Contributor: Joanna Beaufoy
Location: Holy Cross Church, Warsaw, Poland
Description: A story goes that Fryderyk Chopin’s heart was smuggled from Paris to Warsaw in a jar of cognac by his sister, Ludwika, in the weeks following his death on 17 October 1849. The rest of Chopin’s body, we know for sure, was buried at the cemetery of Père Lachaise in Paris, the city where he lived for the last nineteen years of his life. The heart, in its jar, remained in Warsaw, apart from a brief evacuation during the Second World War. It is still there, the amber liquid preserving it in a remarkable state of health for a one hundred and sixty five-year old heart.
Two aspects may excite the curiosity of scholars of European Romanticism: the heart itself, and the notion of home. Firstly, it is the story of the place the heart held in Romantic symbolic thought and its role in artistic creation. Secondly, the homecoming of the heart raises questions about home, nation, and belonging in the context of death. The object’s journey from France to Poland complicates ideas about Romanticism and national identity. Already at the time of Chopin’s death, rumours and conflicting accounts of the heart abounded. The difficulty of establishing the facts that led to the heart’s removal from Chopin’s corpse and its arrival in Warsaw reflects the heart’s status as a mythical object. What does the popularity of this story tell us about Romantic ideas about home, belonging, fatherland, illness, death, and love?