Hand-carved varnished wooden plaque, finished in various wood tones, loosely based on the famous oil painting by Polish painter Jan Matejko, Astronomer Copernicus: Conversation with God, done in 1872 and now in the collection of the Museum of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków. (The painting is online on Wikipedia Commons -- see References below.) In the painting, Copernicus is depicted on the roof of the Frombork Cathedral, where he made his astronomical observations. The plaque shows a drastically simplified version omitting the rooftop setting but keeping the basic pose of the figure kneeling with a compass in his hand and a few of the details: a diagram of the Copernican system, part of a city building on the left, books on the ground below the hand holding the compass, and the sticklike structure on the right which in Matejko’s painting appears to be a large observational device. Matejko’s works are familiar and beloved works in Poland, and this plaque, signed by a Polish woodcarver, appears to be a folk art version, perhaps sold to the tourist trade.
In the Renaissance, the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) published his important treatise in which he proposed the revolutionary theory that the sun was the center of the universe. This challenged the geocentrism of Ptolemy, and was particularly controversial in the Catholic Church because of its conflict with basic Christian teachings at that time. Nevertheless, Copernicus was able to maintain his role as a canon of the Catholic Church, a position he had obtained in 1497.
Jan Matejko (1838 - 1893) was a major Polish artist of the 19th century whose large historical paintings of events from Polish history have been beloved and familiar images to his countrymen to the present day. He enrolled in the Kraków School of Arts at the age of 13 and studied there for seven years. Poland was then occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and as a young man, he aligned himself with the Polish Romantics, who sought to awaken national identity through literature. Matejko’s dramatic historical compositions sought to accomplish the same ends through painting. The works won acclaim both within and outside Poland, winning gold medals at the annual Paris salon and at the World Exhibition in Paris. He also became a professor at the Krakow School of Fine Arts, and ultimately, its reformer and director. “Matejko's work has to be viewed not only in artistic terms, but also in terms of the social function it performed and continues to perform today and the response it elicits. He considered history as a function of the present and the future. His paintings are not historical illustrations, rather they are powerful expressions of the artist's psyche and his attitude to the world. He created a synthesis of Poland's national history that has found a permanent place in the canon of historical knowledge and patriotic education of successive generations of Poles (Info-Poland).”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. The name of the city “Koksyde, Belgium” is written verso, below the name of a former owner. The plaque was purchased there by an antiques dealer from whom we acquired it.
“About the Museum.” NationalMuseum in Krakow: Jan Matejko House. 2006-2007. http://www.muzeum.krakow.pl/About-the-museum.67.0.html?&L=1 (5 September 2008).
“Image:Jan Matejko-Astronomer Copernicus-Conversation with God.” Wikipedia Commons. 14 December 2005. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Jan_Matejko-Astronomer_Copernicus-Conversation_with_God.jpg (5 September 2008).“Jan Matejko: The Painter and Patriot, Fostering Polish Nationalism.” Info-Poland, University of Buffalo, StateUniversity of New York. 2000. http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/JM/JM.html (5 September 2008).