Rocznik Historii Sztuki — 30.2005

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Rocznik Historii Sztuki, tom XXX
Wydawnictwo Neriton, 2005

JOSEPH RYKWERT

FILADELFIA, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

MATERIA AND COSMOS

To wander about Poland with Adam Miłobędzki was a privilège sińce even seemingly insignificant
villages could always offer a manor - a dwór or even dworek - some stone or wooden parish church, some
castle or palace which was unique and spécial. His vast and loving knowledge embraced the Polish millennium.
He responded to buildings of the twentieth century with as much sympathy as he did to vénérable monuments
of the eleventh. Yet he never embodied his érudition in a survey such as Dehio's Handbuch or Pevsner's
Buildings of En gland. Perhaps the fixity of island borders made the task more manageable than it would
have been for Poland - as is obvious from his short Zarys dziejów, which immediately became the skeleton
history of Polish architecture. It has remained that for nearly half a century, in spite of its author's modest
disclaimer that his book was neither a handbook nor a catalogue. At its outset he made a convincing case
for the particular constitution of building "in accord with Polish clime and custom" {podług nieba i zwyczaju
polskiego) - which, for all its debts to Italy, France, Germany and the Low Countries, maintained a particular
character. But of course his towering achievement will remain his account of seventeenth-century architecture
of Poland which will, I am sure, remain the fundamental work on Polish architecture for many décades in
spite of its self-imposed temporal limitation.

He had a particular love for the timber - carpenter's - churches, more common in the South East, and
along the Carpathian foothills. In them, rather than in other building types, you may observe the confrontation
between the constituent forces that make the building culture of the Commonwealth: the radical Latinity of
the Kingdom, and the other, a Byzantine Romanity which infiltrated the Ruthenian lands of the Grand
Duchy. Any account of the two trends must be played against the unified materiał ground which historians
of architecture tend to take for granted.

The lands of the northern Slavs сап be read as a physical unit from the Carpathian s to the Urals,
from the Black to the Baltic Sea. To the south-east stretch the steppes on which tent- and yurt-dwelling
horsemen wandered as far as the Tibetan foothills and the Altai mountains for millennia; to the west
the plains narrow at the Oder, where the Carpathians extend into the Harz mountains. As the ice sheets of
the last glaciation retreated, thèse plains were covered by dense forests of oak and beech on the lowlands,
spruce and birch thinning to pine in the foothills of the highlands and to the north. The people who lived in
thèse woods had to fight them for their space and nourishment with axe and fire. The forest provided berries
and mushrooms as well as game, but ploughing the land or grazing cattle demanded that trees be felled and
every clearing scorched. All the materiał for their homes and utensils also came from the forest. Wood
seemed inexhaustible and self-renewing, and the axe was the main weapon against it and also the main
building tool.

The first axes were of stone, of course: weapons as well as tools, hand-held cutters, later hafted to
bone or wood handles. Towards the end of the old stone âge they began to be pierced: the handle was
passed through the blade, as it does in modem ones - or the blade could be turned horizontally, to become
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