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The exhibition ‘Nigra Crux Mala Crux’. The Black and White Legends of the Teutonic Order’

Data: 28 września 2023 - 15 stycznia 2024

Grafika w kolorze czerni i bieli. Na białym tle pośrodku napis stylizowany na średniowieczne litery Nigra crux mala crux. Po lewej stronie w czarnym polu napis Wystawa od 28.09.223 do 15.01.2024. Po prawej w takim samym polu napis Czarna i białą legenda zakonu krzyżackiego.

The exhibition ‘Nigra Crux Mala Crux’. The Black and White Legends of the Teutonic Order’ is one of the most important events organised at the Castle Malbork Museum in recent years.

The exhibition ‘Nigra Crux Mala Crux’. The Black and White Legends of the Teutonic Order’ is the first attempt by a Polish museum to tackle the myths and stereotypes surrounding the Teutonic Order. At the same time, it completes the tale of Malbork Castle told in the form of exhibitions organised since 2019, with this exhibition being the fourth and final instalment in the series. Every previous exhibition presented an expansive narrative that embedded Malbork and its past within a broader historical context. Each offered an opportunity to reflect on and notice the potential of this imposing structure, which far exceeds being a simple tourist attraction. This journey can be retraced simply by analysing the titles of the exhibitions, each inspired by a key text it is based on:

– Wisdom has Built Herself a House. The Teutonic State in Prussia – a tale of the Teutonic dominion, which killed the idea of the incompatibility of territorial rule with monastic life, eventually leading to the fall of the Teutonic state in Prussia and the order itself suffering a severe crisis;

– I Defend the Kingdom with an Unsheathed Sword and Shield it with My Wings. Malbork in Royal Prussia – which focuses on the Early Modern Period and the Commonwealth, which absorbed the castle along with the rest of the province, turning them into important elements of the Polish state;

– And so the Holy Virgin Mary Must Watch as Her Home is Defiled. Malbork Between the Political and the Sacred, 1772–1856 – the history of the castle’s destruction and eventual first stage of rebuilding after the First Partition of Poland, the clash between the Prussian administration and the Romanticists, as well as changes in the appearance of the castle, whose halls became home to ideology, and which was to become a Prussian national monument.

And finally, Nigra Crux Mala Crux. The Black and White Legends of the Teutonic Order, whose focus is on the second half of the 19th and the 20th centuries, when the Teutons and their iconic castle became an instrument of the politics of memory wielded by the Hohenzollerns, Nazis and communists on the one hand, and a symbol of hope for independence and a major part of the national traditions of Poles and Lithuanians on the other. A key part of these processes was of course the memory of the Battle of Grunwald.

‘The Teutonic Order, its existence and actions constitute an important part of the histories of Poland, Lithuania and Germany. Although Malbork Castle spent more time in Polish hands than under Teutonic rule, the building is still associated with its original owners and constructors. This is why there is no better location to organise this exhibition – a problem-focused event, most likely seen as controversial and thought-provoking. However, I am convinced that, as a state cultural institution, the Malbork Castle Museum, which manages a cultural heritage site of international significance entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List over 25 years ago, is virtually predestined to not only tackle history-related problems, but also social phenomena that still echo today,’ said Dr Jarosław Sellin, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and General Conservator of Monuments, in his letter.

The narrative of the final instalment, ‘Nigra Crux Mala Crux. The Black and White History of the Teutonic Order’, begins in the Middle Ages, but the focus lies squarely on the second half of the 19th and the 20th centuries.
That is when the Teutonic Knights and their history, as well as their iconic castle, were used as a political and ideological instrument. This has not only led to historical simplifications, but also distortions, as well as the emergence of various myths and stereotypes that still persist today.

‘The history of the Teutonic Order encompasses an enormous amount of legends, novels, films and paintings, many of which provide but a cursory overview of documented historical events. Still, these legends have become deeply rooted in our collective consciousness. As a general of the Teutonic Order, I am thankful to all historians from Europe and beyond for their decades of effort to shift the focus of history from rulers and battles to social and cultural aspects. If one strives for objectivity, one cannot avoid discussing the black and white legends of the order based on historical sources as well. With this exhibition and its accompanying events, the Malbork Castle Museum guarantees that the subject matter is presented with adherence to the highest standards of scholarship, in addition to being presented in the Order’s former seat of power, which would remain but a ruin today if not for the Polish state’s enormous efforts to reconstruct it. This place connects us through its shared history, as well as reminding us to strive for peace, understanding and social justice,’ said Father Frank Bayard, Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, during the official opening of the exhibition.

The German historian Udo Arnold talked about the tremendous work of the scholars who, in the second half of the 20th century, took the first steps towards finding common ground with regard to the difficult history of Polish-German relations. In relation to a treaty signed by the People’s Republic of Poland and West Germany in the 1970s, which included a revision of Polish and German school textbooks, he mentioned that the Teutonic Order was the most difficult issue of all. This led to the organisation of several conferences on the topic and the establishment of an international historical commission for the purpose of studying the entire history of the order. All these events have led us to the 21st century.

In 2010, the Grand Master was our guest during the 600th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Grunwald, and his predecessor and successor are in Malbork today, which would not have been possible without a great deal of scholarly effort that made it possible to overcome the problems of the 19th and 20th centuries. This effort was necessarily a joint effort by Polish and German historians. These issues from our past are the subject of this exhibition. I am very grateful that an exhibition whose purpose is to dismantle myths and prejudices could be organised here in Malbork, a place where these myths originate from, and where they will be dispelled,’ said Udo Arnold.

How this memory evolved in Poland and in Germany and the emergence of modern-day relations were also discussed during the opening of the exhibition by Professor Igor Kąkolewski, Head of the Berlin Centre for Historical Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, a partner institution in the project.

‘The title of the exhibition is also accompanied by the motto, “No, this history has many shades”. The exhibition illustrates the emergence of both legends, of both cultures of remembrance. It also brings forth nuance and the various shades of grey between the extremes of black and white. Our exhibition strives to build bridges for a better understanding of both perspectives – Polish and German, and also aims to develop empathy on both sides. Today, this mutual empathy is the core value that both Poles and Germans should strive for in order to understand each other better, to find common ground in matters of vital importance to both countries and Europe, a continent that we share and whose culture came, comes and always will come in many different shades. This is what makes it is so rich,’ said Professor Igor Kąkolewski, the exhibition’s co-author.

The Teutonic Order and its history have become an important part of the Polish, German and Lithuanian national traditions. The exhibition presents the mechanisms of emergence, causes and effects related to these phenomena, but does not provide ready-made solutions. Similar to the previous exhibitions, its aim is to encourage reflection and contemplation. In this respect, the exhibition makes very clear references to modernity and current events. An integral part of it is a presentation of what is known as the Grunwald tradition – anniversary celebrations of the Grunwald victory and attempts to cover up the defeat.

Analysing the history of Malbork Castle requires a broad approach, as this is the only way that a number of similar contexts can be drawn, making it possible not only to capture individual historical facts, but also to correlate them and discern their meaning and the true nature of this place – one of the most important places to the Western Civilisation, one that focuses within itself the history of Europe from the Middle Ages to modern times. We have been drawing these contexts for you since 2019, and this exhibition is a fourth, final instalment that caps off the entire cycle,’ said Dr Janusz Trupinda, the exhibition’s curator and head of the Malbork Castle Museum, during the opening ceremony.

More than three hundred original exhibits from 35 institutions and private collections from Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Italy and Austria are presented across four rooms. These include mediaeval Teutonic codices, the Shrine Madonna of Klonówka, brilliant 19th and 20th-century paintings, drawings and prints (by such artists as Jan Matejko, Wojciech Gerson and Juliusz and Wojciech Kossak), bookplates, medals and badges, documents, posters, postage stamps, books, photographs and video materials, in addition to modern-day items depicting themes related to the Teutonic Order and the Battle of Grunwald. Some of the most visually-impressive exhibits are the two very special paintings hanging opposite each other in the Grand Refectory:

‘Battle of Grunwald’ by T. Popiel and Z. Rozwadowski, Kraków 1910, History Museum in Lviv,

‘Dies Irae’ by G. Kazimierenas, frame by B. Stancikus, Vilnius 2012, History Museum in Trakai.

The head of the History Museum in Lviv, Roman Czmełyk, emphasised the importance of the partnership with the Malbork Castle Museum and ensuring the safety of the ‘Battle of Grunwald’ for the duration of the war in Ukraine.

Many of the exhibits are on display in Malbork for the first time, providing a unique insight and offering a comprehensive demonstration of how the castle functioned and how it was perceived by society. The exhibition thus encourages visitors to reflect, but also to enjoy the wonderful works of art and artefacts on display in the castle halls, which are made even more impressive by the display cases specially designed by the company NOWY MOTYW Adam Orlewicz. For the purpose of making the exhibition more accessible, for the first time in history, the Malbork Castle Museum offers special guided exhibition tours, a range of curator-led tours and lectures as well as a special educational programme.

Visitors can also purchase souvenirs with depictions of various exhibits. These are available from any of the castle shops.

Also available are guided tours of the exhibition and educational workshops.

Zachęcamy także do wysłuchania cyklu 5-odcinkowego podcastu, który jest doskonałym przygotowaniem do odczytania wystawy już na miejscu.


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