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Abstract

The ceiling of the Pantheon in Nieborów’s Temple of Diana, with its scene of Aurora riding Apollo’s horses, became the basis for the identification of Masonic elements in the iconographic program of the Temple and the whole Arcadian park. The scene acquired a symbolic meaning as the end of a period of darkness and the beginning of an era of Enlightenment and reason. As a result, the symbolism of the Temple and the park became strongly associated with the cult of Nature and reason, which underpin the Masonic ideology and more widely the Enlightenment. Yet linking the mythological figures of Aurora and Apollo with the light of reason and the worship of Nature, and thereby the promotion of equality, clashes with potential reasons for the naming of the Temple after Diana, Apollo’s sister and one of the twins who killed twelve or even fourteen of Niobe’s children. We know that Princess Helena Radziwiłł, the founder of Arcadia, had three daughters who died prematurely, and the tragedy of Niobe must have been felt as her own. So what reasons could there be to worship this goddess, the bearer of death, who was also a personification of the night, symbolizing, as we know, superstition and ignorance? In order to minimise this contradiction in the interpretation of the program, researchers concluded that the Temple and park’s symbolism was from the start infused with elements that were elegiac, serious and melancholy, with the sadness resulting from the Princess’s obsession with death that had troubled her from the start. The Arcadian park would then be conceived as a cemetery, a mausoleum for her dead daughters and for her own tomb. The Baroque motto Et in Arcadia ego (death is even in Arcadia) was transformed into an affirmation of the omnipresence of death. Thus the Baroque memento mori has overshadowed the optimism of the Enlightenment. In order to combat this contradiction, the author invokes the eighteenth-century cult of Nature and the features associated with her personification, which since the Renaissance took the form of the multi-breasted Artemis of the Ephesians, a goddess quite unlike Apollo’s sister, who was hostile to men and a bearer of death. Ephesia was in fact the heiress to the Eastern Great Mother Goddess, who in the XVI–XVIII centuries was usually confused with Isis, the Lady of Ten Thousand Names and the Empress of the four elements, a loving sister and wife who restored life to the assassinated Osiris. She also embodied the loving and caring Nature, playing a fundamental role in eighteenth-century Masonic ideology. It was her embodiment of Nature that provided a source of beauty, wisdom and justice and above all love. Thus she represents a force that brings back life from the emptiness of death, a force granting men optimism, willpower and the gift of creation. Acceptance of her eternal laws bestows on men an inner balance and peace. Princess Helena’s wish that her final resting place be in the Arcadian park stemmed from the hope of rebirth by Nature-Isis and of overcoming the fatal irreversibility of death. She was drawing on a belief that hearkened back to the primordial times of Egyptian religion, according to Warsaw’s followers of royal art.
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