The Archaeological Cabinet of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow was established in 1867 during the 19th-century pan-European vogue for antiquity and archaeology by Józef Łepkowski (1826–1894), the first Polish professor of archeology and medieval art.
As the Jagiellonian University was placed under the educational system of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Łepkowski had to obtain permission from the Ministry of Religion and Education (k.u.k. Ministerium für Kultus und Unterricht) in Vienna.
The core of the Cabinet’s holdings, Łepkowski’s private collection, was supplemented in the following years by valuable donations of other researchers and collectors who responded to Łepkowski’s appeal published in the press to send all kinds of antiquities. Łepkowski also made an effort to obtain items located in other collections at the University and in the Jagiellonian Library. As a result, the Cabinet quickly gained a considerable size.
The Cabinet consisted of archaeological artefacts, works of art, remains related to history of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, curiosities, as well as manuscripts and prints. The collections grew mainly thanks to gifts donated by enthusiasts of archeology, scholars and collectors, who were members of aristocracy, gentry, and intelligentsia. Just to name a few, a historian Karol Libelt (1807–1875), Łepkowski’s father-in-law, a historian and archeologist Edward Rastawiecki (1804–1874), a historian and archaeologist Aleksander Przezdziecki (1814–1871, his collection was donated posthumously by his son Konstanty), a writer, historian and amateur archeologist Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1812–1887), and collectors Władysław (1828–1894) and Marceli Czartoryski (1841–1909). Among the donors there were also two eminent Cracow artists: Jan Matejko (1838–1893) and Jacek Malczewski (1854–1929). Soon, the Cabinet was filled up with materials related to the history and archeology of the Polish lands, but also valuable artefacts from other European countries and even from other continents.
The Cabinet initially did not have a permanent seat. Its collections were stored in various places – at the Physiological Institute of the Jagiellonian University, in the seat of the Archconfraternity of Mercy at Sienna and Stolarska Streets, and even in Łepkowski’s private apartment. In 1869, Łepkowski obtained special rooms in Collegium Maius, the building where the Jagiellonian Library was located at that time. They were handed over to the Archaeological Cabinet in 1871. Finally, in 1888, the Archaeological Cabinet together with the Cabinet of Art History found a permanent location in the Collegium Novum building (main seat of the Jagiellonian University built in 1873–1887, opened for the 500th anniversary of the University’s foundation). At this point four rooms were designated for the Archaeological Cabinet and three for the Cabinet of History of Art.
Józef Łepkowski’s death in 1894, brought an end to an existence of the Archaeological Cabinet in its original shape. Its collections were integrated into the Cabinet of Art History and the numismatic collection of the Jagiellonian Library. From that moment they were called ‘Conjoined Collections’. The collections were curated by eminent Cracow scholars: first by an art historian Marian Sokołowski (1839–1911) and after his death, in 1911, by Piotr Bieńkowski (1865–1925), professor of classical archeology. In 1931, the university’s prehistoric holdings, which Łepkowski had already started to collect, were recorded in the inventory of the Jagiellonian University Department of Prehistoric Archaeology.
Nowadays, the former Archaeological Cabinet is considered as a ‘monument’ of museology. Its collection is being looked after by the Institute of Archeology of the Jagiellonian University and stored at the headquarters of the Institute, the Collegium Minus. The value of this collection lies also in the well-preserved 19th-century archives consisting of Łepkowski’s collection catalogue and the original correspondence with donors, kept today in the Archaeological Museum in Cracow.
Primary sources & literature