A man of various talents, Michał Kleofas Ogiński lived at the turn of the 18th century and left a lasting impact on the political life of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (PLC). A civic activist and gifted musician, today he is most known as a composer, the author of the famous polonaise „A Farewell to the Homeland“ (a-moll No. 13; French, Les Adieux a la Patrie), as well as of other still-popular polonaises, mazurkas, valtzes, marches, the opera Zelis and Valcour, or Bonaparte in Cairo (Zelis et Valcour, ou ‘Bonaparte au Caire, 1799). In 1826-1827, Ogiński published his four-volume „Memoires“, in 1828, the book „Letters about Music“. He is known to have also written poems, epigrams, travel notes; supplementary texts to his „Memoires“, childhood remembrances, numerous letters remain in manuscript; some of them may be considered to belong to fictional literature.
Ogiński was born on September 25, 1765 near Warsaw (on the estate of his parents in Guzów, Poland) and died on October 15, 1833 in Florence, Italy. He was given eight names at baptism: Kleofas, Michał, Franciszek, Antoni, Feliks, Ignacy, Józef, Tadeusz. Most often, he used only two: Michał and Kleofas.
From his childhood, Michał Kleofas was groomed for state service. His parents hired the best pedagogues of those times to teach him. The main fosterer of Michał Kleofas‘ many talents was French educator Jean Role (1735–1808). Michał Kleofas became interested in music already as a child, when the parents hired music teacher Józef Koz1owski (1757–1831) to instruct his sisters. He began studying music by his own initiative, soon made a great progress through hard work, and embarked on practicing, writing and interpreting music on his own. Later he studied under other acclaimed educators of the times.
Even though Michał Kleofas was not a professional musician, he wrote, performed and published his music throughout his whole life.
Ogiński‘s political and diplomatic career started when he was barely twenty-one, in 1786. From the very first, he felt a great responsibility in regard to state affairs. For his services to the state, he was awarded, in 1788, the order of St. Stanislaus, and in 1790, the Order of the White Eagle. In 1790, Ogiński was appointed the Extraordinary Envoy and Plenipotentiary Minister to the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and at the turn of 1790, he undertook a diplomatic mission to London (Great Britain).
In 1793, Ogiński became Treasurer of the GDL; he resigned from this post in 1794 and joined the ranks of Kościuszko‘s insurgents. Elected the Supreme National Council of Lithuania, a body active in April–June 1794, he personally organized and led military units of insurgents, maintained contacts with Tadeusz Kościuszko. In the wake of the uprising, Ogiński, under a different name, left Lithuania. Living in exile, he, together with his comrades, searched for a way to restore the PLC, a state absent from European maps after its third division. He even addressed Napoleon Bonaparte with a request for his help to Lithuania and Poland in regaining their independence. The latter replied that even though these countries had been illegally annexed by Russia, they, similar to any other nation, must take up arms to fight for their rights.
In 1802, Tsar Alexander I, granted amnesty to Ogiński and allowed him to return to Lithuania. Michał Kleofas came to live to the estate of his uncle Francizsek Ksawery Stanisław Ogiński (1742–1814) in Zalesye near Smorgon, Ashmyany district (present Belarus); he assisted in managing the Rietavas starostship, where he later purchased an estate; acquired the Vilnius Ogiński Palace and numerous other assets. Upon his return from the emigration, he not only took care of his inherited and purchased estates, but also engaged into intensive civic activities – together with like-minded friends, he founded the Charitable Society in Vilnius, for a while was its head, was famous for his charitable activities, He also was president of the Typographic Society, maintained close relations with Vilnius University and became one of its most revered, at the time, patrons.
In Zalesye, Ogiński built a new palace with a beautiful park around it, started writing his „Memoires“, composed numerous musical pieces, often performed music together with his children and visiting friends. The Zalesye estate became a great centre of cultural magnetism, a place where prominent people of the times would come for company and for discussion of political and state matters.
In 1810, Ogiński became secret advisor to the Tsar of Russia. Prior to the start of the war of Russia with Napoleon, Ogiński prepared a memorandum on the GDL as an autonomous part within the Russian Empire and a draft of the constitution of the future GDL. However, these aspirations were not to be fulfilled, since the Tsar, who at first had seemed supportive and even appointed Ogiński Senator from Lithuania, backed off when the political situation changed at the start of the 1812 war with Napoleon – he now did not have time for, or maybe, lost interest in Lithuanian affairs.
After the Congress of Vienna that was held in 1815, Ogiński lost hope that the Lithuanian State can be restored. As at that time he was already rather ill (particularly suffering from gout), and physicians recommended the change of climate. Under such circumstances Ogiński decided to move abroad, even though some of his children were still minors. About 1822, Michał Kleofas ceded his estates to his wife and children, and embarked on a journey towards Italy, the native country of his wife Maria de Néri (1778–1852). He arrived there after a year-long travels throughout Europe. In 1823, Ogiński settled in Florence. He received means of sustenance from the Lithuanian and Belarusian estates he had ceded to his family – his wife Maria would send him money.
In the last years of his life, Ogiński had poor eyesight. He wrote with the help of hired copyists and his personal secretary, Leonard Boreiko Chodźko (1800–1871), who assisted Ogiński in 1826-1827 in Paris and Geneva in writing the „Memoires“. At that time Michał Kleofas still would pick up his violin, played his favorite piano pieces, took joy at each bit of news received from his family.
Ogiński died in the arms of his daughter Emma (Ogińska-Bžostovska-Vysocka, 1810–1871) on October 15, 1833 in Florence. She and her husband Hipolit (Hipolit Michał Roch Brzostowsky, d. 1872) took care of Ogiński‘s funeral. At first Michał Kleofas was buried in the churchyard of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella that belonged to a monastery located near his house. Later Maria de Néri saw to it that his remains were transferred to the pantheon of the Basilica of the Holy Cross (Basilica di Santa Croce), to a chapel on its right side (Capella castelliani de santissimo) and ordered a memorial gravestone made from white Carrara marble. This Basilica is the main church of the Franciscan order and the resting place of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), Leonardo Bruni (Aretino, 1370–1444), Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527), Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (1792–1868), Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Giovanni Battisto Niccolini (1782–1861) and many other prominent Italian scientists, artists and statesmen.
It is speculated that the sculpture at Michał Kleofas‘ gravestone immortalizes Maria herself in mourning for her husband, since the woman represented by the sculpture looks very much alike to the portrait of Maria de Néri painted by Aleksander Ludwik Molinari (1805–1868) and now kept in the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum in Kaunas.
In 2006, on the initiative of Belarusian culture activists, the house in which Ogiński lived in Florence in 1823–1833 was marked by a memorial plaque (its author is Belarusian sculptor Valiaryan Yanushkevich, who also created an impressive memorial to Ogiński in Maladechnoe (Belarus).
This chapter presents objects telling about the lineage of the Ogiński family. These are genealogical trees, birth certificates, decrees confirming lineage and titles, and a study on the origins of the family by a 18th-century Jesuit, Father Piezsarki; a colour lithograph of the Ogiński coat of arms made by a member of the French artistic Régamey family. The visitor will also be able to see the marriage certificate of Ogiński and Maria de Néri, examples of the Ogiński family‘s seals. Of particular interest is the seal of Michał Kleofas Ogiński used during the Uprising of 1794 led by Tadeusz Kośziuszko. The chronological range of the documents is 1732-1928.