17th-century diary pulled from German auction

Thanks to a watchful eye of Poland’s culture ministry, Melchior Lucas’ 17th-century diary was pulled out from underneath a German auctioneer’s hammer and returned to the southwestern Polish city of Wrocław’s University Library.

The manuscript was put up for sale in a German auction house in April 2018. Having initially verified the object, the culture ministry made a swift intervention asking the publishing house’s owner to put the auction on hold. Poland’s request was buttressed with viable documents proving that Melchior Lucas’ diary belonged to a Polish collection of 230 diaries and was classified with a designator “St. 62”.

Based on discovered documentation, it has been verified that on September 16, 1943, for fear of bombardment, a total of 100 wooden boxes full of the most precious manuscripts and incunabula were enumerated and moved to the Ramfeld Palace in contemporary Ramułowice. From then on until its retrieval by Poland, the fate of the artefact remains unknown.

“The diary that we showcase today is an example of European culture at its finest and a marvellous piece of art too,” said deputy culture minister Magdalena Gawin.

The 563-page long octavo-format (11.5 x 15 cm) diary is full of poems, quotes, fragments of songs, maxims, sayings and mottos bedecked with drawings. Its black leather cover with golden embossments shows traces of wear and damage. The manuscript encloses 367 entries written in the years 1635-1650, 16 heraldic watercolours, 11 pasted coats-of-arms and many drawings.

According to the University Library’s head Grażyna Piotrowicz, the entries were written by representatives of different social strata, adding that the diary includes “invaluable autographs, and shows the mentality of that society and is an account of the era.”

The diary’s last pages are covered with images of copperplate engravings depicting deadly sins by a Flamande painter, sculptor and engraver Jacob van Heyden.

Melchior Lucas, the diary’s owner, lived in Wrocław and held a high office in Silesia’s administration. The diary’s pages are covered with autographs of important historical figures such as princes Ziębic and Bierutow, the count of the town of Kłodzk Henry Wacław Podiebradowicz and others.