Jan Kochanowski’s statue unveiling in Stratford-upon-Avon

The Polish Cultural Institute in London, in partnership with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, will unveil a new statue of Renaissance Polish Poet and Shakespeare’s contemporary Jan Kochanowski in the sculpture garden at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon on Saturday 25 June 2022.

The statue sculpted by Wycombe artist Andrew Lilley is due to be unveiled at an official ceremony accompanied by free family activities running across the weekend. 

You can find a short teaser of the event and the statue here: 

Attending the unveiling will be, among others: Chair of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Peter Kyle, Mayor of Stratford, Gill Cleeve, His Excellency Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, Piotr Wilczek, and Director of the Polish Cultural Institute in London, Marta de Zuniga. 

Despite a substantial geographical distance, Britain and Poland have enjoyed deep historical ties, built on shared values and a common heritage, with both countries drawing abundantly on the achievements of classical antiquity and later periods in European history. This expressed itself on many levels, including literature and arts in general. 

Much like Shakespeare for Britain, Jan Kochanowski came to be regarded as one of the greatest poets and playwrights of Poland and even the whole Slavic part of Europe. His robust language not only enriched but also laid the cornerstone for Polish literature. Kochanowski’s role in developing Polish literary standards and impact on the region cannot be underestimated.

To mark the occasion the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust together with the Polish Cultural Institute planned a weekend filled with celebrations under the label ShakesPEERS: Celebrating Jan Kochanowski and Poetry, aimed at the visitors of all ages. Outdoor Tudor music concerts, miniature bust-making, creative writing workshops and community-led sculpture making workshops are among many other, specially-curated activities taking place at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage’s gardens across the weekend. 

Additionally, anyone interested in grasping the knowledge about the life and work of Jan Kochanowski will have an opportunity to attend a free event at the Guild Chapel (Chapel Lane, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6EP) on Saturday evening, where renowned Slavicist and translator Charles Kraszewski will give an informative lecture on the connections between Kochanowski and Shakespeare’s work and actors Caroline Faber and Aidan Kelly led by the Shakespeare’s Globe’s director, Jason Morell, will perform the dramatic readings of Kochanowski’s most praised work “The Laments”. The event will be concluded with a Renaissance music concert performed by Despina Homatidou (harpsichord) and Matthew Nisbet (lute). 

The full programme of the weekend events is available at https://bit.ly/ShakesPEERS

Born into nobility, Jan Kochanowski studied at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, and later, between 1552 and 1559, at the University of Padua in Italy. Besides his achievements in versification, he employed with great artistry a number of literary forms, such as hymns, lyrical songs, epigrams, satires, translations of the Bible, and more. Kochanowski’s place was also unique in Slavic literature generally, and he is considered to have had no equals until the 19th century. A true humanist, he was the best representative of the Renaissance period in Central and Eastern Europe. 

Charles Kraszewski says: ‘In English literature, we have people like Ben Johnson, and Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. If you take a look at Kochanowski beyond the drama, he is all of these people wrapped into one.”’

Kochanowski’s deeply moving ‘Laments’, written following the death of Kochanowski’s 2-year-old daughter Ursula, are regarded as the poet’s most famous work. Nobel Prize winner and translator Seamus Heaney wrote that ‘Laments’ hold ‘as foundational a place in Polish literature as Shakespeare’s sonnets in English.’ 

The story of Kochanowski’s loss was crucial for the sculptor, Andrew Lilley, while designing the statue. After reading the ‘Laments’ Lilley went on to create a piece inspired by the poet’s experience: 

‘I always try to tell a story in my work, and I found it profoundly moving. Kochanowski’s pain and distress are more clearly expressed than any other writer had ever previously attempted. He broke all the accepted norms of his own position and role at court. I felt his grief pounding like a fevered pulse through every verse and felt that my sculpture should attempt to depict this.’ 

‘The whole purpose of the composition was to emphasise his emotional state, as he was standing over the grave of his daughter. One of the defining moments in Shakespeare’s life was loss of his beloved child as well.’

The statue has been fully funded by the Polish Cultural Institute in London and supported by the Polish community in Warwickshire, and was offered to Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The rich history of Polish institutions and individuals living in Warwickshire manifests through decades of contributions to the cultural mosaic of the region. They have enriched the local community by both embracing its customs and traditions, but at the same time bringing in their own cultural heritage. In that sense, this statue also represents the blending and bonding of cultures, wishing for the unity and understanding, which both playwrights’ works so often addressed. 

The statue will represent the strong cultural links which exist between Britain and Poland. It is also an expression of the friendship and cooperation that exists between the countries’ cultural communities.

Acting Director of Cultural Engagement at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Paul Taylor, commented: 

‘We are delighted to be celebrating the Polish poet Jan Kochanowski with a weekend of activity and the unveiling of a new statue in the sculpture garden at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. 

As a charity dedicated to leading the world’s enjoyment of Shakespeare, we are proud to celebrate and share links with other great writers like Kochanowski, effectively creating a global cultural meeting place where people can come together as a community to explore literary and creative ideas. 

We have worked with our friends at the Polish Cultural Institute on a number of events and activities over the years and look forward to future collaborations with them, and the Polish community in and around Stratford-upon-Avon.’

Polish Cultural Institute’s Director, dr Marta de Zuniga, said:

‘We are absolutely delighted to unveil a bronze statue of the Polish Renaissance poet, Jan Kochanowski in Stratford-upon-Avon. Both Warwickshire and Stratford have a big Polish community and thus, introducing Shakespeare’s peer –Kochanowski will highlight the cultural and historical ties between Poland and Great Britain and the friendship and cooperation that exists between our countries’ cultural communities.’

Mayor of Stratford upon Avon, Gill Cleeve, said:

‘Although born 34 years before Shakespeare, Jan Kochanowski is considered a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and both men and their works have had an enduring influence on Polish and English language and literature. I am absolutely delighted that Andrew Lilley’s sculpture is coming to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. It shows not just the link between these two eminent writers, but also the vital links and friendship we have with our town’s Polish Community.’

Małgorzata Librowska from Copernicana CIC commented:

‘The statue of Jan Kochanowski is a symbol of well-rooted Polish presence in Shakespeare Country. We believe that it will further strengthen our community relations, creating opportunities for cultural dialogue, real familiarity and friendship.’

Source: Polish Cultural Institute in London



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