is a complex of buildings forming a branch of the Gdańsk History Museum, located within the Main City boundaries and forming a part of the representative city route called the Royal Route. Długi Targ located near the historical harbour on the Motława river forms part of the route. The Artus Court complex consists of the following parts: the ground floor of two connected town houses called The Old Bench House, Artus Court and the New Bench House. The Old and New Bench House are the town houses with narrow facades typical of Gdańsk architecture.
The origins of Artus Court go back to the Middle Ages and its name stems from the European culture of knighthood. The common name of the courts originates from the name of the legendary leader of the Celts, Arthur, who lived in Britannia in the 5th and 6th century. For the people of those times he was a model of knightly virtues, and the Round Table, at which he sat with his courageous knights, was a symbol of equality and partnership. This very idea inspired the Baltic town communities to build Artus Courts. The Round Tables were organised according to a determined structure, and the tournament, feasts at the round table and dancing. Their genesis should be sought in the meetings of bards, troubadours and feasts, which took place first in Britannia and then in Wales. Already at the end of the 12th century similar ceremonies were held in northern Italy and in the 13th century in the Middle East, England and other countries of Europe. The populations of rich cities competed with the knights in showing sophisticated Arthurian manners to improve both their own the entire community’s prestige.
The name of the building: “Curia Regis Artus” (The Royal Court of Artus), which was constructed in Gdańsk between 1348 and1350, appeared for the first time in city documents in 1357 in relation to land rent. Another document dated 1358 defines it as “curia sancti Georgi” (Saint George Court) mentioning at this occasion similar courts in the Baltic region in Toruń, Chełmno, Elbląg, Braniewo, Królewiec, Rewal (Tallin), Riga and Stralsund.
The first court was erected on a plot of land belonging to the city since 1344, by the Saint George Brotherhood at its own expense and effort. The Brotherhood associated the knights from rich German families. We do not know a lot about the functioning of this elite brotherhood in the first century of its existence. We only know that it was of a knight-religious nature and probably organised military exercises for Gdańsk citizens and tournaments, similar to comparable brotherhoods in Braniewo and Riga. The members of corporations were required to participate in the jousting tournament according to the Round Table customs. The Saint George Brotherhood attempted from the very beginning to maintain its elite nature, requiring noble origin from its members, and set the same requirements for guests of Artus Court.
Over time, Artus Court began to accept not just merchant customs, but also started to take on the role of an official merchant house. Information always played a key role in the merchant profession. And the Court was an excellent place to exchange such information. This was a place where regulations fo the authorities were announced. The Court served trading purposes in two ways: legally - supporting personal contacts and social relationships between local merchants, and illegally - when trade transactions were concluded which were not allowed in this place.
The influence of the Brotherhood of Saint George was almost completely eliminated. It lost its right of ownership to the Court and held only an honorary place at ceremonies. From that time onwards the Brotherhood sat together with the judges and other users in the Great Hall. The most important changes concerned the establishment of succeeding associations from among individual members, as co-hosts of this institution. These friendly participants of meetings sat on the same bench, which became a place of community for those people, who in time created a new brotherhood. The new brotherhoods created in this manner adopted the joint name – Artus Court bench. Initially the members were grouped according to their geographical-cultural origin, profession, interests etc. The family traditions of the home Rhine region linked the members of the Saint Reinhold Brotherhood established in 1481. The Lubeck Bench created in 1482 brought together Gdańsk citizens trading with Lubeck. Personal friendship lay behind the establishment in 1483 of the Three Kings Brotherhood. The origins of the Malbork Bench created in 1487 can be found in the tradition of the veterans of The Thirteen Year War, who participated in the siege of Malbork in 1457 and 1460. The Dutch Bench, whose origin goes back to 1492, was formed by the Gdańsk and Dutch merchants trading with the Netherlands. Professional ties were behind the establishment of the Shipmasters and Judges Brotherhoods.
War and disease reduced the population of the city at the beginning of 17th century, changing the way of life of its inhabitants. The times of prosperity of Artus Court were gone along with the turmoil of war. It was closed and reopened many times. However the good old customs, sometimes frivolous, though standing up to the standards, were a sign of the past. In the end, on 31st of October 1742 the Council made the decision to transform the Court into a stock exchange, and from that time the Great Hall ceased to play host to the feasts of the brotherhoods. The decision of the Council transformed the Court into the seat of the Gdańsk stock exchange. The merchants obtained an outstanding building, while the Court gained a new function becoming once again the centre of merchant life. However, apart from regular exchange sessions, the Great Hall was also occasionally used to host official royal visits, significant cultural events and international meetings. At the end of the 17th century the Great Hall was used on a regular basis to hold concerts.
Gdańsk Vestibule, the representative patrician drawing-room in the New Bench House. From the east it adjoins the Great Hall of Artus Court. Gdańsk patrician families lived there from the middle ages to the 18th century. From 1709 it was the seat of the bench courts. Following general refurbishment in 1900 – 1901 (for the needs of the exchange premises), the New Bench House attained the look of the old Gdańsk style vestibule. The interior was decorated with 17th and 18th century works of Gdansk and Dutch art from the collection of the merchant-collector, Lesser Giełdziński.
The Gdańsk Vestibule was restored after war damage – its Baroque staircase from the beginning of the 18th century was transferred from Kłanin palace along with the decorative ceiling painting and two 18th century cupboards. Its furnishings also include the reconstructed fireplace, 18th century sculptures, 18th century Dutch ceramics from Delft, brass candle holders, original Dutch flag-stones on the walls with pastoral themes and a model of a 1775 Gdańsk ship. In addition two paintings were hung above the wooden panel line: “Three Kings Greetings” by Andreas Stech and “Portrait of an Amsterdam counsellor” by Jacob van Loo. The paintings are separated by a pair of large ornamental candle holders. The western wall of the great Gdańsk Vestibule has the entrance passage connecting it to the Great Hall of Artus Court. The museum continues to supplement the furnishings of Gdańsk Vestibule in order to restore the baroque character of a Gdańsk merchant house drawing-room.