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Art and Folklore

Polmedia Polish Pottery from Boleslawiec

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Our Lady of Czestochowa

Kraków's Czartoryski Museum houses Lady With an Ermine, one of the world's greatest non-religious masterpieces. In the city of Częstochowa, is a great religious treasure. The tale of the painting of Our Lady of Częstochowa, or Matka Boska Częstochowy. is intertwined with the glory and history of Poland. Legend holds that this portrait of the Virgin and the Baby Jesus was created by St. Luke the Apostle, and that Mary may have actually posed for him. It was found in Jerusalem by St. Helen, given to the Roman emperor in Constantinople, and credited with saving the city from an invasion of Saracens. Later given as a gift to Charlemagne, it was presented to Prince Leo of Ruthenia, once part of Poland but now in Ukraine.

The painting's history now becomes clearer. It came to be owned by Prince Władysław of Opole, Poland, who kept it in Belz, near Halicz. During an attack in 1382, a Tartar arrow hit the image of the Virgin in the throat, a mark which can still be seen today. He prince fled with the portrait to Częstochowa where he turned it over to the Pauline brothers at their monastery on Jasna Góra. The monks built a special chapel for the painting, which from then on came to be called Our Lady of Częstochowa.

Compare the same Madonna picture without and with the robe below:

In 1430, Hussite vandals stole the portrait, but their wagon with the picture loaded onto it would not move. One of the frustrated bandits struck the face of the Madonna twice across the cheek with his sword. Before he could come down with a third blow, legend says he was struck dead on the spot, and the other looters fled. Despite attempts at repair, the slashes on the Virgin's cheek remain to this day.

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Lady With an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci

Lady With an Ermine (Madonna z Lasiczka)

Poland has for centuries been home to two of the most famous and admired paintings in the world. And they managed to survive hundreds of years of that nation’s turbulent history, most remarkably the devastation of the second world war.

One of them is a secular work of art, the Lady With an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci, one of about a dozen undisputed Leonardo paintings in existence. The other is the Black Madonna, also known as Our Lady of Częstochowa or Matka Boska Częstochowy. It has been revered by Poles generation upon generation and there is hardly a church in Polonia, in America or elsewhere, that does not display a replica.

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The Country-Polka Connection

The origin of country music goes back to the songs of the Scottish Highlands, but its roots include Irish jigs, English ballads, the French cotillion, African slave rhythms and even church hymns. A conglomeration of these styles was played by English, Scottish and Irish settlers in Appalachia and the West from the 1700s.
Variously known throughout history as Mountain Music, Frontier Ballads, Cowboy Songs, Hillbilly, American Folk, Country & Western, it has been popularly called Country Music for the past forty years.

In contrast, the origins of polka music lie in the folk melodies of Central Europe. It came specifically from Bohemia in the early 1800s, but is ultimately based on the traditional music of the larger region intertwined with one another to include Polish, Czech and Slovakian areas.

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Mark Twain’s Polish Acquaintances

Vienna in 1897 was the vibrant capital city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that comprised more than a dozen nationalities, including Poles. The Empire had taken southern Poland in the 18th century partitions and called it the province of Galicia. Its residents became Austrian citizens and Vienna draw a share of opportunistic Poles. By the end of the 19th century, one in five Viennese was Polish.

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