June in Poland – from strawberries to Rembrandt

June in Poland is dominated by red – from the colour of fruit and flowers to the month’s name.

Czerwiec June shares the same word root (czerw-) as czerwony red (adjective) and czerwień red (noun).  In June in Poland, wherever you look, you can see street sellers surrounded by baskets and boxes of czerwone pomidory red tomatoes, czerwone truskawki red strawberries, czerwone porzeczki (red) redcurrants, czerwone maliny red raspberries and czerwone czereśnie red sweet cherries.

strawberries-and-red-currants

 

 

 

 

 

 

The countryside is full of czerwone maki red poppies growing in fields and by roadside and the heady scent of czerwone róże red roses fills the air in parks and gardens.

poppies

 

 

 

 

 

 

The name of the sixth month of the year comes almost certainly from the word czerw which is larvae of czerwiec polski Polish cochineal (Porphyrophora polonica) – an insect inhabiting large areas of Central Europe.  In the past, it was used to make red pigment, and in the 15thand 16thcentury, Poland (or The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to be precise) was the largest exporter of the pigment to the rest of Europe (Germany, France, Italy, England) and to the Middle East. In fact, it was one of the largest sources of wealth for Poland, next to the export of grain, wood and salt.

The dye produced from Polish cochineal was used mainly in the textile industry to produce red silk, wool, linen and cotton. In the Ottoman Empire it was used to give carpets their beautiful red hue. It was very expensive and used only for the most elaborate garments.  In time, red clothing became synonymous with wealth and power. It’s for that reason that many Polish kings and nobleman are dressed in red clothing in their portraits. 

Stefan_Czarniecki_by_Brodero_Matthiesen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hetman Stefan Czarniecki by Brodero Matthisen (1659)

Batory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King Stefan Batory attributed to Martin Kober (1583)      

Polish cochineal was also used by painters. Rembrandt used it for the red skirt in the painting The Jewish Bride (1665-69). 

Rembrandt Jewish Bride

 

 

 

 

 

 

But what has the insect got to do with June?

The clue is in the common name for the Polish cochineal pigment – St John’s Blood. The larvae of Polish cochineal were gathered around 24thJune, the feast of St John the Baptist.  

 Czerwiec is not only the name of the insect, but also the plant the larvae used to feed on called czerwiec trwały Scleranthus perennis.  You can say: W czerwcu, czerwce na czerwcu In June, Polish cochineal insets [feed on] on Scleranthus perennis plant.

From czerwiec (as in the name of the month) comes an adjective czerwcowy (czerwcowa /czerwcowee.g.

ciepły czerwcowy wieczór warm June evening

krótka czerwcowa noc short June night

Note, that when declining (using different endings in different context) the word czerwiec (which is masculine for insect, plant or month) the ‘ie’ is dropped:

case singular plural
nominative czerwiec czerwce
genitive czerwca czerwców
dative czerwcowi czerwcom
accusative czerwiec czerwce
instrumental czerwcem czerwcami
locative czerwcu czerwcach
vocative czerwcu czerwce

 

The noun czerwień red, redness and related adjective czerwony/czerwona /czerwone red also shares the same root as czerwiec.

From the noun czerwień come the verbs:

czerwienić (się), zaczerwienić (się), czerwieniećpoczerwienieć to redden / to blush. See examples:

  • czerwienić się jak burak to turn as red as a beetroot/to blush

Andrzej czerwienił się jak burak, kiedy musiał wystąpić publicznie.

Andrzej was blushing when he had to perform in public.

  • zaczerwienić się ze wstydu to blush (get red) from shame/embarrassment

Marta zaczerwieniła się ze wstydu, kiedy ujawniono jej błąd.

Martha blushed with embarrassment when her mistake was revealed.

  • poczerwienieć ze złości to get red from / with anger

Facet w pociągu nie mógł się opanować; poczerwieniał ze złości i zaczął krzyczeć.

The bloke on the train couldn’t control himself; he got red with anger and started to shout.

 

Polish tutor tips:

Try to find other connotations related to czerwiec and czerwony:

e.g. in football, in proverbs or in cooking.

 

You can find out more about Polish cochineal here and here.