Italians in Early Modern Poland

Translated by Katarzyna Popowicz

by Wojciech Tygielski (Author)
©2015 Monographs 540 Pages


The book provides a panorama of Italian migrants’ activities in Polish economy, political life and, above all, culture. The motivations of Italians who decided to travel to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and quite often settled there permanently, the reasons which made this migration possible and approved by the Polish and Lithuanian hosts are described in detail. Various categories of Italian migrants are considered as well as the potential and growing difficulties in their adaptation. These premises serve as proof of social and cultural distances between the Italians and the Poles and underline the tensions between the Italians’ cultural background and the one which they had to cope with. The hypothesis of the lost historical opportunity made possible by numerous arrivals of migrants from more culturally advanced areas is highlighted through the debate on the efficiency of Italian influences upon Polish-Lithuanian realities, and by the catalogue of the causes which effectively hindered Italian impulse for modernity.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Theme
  • The Title, Timeframes, Terminology
  • The Aim and Concept of the Study
  • The Sources
  • Construction
  • Literature
  • Chapter I. Evidence of Presence: On the Pages of Narrative Sources
  • An Attempt to Order
  • On the Pages of Narrative Sources
  • Marcin Kromer
  • Szymon Starowolski
  • Maciej Stryjkowski
  • Krzysztof and Łukasz Opaliński
  • Sebastiano and Valerio Montelupi, Niccolò Siri
  • Paweł Piasecki
  • Father Jan Piotrowski
  • Zbigniew and Jerzy Ossoliński
  • The Kraków Burgher
  • Jan Markowicz
  • Chapter II. The Coming: From the Italian Perspective
  • Emigration and Its Causes
  • From Italy to the Commonwealth—Motivations
  • Knowledge about Poland
  • Nunciature and Jesuits
  • “Pro-Polish Lobby”
  • The Motives for Setting Out on a Journey
  • “Curiosity”
  • “Business”
  • “The Call of Duty”
  • “Refugium”—defectors
  • Decision-making Mechanism
  • Personnel Recruitment
  • Variants and Strategies
  • Hardship and Risk
  • For the Short Term
  • “For Good”
  • Ties with Italy
  • Chapter III. The Stay: Italians in the Commonwealth
  • From Early Contacts to the Early Modern Period
  • Spheres of Activity and Typology of Figures
  • The Economic Sphere
  • Merchants and Entrepreneurs
  • Politics, Religion, and Intellectual Pursuits
  • Bona and Her Circle
  • Politicians and Royal Advisers; Diplomats and Secretaries
  • Diplomacy
  • Secretaries
  • Scholars, Intellectuals…Globetrotters
  • Religious Dissenters
  • The Artistic Sphere
  • Architects and Builders
  • Vilnius and Other Places
  • Builders, Sculptors, and Stuccoists
  • Longhi—an artist’s life
  • Plastic Arts
  • Painters
  • Chalcographers and Goldsmiths
  • Musicians and People of Theatre
  • The Sphere of Services and Professional Specialisations
  • Doctors and Apothecaries
  • Military and Engineers
  • Active in Many Fields…
  • Tito Livio Burattini
  • Girolamo Pinocci
  • Paolo Del Buono
  • Group Portrait
  • The Scale of the Phenomenon—Possibilities of Quantitative Presentations
  • Geography of the Italian Presence
  • Municipal Area
  • Kraków
  • Lviv
  • Vilnius
  • Gdańsk
  • Royal Court
  • Magnate Courts
  • Chapter IV. Interaction: A Friendly Confrontation
  • In New Realities
  • Ties and Conflicts within the Italian Community
  • The Art of Adaptation
  • What and Who Did they Find?
  • Difficulties in Adaptation
  • Successes and Failures
  • Could Italians Enter Old Polish Elites?
  • Various Directions of Influences
  • Similarities and Differences
  • Relations with Polish Surroundings
  • Polonisation
  • Indygenat and Ennoblements
  • Italianisation
  • The Knowledge of Italian
  • Italianisms in Polish
  • The Most Important Spheres of Italian Interaction
  • Intellectual Sphere
  • Humanist Culture—Literary Influences—Translations
  • Italianism, Italianisation, Interaction
  • Literary Influences
  • Translations
  • The World of Ideas
  • Callimachus
  • Machiavelli
  • Castiglione, that is Górnicki
  • Artistic Inspirations
  • Architecture and Construction
  • Architectural Treatises
  • Ceremonies
  • Music and Theatre
  • Civilisational Sphere
  • Innovations
  • Political Culture
  • Models of Political System Solutions—Venice
  • Role Models—models of norms and behaviours
  • Effectiveness of Influence
  • Chapter V. Reaction: To Italian Emigrants
  • Attitude to Foreigners
  • “Italophilia” and its Practitioners
  • Mikołaj Wolski
  • Zygmunt Myszkowski
  • Pacowie—Pazzi
  • Towards Italophobia
  • The Queen and Her Compatriots—In a Different Light
  • Under Jan Kazimierz Vasa
  • Burgher Literature
  • Attitudes to Foreign Education
  • Instead of a Conclusion—Gabriel Krasiński
  • In the Circle of Stereotypes
  • The Stereotype of an Italian
  • An Italian in Italy
  • An Italian in Poland-Lithuania
  • Sagacious, Learned, and Prudent
  • Artful, Cunning, Devious, and Insincere
  • Greedy and Covetous
  • Sensual, Artist, Shallow Religiosity
  • Italia—“Italian delicacies”
  • Chapter VI. Consequences and Contexts: The Lost Chance for Modernization
  • L’Italianità—Model of Italian Influence
  • Roman Pollak
  • Arturo Stanghellini and Enrico Damiani
  • The Essence of Mutual Relations
  • Lack of Worthy Progeny
  • Temporary and Long-Lasting Consequences
  • Comparative Views
  • Italians in France, Russia, and England
  • Italians and Other Groups of Foreigners
  • Final Remarks
  • Italians in Modern Europe
  • Mutual Relations, Their Tradition and Perspectives
  • Afterword
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources


Over twenty years ago, in the late spring of 1993, I was crossing the Italian border near Tarvisio. I was heading for Rome to take office as director of the Institute of Polish Culture there. Since I was an employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, I used a diplomatic passport, a fact of great importance for the further part of the story. The border crossing was crowded, mainly due to three Polish coaches, and it was inspected scrupulously by Italian customs officers. As it turned out, the reasons for this thoroughness were because some passengers had too many packets of Marlboro, bottles of vodka and other delicacies, as well as some visa-passport irregularities. Let us recall that these were the times when those who worked illegally in Western European countries were, if caught and convicted, given special stamps and annotations in their passports, which limited their right to return. Holders of passports with such annotations were turned away at the border.

The atmosphere of nervousness also affected my border experience. The Italian customs officer, casting somewhat distasteful glances at my Skoda Favorit (it was packed up to the roof because my term in Rome was to last four years, and the whole family was moving), took my brand new diplomatic passport into his hands with certain surprise. After relevant explanations, he realised that he was looking not only at a compatriot of those passengers halted in the adjacent lane for coaches, but also at an official representative of the country they come from, who, in addition, could communicate in the Italian language.

My customs officer decided to take advantage of this. He delivered a very emotional and dramatic speech, from which it followed that he greatly lamented on the present state of Polish-Italian relations, or at least that part of them that he, as an Italian customs officer, observed and participated in daily. I heard that, by breaching the laws of the country they were travelling to (and still worse, often presenting themselves as pilgrims), the co-travellers I met coincidentally at the border crossing gave of themselves the worst opinion, and they simultaneously brought shame to the whole Polish nation. The customs officer said that Poland was worthy of the highest esteem and had always been respected in Italy for its steadfastness, bravery, and many other qualities; that our two nations’ centuries long cultural ties, our brotherhood in the fight for national independence, the awe inspired by Polish personages such as Copernicus, Mickiewicz, and, at that time, the Pope, all were soiled in effect. In a word, that all the fine values and mutual friendship were threatened by such illegal doings. ← 9 | 10 →

While listening to this tirade I had mixed feelings. I did not feel oneness with my compatriots at odds with Italian regulations, but I did not distance myself from them ostentatiously, and this was not only because of my diplomatic passport. The only sensible arguments I had at hand were historical, and thus I said that I understood his exasperation, but as far as I knew there was a time when it was Italians who were coming to Poland in search of work and better living conditions, that Italian architects and artists erected Polish palaces and churches, and Italian merchants were vending their merchandise there and made quite a profit in doing so. Hence what we were witnessing then was another scene from this story, one of many phases in long, complicated, but very valuable mutual relations.

I do not think my interlocutor was convinced, but I think that it was then, at borderland Tarvisio, that I decided to take a closer look at Italian emigration to Poland, to furnish myself with new arguments in this (now only symbolic) discussion. Much time has passed since that journey, and I could devote only part of that time to fulfilling this aim, but the present book seems to be in some sense a continuation of that conversation with the Italian customs officer.

The list of people who contributed to the creation of this book and provided the author with help during writing is very long and only a fraction of their number may be included here.

I dedicate this book to the late Professor Antoni Mączak. He was my excellent master, a superb historian, of whose memory I would like to be a custodian.

Professors Jerzy Axer, Juliusz A. Chrościcki, Piotr Salwa, and Lech Szczucki kindly agreed to read the typed copy, now called a printout, and to express their opinions before submission to the publisher, Paweł Kądziela. Alina Żórawska-Witkowska was an insightful reader of fragments on music and theatre. Not all advice and critical remarks could be applied here; some suggestions I will try to consider in the future. I greatly appreciate this help and give thanks for it heartily.1

To all others, please accept my gratitude privately, whether already expressed, or at the earliest opportunity. ← 10 | 11 →

1Having said this, I allow myself a short digression. One of those friendly suggestions pertained to a more extensive use of Początki humanizmu by Juliusz Domański. When I took this advice, I encountered a very elegant expression of thanks to reviewers, which I would like to cite here, with my signature and with full conviction: “I hope they will not resent that I have not included some remarks, more rarely because I was not agreeing with them, more frequently because I saw no chance to make use of them within the modest frames of my thematic objectives and scholarly resources. Though they did not take seed in the book, I feel that, to most of the remarks, I could refer the sententia of the famous Epicurus, about those defeated in discussion, who gained more because they learnt something.”


In the last years of the 16th century, the work Relation of the State of Polonia and the United Provinces of that Crown, was written, extending the collection of descriptions of foreign countries (a type of work created often and eagerly during this period in Europe). Texts of this kind were prepared (typically on the basis of personal contacts and experiences) by ambitious diplomats and travellers, who wanted to attract attention, gain recognition, and show competence that could prove useful in their further careers. Relation of the State of Polonia surely was to be delivered to the English monarch Elizabeth I.

The author, whose identity we may only speculate on, begins his copious study in a manner most typical of this genre, namely with elementary issues such as the origin of Poles, and the genesis of the very term Polonia. One would further expect, as in many similar texts, a disquisition on the geographical location of the country, its neighbours and natural resources, and a description of the inhabitants, binding laws, and political system. However, in this case, this rhythm is disturbed. By the second chapter, just after the etymological elucidations, the author enumerates the characteristic traits of Poles, who, in comparison to other nations, are friendly, polite, and appreciative of pleasures of the table, as well as smart, tolerant, and not overly attentive to material goods. According to the author of the Relation of the State of Polonia, exactly these—let us add, agreeable—national features of Poles, which were well known to Italians, encouraged a high number of them to travel to Poland (“Theire nature being suche, and so well knowne to the Italians, hath drawne greate nombers of them into Polonia, whoe partly followe greate men, and partly trade, both working uppon the magnificency of the Poles”).1

The reader of the account learned, from the very beginning, not only about the mass arrival of Italians in Rzeczpospolita [the Commonwealth] but also about the main occupations of the immigrants, who either held positions in aristocratic courts (“followe greate men”), or were engaged in trade. In both cases they contributed to the prosperity of the new homeland (“the magnificency of the Poles”). The genesis of this phenomenon was explained too. It was precisely the positive traits of Poles that attracted the Italian immigrants; these traits served as a group invitation for them. Interestingly, the threads of Polish-Italian relations are not broken here. There follows a digression on the perception of Poles in Italy at the time. Their artlessness and disposition to give, conspicuous also in trade, was observed in Italy, and it pushed into the background the once-popular ← 11 | 12 → saying “feather-brained as a German” and replaced it with the riposte “I’m not a Pole” meaning ‘I’m not that stupid. You won’t fool me’. This dubious privilege of Poles, unbeaten in this category of artlessness verging on naivety, has come to an end. For, as we learn from the account, a result of the Poles’ educational travels to those foreign countries popular amongst them (“for knowledge of state and languages”), they “now begynn to looke better to theire purses, in so muche that the Italians in Polonia begynn to complayne, that they are growne wiser, synce that somme having ben overtaken in theire cuppes, recall afterwarde theire overlavishe guistes.”2

The cited sentences, the presence of which at the beginning of the Relation of the State of Polonia may be a little astonishing, also surprise us with the richness of their content. To paraphrase, they suggest that, apart from the Italian emigration eastwards, Polish educational travel in the opposite direction, mainly to Italy, was also of cultural significance. It also included a description of Polish national traits, which initially had to facilitate Polish-Italian contacts (with the clear suggestion that the Italians were the party that drew more benefits from them), and information that these traits were at that time undergoing an evolution that had the potential to bring about a conflict between the Italian immigrants and their Polish hosts.

The discussion on the author of Relation of the State of Polonia, whose preserved manuscript is unfinished (which fact may indirectly explain the emphasis on the Italian theme) has not yet reached an unequivocal conclusion. Two people known from their names and surnames are considered: a Scott named William Bruce, who spent many years in the milieu of Chancellor Jan Zamoyski and lectured at the Zamość Academy; and an exquisite English diplomat named Sir George Carew, who in 1598 completed a diplomatic mission in Poland and is more widely known from his later account of France. It is possible that the text was the result of collaboration between these two men, or that there was some other author, but it was certainly a person functioning in the environment of one of these two aforementioned men.3 ← 12 | 13 →

Finding the author and the context of the creation of the account would be of key importance here. Indicating Bruce assumes a decidedly greater contribution of the Polish group in formulating the opinions included in the account, whereas in the case of Carew, such influence would be far less evident and the account would be more external and foreign in character (which does not preclude the existence within its pages of content and opinions of very diversified, also native, provenance). Moreover, the contribution of Chancellor Zamoyski’s milieu in formulating the above opinions seems highly probable. The presence of the Italians was certainly perceived in Zamość, the construction of which, under the supervision of Italian architect Bernardo Morando, was about to be completed; the presence was undoubtedly conspicuous in nearby Lviv (one of the most important centres of Italian trade) and in the capital Kraków (where the chancellor and hetman and his associates were frequent guests). However, if Italian activity was perceived by the foreign observer independently, then the issue requires a more profound reflection.

Regardless, one encounters here a competent, foreign account of Poland, which is confirmed by a comprehensive reading; the account, in its initial parts, contains a surprising emphasis on the Italian emigration to Polish territory, together with a synthetic attempt to explain the genesis of the phenomenon and its essential social and economic consequences. The suggestion of the English-speaking author will be treated here most seriously when we examine this so prominent phenomenon.


The theme of this study is the role played by the Italian immigrants—seen in the context of other groups of foreigners—in the Early Modern Polish-Lithuanian state and society, taking into consideration (though only to a scant degree and purely for the purposes of comparison) Italian emigration to other countries—especially to France. Our scope of study will include the consequences of the long-lasting presence of the Italian representatives on their Polish-Lithuanian hosts; the broadly perceived influence of the Italian immigrants on the form of the Commonwealth; and the participation of Italians in creating the Polish image in Western Europe i.e., the long-term effects of information and propaganda activity led by some of them). We would like to answer some principal questions about the Italian immigrants: What are the motives that guided them both in their decision to head for the north and in their settling for a time, sometimes for many generations in the Commonwealth? What were their life successes and failures in Poland, including information about barriers that hindered their possible assimilation? Finally, and most importantly, what are the consequences of their presence on ← 13 | 14 → the structures of the authorities, cultural landscape, and functioning of the Polish-Lithuanian state’s government and economy.

The topic is not new; it has been studied intensively by representatives of various disciplines, though fragmentarily. The Renaissance period is relatively best analysed from the perspective of Polish-Italian contacts and mutual references, especially as regards humanist inspirations and architecture. The researchers were naturally interested in the appearance of Queen Bona, whose person and political activity had serious consequences on the intensification of Polish-Italian contacts and consolidation of the Italian presence upon Vistula River, and also on the acceleration of the process of the creation of the Polish diplomatic service.

However, sources referring to later times show that the Italian presence in Poland appeared to be a lasting, maybe even increasing (if we were to discuss it in quantitative terms), and certainly evolving phenomenon. An important development was the establishment and stabilisation of nunciature, which was the only diplomatic permanent representation in the Republic. Venice and Florence both declared a desire to be represented in the Polish court, and to this end, these two centres took political and diplomatic action, albeit only partially successfully, around the mid-17th century (the mission of Venetian Giovanni Tiepolo lasted over two years—1645–1647).

The Italians, as it is well known, stayed in Poland not only as diplomats, though this occupation is that which is best-confirmed in sources. They leased mints and Royal Mail; they were occupied on a large scale with trade of a stable and institutionalised character; they worked as craftsmen, artists and architects, and appeared in the royal court as trusted secretaries, on whom Polish rulers would confer diplomatic missions.4 Therefore, there arises a need for ordering this image and proposing, at least in hypothetical form, a general interpretation of this phenomenon and its consequences.

The Title, Timeframes, Terminology

Italians in Early Modern Poland is the title. Yet, should we rather say Italians in the Republic? Should we also replace the term “Italians” (Włosi in Polish) with “the immigrants from Italy”? Is such precision really necessary when formulating a book title? A negative answer to this question means accepting that a shorter and succinct title is better than an elaborate but more precise one. However, such a title also requires some explanation in relation to timeframes. The phenomenon of the Italian presence on the territories of the Polish-Lithuanian state reached its apogee ← 14 | 15 → in the 16th century, and—though in slightly changed forms—it continued to be a crucial element in the social landscape. Nevertheless, it has to be emphasised that Italian activity in Poland, especially in the areas of trade and economy, was distinct in 15th century, and economic relationships, mainly commercial, were established much earlier, which will be further examined.

When discussing the issues of culture and ideology, the beginning of the period that is of interest would also be much earlier (thus we may speak of a ‘long’ 16th century). The primary reason for this is the cultural openness of the royal court and intensive contacts with Italian centres. If this was not already happening in the times of Władysław II Jagiełło, then it certainly was during the reign of Casimir IV. It is sufficient to say that the first exquisite Polish humanist of Italian provenance was Filippo Buonaccorsi, called Callimachus (in Polish: Kallimach). A teacher and tutor of royal sons, he was an intellectual who cannot be passed over in our reflections. He died in Kraków in the 15th century (17 Nov. 1496), after nearly 30 years at the Polish court.

The caesura closing the period we are interested in is and will remain all the more arbitrary, since it is difficult to apply events from political history for the purposes of establishing the line of division (from this position the most distinct is the caesura of the mid-17th century—the Cossack Wars and the Swedish Deluge—but this cannot be applied in this context). The 18th century deserves distinction and separate investigation, though on a different occasion. This century brought changes that should be regarded as crucial for the theme of our discussion. First, under Wettins, Poland was in a personal union with Saxony. Within this unity, one could observe the weakness and economic crisis of the Polish state, as well as the change in the composition of elite circles (concentrated around the royal court, accepting its German character, and resulting in certain cultural consequences); moreover, it was also apparent that there was intellectual stagnation concerning vast social circles, which in turn must have resulted in a deterioration of the relationship with and attitude towards the Italian immigrants.

In addition, however, the immigrants from Saxony must have been a new and certainly irritating phenomenon to local people. Later, under Stanisław August, when civilisational and cultural transformations of an Enlightenment nature came to the fore, the realities of the functioning of the discussed group would change (this time for the better). One of the social consequences of the Enlightenment was a change of attitude towards foreigners, whose presence had by then lost a little of its novel charm, whereas, it seems, the role of Italians in comparison to other social groups was smaller. Thus, the 18th century, bearing in mind the difference in historical realities, will not be totally disregarded in our discussion, both for the sake of comparison and due to the important continuation of some themes discussed in this work. ← 15 | 16 →

Summing up, the 16th and the 17th centuries mark the most important period in our considerations (however, if we wanted to seek references to political history, these would be the times of the last Jagiellonians and the reigns of the elective kings, including Jan III Sobieski),5 but chronological caesuras must remain—for the reasons indicated above—flexible.

‘Poland’ in the title is, naturally, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the beginning, the state organism functioned as a union of two entities, the Polish Crown and Lithuania; the two later became formally homogeneous. However, geographical frames will not be the most important in the discussion since it will not always be possible to identify the places of stay or activity of Italian newcomers with enough precision, and disproportions in the source basis in any case preclude a precise portrayal of Italian activity on the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian state from the geographical perspective. The most outstanding example of difficulties in this field is the problem of our disproportionate knowledge of Kraków, compared to the rest of the country. Kraków was undoubtedly the most significant and the biggest Italian centre in Poland. Nevertheless, the disproportion of preserved sources has exaggerated this role on the pages of the existing studies. The mechanisms that led Italians to Kraków must have functioned also in the everyday life of Lviv, Poznań and Vilnius, and in smaller centres too; however, the preserved primary sources of the Italian presence in these cities are far less abundant.

Terminological difficulties also concern the term “Italians,” though this expression occurs quite often in the sources (Włosi, Włoszy, and Italici). Italians, or rather Italia, is, in regard to the period in question, primarily a geographical concept and, to some extent, a cultural one. One of the effects of the political history of the Apennine Peninsula in the Middle Ages and modern times was a multitude of state organisms with loose, often antagonistic, ties to one another. Therefore, it is worth consulting a map with a proper textbook in hand.

Since the mid-15th century, the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily had been under Spanish reign. In the middle of the Peninsula lay the Papal States, which was the state organism underpinning Papal Rome; moreover, it was totally subordinated to the Papacy.

To the north-west was the territory of Florence (a republic since 1434), which was under Medicis rule in the subsequent three centuries. The republic was transformed into a duchy, which in 1569 (the time of the absorption of the nearby independent Duchy of Siena) was to gain the rank and the name of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The Medici lands and the territories of the Papal States in the north bordered the relatively small duchies of Modena, Ferrara and Lucca. In the northern part, two coastal republics, whose power was established and ← 16 | 17 → consolidated during the Middle Ages primarily due to far-reaching trade, were of greatest prominence. These were Genoa, on the Ligurian Sea, and Venice, properly called the Republic of Venice (Serenissima)—on the Adriatic Sea. Aside from international trade, these republics stood out because of their form of government: both were under the oligarchical rule of collective bodies consisting of the representatives of a few aristocratic families (the Doge of Venice could not accomplish much without senate approval, a fact which encourages analogies with the Polish kings of the elective period). A strong Duchy of Milan lay between the republics. The Duchy was ruled first by the Visconti family representatives, and then by Sforza. In the first half of the 16th century, it surrendered to Spain. To the north-west lay the Duchy of Savoy, comprising also Piedmont with Turin.

These were the most important political organisms on the Peninsula, yet were by no means the only ones; there were many others, especially in the central part of Italy; this included the north of the Papal States and the south of Venice and Milan (apart from the already-mentioned Duchies of Modena, Ferrara, and Lucca, one should also acknowledge Parma, Urbino, and Mantua). Their roles, or rather the prestige of the local courts, were not at all marginal, and still less insignificant were their achievements in material and spiritual culture.

Interestingly, it was exactly in a so politically fragmented Italy that the most favourable conditions for the development of humanism occurred. They comprised, among other factors, the consolidation and enrichment of the bourgeoisie. Economic prosperity laid the foundations for the development of culture but also encouraged and facilitated further expansion. The modernity of social and economic structures, at least up to a point, made up for weaknesses due to the lack of a homogeneous state. Let us cite a beautiful sentence by Ludwik Bazylow: “The nation divided into duchies and aristocratic republics, often harassed with external aggressions, with some parts of the country under foreign rule, has always shown resilience, sharpness of thought and readiness for action.”6 Admittedly, using the word “nation” in this context—in relation to times preceding Garibaldi, King Victor Emmanuel II and the Count of Cavour by several centuries—may be regarded only as figurative; however, this does not diminish the accuracy of the expression. Travel to Poland was undoubtedly such an “act” because it required competence, initiative, courage, mettle, and imagination.

Questions about the correct usage of the term “Italians” and its connotations persist. It is difficult to be precise here since there is no coherence in the sources (even in those preserved on Polish territory). Here are several thought-provoking examples as far as terminology is concerned. ← 17 | 18 →

In 1595, an anonymous author travelled around Spain and created one of the most interesting Polish peregrine texts. He was a worldly man that was acquainted with Italy. When describing his stay in Barcelona, he mentioned Christopher Columbus, who a hundred years earlier had paid a visit to Ferdinand II of Aragon there. The discoverer of the New World was named “Christopherus Columbus, a Genoese, an Italian” (as if the first term was not unequivocal and sufficient).7

When mason Giovanni Baretto (Bratto) became a citizen of Kraków in 1633, the genealogies of the two Italian builders’ families were written in the municipal records as “Carbonarii et Baretto muratorum.” Giovanni Trevano, a royal architect, acting as a witness to this case stated as follows: “I knew well Hieronim Carbonari and Zofia Milanese [Medyolańczyków], also Jan Baretto and Gertruda the Italians [Włochów], parents of these . . . , who moved here already in the holy matrimonial state,… begot these sons, Hieronim Carbonari and Jan Bratto (sic).”8

Written in Polish, the testimony of the architect, well-known in Kraków and Warsaw, contains a distinction that is significant for our discussion of the Milanese and Italians. We do not intend to suggest on this basis that these groups should be treated separately. To the author of the record, it must have been obvious that the Milanese of that time belonged to the broader group of Italians. The genesis of this distinction is more likely to be explained by the fact that the information provided by the witnesses was simply more precise regarding one of the couples mentioned.

However, this example may be treated primarily as an occasion to emphasise the already noted lack of terminological precision. This deficiency is all the more puzzling because it was still recorded in the Kraków municipal records in the fourth decade of the 17th century.

The situation was similar before this time. The sources referring to the royal court and the municipal records mention many newcomers referred to as Italus or Włoch.9 From the Latin inscription on the epitaph of Callimachus (the aforementioned Italian exile who was an outstanding humanist and influential secretary of Jan I Albert), which may be seen in the Dominican Church in Kraków, we learn that the deceased (vir doctissimus and omnis virtutis cultor)—coming from Florence, born in San Gimignano—was natione Tuscus, which is simply a Tuscan.10 One may assume that the author of the inscription was close enough to the deceased to be acquainted with his national self-identification and that the term Italus—widely known in Kraków then—was regarded too general. Certainly, and ← 18 | 19 → in accordance with the deceased man’s intention, his small homeland of Tuscany was given prominence over the broader Italian community. Simultaneously, this term must have been understandable for Polish readers.

The latter seems highly probable. It was said in the Commonwealth “Gente Ruthenus, natione Polonus” (“Born a Ruthenian, of Polish nation”), in order to describe concisely the national awareness of a borderland nobleman; he primarily identified himself with his small homeland, and secondarily with the national community.

In considering Italy of the time, we are probably dealing with such a situation, which—as far as regional differentiation is concerned—was exceptionally lasting.

Still, we must bear in mind that geographical horizons were spreading fast then, while geographical categories in use were far from precise. When we read in Alessandro Guagnin’s Opisanie W. Ks. Litewskiego [The Description of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania] about Palemon, the legendary founder of Lithuania, “the quality of whose name reveals him to be of the Roman culture [Łacinnik] or an Italian,”11 we do not treat this to be a distinction between clear, consciously used options. Gwagnin (this is how his name was rendered in Polish) wrote about events distant in time and tried—despite obvious difficulties—to keep his reasoning precise. “Łacinnik” is evidently a broader term here, in which “the Italian” is comprised; the term “Łacinnik” may be used when referring to very ancient times, while “the Italian” is comprehensible to the contemporary person. It also indicates more precisely the region of Europe from which came the founder of Lithuania.

Even on the pages of the Pamiętnik Historyczno-Polityczny, published in Warsaw from 1782–1792 (with a then considerable circulation of 500 copies), in which a bulky series of articles under the general title “The news about the present situation of the Italian states” appeared, the reader could find an extremely surprising sentence: “What a great difference between a Venetian and a Roman, between a Genoese and a Milanese, between a Florentine and a Neapolitan!” This differentiation between inhabitants of the most important regions was clearly visible, though, according to the same author, in the whole of Italy “the climate, religion and language are the same.”12

Without undermining the thesis about religious homogeneity, let us remark that the observation referring to the unification of the other elements seems doubtful. In any case, linguistic diversity (which may be seen in certain regions of Italy even now, a century after state unification) must have been far greater 200 years ago, and all the more so 400 years past. ← 19 | 20 →

Another issue is whether—on foreign soil, for example in Poland—this differentiation may be regarded as an obstacle to the mutual communication between the Italian immigrants. This question will have to be examined more closely.

There will also arise a problem about whether those arriving from various regions of Italy can be treated as a nationally homogeneous group, or—more mildly—as a community on Polish soil sharing the consciousness of common provenance and, possibly, the feeling of solidarity that may arise from this. This second question will be resolved in the affirmative overall, even though examples of conflicts within the analysed community will be shown on many occasions. In making this judgment, it is significant that the Italians were usually treated by their Polish hosts in precisely this way, specifically as a rather homogeneous and nationally defined community. These arrivals were described similarly in the correspondence of apostolic nuncios residing in Poland and in the reports of other Italian observers, all figures undoubtedly competent in this regard.13

Yet even if we accept the term as relatively easy to define, clear and unequivocal enough, this does not solve our problems with identifying and determining who in our discussion is treated as an Italian. It seems that there would be a simplest answer to this dilemma: all those who were referred to as such. However, even though it is unnecessary to deliberate over the use the term Italus found in the sources, and also when used in reference to recent arrivals with explicit Italian geographic assignment (such as Antonio da Fiesole or Francesco Fiorentino), one must still be more aware of the different uses of the term Włoch. The latter may be (and most often is) a translation of a Latin expression, but it may also appear as a sobriquet referring to physical traits of people coming from the South (dark complexion, dusky skin etc.). Ordinatio Posthae (a document that entered the municipal records of Lviv in 1629 and which minutely described the rules of the functioning of the local mail office that was owned by Roberto Bandinelli) also contained a list of over twenty “cursors to deliver mail,” that is couriers who provided the service. In this company, after all representing low-life, we find a certain “Jan Włoch from Podgórze,” who had nothing to do with Italy. This is a good example of such a semantic trap.14

Moreover, if the term Włoch was to signal provenance, it did not always refer to a newcomer from Italy but could also stand for “a European,” and thus ← 20 | 21 → “a person from the West.” Additionally, as shown years ago by Jan Ptaśnik, the Italian newcomers were still described as Gallicus in the 14th century (the term “Italicus” began to be more widely used only in the 15th century), indicating all the more that the divisions, to which we became accustomed over subsequent centuries, were then not that sharp.15

Thus, if we identify the Italians with the arrivals from Italy, it will be necessary to paint the concept with a broad territorial brush. There is no reason to eliminate from this group of Italians those who come from the border-territory of Tyrol, or the islands on the Mediterranean Sea (and such people also appeared in Poland), or Ragusa (now Dubrovnik). It would be absurd to argue about the ‘Italianness’ of a whole train of architects and builders coming from the region of the Alps, from the now Swiss Lugano region and Lake Como (including amongst them the famous comacini—creators of, among other things, Poznań town hall).

Acceptance of this broad definition of the borders of Italy should be accompanied by a flexible approach to people coming from Italy but not necessarily born there, and to figures of other than Italian origin but evidently Italianised. An illustration of the kind of doubts that may arise about the correct understanding of this concept of ‘Italianness’ may come from Francisco Suñyer (1532–1580), a Spanish Jesuit who studied in Perugia and Rome. During this time, he entered the monastery and then first went to Vienna and, from 1566 onwards, acted in the Commonwealth. Suñyer, in the Informatio, which was sent to Rome several weeks after the creation of the collegium in Vilnius, included a description of the city as the capital of the Grand Duchy. In the document, Lithuania’s size is compared to Italy (which is surpassed in size by the former), and not to his native Spain.16 Clearly, Suñyer had been mentally Italianised; simultaneously, he represented an Italian monastic formation and acted on its behalf in the Commonwealth. We are ready to open the category of Italian provenance also to this type of figure.

Michael Gittich is, however, a figure whom it is difficult to treat as an Italian. He was an Arian minister and a religious writer whose father, Marcin, was a protestant and a German by origin, and was a doctor in Venice. But, he left because of his religious belief and settled in Lithuania, where he got married. Michael, the result of this union, was born and raised in the Commonwealth, later spent some ← 21 | 22 → time in Transylvania and Western Europe, but lived his life as a Polish Protestant with a clearly German name. Thus, he belongs to a different social category but still should not be wholly omitted since he consistently described himself as a Venetian. This may signify that the provenance of his father must have appealed to him particularly, and maybe it even impressed him, or perhaps he thought this description / territorial assignment to be well thought of in the Polish-Lithuanian state (which, from the perspective of an Arian living in the seventeenth-century Commonwealth, may have been fully justified).

In the context of the Italian presence and influences, we would sooner consider the activity of Charles de la Haye (Delahaye) at the end of the 17th century in Gdańsk and Warsaw (in the environment of King Jan III Sobieski). A French engraver, Delahaye, was born in Fontainebleau but was educated and artistically schooled in Italy, in Rome, and in Florence. In such cases, formal criteria must yield to the de facto ones; in this case, the character of the culture represented by a given person.

We are also inclined to admit as a representative of the Italian world Francesco Lismanin, the exquisite proponent of reformation, even though he was born on the island Corfu, to a Greek family. His inclusion is not only because he arrived in Poland from Italy (certainly in the train of Queen Bona) but primarily due to the Italian environment in the Franciscan monastery, which he entered in Kraków. He is important also because of his many visits to Italy during which, as Henryk Barycz expressed it, he was finally “soaked with the Italian culture and spirit.”17 It is worth adding that Lismanin wrote in Italian and belonged to the undisputed leaders of the Italian community in Kraków in about the mid-16th century. Probably, although it gives rise to fundamental doubts, we should also include in the Italian group Alfonso Pisanus, a Jesuit, a theologian, and a polemicist. He was born and first educated in Toledo, then studied in Alcala and in Salamanca. When he returned to Toledo, he subsequently lectured philosophy and practised as a physician. In this case, the Jesuit background would be decisive (he worked in Poland as a preacher and he was an ardent and active supporter of the Counter-Reformation). He chiefly obtained his formation in Rome (at Collegium Romanum), from where, through Jesuit colleges in Ingolstadt, Dillingen, and Hall in Tirol, where he lectured, he arrived in Poland. He had been strongly encouraged towards this latter step by the Provincial Superior of Polish Jesuits, Francesco Suñyer, and by Jakub Wujek, rector of the Jesuit College in Poznań.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (April)
Migration Renaissanceliteratur Barockarchitektur polnisch-litauische Union
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 540 pp.

Biographical notes

Wojciech Tygielski (Author)

Wojciech Tygielski is a professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Warsaw. His field of study includes social and cultural history, Polish-Italian relations and history of papal diplomacy. Currently he works on the early modern European travel reports and their impact on cultural and social changes across the continent.


Title: Italians in Early Modern Poland