular importance is a small collection, including only over a dozen pieces, of early modern glasses painted in enamel technique and cabinet stained glasses from the 16th and 17th century, whose provenance is mostly Swiss or South-German. Among a few objects, whose provenance may be Silesian, particular attention requires a cabinet stained glass from 1597, with the Oels (Oleśnica) coat of arms.

Since 1998 the stained glass has been exposed at a permanent exhibition entitled “Architectural arts and crafts of the 12th-20th century”. Previously it was presented at a temporary exhibition entitled “Stained-glass windows in the Polish collections”, organized by Architecture Museum in 1976 and was mentioned in the exhibition’s catalogue. For the second time, in literature edited after the World War II, it was mentioned in a monumental work dedicated to arts and crafts in Silesia, edited by Maria Starzewska in 2000, on the occasion of the exhibition “Ornamenta Silesiae”, presented in the Wroclaw's National Museum. However, the mentioned issues were limited to catalogue notes. Meanwhile, this small (37×24,5 cm) stained-glass, which attracts our attention, deserves a more precise study. An opportunity for it was an exhibition organized in 2002 by Architecture Museum, and dedicated to the Adolph Seiler’s Institute of Stained Glasses, since the history of the stained glass from Oels, for a short time was linked to Seiler himself and to his studio.

The stained glass, whose dimensions are 37×24,5 cm, depicts the Oels (Oleśnica) coat of arms: in a red escutcheon of Renaissance pattern a silver eagle with outstretched wings, the attribute of St. John the Evangelist, patron of Oels (depicted in the town’s sigils since the 14th century), is holding a strip in its paws, with an inscription S. IOHANES. From the helm, a heavy red and silver acanthus mantling is overhanging. The coat of arms is enclosed by a flattened arcade, supported by two azure columns enlaced by vine shots and adorned with furniture ornament and a diamond in its keystone. In the abutments are two putti: one on the left holding the regalia and one on the right blowing a horn. At the bottom, in the cartouche framing, is an inscription: SENATUS/POPULUSQ(ue)/ OLSNE(nsis) and the date 1597. The stained glass has been made of limpid, colourless glass painted with contour paint, patina, silver azure and with red and blue enamels. The helm and crest have been painted with red cover-glass. The latter part is however a result of the 19th century restoration, which will be discussed in further part of the article. The stained glass from Oels (Oleśnica) belongs to the most popular types of heraldic stained glasses in the 16th and 17th century, with a coat of arms placed in an arcade framing, linked to the ancient triumphal arches. Along with reference to ancient art, an obvious feature of early modern art, the triumphal arch motif emphasizes the significance and “exalts” in peculiar way the commemorated personage, in this case all the community of Oels (Oleśnica) is meant, which has been additionally emphasized by the cartouche inscription of clearly ancient Roman connotations. The stained glass was most likely executed in a local, Silesian workshop, although its sophisticated colouring, as well as its accuracy and minuteness of draftsmanship, distinguishes this work among other Silesian cabinet stained glasses known to me.

As is well known, the discussed stained glass, dated, as has already been mentioned, to 1597, was originally located in the castle church (presently the parish church of St. John the Evangelist) in Oels (Oleśnica), along with two others, perished after 1945, with the duke Karl II of Podiebrad’s (1545-1617) and his second wife’s Elisabeth from the dukes of Liegnitz-Brieg (1562-1585) coats of arms. All the three stained glasses can be determined, beyond all doubt, as the ones that had been ordered by duke Karl II of Podiebrad. We shall not forget that the time of his reign (1567-1617) is linked to second phase of the rebuilt of the castle in Oels (Oleśnica). This medieval seat of the dukes of Oels (Oleśnica), erected undoubtedly after 1322, was being rebuilt in a renaissance residence by duke Jan of Podiebrad (1542-1546). During the reign of Karl II a new residence, around the courtyard and galleries and mainly the archway and the passage communicating the castle and the church were built. The trace of Karl II’s architectural enterprises and his foundational activity, are the duke’s and his both wives’ (Elisabeth’s and the first wife’s – Catherine of Šternberk’s) coats of arms that can be found in numerous places in the Oels castle; they are embedded for instance in the stair parapet by the west corner or in the archway finial. In the town hall’s staircase in Oels, are also located sandstone plates, dated to the same period: one with Karl II’s and Elisabeth of Piasts’ coats of arms, another with the duke’s wives’ coats of arms and two with the Oels coats of arms, all of them were transferred to the town hall from the town gates, in the second half of the 19th century. The duke also founded new pieces of the church’s furnishing, among them a marvelous mannerist pulpit designed by Gerhard Hendrik (1605), on whose walls were also located the Podiebrads’ of Fürstenberg-Oels and the Piasts’ of Liegnitz-Brieg coats of arms, and a wooden tribune dated to 1596-1607, located between the southern pillars, also adorned with the Podiebrads’ and families’ allied to them coats of arms. Thus the three heraldic stained glasses located in the windows of the castle church, would have been one more testimony commemorating the duke’s foundational activity. Presently it’s particularly difficult – considering the lack of any discovered records – to predetermine the stained glasses’ location in the church. They might have been located in the windows (or in one window) of the northern aisle, beyond the mentioned tribune, it is however a mere and not testified presumption. The subsequent history of the stained glasses is known randomly. We only know they were devolved by Adolph Seiler, along with other stained glasses from his private collection, to Museum of Silesian Antiquities (Museum Schlesischer Altertümer) and in 1868 they had already been in Seiler's property. Nothing is known about the circumstances, under which Seiler had become owner of them. It surely happened no sooner than around 1850. In his workshop (operating since 1846), the discussed stained glass from Oels over-went the already mentioned restoration, presumably because of its slight damage while stripping it off the church’s window. Its leaden ledges were changed and probably part of the stained glass was supplied, by using the ancient and cover-glass. The repair was carried out with extremely high professional degree, both with reference to the selected sort of glass and colour, and – what was of particular importance – to the sense of style.

In 1879 the Museum of Silesian Antiquities changed its seat for the ground floor of the building of Fine Arts Museum. Forming a new exhibition was finished in May 1881. Surely the mentioned stained glasses were exhibited there. In the collection’s description from 1884, among many others were also mentioned three heraldic cabinet stained glasses from Oels (Oleśnica). The next transfer took place in 1899, as by virtue of an agreement from 1897, Museum of Silesian Antiquities had been subordinated to the city’s government and joined the newly formed Museum of Arts and Crafts, whose seat had been established in the rebuilt Silesian States’ House in the present ul. Krupnicza. Since that time till 1943 (as the museum was closed for reasons of precaution) the collections were housed in new location – namely in Silesian Museum of Arts and Crafts and Antiquities (Schlesisches Museum für Kunstgewerbe und Altertümer). The museum’s edifice in Krupnicza Street was destroyed, according to the German government’s order, during the siege of Wroclaw. The museum’s collections were partly destroyed and dispersed, as a result of military operations and the post-war clutter. Among the artworks rescued and presently housed in National Museum of Wroclaw, were also stained glasses. However the discussed stained glasses from Oels (Oleśnica) weren’t among them. The one with the Oels coat of arms was encountered in the 1970s, in a collection of an owner in Krakow, by Professor Olgierd Czerner, then the director of the Architecture Museum, who – what was particularly important – succeeded in acquiring the object for the museum.

Unfortunately the fate of two remaining stained glasses with the duke’s and duchess’ coats of arms, also from the castle church in Oels (Oleśnica) is unknown. Were they destroyed during the perturbations of war? Or have they survived the war and are still awaiting their rediscovery? Maybe the present issue will contribute to riddling it out?


Beata Fekecz-Tomaszewska, Witraże nowożytne w zbiorach polskich, Wrocław 1976

Beata Fekecz-Tomaszewska, Witraż fundacyjny oleśnickiego księcia, In: „Witraż” No. 2-3/2002

Bohdan Guerquin, Zamki w Polsce, Warszawa 1974

Katalog zabytków sztuki. Województwo wrocławskie. Oleśnica, Bierutów i okolice, Warszawa 1983

Magda Ławicka, Zapomniana pracownia. Wrocławski Instytut Witrażowy Adolpha Seilera (1846-1945), Wrocław, 2002

Muzea sztuki w dawnym Wrocławiu, Wrocław 1998

Ornamenta Silesiae. Tysiąc lat rzemiosła artystycznego na Śląsku, ed. by Maria Starzewska, Wrocław 2000

„Schlesiens Vorzeit in Bild und Schrift”, Breslau 1870, Vol. I, Breslau 1884, Vol. IV

Project co-financed by Ministry of Labour and Social Policy under Government Project – Civic Benefit Fund.
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