Religious artistic creation of women artists

The Editors

Contemporary people, involved with the present, often fail to perceive the scale of the cultural changes which have taken place during the last century and which are related to the position of women in the society. What is even more often overlooked is the specific character of the Polish culture, where for centuries women had been less drastically incapacitated both socially and legally than they still were in many Western countries some decades ago, where the last legal barriers, unknown to a few generations of Polish women, collapsed as late as the second half of the 20th century.

In the war-ridden Noble Republic of Poland, and then during the Partitions of Poland the task of property management and cultivation of patriotic traditions, thus ensuring the preservation of the national identity, often rested on the shoulders of women. The particular esteem for the woman as a mother and the keeper of the domestic hearth found its spiritual reflection in the traditional Polish cult of St Mary, as well as in the gradually developing stereotype of the traditional heroic Polish Mother, at present heavily criticised by particular intellectual circles, who are certain that the future can be built only by burying the past.

Closely related to the history of the nation was the emergence of the model of pious women rulers sacrificing their happiness for their mother country, such as Queen Jadwiga of Poland, heroic warriors like Mrs. Chrzanowska of Trembowla, or the literary heroine Grażyna. This positive image of a Polish woman (although depictions departing from the conventional model, ambiguous, often even negative could also be found) was complemented in the 19th and 20th centuries by paintings and literary works depicting strong teachers, dedicated conspirators, faithful wives following their exiled husbands, or mourning widows. Among numerous females inspiring the collective imagination of Poles one will not find artists on a par with Camille Claudel or Artemisia Gentilleschi, who were both popularized, among others, by moving pictures.

Even though research into the artistic creation of women has recently gained in intensity, religious and metaphysical art is usually neglected, often for ideological reasons distorting the objective character or scientific inquiry. The texts published in the present volume of “Sacrum et Decorum” focus on this significant gap in the field of research on women art, although, obviously, the choice of articles which reflect their authors’ area of interest, presents only a limited fragment of a much broader issue.

The first batch of articles presents five women painters and their output, and the chronological ordering facilitates, we believe, grasping a certain temporal correlation between the increase in emancipation of women and their artistic endeavours.

Danuta Czapczyńska-Kleszczyńska’s text, opening the volume, introduces the reader to the world of women taking up paid jobs as a result of the growing pauperisation of the nobles and gentry. The author discusses the activity of countess Maria Magdalena Łubieńska, founder of the School of Painting and Drawing for Women, later known as “Painting Shop” (Pol. “Malarnia”), and soon transformed into “Studio of St Luke” (Pol. “Zakład Świętego Łukasza”). Pursuing her interests, Danuta Czapczyńska-Kleszczyńska presents the artist and her workshop chiefly in relation to stained-glass painting, focusing on the innovative character of Łubieńska’s activity, including the fact that the company, which was one of the first stained-glass workshops in Polish Territories in the 19th century, employed almost exclusively women, who participated in the company’s profits. The 19th century is the period of the emergence of Polish intelligentsia recruiting chiefly from town-based gentry, who still, to a greater or lesser degree, were rooted in the tradition of landed gentry. Writer and painter Pia Górska, through family and social connections tied with the artistic circles of Cracow and Warsaw, came from such a family. The extent of the restrictions limiting a young woman from the “high society” illustrates this evocative quote from the painter’s diary, cited by Anna Sieradzka, author of the article dedicated to Górska: I decided to emancipate myself from the protection of my family (I was 28 at the time) and go out into the street all by my myself. These words seem to explain the derivative and self-conscious nature of artistic attempts of many women of that time, for whom even a solitary walk in the streets of a town turned into an exciting act of emancipation.

Even at the beginning of the 20th century, another woman artist, who wanted to study painting at a famous academy in Munich, had to use her own brother’s documents and attend classes dressed as a man. This painter is remembered under her husband’s name as Zofia Stryjeńska. Lechosław Lameński, author of the article devoted to her religious artistic activity, presents, in his distinctive vivid style, vicissitudes of Stryjeńska’s turbulent married life and her attempts to reconcile artistic ambitions with the role of a mother and wife of a not very faithful husband.

The next studies which we present to the readers deal with the artistic activity of women painters working in the second half of the 20th century. An almost complete removal of institutional barriers in education and the changes in the social image of a woman undoubtedly had their influence on the creativity, courage and originality of formal inquires of contemporary artists, whose creations often constitute an expression of interesting metaphysical inquiries.

In the context of his divagations on the modern religious iconography inspired by the Shroud of Turin, Rev. Wojciech Lippa presents the portrait of new – as he writes – Veronica, whom he identifies as a German artist, Dorothee von Windheim. The issue of iconography dominates also the article by Tadeusz Boruta, who devoted his text to women artists from The Independent Culture Movement, an exceptional phenomenon in the Polish art of the decade between 1980 and 1990, marked with the activity of “Solidarity” and the collapse of communism. In the abovementioned texts, reference to the Road to the Centre by Danuta Waberska is made twice. The author of this painting constitutes the subject matter of the monographic article by Renata Rogozińska, and Michał Haake presents an exhaustive analysis of one of Waberska’s paintings.

Sculpture is the form less frequently chosen by artistically gifted women. In a short announcement, Karolina Grodzińska recalls sacred art of Janina Reichert-Toth, whose figure she rescued from oblivion in a recently published monograph of the artist. Alina Szapocznikow’s sculptures for Parisian Pallottines are the subject matter of the article by Agata Jakubowska. Grażyna Ryba analyses the original iconography of the carved decorative elements on the bronze door of one of the churches in Gdańsk and the catholic church in Puri, which are effects of the cooperation of clerical theologians and Janina Karczewska-Konieczna and Janina Stefanowicz-Schmidt.

As a theological summary of the articles devoted to the religious artistic activity of women may serve the text by Rev. Janusz Królikowski on the religious experience conveyed by art.

The latest volume of “Sacrum et Decorum” close memoirs of eminent art historians: Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak, who died a sudden death (by Marcin Lachowski) and Father Professor Józef Benignus Wanat (by Rev. Andrzej Witko). Father Professor patronized the initiative of taking up research on sacred art at the University of Rzeszów, he supported us with his prayer, and in the difficult times at the beginning he also supported us financially. Professor Kitowska-Lysiak spiritually supported the first issues of our magazine, and she viewed with great enthusiasm the research carried out in the Centre for Documentation of Modern Sacred Art in Rzeszów. Unfortunately she did not manage to complete the text Teresa Rudowicz – „Crucifixions”, which was supposed to appear in the present volume.

Translated by Ewa Kucelman

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