Bulletin du Musée National de Varsovie — 6.1965

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Zdzisław Żygulski jnr

REMBRANDTS „LISOWCZYK":
A STUDY OF COSTUME AND WEAPONS

In the Art Bulletin of 1944 a study by J. S. Held entitled Rembrandfs „Polish" Rider was
published1. This is the most elaborate and precise monograph of Rembrandt's famous picture
which was in Polish bands from 1791 and was sold in 1910 to the H. C. Frick Collection in New
York (fig. 1); nevertheless many of Held's statements provoke discussion2.

In the Gallery of the last Polish king, Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski, the picture was called
Cosaąue a cheval, but later in the Tarnowski Collection at Dzików it was known as the Lisoioczyk
and reputed to be a portrait of an officer of the Lisowski cavalry of the XVII century. After
a detailed analysis of the rider, his physiognomy, costume, and military eąuipment Held rejccts
the thesis that it might be a portrait and comes to the conclusion that the picture gives a generał
representation of a youthful soldier on horseback, fully armcd and dressed in a manner typical
of ,,East Europcan" light cavalry. It could be based upon an authentic experience but probably
Rembrandt arranged a model using pieces from his own collection. The iconographic themc of
the picture can be traced back to the XV century, though Rembrandt was evidently impressed
by the „riders" in the etchings of Stefano delia Bella. The aesthetic theme of the work is much
more specific. Held points out the importance of the anatomical theatres in Holland and supposes
that a drawing of an equestrian skeleton by Rembrandt (in the Darmstadt Museum) shows the
source of his artistic inspiration. A still more powerful motive is to be found in the generał politi-
cal situation of Eastern Europę, at that time seriously threatened by Islamie aggression. Held
suggests that Rembrandt was interested in the wars of the Christians against the Mohammedan
world and in the picture tried to create the symbol of Miles Chrislianus, a glorification of Christian
knighthood.

Held wrote his study in the circumstances of war. He profited from all accessible sources, but
much of the Polish materiał for the ąuestion remained beyond his reach. He himself admittćd
that his analysis of the rider's costume and arms might be inadequate3. Referring to the Polish
scholars of the older generation, such as J. Boloz-Antoniewicz, Z. Batowski, and J. Mycielski,
the American author did not come into touch with the modern scientific reconstructions of
Polish military dress and arms made by B. Gembarzewski, the best expert in the field4. On the
other hand, the opinions of the Polish contemporary art historians dealing with Rembrandt

1. J. S. Held, „Rembrandt's „Polish" Rider", The Art Bulletin, XXVI, 1944, pp. 246-265.

2. This study is one of the results of the author's visit to the U. S. A. in 1963 made at the invitation of the American
Association of Musetims. A summary was published in Sprawozdania z posiedzeń komisji Oddziału PAN w Krakowie,
lipiec-grudzień 1964, and the fuli Polish version in the Biuletyn Historii Sz'uki, XXVI, 1964, pp. 83—111.

3. J. S. Held, op. cii., p. 253.

4. B. Gembarzewski's plates in the book Polska jej dzieje i kultura. Warszawa, II (n, d.), p. 53 fig. C, and W. Dziewano-
wski, „Kawaleria Polski przedrozbiorowej", in the book Księga Jazdy Polskiej, Warszawa., 1938, fig. on pp. 66 and 67.
See also Żołnierz polski, ubiór, uzltroicnic i oporządzenie od wieku XI do wieku XVII (Gembarzewski's piates), Warsza-
wa, 1960.

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