THE EXHIBITION OF THE HISTORY OF LESZNO AND ITS REGION
The rich history of Leszno is due primarily to its founders: to two Leszno families – Leszczyńscy and Sułkowscy. The history of the castle dates from this time when the Leszczyńscy family owned the town for many glorious years. The exhibition includes archive materials, artistic products, old prints and the cartography. An item of great interest on display in the Museum is the magnificent fighting sword of the 13th century. This sword probably belonged to Przemysła II, king of Poland. The caption and the sculpture it makes the sword one of the most interesting museum pieces in Poland, even in Europe. The great period of development of the town regarding its economy, culture and science was during the first half of the 17th century. The town belonged then to Rafał Leszczyński, the Voivode Bełski and his son Boguslav, the Royal Vice Chancellor. The town was famous for its flour mills, the manufacture of cloth and its printing presses. The old prints on display testify to the secular tradition of printing and publishing in the town.
Leszno became a polyglot community with various cultures and several religions. The artistic products form part of the collection of souvenirs belonging to the Bohemian Brothers who lived in Leszno and is the only such collection in Polish museums dealing with the history of the Bohemian Brothers. The collection consists of liturgical dishes and altar fabrics.
Other important and precious items also on display are products manufactured in the workshops of Leszno and the region. Among the great number on display are: seals, artisan stamps, locks to gates adorned with decorative ornaments, guild boxes, different kinds of mugs, pitchers, and cups made of tin. These last items came mainly from the Silesian workshops, with other objects from Leszno. Special attention deserve: a kind of notification with a butcher`s guild insignia from the 18th century, the Fashion Book of the Leszno Tailors Guild from the 18th century and the Statutes of the Haberdashers Guild dating from 1692, approved by the owner of the town, Rafał Leszczyński, father of the king of Poland, Stanisław Leszczyński, and then by Józef Alexander Sułkowski. Other objects connected to the workshops are clocks (fireplace clocks and wall clocks), porcelain and glass products from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, all from different workshops in Poland and Europe.
The minor part of the exhibition displays guns: long side arms like pikes, fire arms, flintlock pistols and hood guns, powder horns, halberds and partisans.
The 18th century in the history of Leszno was an age of recession as trade and commerce declined, affecting also the town's cultural life. The city under the family of Sułkowscy slowly recovered from the economic crisis, but never regained the great proSperity and splendour of the first half of the 17th century.
By the end of the 18th century Leszno had already been annexed by Prussia. The 19th century is the long period of the fight for independence supported by various cultural and commercial associations involving all groups of Polish society in an effort to increase economical development, including trade and industry, and to raise the standard of education.
The exhibition is dominated by portraits of members of the Sułkowscy family from the 18th century and also by many items of porcelain and glass products. The souvenirs and memorabilia covering the period of the Prussian annexation and the insurrection in the Wielkopolska Province deserve special attention. The patriotic jewellery, lithographs, glass and china products, postcards and the plaques show how lost the people were and their longing for their own country. The hand-made insurgents’ flag from Przemęt, medals and many photographs bring to life the history of the insurrection in the Wielkopolska Province.
The inter-war period (1918-1939) of Leszno of the exhibition is illustrated by the political, social and economic life of that time and has also a great number of items covering the history of the 17th Regiment of Lancers and the 55th Infantry Regiment in the Wielkopolska Province.
THE EXHIBITION OF JAN AMOS KOMENSKI AND THE BOHEMIAN BROTHERS AND THE PORTRAITS OF COFFINS FROM THE 17th - 18th CENTURY
Very interesting and unique is the collection of the artistic crafts and old prints of Jan Amos Komeński and the Church of the Czech Brothers. For years Leszno was one of the most important European centres of this religious movement.
An interesting exhibit is a model of the 19th century Saint John`s Church, which is a replica in miniature of the church built by the Czech Brothers from 1652–1654. A particular attention should be paid to the altar coverings (antependia) dating back from the 17th and 18th centuries, liturgical dishes (consisting among other things a Renaissance goblet), a 17th century dish used for storing wine, and lastly, a can given by fellow co-religionists of Jan Kasjusz, the pastor of Leszno.
However, the most impressive objects on display are several 18th century portraits - of coffins of the Czech Brothers. They were to be found mainly in the former Republic of Poland and were an important part of funeral decorations. Most of them have survived in the area of the former Wielkopolska Province. They were designed by painters of local guilds or by painters commisioned by the royal court. They were the most characteristic features of the old Polish funeral ceremonies. The function of these portraits of coffins was to glorify and commemorate man’s mortality and the merits of the deceased and formed the essential element of the traditional catafalque decoration – castrum doloris.
THE EXHIBITION OF PORTRAITS OF THE KINGS OF THE SHOOTING SOCIETY OF LESZNO FROM THE 18TH -20TH CENTURIES
The District Museum in Leszno has something that not many Polish museums have: a unique collection of over eighty portraits of the kings of the Shooting Society of Leszno from 1715-1936. only the Museum in Cracow, which has the oldest shooting society in Poland, can boast a similar unusual collection of paintings. In addition to the paintings are documents recording the activities of the shooting societies in the south–west of Wielkopolska and Leszno itself. These documents include: standard boxes, diplomas, cups, uniforms, medals, decorations and photographs, mainly from the inter-war period (1918-1939). The portraits in the collection in the Leszno Museum were painted in local workshops and beyond the borders of Wielkopolska.
THE EXHIBITION OF THE NOBLE AND MIDDLE–CLASS PORTRAITS FROM THE 18TH-20TH CENTURIES, AMONG OTHER THINGS, THE FAMILIES LESZCZYńSCY AND SUŁKOWSCY
The portraits were made in local workshop, as well as outside borders of Wielkopolska province. The collection has about 160 paitings. Among court-portraits worth mentioning is the oldest of them, portrait of Frederic V dating from the early 17th century. Though later, still no less interesting are two paintings from the workshop of Louisa de Silvestre from the second quarter of the 18th century, the portrait of Alexander Józef Sułkowski and A Man in the armour. The child is an especially rare for the Polish portrait art because exceptionally precious is the equal set of four representative pictures of sons of the prince of Alexander Józef Sułkowski.
In addition to the sublime courtpainting there was also local portraiture with a much wider public appeal. In our collections represented by portraits of the Morawski family. The persons portrayed wore festive clothes, often armour that was not used at the time any more, coats worn on the shoulders and fastened with decorative clamps, fur-lined coats, later kontusz ( a robe worn by Polish nobility), like in the portraits of Mikołaj Kaliński and Adam Myszka Chłoniewski. The collection also holds a few portraits of clerics, pastors.
On the 19th century portrait art consists mostly the portrait the middle-class- and modest gathering of miniatures, mostly presenting pictures of townsmen, aristocracies, divine, military and kings (made by painters such as : J. I. Łukasiewicz, N. Palma or F. Winlerhorlitz). New developments in printing art resulted in emergence of graphic portraits. In our collection dominate pictures of Stanisław Leszczyński and his daughters Maria Leszczyńska and other representatives of this tribe as well as sights of cities from the Wielkopolska province.
THE GALLERY OF RURAL POLISH PAINTINGS
One of the most well-known collections in the District Museum in Leszno is the Gallery of rural Polish Paintings. It is one of the biggest collections this kind in Poland consisting of almost 800 paintings and more than 250 drawings and engravings. Its creator was Dr Stanisław Chmielowski, the Museum director for many years. All the paitings are by eminent Polish artists such as T. Axentowicz, J. Chełmoński, J. Fałat, W. Jarocki , S. Kamocki, I. Kossak, A. Kotsis, J. Malczewski, F. Pautsch, K. Sichulski, W. Tetmajer, L. Wyczółkowski, S. Wyspiański, Wojciech Weiss, Jan Cybis and many others. There are about 270 names of painters. These works of art are from the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The paintings show the work of peasant farmers, their everyday activities and the conditions of that time. They show the environment`s natural resources and the harmony of rural life. These paitings are a great source of information on the life in the countryside of Poland.
Among these artists are also painters of the Młoda Polska movement in Poland. These artists succumbed to the fascination of the countryside. They are: Włodzimierz Tetmajer, Stanisław Dębicki, Fryderyk Pautsch and Kazimierz Sichulski. What is interesting in this Leszno collection is an unusual painting with the title “Playing with four brushes” by Józef Rapacki, Kacper Żelechowski, Wincenty Wodzinowski and Jan Skotnicki.
Among these rural themes is naturally the subject of animals: drawings of horses, cows and other domestic animals. The exhibition has works by: Józef Mehoffer, Włodziemierza Tetmajer, Stanisław Prauss, Wacław Masłowski, Józef Szermentowski. The main part of this collection is composed of works showing typical manor houses by artists such as: Bronisława Rychter-Janowska, Jadwiga Tetmajer-Naimska, Stanisław Korzeniewski, Mieczysław Korwin-Piotrowski, Jan Skotnicki, Stefan Sonnewend or Michał Gorstkin-Wywiórski. The Museum in Leszno also has the precious collection of about hundred sketches, drawings and paintings by Władzimierz Tetmajer.
THE EXHIBITION OF FOLK CULTURE OF THE REGION
Among the items on display are objects depicting the life and culture of the villages of South-West Wielkopolska. These objects are divided according to theme: the national costume, tools for the flax and spinnings threads, blocks for the printing of fabrics, folk art and fiittings, and tools and dishes associated with the traditional equipment of the peasants’ accommodation.
The different forms of the ceremonial national costume are displayed as sets from the different regions of Leszno (Pawłowice and Kąkolewo), Krotoszyn and Krobia and include different types of clothes, mostly headgear (coifs, shawls), which reveal their wealth and great variety. National costumes from Biskupizna, the most well-known in Wielkopolska, are represented by men’s, girls’ and married women’s clothing and their various models of dress.
Among the set of tools used for the flax, the preparation of the yarn and the spinning threads are other items: hackles with the double sword used to break the flax straw, combs to separate the seed head and brushes to separate and comb out the hard stems from the fibre. As well as the distaff, spindles and the spinning-wheel for making the yarn, there are different forms of reeling machines for measuring the threads and curling them into the hank.An interesting set are the blocks for the printing of fabrics and the table cloth adorned with motives very similar to those on the blocks. The interesting pieces are: the richly decorated box for a dowry and the sideboard used for household equipment, tools and dishes used in family homes. These include: cheese presses, churns and moulds for the butter.
Other artistic activity in our region is represented mainly by amateur 19th century sculptures of little chapels on lanes and country roads. Also of special interest are organs: 400 wooden pipe organs built during the inter-war period by Antoni Prałat, the miller from Osieczna.
Alongside the organs are musical instruments used in folk bands in the region – bagpipes and violins.
THE EXHIBITION OF THE JEWISH CULTURE IN WIELKOPOLSKA
The Judaica is the most recent offer exhibition in the District Museum in Leszno. It is located in the Art Gallery in the building of the former synagogue. The Judaica Collection consists of about 60 museum objects and almost 60 additonal items and includes Jewish and religious objects and domestic objects. The most important items include Torah scrolls, handwritten sheets of parchments around two wooden rolls: ece chaim (Hebrew ec chaim - tree of life) with a dress (Hebrew meil) and many ornaments (Hebrew klejkodesz), such as tas (Hebrew - breast plate), rimonim (Hebrew rimon - pomegranate) and for great occasions a Torah crown (Hebrew Keter Torah). A special rod called yad (Hebrew - hand) was used, shaped lake a hand with a finger pointing to help the reader keep his place on the scroll, menoras (candelsticks). On display are also Chanukah lamps, bessamims, other ritual objects and dishes used on the Sabbath and other Jewish days of religious celebration. Apart from ritual objects, the collection also includes examples of men`s ritual costumes: tallit, phylacteries and atara.
Another part of the collection consists of documents and archival photographs, illustrating Jewish life in Leszno and the region. Leszno had many links with the outside world for example: Chaim Salomon (Leszno 1740 – Philadelphia 1785) one of George Washington’s closest aides, Akiba Eger (Eisenstadt 1761 – Poznań 1837), the great Talmud authority, who began his career in Leszno, Leo Baeck (Leszno 1873 – London 1956), one of the outstanding Jewish philosophers of the 20th century and Germany`s last chief Rabbi, and Rudolph Leonhard (Leszno 1889 – Berlin 1953), poet, writer and prose writer.