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Leonardo da Vinci and the Splendor of Poland

A History of Collecting and Patronage - Edited by Laurie Winters

This stunning book presents a dazzling array of Western European and Polish paintings from Poland's most important national and private museums. A testimony to the remarkable history of collecting and patronage in Poland, the book showcases Leonardo da Vinci's magnificent Lady with an Ermine (Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani), but also includes important works by Hans Memling, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernardo Bellotto, Jean-Auguste-Dominique lngres, Marie-Louise Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, and others. The book also brings to light Poland's long-overlooked cultural history.

Prominent scholars describe the royal patronage responsible for acquiring great works of art throughout the Renaissance and Enlightenment; they discuss the impact on Poland's art collections when the country lost its independence in 1795 and was then partitioned geographically; and they tell the story of the cultural and political oppression that culminated in the radical dismantling of collections and museums during Nazi and then Soviet rule. The authors note that the museums of Poland are now retrieving their collections and redefining themselves within a reconfigured Europe, giving us a new appreciation of the country's impressive artistic identity. Laurie Winters is the curator of earlier European art at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

352 pp. 35 b/w + 120 color illus. 9 1/2 x 12 - ISBN 0-300-09740-9 $60.00

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A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True

By Brigid Pasulka

Reviewed by Gloria Kerrill

This is a magical book of love, devotion, and courage as it traces the history of one Polish family through half a century. A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True is a Hemmingway Foundation/Pen Award winner (2010) and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick of fall (2009).

As a first novel it is a stunning achievement. Ms. Pasulka begins the novel in a remote mountain village in southern Poland where a young man nicknamed "Pigeon" fall in love with the local beauty names Anielica. Because he has the famed Polish "Golden Hands" he volunteers to re-model her modest home to endear him not only to her, but her parents as well. Unfortunately, their courtship begins at the start of World War II and their actual union does not take place for many years. He becomes a resistance fighter and the description of life during the German occupation is a cruel one. When the war finally ends, the Russian occupation takes over. It is a tribute to the people who lived during this time that they were able to make all the necessary adjustments to their lives in order to survive.

Pigeon and Anielica leave their small village to go to the big city of Krakow where they are led to believe a new and better life awaits them as promised by the Communist regime. It doesn't, and due to dire circumstances Anielica is forced to return to their village alone where a much longed for child is born.

Fifty years later, Beata, the grandchild of Pigeon and Anielica, makes the same journey her grandparents did. She goes to Krakow to start a new life. She is young and naive and a little overwhelmed by life in a big city. She moves in with her cousin Irena and Irena's more sophisticated daughter, Magda. Krakow in the 1990's is trying to adjust to the end of Communist rule and re-establish itself once again as an independent nation restoring its Polish identity and pride. Beata becomes not only an observer but a participant as well as she experiences all the change going on around her.

The word magical has been used in other reviews of this book and it is true, but Ms. Pasulka has also lovingly created a time capsule of Polish history as lived by one family. I would add that the strength, bravery, and resiliency of the characters are to be much admired. This book is written with love and is a tribute to Poland and its people. As an aside: In one scene in the book, Beata and her cousins are eating a dinner of boiled potatoes with sour cream and parsley, which happened to be a favorite of my grandfather who migrated to Chicago from a small village near Krakow in the 1900's. It brought back fond memories of walking with him as a child to Humboldt Park (Chicago, IL) where he would sit on the grass reading his Polish newspaper while I played. Occasionally, he would look up and out into the distance where perhaps he was dreaming of "the old country." Read the book for yourself; you will enjoy it. It is also recommended that you go to Brigid's web site and read about her and how she came to write this story.

Hardcover: 354 pages, Houghton-Mifflin Co (August 1, 2009), ISBN-13: 978-0547055077

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