Freemasonry. Pro Publico Bono
11 September 2014 – 11 January 2015
What is Freemasonry? Is it a way to endow the mature phase of one’s life with a dignified, intelligent and fulfilling direction, as Masons claim? Is it an intellectual adventure, a challenge to routine ways of thinking and acting, as others believe? A utopia, a dream of a world slightly more sensibly structured than the one we happened to inherit? A widespread movement for social repair, solidarity and mutual benefit? Or is it perhaps the polar opposite – a veil for an exclusive club of elite individuals sceptical of the democratic process? Maybe it is just a system of indoctrination into some kooky archaic rituals which seem dubious to some and laughable to others?
Certainly, Freemasonry is and has been all of the above. Its interpretation is up to us. The aim of the exhibition’s organisers was to give the Polish public a chance to learn about not only the history and legacy of Freemasonry in their country but, above all, about the values it promotes and the language it employs to express them. In other words, the exhibition hopes to give viewers a picture of the world according to Freemasonry. We also present historical figures who, while well-known for their contributions to Polish culture, science, politics and economics, are rarely recognised as Masons. After all, who remembers today that among Poland’s initiated Masons and lodge members were people such as: theatre luminary Wojciech Bogusławski, composer and Chopin’s teacher Józef Elsner, General Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, the author of the Polish national anthem Józef Wybicki, and, later, the renowned physicians Rafał Radziwiłłowicz, Jan Mazurkiewicz and Mieczysław Michałowicz, and scholars like biologist Mieczysław Konopacki, mathematician Kazimierz Bartel, archaeologist (and future Prime Minister) Leon Kozłowski, or physicist Mieczysław Wolfke? Who remembers that Rafał Radziwiłłowicz established the country’s first modern psychiatric hospital in Tworki near Warsaw or that, after Poland’s regained independence, he worked to create the Polish Chamber of Physicians and Dentists? Who knows that Professor Mieczysław Michałowicz opened a paediatric clinic in Warsaw? Who knows that prominent political and social figures like Marian Ponikiewski, Hipolit Gliwic, his son Tadeusz Gliwic, and the schoolbook author Marian Falski were active Freemasons?
Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see that, in its universal language of symbols, allegory and parable, Freemasonry relies on values and traditions that are understandable to all, regardless of social status, nationality or religion. In its ranks, it mixes representatives of the “old order,” Napoleonic soldiers gripped by revolutionary fervour, Romantic-era intellectuals and artists, scholars and entrepreneurs chasing the idea of progress, legionnaires from Józef Piłsudski’s forces, early members of the scout movement, pre-war builders from Gdynia and the resurgent middle class of the Polish Third Republic.
The exhibition at the National Museum in Warsaw and the companion publication (consisting of information on the concept and history of Freemasonry as well as a guide to the exhibition with a list of exhibits) shows Freemasonry as a lasting element of our culture and history, in all of its many areas of impact. It presents Freemasonry as the heir to ancient esoteric tradition and, above all, as a relatively recent – born at the turn of the 18th century – voluntary and organised movement of free and independent people who are conscious of their place in the world and of the reason for their existence. The institutions they founded – lodges, chapters or grand lodges, along with the satellite clubs, literary salons and science/literary/artistic organisations, quickly became fixtures within the intellectual landscape of the modern world.
All of this inspired the exhibition’s creator, culture historian (and the curator of the exhibition) Tadeusz Cegielski, and its organisers – art historians and museologists Krzysztof Załęski and Antoni Ziemba and the exhibition’s artistic designer Ewa Świder-Grobelna – to show that the worldview nurtured by Freemasonry accommodates both the individual and the collective (like the nation or state), as well as religion and its institutions (the church, synagogue, etc.). The intention of the people behind the exhibition was to reveal the deep-seated connection linking Freemasonry to culture (not just the arts but in the broadest sense) and to politics, academics and education. This connection run so deep that it goes practically unnoticed in day-to-day life. It is universal and timeless.
Warsaw, May 2014