This Polish Museum Received a Mysterious Package in the Mail—With Missing 17th-Century Tiles Inside

The ceramic tiles, which vanished during World War II, once adorned a Baroque bathing pavilion in Warsaw

Cracked and broken tiles inside a display case in a museum
The tiles were likely made in the Netherlands in the late 17th century. Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage / Facebook

During the late 17th century, Polish nobleman and writer Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski commissioned the construction of a Baroque bathing pavilion in Warsaw. Poland’s king, Stanisław August, purchased and expanded the property in 1764, and it became known as the Palace on the Isle.

Inside, the walls of the baths were covered with decorative 17th-century Dutch ceramic tiles in a blue and white pattern depicting trees and shepherds. During World War II, however, Nazi forces deliberately set fire to the Palace on the Isle—and some of the tiles went missing.

The Palace on the Isle is now home to Warsaw’s Royal Łazienki Museum. Last month, just before opening a new exhibition about Lubomirski, the museum received a mysterious package in the mail from Canada.

It contained 12 of the original tiles that once adorned the baths. Some were cracked or missing pieces, but museum staffers were elated to have them returned nonetheless. They’re now on display as part of an exhibition, “The Art of Thinking Well: The Legacy of Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski,” which runs through September 1.

“This story is a ready-made scenario for a movie,” writes Poland’s culture ministry in a translated Facebook post.

The anonymous sender “had asked for their return just before his death,” according to the post. How or when they ended up in Canada is unclear. The culture ministry is now looking into the incident, a museum spokesperson tells the Art Newspaper’s Sophia Kishkovsky.

The tiles were likely made in Utrecht between 1690 and 1700, per the Art Newspaper.

“According to art historians, such tiles became a sign of the host’s financial status, and the fashion was initiated by the French court in Versailles,” as Maciej Replewicz writes for Science in Poland, per Google Translate.

This is not the first time artifacts have been returned in such a fashion. In 2015, the museum recovered an 18th-century marble bust depicting the mythological goddess Diana by Jean-Antoine Houdon that had been looted by Nazis from the Royal Łazienki Palace in 1940.

That piece resurfaced after being consigned by a private owner at an Austrian auction house. After some negotiating, the owner agreed to return the bust “to the very plinth from which it was stolen,” per Artnet’s Henri Neuendorf.

In 2011, the museum also recovered an “applique candelabra, with the head of Medusa,” according to the Art Newspaper.

The ongoing exhibition, meanwhile, explores the life and legacy of Lubomirski, who lived from 1642 to 1702 and was an “outstanding writer and politician” and “one of the most colorful representatives of the Polish Baroque,” per a description of the show. It also covers the history and architecture of Baroque baths and features a room decorated with 17th-century stucco that has never been open to visitors.

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