0038 The symbolism of Adam Asnyk with Muse by Jacek Malczewski

  • Michał Haake (Author)
    Department of Art History, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań

    B. 1974. Art historian. Ph.D. under the supervision of Professor Wojciech Suchocki (2004). Associate Professor at the Art History Institute of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Specialises in modern art, the symbolic aspects of artistic creation and methodology of art history. Author of the book Portret w malarstwie polskim u progu nowoczesności (Portrait in Polish painting on the eve of modernity), Kraków 2008. Winner of the Szczęsny Dettloff competitions, scholar of the Goethe Foundation, The Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Lanckorońscy Foundation.

Identifiers (Article)


The essay's goal is to interpret Jacek Malczewski's picture Adam Asnyk with Muse (1894-1897) as a symbolic work. The main argument is that the painting does not depict a scene with a poet being inspired by a muse. The starting point of the analysis is the conclusion that the Muse is not playing the lyre she is holding and that the wings of Hermes are attached only to one leg. The role of the instrument is crucial for the interpretation of the painting not only because it is not used in accordance with its function but also because of the planimetric as well as semantic relationships with other elements of the picture, above all with one of the sheets of paper on the table and the scythe held by a warrior in the spectral pageant. The Muse presses the sheet with the lyre, lifting it and directing its sharp point towards Asnyk's head. The sheet is made similar in its form to the scythe above it, directed towards the manacled young men above the poet. The comparison between the figures introduced in this way suggests that the real nature of the inspiration is destructive for the poet. A comprehensive interpretation of the relationship thus constituted leads to the conclusion that the symbolic meaning of the painting is based on the opposition between the conventional iconography of a poet and the idea of creation conceived as a liberation of the artist from traditional and ossified symbolism (music, the wings of Hermes).


Jacek Malczewski, symbol, symbolism, hermeneutics, Muse, Adam Asnyk