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Amber contexts

The “Amber Contexts” permanent exhibition displays some of the most valuable amber collections in the world. No other museum boasts such a large collection of objects from this material, which is extremely diverse, ranging from small beads, pawns, through carved figurines of various sizes, boxes, jewellery, to large structures, such as altarpieces, caskets and reliquaries. What is unique about this exhibition is that it demonstrates the history of amber processing, from artefacts produced in the Neolithic period and subsequent epochs, through products crafted in workshops over the centuries, up to contemporary objects.

The exhibition begins with the geological section, with an animated introduction showing an amber forest where the fossilised resin was formed more than 40 million years ago. It moves on to cross-sections and maps of the Fennoscandian Peninsula, where amber was formed in the Eocene epoch. Exhibits in this section include lumps of amber shaped by nature of different colour, degree of opacity and size, as well as works by contemporary artists inspired by them. A noteworthy example is the necklace by Mariusz Drapikowski, who made use of the natural fracture of a lump of amber into two parts, setting it in gold. Other unique specimens are inclusions collected by the museum, which immortalise fauna and flora that lived millions of years ago, including a fly, a cicada, a beetle, twigs of thuja and oak, as well as berries.

The next part of the exhibition shows early amber processing during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and the period of the Roman Empire. What is noteworthy about this section is the “amber treasure” from Niedźwiedziówka, where an ancient amber workshop containing several thousand pieces of amber was discovered. One of the most distinctive objects on display in terms of quality and size is the amulet found near Kąty Rybackie, decorated with an ornament in the shape of a cross, believed to be an ancient symbol of the sun.

The next stage of amber processing shown is the period from the 9th to the 11th century, when Truso – a large settlement and a trading centre was established on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea in the vicinity of present-day Elbląg, on Lake Drużno. This section presents numerous artefacts made of amber discovered during archaeological research.

The subsequent part of the exhibition covers the period of the late Middle Ages, when amber became very popular in the State of the Teutonic Order, which at that time held a monopoly on trade in this raw material. Among the objects on display here is an amber maker’s workshop reconstructed on the basis of a 15th-century engraving.

This part is followed by a section displaying masterpieces of amber art from the modern period, which are the core of the exhibition and the collection. They include magnificent altarpieces, caskets, reliquaries, figurines and jewellery. These objects were mostly created in the 17th and first half of the 18th century, mainly in Royal and Ducal Prussia. They impress with their craftsmanship, lightness of design and the range of colours, often with the amber tiles being arranged from the lightest to the darkest ones to form mosaics, supplemented with ivory or mother-of-pearl plaques. The exhibition features one of the largest amber altars in the world, decorated with ivory plaques, as well as works by Gdańsk master artists, including a reliquary and casket by Michael Redlin, and the most important item in the collection – a Baroque casket by Christoph Maucher. Other notable exhibits include a casket that previously belonged to Stanisław Leszczyński and a cabinet with scenes from the life of Stanisław August Poniatowski, donated to the Castle Museum in 1979 by Lady Barbara Carmont of Edinburgh. It is worth mentioning that the exhibition also features an object connected with Malbork Castle, namely the base of a crucifix, donated in 1825 for St Catherine’s Chapel in the Palace of the Grand Masters.

The next part of the exhibition takes the visitor to the 19th century, a period of great social change, when the amber guilds lost their importance and slowly ceased to exist. The products that dominated in the 19th and 20th centuries were mouthpieces for pipes, cigar boxes and shisha, as well as various boxes, caskets, medallions and jewellery. Traditional amber processing was preserved only in folk art, especially in the Kurpie region, where old techniques had been passed down from generation to generation since the Middle Ages.

The final part of the exhibition is devoted to the revival of the amber craft after the Second World War. In the 1960s, serial production was introduced, with the most popular products being Hawaiian-type beads. Soon after works of high artistic value started to appeared, including bracelets, rings, and pendants, where amber started to be used in unique combinations with other materials, including gold, silver, semi-precious stones, stone, wood, glass, and even ordinary string. Examples of such items include works by: Maria and Paweł Fietkiewicz, Giedymin Jabłoński, the PIRO group, as well as contemporary ones by Paulina Binek, Sławomir Fijałkowski, Fabrizio Tridenti or Manuel Vilhena, Arek Wolski and Beata Zdramyte. Every year, the Malbork amber exhibition is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world. It should be mentioned that, together with the architectural detail collection, it is the longest standing exhibition at the Malbork Castle Museum since 1965.

Niskie pomieszczenie z ciężkim sklepieniem krzyżowym. Posadzka z drobnych ceramicznych brązowych płytek. Na pierwszym planie szkatuła wykonana z bursztynu w różnych odcieniach zwieńczona sceną mitologiczną przedstawiającą sąd Parysa. W głębi sali gabloty z eksponatami.

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