The Mysterious Kraków Model and the Italian Designs by Bronisław Chromy

Grażyna RybaUniversity of Rzeszów, Rzeszów


Among the sculptures collected in the studio of Bronisław Chromy (born in 1925), the Kraków sculptor who could be considered one of more interesting artistic personalities in the 20th-century Poland, there is a lead model of a sculpted double door topped with a full arch. According to Chromy it is an unrealized design of the gate for St Francis Church in Ravenna. In 1973 the artist won the first award at Biennale organized by Centro Dantesco in Ravenna. One of the competition jurors, Archbishop Giovanni Fallani, supposedly encouraged the then director of Centro Dantesco, Fr. Severino Ragazzini, to commission with Chromy a bronze door for the Franciscan Church which formed a part of the museum complex in Ravenna. Fallani also encouraged Chromy to take part in a closed competition for the gate to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. Both projects have never been realized, but the formal solutions of the artist’s Italian projects were used by him in the bronze doors made by him for the churches in Nienadówka and Tarnów. The first one was made popular through the exhibition in Kraków in 1980 and Zofia Halota’s film, in which it played the main role, symbolically opening and closing the narrative about the sculptor’s work. In the 1980s the number of commissions for sculpted bronze doors in Poland started to increase rapidly, at least in the southern part of the country. It is probable that Chromy’s work contributed to its popularity as an element of the church decoration, indirectly caused by his Italian inspiration and Ravenna experience.

keywords: Bronisław Chromy, bronze door, Ravenna


Among the artistic achievements of many Polish artists of the twentieth century, their foreign projects are often cited. Mostly, however, they are not included in analyses of works by individual painters and sculptors, and the names of distant cities and countries serve only as a decoration that adds luster to and complements the accounts of their artistic accomplishments.[1] Since the existing works are omitted, it is not surprising that certain projects are being forgotten that for various reasons have not been accomplished. Often, however, analysis of these works may be a valuable complement to the artistic biography of many figures who are important for the history of art, thus helping to create a clearer picture of their activities and the times in which they (have) lived.

Among the sculptures gathered in the studio of Bronisław Chromy (born 1925), a Cracovian artist who can be regarded as one of the most interesting artistic personalities of the past century in Poland, there is a lead model of a sculptured, double-leaf door closed with a full arch [fig. 1]. According to Chromy, this is an incomplete model of the door for St Francis’ church in Ravenna, and the events connected with the creation of this project are mentioned by the artist on the pages of his autobiography.[2]

A study of the background of creation of the model stored in Chromy’s studio and analysis of the form and themes depicted there may help to determine the impact of his trips to Italy and acquaintances made there on the art of this Cracovian sculptor, while providing a contribution to the history of Polish-Italian relations in the twentieth century art.

Bronisław Chromy’s associations with Italy and with the patronage of the Church date back to the early 1960s and thus almost to the beginnings of the artist’s independent work. In 1962, Chromy sent his work to the contest of Franciscan nativity scenes in Rieti, winning the third award.[3] Already in the following year, during a several months’ scholarship, he visited the most important museums and art centers in Italy and France,[4] and a few years later won the first prize at the international competition of small sculptural forms in Arezzo.[5]

The sculptor closely watched the events related to the artistic life in Italy and in 1973, when the Centro Dantesco in Ravenna resolved to organize an international biennial dedicated to the life and works of Dante,[6] Chromy decided to participate. The sculptor sent to Ravenna three medals: L’Inferno, Visione Dantesca and Dante.[7] One of them – L’inferno (The abyss[8]) shows Dante and Virgil descending into the depths of hell: two little human figures moving toward the light through the underworld circles closing around them [fig. 2].[9] This work brought the artist the first prize and the gold medal, and initiated the period of his close relations with Ravenna.[10] Since then, Chromy would be a frequent visitor at the Centro Dantesco, invited primarily as a juror for the next editions of the biennial, and the museum there would acquire a number of his works.[11]

Translated by Agnieszka Gicala

[1] More extensive analyses of foreign works by Polish artists, like stained glass in Fryburg made by Joseph Mehoffer or Igor Mitoraj’s bronze door, are very rare.

[2] During a conversation with the author of this article, Chromy suggested that it is rather the model of the door to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. Even a preliminary analysis indicates that the model has no relation to that Roman church: in fact it has a semicircular top while the opening which was to be filled by the Jubilee Door designed by the Cracovian sculptor is rectangular. In 1985 the artist personally measured the opening for the Porta Santa in the Basilica of St Paul in Rome (information courtesy of Mr. Anna Praxmayer that accompanied Chromy then), see: B. Chromy, Kamień i marzenie, Kraków 2006, pp. 211–212.

[3] The contest was organized by the Ente Provinciale per il Turismo di Rieti. The anecdote related to the circumstances of his award winning is reported by the artist in his autobiography – Chromy 2006 (ft. 2), p. 134.

[4] It was a scholarship of the Ministry of Culture and Art; memories of the journey were  included by the artist in his autobiography – Chromy 2006 (ft. 2), pp. 132–144; the author provides an incorrect date of the stay abroad, the actual date is in his personal file in the Archives of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków: Archives of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, personal file of Bronisław Chromy, Bronisław Chromy, Życiorys artystyczny, typescript, 9 April 1980.

[5] In 1970, Chromy wins the second prize in the competition for a medal on the subject of sport in the Concorso Internazionale della Medaglie – d’Arte Erre Uno and Arezzo, cf.: Chromy1980 (ft. 4).

[6] I Biennale Internazionale Dantesca di Ravenna organized by the Centro dei Frati Minori Dantesco Conventuali in Ravenna in 1973.

[7] The titles of the works were listed in the catalogue of the exhibition Prima Biennale Dantesca di Ravenna. Mostra Biennale Internazionale della Medaglia di Dante organzzata dal Centro Dantesco dei Fratri Minori Conventuali di Ravenna, Chiostro di Dante, magio–agosto 1973, Ravenna 1973, no. 15.

[8] This is the translation of the work reproduced in the bilingual exhibition catalogue Dante in Polonia (G. Segato, Dante e la Polonia, in: Dante in Polonia: ottanata quattro scultori polacchi contemporanei internpretano Dante Alighieri, Ravenna, 14 settembre – 12 ottobre 1997, Chiostri Franciscani / Centro Dantesco dei Fratri Minori Conventuali Ravenna, Ravenna 1997, no pagination).

[9] In his autobiography, Bronislaw Chromy mistakenly says that the awarded medal adepicted Dante and Beatrice in hell and heaven – Chromy 2006 (ft. 2), p. 211.

[10] It is worth mentioning that in the same year, Krzysztof Zanussi received the Grand Prix at the International Film Festival in Ravenna for his film Iluminacja [Illumination] (A. Ledochowski, Iluminacja, in: “Kino”, 1973, no. 5, pp. 8–13).

[11] The collection of Dantesco Center in Ravenna has, in addition to the three medals for the competition in 1973, also: medal Dante Alighieri e S. Francisco – la porta of 1977 (the metaphorical title has nothing in common with the draft door) and small sculptures: Il Vortice infernale of 1979, Tra l’Inferno e il’Paradiso of 1988 (cod. 778). The latter work was reproduced in the catalogue of the 1988 biennial among the compositions by artists invited to participate in the exhibition outside the competition (VIII Biennale Internazionale di Ravenna Dantesca sotto l’Alto Patronato del Presidente della Repubblica. Mostra Internazionale del Bronzetto e della Piccola sculture organzzata dal Centro Dantesco sul tema: Similitudini nell’Inferno di Dante, 10 aprile – 25 settembre 1988, Centro Dantesco, Ravenna 1988, no pagination. The work listed in the part: Artisti invitati d’onore, furio concorso). Still other works are mentioned in the correspondence of the artist with Father Severino Ragazzini, director of the center (photocopies of the letters are owned by the author of this article).

[12] M. Piacenza, Giovanni Falla. «La Pastorale» dell’arte sacra, in: “30 giorni nella Chiesa e nel mondo”, 2006, no. 12, (accessed on 25 Feb. 2010).

[13] G. Falla, Dante moderno, Ravenna 1979, p. 90.

[14] Chromy 2006 (ft. 2), p. 211.

[15] Chromy 1980 (ft. 4). These projects were also mentioned in the documentary film devoted to Chromy: “He is the creator of the project of the entrance to the future Ravenna Dante Center” (Ośrodek Dokumentacji i Zbiorów Programowych TVP S.A., sign. F 45 90: Droga na Olimp, directed by Zofia Rudzińska-Halota, commentary by Jerzy Madeyski, prod. Poltel, Katowice 1981).

[16] Letter from Ivo Laurentini, the present director of the Centro Dantesco, to the author of this text, dated March 4, 2010.

[17] Chromy 2006 (ft. 2).

[18] Bronisław Chromy. Wystawa rzeźby, exhibition catalogue, November 1980, Kraków, Exhibition Pavilion BWA, Kraków 1980; Chromy 2006 (ft. 2), pp. 165–166. The shots of the Nienadówka church door, displayed at that exhibition, start and end Zofia Halota’s film Droga na Olimp (cf.: footnote 15).

[19] Jerzy Madeyski, Chromy. Tarnowskie Drzwi Spiżowe Pomnik Męczeństwa Narodów, Tarnów 1984.

[20] Chromy was mentioned in the post-conference publication: XIX Congresso F.I.D.E.M., Firenze 1983, p. 266.

[21] He was listed as a jury member in the catalogue of the exhibition following the competition: VII Biennale internazionale dantesca di Ravenna sotto l’Alto Patronato del Presidente della Repubblica. Mostra internazionale del Bronzetto e della Piccola Scultura organizzata dal Centro Dantesco sul tema: Immagini della vita di Dante, tra storia e leggenda, 1 marzo – 31 ottobre 1985, Rawenna 1985.

[22] The Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls has three entrances: the main, central door was made of bronze by Antonio Maraini in 1931; it depicts scenes from the life of Sts Peter and Paul, decorated with a large silver plated cross inlaid with lapis lazuli, on the right there is a door made in Constantinople in 1070, reconstructed in 1967 (since 2000 it has been the reverse of the current Porta Santa, which was to be designed by Chromy).

[23] Letter from Antonio Mauro (1914–2001), Apostolic Administrator of the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, to Chromy (5 November 1986) confirms the commission with the artist for the bronze door to this church, and contains a significant proviso: “Al fine di ottenere la tanto desiderata realizzazione del menzionato progetto, occorebbe che una qualche persona o instituzione, singolarmente devota all’Apostolo delle Genti e al Papa Giovanni Paolo II, destinasse una somma di beni o di denaro tale da permettere di conseguire l’intento di cui sè tratta” (a photocopy of the letter from B. Chromy’s private archive is in the possession of the author of this article).

[24] The attitude of the Polish hierarchy in this matter is described by the artist at length in his autobiography – Chromy 2006 (ft. 2), p. 212.

[25] E. Manfrini, G. Gronchi, La porta della glorificazione di Maria di Enrico Manfrini per il Duomo di Siena, Milano 1958.

[26] Chromy is listed in the catalogue: M.-G. Gervasoni, XLII Esposizione internazionale d’arte La Biennale di Venezia: general catalogue 1986, Venezia 1986, pp. 318–320.

[27] Cf. footnote 11.

[28] The monument was created in 1981. It is the first Polish and one of the best productions of this type (K.S. Ożóg, Miedziany Pielgrzym. Pomniki Papieża w polskich sanktuariach, in: Pielgrzymowanie i sztuka. Góra Świętej Anny i inne miejsca pielgrzymkowe na Śląsku, ed. J. Lubos-Kozieł et al., Wrocław 2006, p. 169).

[29] As is clear from the correspondence between Ragazzini and Chromy (Archivum Centro Dantesco in Ravenna, a photocopy of the letter is owned by the author of the article).

[30] S. Ragazzini’s letter to B. Chromy, September 30, 1977 (Archivum Centro Dantesco in Ravenna, a photocopy of the letter is owned by the author of the article).

[31] S. Ragazzini’s letter to B. Chromy, December 3, 1977 (Archivum Centro Dantesco in Ravenna, a photocopy of the letter is owned by the author of the article).

[32] B. Chromy’s letter to S. Ragazzini, January 3, 1980 (Archivum Centro Dantesco in Ravenna, a photocopy of the letter is owned by the author of the article).

[33] Centro Dantesco, Museo, inv. no. 1104, inv. no. 313, inv. no. 323, inv. no. 324. These models, while still in the artist’s studio, were accidentally filmed by Zofia Halota (cf. footnote 15).

[34] J. Madeyski, Bronisław Chromy, Kraków 2008, p. 29.

[35] The artist’s statement recorded in the documentary film by A. Kornecki and K. Czerni Bronisław Chromy – rzeźbiarz, Kraków 1995.

[36] The model of the door in which the artist accentuated the divisions of composition, was captured in the film by Zofia Halota (cf. footnote 15). Proof that Chromy cast several versions of one theme is preserved in the artist’s studio as models of panels for the bronze door for Tarnów, containing various renderings of the scenes being designed (e.g. Palenie zwłok).

[37] And probably also of the conceptual message (due to renovation of the museum building, only poor quality photos of catalogue pages are available at the moment, which is why no closer identification of the representations is possible).

[38]„La nuova Porta Santa è divisa in tre momenti salienti, sviluppati su tre fasce: quella bassa riguarda il Cristo, sullo sfondo c’è l’Arca della salvezza, l’umanità che va a Lui, immolato sulla croce con Maria. La fascia centrale è invece dedicata allo Spirito Santo e alla Pentecoste e al martirio di Paolo. Infine, nella fascia superiore, è rappresentata la misericordia di Dio Padre, con la resurrezione di Cristo, illustrata dalle parabole del Figliol prodigo e del Buon Samaritano” (D. Murgia, La Porta Santa segno dell’Unità, in: “Jubilaeum a.d. 2000. Giornale del Pellegrino”, 2000, no. 15–16, (accessed on 20 March 2010).

[39] Chromy 2006 (ft. 2), p. 212.

[40] Those were greater basilicas: the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican, the Basilica of St Paul and the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome.

[41] A. Broż, B. Lewandowski, Rzym: rok święty 1983: jubileusz odkupienia: Bulla Papieska, Rzym 1983.

[42] Father S. Gurgul, Drzwi spiżowe – boczne, pomnik dla Ojca Świętego Jana Pawła II, in: “Maksymilian”, 2004, no. 4, pp. 6–7.

[43] The artist also visited Spain, France and Britain.

[44] Among the very few works of this type are: the bronze door of the Poznań cathedral made in the years 1975–1980 by Kazimierz Bieńkowski (Piastowska katedra w Poznaniu, ed. J. Stanisławski, Poznań 1990, p. 60, fig. 20; Kazimierz Bieńkowski. Rzeźba, projekty i szkice, exhibition catalogue, the Museum of the Warsaw Diocese, 24 February – 25 March 1997, Warszawa 1997, fig. 14), the door of the Tarnów cathedral made in 1970 by Bogdana and Anatol Drwal, not mentioned in this article, and the door of the Katowice cathedral made by Jerzy Kwiatkowski and Stefan Gajda in 1968–1975, as well as the earliest one: the door of the Warsaw cathedral designed by Stanisław Murzyński and made by Adam Jabłoński before 1963.

[45] Cf. footnotes 31 and 32.

[46] In subsequent versions of the 20th-century bronze door of St Peter’s Cathedral one may observe the symptomatic transition from peaceful classical forms (V. Consorti, Porta Santa, 1950, V. Crocetti, Porta dei Sacramenti, 1965) to more dramatic compositions by G. Manzù (Porta della Morte, 1964), to the expressive deformation by L. Minguzzi (Porta del Bene e del Male, 1977). In all those works, however, the human figure remains the main focus of the artists.

[47] Jerzy Madeyski, when analyzing the Tarnów door, also points to Chromy’s earlier work, i.e. monumental sculpture – Madeyski 2006 (ft. 35), p. 62.

[48] On the basis of the artist’s statement in the film by Zofia Halota (cf. footnote 15).

[49] Ibidem.

[50] Z. Halota, Droga na Olimp (cf. footnote 15). In 1982 the film was awarded at the Festival of Films on Art in Zakopane.

[51] For example Dante e la cultura figurativa medievale (1971), L’esperieza teologica di Dante (1976).

[52] G. Fallani, Manzù farà la porta di San Pietro?, Bologna 1980.

[53] Pontificia Commissione centrale per l’arte sacra in Italia (active in the years 1924–1989) was aimed at protection of the heritage of the art and culture of the Church in Italy. It also supervised the construction of new sacral buildings (G. Santi, La Santa Sedes e i beni culturali della Chiesa in Italia, in: “Chiesa e arte”, 1995, no. 140–141, p. 112).

[54] Commissione per la tutela dei monumenti storici e artistici della Santa Sedes, cf.: “Stato della Citta del Vaticano”, CCCLV, Legge sulla tutela dei beni culturali, (21 March 2010).

[55] G. Fallani, Musei Vaticani. Collezione d’arte religiosa moderna, Milano 1974.

[56] Introduzione al tema delle chiese nuove, in: “Fede e arte”, 1967, no. 15/1, pp. 8–12; L’arte sacra dopo il Vaticano II e Tutela e conservazione del patrimonio storico e artistico della Chiesa in Italia, vol. I, Vaticano 1969, vol. II, Vaticano 1974; Artisti per l’Anno santo 1975, Vaticano 1976.

[57] “Fede e arte. Rivista internazionale di arte sacra” published by the Pontificia Commissione centrale per l’arte sacra in Italia in the years 1953–1967.

[58] The statement made by Paul VI on the Church’s desire to establish and strengthen cooperation with the artists during the famous speech in the Sistine Chapel, 7 May 1964. The speeches of Pope John Paul II at the audience for the people of culture on January 15, 1984, and at the meeting with artists in Santa Maria sopra Minerva on February 18, 1984, in connection with the celebration of a birth anniversary of Fra Angelico, who was then declared the patron saint of artists – Piacenza 2006 (ft. 12).

[59] His publications include monographs dedicated to St Maksymilian Kolbe: La spiritualità mariana di S. Massimiliano Maria Kolbe dei frati minori conventuali, Ravenna 1982; San Massimiliano Kolbe. Vita, spiritualità e martirio, Roma 1999.

[60] G. Zanotti, I francescani a Ravenna. Dai tempi di Dante a oggi, Ravenna 1999; E. Fantini, Centro dantesco dei Frati minori conventuali di Ravenna, Ravenna 2001.

[61] By 1997, 501 Polish sculptors participated in the biennial. Of these, four received the first prize, one – the second, three – the third, thirty were awarded medals and seventeen were decorated (the contest protocols owned by Ms Anna Praxmayer).

[62] The Polish jury members were: Ewa Olszewska-Borys (1977), Bronisław Chromy (1979, 1985), Edward Gorol (1979, 1981), Stefan Dousa (1981), Anna Praxmayer (1985, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996), Piotr Gawron (1988).

[63] The summary and culmination of the presence of Polish artists in Ravenna was a famous exhibition “Dante in Polonia”, cf. footnote 8.

[64] The monopoly of the Italian sculptors was broken by another Pole – Igor Mitoraj (born 1944), who in 2006 made ​​the door for the Roman church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Since 1983 Mitoraj has had a studio in Pietrasanta, Italy, and so his situation is much better than once that of Bronisław Chromy (I. Grzesiuk-Olszewska, W Rzymie i w Warszawie. Odrzwia Igora Mitoraja, in: “Przegląd Powszechny”, 2009, no. 9, pp. 138–141). Also other Polish artists living in Italy find it easier to obtain prestigious contracts in that country.

[65] Further information is included in post-competition exhibition catalogues: La porta per la città di Dante: Inferno. XI Biennale Internazionale Dantesca. Ravenna 1 aprile – 30 settembre 1994, Ravenna 1994, La porta per la città di Dante: Purgatorio. XII Biennale Internazionale Dantesca. Ravenna 1 aprile – 30 settembre 1996, Ravenna 1996; La porta per la città di Dante: Paradiso. XIII Biennale Internazionale Dantesca. Ravenna 1 aprile – 30 settembre 1998, Ravenna 1998. The author of the present article would like to thank Ms Anna Proxmayer for providing information and lending all catalogues of the biennials organized by Centro Dantesco.

The full text of the article was published in the pages of "Sacrum et Decorum" III, 2010. Please send your orders to the University of Rzeszów Publishers or activate an electronic subscription.