Portrait of a man in the Polish national costume



Title: Portrait of a man in the Polish national costume
Author: Józef Sebald (1853-1931)
Year taken: around 1910
Kept at: Walery Rzewuski Museum of History of Photography in Krakow

The photograph has the shape of a standing rectangle and is glued onto a rectangular and slightly larger beige cardboard matte. The size difference between the photo and the matte results in margins, which are narrow and almost identical on the sides and at the upper edge. The lower margin is much wider, and on the left-hand side features an embossed seal of the photographer. The edges of the cardboard matte are bevelled – cut at an angle.
The photograph is done in the cabinet-card format, sized approximately 16 x 10 cm.
It was taken inside the photographer’s studio at Kolejowa (now Westerplatte) Street in Krakow.

In the central part of the composition is a man aged around 60, shown in full body, turned three-quarters to the left, his face nearly straight to the camera. The model’s background is a photographic screen featuring a blurred landscape with rich vegetation on the left and trees further away, the screen giving the impression of depth. The parquet floor is light. The man’s stance is erect with his legs apart, proud, and self-confident, he is looking straight ahead. He has a long nose, grey moustache reaching his lower jaw, and a short grey beard. His ears are clearly outlined. A fur hat covering his forehead is adorned with a silver eagle wing and a filigree with a feather. His left arm is bent at the elbow, his hand around the grip of his sabre. His right arm is also bent, the thumb hooked on the top of the sash.

The man is wearing the Polish national costume, a garment called żupan with long and narrow sleeves, a high collar and a darker, long outer robe with sleeves cut out and made into loose flaps in the shape of triangles draped around the shoulders and hanging all the way to the elbows. The left collar of the outer garment is adorned with three brooches. The left half of the outer robe slightly overlaps the right one. The garment reaches below the knees, revealing the wide legs of the trousers bulging over the tops of leather boots. The nobleman is begirded with a wide sash whose ends (called heads), decorated with a wide pattern hang low, reaching the bottom edge of the outer garment. A sabre hangs at his left side.
The beige-coloured reverse is adorned with a dark-blue advertising vignette featuring geometrical and plant motifs. At the top are the interlinked letters JS. Below, the inscription J. Sebald runs diagonally. Further down is Krakow’s coat-of-arms with a crown at the top and two twigs below it. Further below the coat-of-arms is the inscription KRAKOW / 3 KOLEJOWA Street. At the bottom, a note: Negatives are kept for future orders. Next to it, a stamp of the lithographer is visible.

The form of the national costume became consistent in the 1630’s and it included an outer coat called kontusz worn over a garment called żupan.  The costume became popular as the sarmatism ideology was taking hold in Poland, tracing the origins of the Polish nobility to the ancient Sarmatians. The national costume became a symbol of patriotism as well as wartime virtues and it was the official attire worn by men from the social stratum of nobility.
Józef Sebald, also known as Józef Szeybal (1853-1931), having quit his study of painting in the 1880’s, started working at the photographic lab owned by Walery Rzewuski, and after the death of the latter in 1888, became a co-owner of the lab with Juliusz Mien. In 1893 Sebald bought Rzewuski’s house and lab located at 27 Kolejowa St. From 1901 to 1914, he ran the lab by himself in the tenement building “Pod Stańczykiem” at 12 Batorego St. Józef Sebald was an author of portrait photographs, including those of the best Polish theatre actors.