This painting in the form of a frieze represents the ceremonial entry into Cracow of the wedding procession of King Sigismund II and Constance, archduchess of Austria, on 4 December 1605. The composition was probably based on notes made by the master of ceremonies for arraying the procession and also on sketches executed during the ceremony. The scroll has not survived in its original length. The original scroll from posed serious problems to conservators whenever the object was to be exhibited; therefore, during conservation treatment the component sheets of paper in the roll were separated.
The authorship of the roll remains unknown. It used to be ascribed to Balthasar Gebhard, court painter to Archduke Ferdinand, whose participation in the procession is confirmed by source references. however, the are no known works by Gebhard that would permit comparative analysis. Some researchers hold that the authorship should be sought among several local artists, which seems to be evidenced by different handling of particular parts of the painting.
The extraordinary iconographic value of the frieze lies in the accurate and realistic rendering of the character and details of the costumes and military equipment and in an attempt at portraying major personages. Nevertheless, the artist or artist combined the fidelity of depicting realities with a specific stylization aimed at giving the whole as stately a character as possible. The end result reflects not only the magnificence of the ceremony itself but also the splendor surrounding the royal court and family.
Although it is not known for certain how the work reached Sweden, it is believed that it found its way to Stockholm as booty in the years 1655-56. In 1902 it was transferred from the Royal Archives in Stockholm to the Royal Armory. In 1974, on the initiative of the prime minister of Sweden, Olof Palme, it was presented to the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
The composition and the rendering of the figures in perspective, slightly from above, make the whole resemble a filmstrip. The head of the procession is formed by a group of unmounted horses led by batmen. It is followed by two private detachments, hussars and infantry, of Hieronim Gostomsk, palatine od Poznań. Then, preceded by the equerry, come the king’s horses whose caparisons bear the arms of Sigismund III. The next distinguished formation is the king’s hussar regiment led by Sebastian Sobieski, standard bearer of the Crown (cat. 1a). Following the royal hussars (cat. 1b) are military commanders of high rank and behind them Polish and Austrian dignitaries as well as representatives of foreign countries. The Persian and Turkish envoys are distinguished by their oriental attire. They are followed by eight riders, one of whom is undoubtedly Jacob von Breiner, marshal of the Austrian court, representing the emperor.
One scene depicts men from the crowd of onlookers who fight the coins or coin-medallions thrown to the crowd, a custom that accompanied processions of exceptional importance in Poland. Next to this scene can by seen the embassy from Moscow. At the side of the Muscovite envoy, Athanasius Ivanovitch Vlasyev, one can identify Jerzy Mniszech, the father of Maryna who had married Czar Dmitri (False Dmitri) a few days before. They are followed by the papal nuncio Claudio Rangoni in the company of Cardinal Bernard Maciejowski and by the marshals of the Polish Commonwealth. Following them, two files of the royal halberdiers escort the most important participants in the ceremony.
Next, preceded by a group of pages, King Sigismund III rides a chestnut horse (cat. 1c). he wears a red costume embroidered with gold, pearls, and jewels. He is followed by Archduke Maximilian Ernest, the bride’s elder brother, and, mounted on a white horse, ten-year-old Prince Royal Ladislas, son of Sigismund III and his first wife, Anne of Austria. Behind them an ornate black coach drawn by eight horses is carrying the bride, Archduchess Constance, her mother, Archduchess Marie, her sister Marie Christine Batory, and the king’s sister, the Swedish Princess Anne Vasa (cat. 1d). Seventeen-year-old Constance is distinguished by her pale dress embroidered with jewels and adorned with a large ruff. Finally come carriages with ladies-in-waiting and trunks containing the bride’s trousseau (cat. 1e). the lonely rider between the carriages is probably the master of ceremonies. Detachments of the city militia bring up the rear of the procession. The first three units in Polish costume are the burghers of Kazimierz, the fourth represents those of Stradom, and at the end follow detachments of the militia of Cracow in sumptuous dress of western European cut.