Muzeum Archidiecezjalne Kardynała Karola Wojtyły w Krakowie

I actually went to the museum of Pope John Paul II. I feel kinda slimy and dirty. That’s what happens when the mediæval museum collections in Kraków and Budapest are closed. No heroin? Here’s some nasty homebake cooked from codeine pills. Apparently there’s some of the pure stuff in the Wawel Cathedral Museum, but with the National Museum’s Pałac Biskupa Erazma Ciołka and Muzeum XX. Czartoryskich w Krakowie closed for renovations until indefinite future I’m getting desperate.

The Muzeum Archidiecezjalne w Krakowie is small, only 6 average-sized rooms, and not often visited either. When the Pałac Biskupa Erazma Ciołka is open it probably gets a lot of lost walk-ins, as it’s a couple of houses down. The ticket man (in a shiny silver-blue dinner jacket) turned the lights on for me.

The quality of most of the works isn’t that remarkable. Curiously that’s what kept me looking. I’ve seen so many paintings and sculptures, altarpieces big as small houses, stone and wood work, of such sublime artistry and sensitivity, that to see common works, works that were in small parishes and churches far from the grandeur and money of the cities, works that look like third-hand mass-produced copies of a memory, is something worth commenting on. The two Virgin Mary and Child polychrome wood sculptures in International Gothic Style are far from that style’s exemplars. The S-curve of the body is a mere suggestion rather than vertiginous, the bodies are thin but not exaggerated, the folds of fabric in wood understand the parallel fallings but don’t understand at all the wild movement that the eye derives. I like them because left to their own devices they are going off on a stylistic journey of their own, not one tied to a Europe-wide moment in the early-15th century.

What I smiled about a lot though in such a small museum was not one but three instances of representations of people of African descent in mediæval art. As an absolute amateur who mostly scuffs around museums for no clear reason other than pleasure, I think I can say that in mediæval art, this representation was unexceptional. It’s so common I expect to see it if I’m looking at an Adoration of the Magi. Which is what the first one was, all heads with eyes in interesting locations and foreheads either missing the bit where the brain goes (covered by a hat) or with room for two. The guy in the Family of the Virgin Mary triptych just looks happy beyond words to be there. The others are all doing the serious face—even Mary is looking at the small chest full of gold coins with a, “Did you clip them? I’ll know if you did!” but smiley guy is completely, “OMG! Baby Jesus! Mary’s head! Gold plate!” There was also a wood carving Adoration of the Magi, the Magi on the left is literally black, with long black wavy hair, and stands out strikingly beside the golden browns of the others. His profile is dead regal.

And a surprise to see Matka Boska Częstochowa, the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, having just read about her. This isn’t the famous painting in Częstochowa, but she does have the scars on her right cheek, like two long whiskers. She also has the forehead, eyes and line of nose that reminds me of Greco-Buddhist art.

A few of the works were heavily damaged, like St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Margaret the Virgin and St. Catherine of Alexandria, which somehow just made them more beautiful to me. Some so deteriorated they were barely legible.

The last room was mostly taken up with a large glass vault containing chasubles dating back to the 14th century. It was time to get kicked out, so I didn’t have long to stare at the weaving and embroidery, but splendid it was. A nice finish to a day of aimless wandering and three museums (followed by Sabbath soup in a Jewish restaurant).