Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
A Lying Lioness
drawing on paper, 6.38 x 10.63 in. (16.20 x 27 cm)
Albrecht Dürer’s A Lying Lioness was originally kept in the Print Room of the University of Warsaw Library. The oldest public collection of prints in Poland, and until 1939 the largest, the core of the collection is the former personal collection of King Stanisław August Poniatowski, who reigned from 1764 to 1795. It was purchased for the university from his successors in 1818 through an initiative of Polish nobleman Count Stanisław Kostka Potocki, who donated a considerable portion of his own personal collection of prints and drawings as well.
After a failed rebellion by Poland against Imperial Russia in 1831, known at the November Uprising, the University of Warsaw was shuttered and the collections of the Print Room transferred to the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Dürer’s A Lying Lioness among them, they remained in Russia until 1923, when the Treaty of Riga was signed, and the collection was returned to the university’s library. The collection as expanded on several occasions, while in Russia, and between 1924 and 1939, with acquisitions from the archives of Tylman van Gameren, and the collections of Dominik Witke-Jeżewski, Izydor Krzemicki, and Henryk Grohman.
With the advent of the September Campaign in 1939, Nazi forces entered Poland and invaded within six days. The looting of Polish cultural heritage began almost immediately. The Print Room lost sixty percent of its holdings, including the reference library, photographic archive, inventory, and catalogues, and to this day, has only recovered ten percent of what was taken. More than ten thousand prints and drawings deemed the most valuable by Nazi officials were requisition for the Reich, while the remaining portion was burned deliberately by the Germans in the Krasiński Library building in October 1944 as part of the planned destruction of Warsaw.
Austrian art historian and SS officer Dr. Kajetan Mühlmann was a prominent Nazi official in the expropriation of Polish cultural heritage. Mühlmann had operated in Austria in an official capacity with the Nazi Party after the Anschluss, confiscating the property of Viennese Jews, who were now enemies of the Reich. After the invasion of the Netherlands, he would administer the Dienststelle Mühlmann, a clearinghouse agency that syphoned expropriated cultural objects from occupied countries to the Reich and its officials, including Hermann Göring and Adolf Hitler. In Poland, Göring appointed Mühlmann as his special representative tasked with “securing” cultural objects. Mühlmann was also authorized to loot by the General Government of the German-occupied and controlled territories of Poland. Among the competing Nazi agencies, he became a prominent figure in the plundering of Poland, personally overseeing the looted collections of the National Museum, the Czartoryski Museum, Cracow University’s Art History Institute, Cracow Cathedral, Warsaw’s Royal Castle, the treasures of Sandomierz Cathedral, the Museum of the Diocese of Tarnów, and the University of Warsaw Library. It is believed that Mühlmann stole Dürer’s A Lying Lioness himself, however its current whereabouts are unknown.
While the MFAA were able to return some of Poland’s heritage after the war, the majority is still missing. It is estimated that seventy-five percent of Poland’s cultural heritage was taken by the Nazis, both from public and private collections.