Annibale Carracci (1560-1609)
oil on canvas, 37.40 x 49.21 in. (95 x 125 cm)
Annibale Carracci’s Self-Portrait was owned by the Zamoyski Family Fee Tail (Ordynacja Zamojska), the hereditary estate of the richest noble family in Poland. Called ordynacja in Polish, these fee tails were a system of governing of landed property with some being so large they were regarded as principalities. Influential in Polish politics and culture for centuries, the Zamoyski Family Fee Tail was estimated at over 370,000 hectares and 100,000 residents at its height in the nineteenth century. It encompassed several cities, nearly three hundred villages, and over one hundred farming complexes, or folwarks and supported various enterprises including mills, breweries and distilleries, a sugar refinery, stone works, and factories. The family also had several grand, historic properties in Warsaw, including a number of palaces. It is believed that Carracci’s Self-Portrait was in the Blue Palace on 35/37 Senatorska Street, Warsaw, prior to World War II.
The Blue Palace first belonged to Anna Orzelska, Duchess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Beck and illegitimate daughter of King Augustus II of Poland. Given to her in 1726, her affection for the color blue lends to the blue roof and the palace’s name. By 1815, it had passed into the hands of Count Stanisław Kostka Zamoyski, who had the palace redesigned in the Empire style. Just prior to World War II, the palace housed several of the family’s collections, heirlooms, and its library and archives. The Library of the Zamoyski Estate (Biblioteka Ordynacji Zamojskiej), one of the oldest private libraries in Poland, had been housed on the Blue Palace grounds in a pavilion on 4, Żabia Street since 1811, and held more than 100,000 volumes in 1927. The family’s museum of collections kept at the palace included fine art—mostly portraits by many famous painters— family heirlooms, an armory, and an assortment of pottery, antique gems, prints, and numismatics.
On September 1, 1939, Nazi forces invaded Poland and sixteen days later the Soviet Army invaded from the east, forcibly dividing the country. Known as the September Campaign, the invasion of Poland marked the beginning of WWII. Part of the Nazi Wehrmacht’s strategy was the aerial bombardment of the city of Warsaw by the Luftwaffe. This resulted in a huge loss of Warsaw’s structures, including the Blue Palace. According to Allied reports, the Zamoyski museum and library had been combined and eighteen rooms at the Żabia building containing archival material were completely destroyed. They had contained “1,500 manuscripts, 70,000 prints, a collection of calendars, Polish and foreign editions on heraldry, papers and periodicals.” Months later, during the winter of 1939 and 1940, Nazi officials re-entered the building and confiscated one hundred manuscripts spanning several centuries and languages, as well as prints and engravings. Another, unknown group of Germans entered at the same time and removed fifty illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages.
The details of the disappearance of Carracci’s Self-Portrait are unknown, and there is much speculation. The museum collections in the Blue Palace, including the works of art, were reported as “practically burnt out” during the bombardment of Warsaw. If it had been kept on the palace grounds and survived the fires of September 1939, as some objects did, it may have been removed by the Nazi authorities. However, it should also be noted that the Zamoyski family tried to secure some of their collections by hiding them in another of their properties, perhaps the Kozłówska Palace. The Blue Palace was further damaged during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. It continued to be owned by the Zamoyski Family Fee Tail until the new Polish communist government instituted land reforms and nationalized the grounds.
During the war, the residents of the fee tail lands in the Zamość Region were subjected to German occupation and suffered from forced displacement and resettlement. The last ordynat of the ordynacja, Jan Tomasz Zamoyski, along with his wife, resisted, assisting the local population and defending their property. When the Soviets assumed control of Poland, Jan Zamoyski was stripped of his fee tail and wealth and was imprisoned as an enemy of the land reforms, during which time it is believed communist authorities looted a secret room at Klemensów Castle, which kept some of the family’s most precious possessions. Zamoyski was released a year later only to be imprisoned again. He was finally released after nearly eight years of enduring torture and forced labor. During the Cold War, the buildings of the Blue Palace were at one point the offices of the Municipal Transport Authority, before being abandoned for a time. In 2000, the Zamoyski heirs sold their claim to the property, which they had received back at the end of the Cold War. However they continued with their claim to the gardens of the Blue Palace, which they regained in 2012. They continue to search for their missing artworks and claim the land and property that was taken from them.