The collection stored in the museum is owned by the Czartoryski family (update: December 2016, Polish government bought collection). They are an aristocratic family, closely connected to numerous prominent European houses.
Initially, the collection was presented in Pulawy, in the Sanctuary of Sybilla by Isabella Czartoryska, who wanted to preserve the remnants of Polish history for the generations to come.
After the fall of the November Uprising, the members of Czartoryski family were forced to escape to Paris. There, in the Lambert Hotel, they continued to expand their collection of valuable items.
At the end of the 19th century, they were taken to Cracow. At first, they were presented to all the interested individuals in the city arsenal, but Prince Wladysław Czartoryski decided to purchase the eastern part of the Piar’s monastery together with three nearby housing units. They were rebuilt and combined into a single building characterized by its truly unusual design. It served both palace and museum-related purposes and was beautifully decorated.
When it comes to most valuable items in the collection, one has to include the Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo Da Vinci, which has been a part of Czartoryski’s collection since 1800. It is the only painting by da Vinci in Poland currently. The painting presents the figure of Cecilia Gallerani, painted at a time when she was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. During the Second World War, the paining was used to decorate the mansion of Hans Frank. It returned to Poland in 1946.
In order to protect the collection from the atrocities of the World War II, the items were moved to the palace in Sieniawa. Unfortunately, the Germans learned about the place they were hidden. During the said conflict, numerous works of art went missing, including the famous Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael. The Czartoryski Foundation has been actively attempting to reclaim the works of arts stolen during the Second World War.
Since 2010, the museum has been being renovated. Only a small part of the collection can be admired, including a number of ancient masterpieces. Due to the performed restoration-oriented works, the Lady with an Ermine was moved to the Wawel Cathedral. The accomplishment of the renovation is expected to take place in 2017. Currently, the museum is a division of the National Museum.
Czartoryski Museum, Pijarska 8