In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Polish Literature: Baroque

  • Introduction
  • Primary Texts, Rare Editions, Bibliographies, Journals
  • English-Language Anthologies
  • General Overviews
  • The Historical Backdrop
  • Social Mores, Customs, and Traditions
  • An Age of Manuscripts
  • Drama
  • Toward the Enlightenment

Renaissance and Reformation Polish Literature: Baroque
Barry Keane
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0424


Emerging out of the Jesuit-led Counter-Reformation, the first manifestations of the Polish baroque, in terms of sacral and secular art and architecture coupled with an artistic and literary flourishing, appeared toward the end of the 16th century; and the era’s end was not seen until around the years 1740–1760, which came with the ascendancy of the ideals of the Enlightenment. The Polish baroque can be understood in a cultural sense as a symbiosis of the tastes and religious passion of the land-owning gentry of the Crown, the patronage of increasingly demagogic magnates, and a broad flourishing of artistic and epistolary expression from among the same caste and landed gentry, made all the more unique by the principle of the “Golden Freedom,” which bestowed a self-regarding liberty on landowners to demonstrate opinions in speech and writing, and to vote and be elected to the local and national assemblies. Central to the Polish baroque was Sarmatism, a belief, born of religious fervor, in the idea that the commonwealth of the gentry was a protectorate of the Catholic faith, and that Poland’s very location, being a buffer for Europe against incursions from the east, was a part of God’s divine plan. Whilst the prevailing liberal and heroic spirit championed the individual over monarchical absolutism and shaped viewpoints that were far from the murderous religious intolerance seen elsewhere in Counter-Reformational Europe, the ruling classes became over time swept up in an expression of religious exaltation, and, so convinced of their sanctified position, accelerated a process of curtailing the burgher and peasant classes, who were forced to accept progressively limited entitlements and privileges.

Primary Texts, Rare Editions, Bibliographies, Journals

An astounding number of digitized primary texts and rare editions are available through digital libraries associated with municipality libraries, the National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa) network, and university libraries. The holdings are so numerous and diverse that informal advice serves best here, which is to simply Internet search (best results through Google) the Polish title together with the key words “biblioteka cyfrowa” (translates as “digital library”). The search will almost always be successful, and catalogue pages have an English option. An important online bibliography dating back to 2000 can be found at Old Polish Literature. For online biographies, see also the Virtual Library of Polish Literature. The sole Polish journal to be dedicated to the period is Barok: Historia–Literatura–Sztuka. Another excellent resource with essays, links, and some bibliographical content is the webpage for the Museum of Jan III Sobieski’s Palace at Wilanów.

  • Barok: Historia–Literatura–Sztuka.

    Unfortunately not open access, the thematic list of this biannual journal, overseen by the Institute of Polish Literature of the University of Warsaw and dedicated principally to Poland’s baroque era, is to be found at the publisher’s website.

  • Museum of Jan III Sobieski’s Palace at Wilanów.

    By far the most easy-to-go-to resource, which offers a fascinating interactive browsing experience for the general public. Aside from wonderful click-through guides of the iconic palace (lying as it does in the leafy outskirts of Warsaw), the site contains articles on “Life and Customs,” “Important Events,” “Jan III Sobieski,” and “Poland and Europe.”

  • Old Polish Literature.

    This Internet site tracks the publication of critical editions and scholarly works with a year-by-year catalogue. Also to be found here are English translations of some literary works and biographical essays.

  • Virtual Library of Polish Literature.

    This UNESCO flagship project run by the Institute of Polish Philology at the University of Gdańsk looks to present works of Polish Renaissance and baroque literature (and the literature of other periods) in their richness and originality, with poetic texts representing the entire poetic output of a given writer.

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