The Unknown, Unrealized, Forgotten…

Editors

The authors of art history compendia when compiling the lists of the key works of the last two centuries, become so preoccupied with the variety of formal experiments characteristic of that period, coupled with the wider spectrum of the themes explored in art, that they often overlook in the oeuvres of the discussed artists their works on religious subjects. The works labelled by these authors as so-called metaphysical movement in the contemporary art, the closest thing to the sacred art from the ideological point of view, hardly contribute to the development of Christian tradition, and even more rarely are inspired by its iconography. However, we can observe the return of philosophical questions inspired by the Christian tradition in the works of numerous eminent and well-known artists, which results in many interesting works, some of which could be called sacred or to a certain degree are connected with sacred art.

Many such valuable works still remain unknown to researchers since right after their creation they were locked inside churches, often provincial ones, or due to the lack of interest from official cultural institutions, they formed parts of private collections, by their very nature rarely presented and with little access for the outsiders. As it sometimes happens as well, the transcendental motifs, which form the basic message of even some popular works, are overlooked by researchers, who concentrate more on their formal features, or search for ideological content responding to some critical currents which are particularly emphasized (not to say fashionable) in the contemporary humanities. Even in the academic centres such as Leuven in Belgium, which can boast Christian tradition going back many centuries, and universities affiliated with the Church, very little research is being done on the contemporary sacred art, as they concentrate mostly on the heritage of the past centuries.

Nevertheless, this situation is slowly changing. In Poland, the flourishing of the sacred art in the 1980s could not remain unnoticed. The research on the sacred art of the 19th-century Kraków is impressive. More and more catalogues of the sacred works by well-known painters start to appear, some of them in connection with the oncoming exhibitions, including the hitherto undocumented sacred works.

Also in other European countries we can observe a growth of interest in the sacred and religious art of the 19th and 20th century, Interesting academic projects are conducted not only in the centres which have had a long research tradition in this field, such as Strasburg or Münster, but also by research teams led by professors connected with the universities which have not been involved with the research in sacred art until now. Among these one should mention the research initiated by Dario Gamboni at the University of Geneva, or the project of Philippe Kaenel’s team (now in its final stages) at the University of Lauzanne “Les usages de Jésus au XXe siècle”, which included interdisciplinary research on the image of Christ in literature, film and the visual arts of the last century.

One can only hope that the result of this wide research will be noticed and will contribute to a change in the stereotypical perception of the 19thand 20th-century art in the eyes of the authors of overviews and studies which form the image of the culture of the last two centuries. In this context we should welcome the new popular journals devoted to the sacred art of our times, such as for instance the bi-monthly “Arts Sacrés” which has appeared recently in France.

An important gap in the Polish art history of the last two hundred years is the lack of research on the work of Polish artists working abroad and on the international artistic co-operation, not only associated with sacred works. For many decades such research was difficult because of the lack of access to works existing abroad and the limited accessibility to foreign research.

One of such works, relatively unknown to Polish readership, is presented in the current issue of “Sacrum et Decorum” by Andrzej Pieńkos. It isOur Lady of the Shipwrecked [Notre Dame des Naufragés] – a sculpture by Cyprian Godebski, located on the promontory Pointe du Raz in Brittany. This figure is considered in France to be one of more important works in Godebski’s oeuvre, in contrast to his Polish works, which are mostly overlooked in France. The Breton Madonna is quite often mentioned in French guidebooks and her pictures are frequently published, especially recently because of the 100th anniversary of its consecration and the subsequent renovation in 2005. The author describes the circumstances under which this work was created, including the complicated political and religious situation in the then increasingly secularizing France. When analysing the form of the sculpture, unique in Godebski’s work, Andrzej Pieńkos calls for further comparative studies which could put the work of the Polish artist in the context of similar works created in the second half of the 19th century, recalling the older iconographic tradition, not necessarily only the religious one.

The article by Grażyna Ryba deals with the subject which has not been satisfactorily discussed yet, i.e. Polish-Italian artistic contacts in the second half of the 20th century, using the example of Bronisław Chromy and his unrealized projects of sculpted church doors. The designs made by Chromy for the churches in Ravenna and Rome, whose only trace are the extant models and correspondence with his Italian artists resulted in some significant works in Poland, contributing to the incredible popularity of this kind of sculptural church decoration at the turn of the 21stcentury.

Two texts in the latest issue of “Sacrum et Decorum” offer a new perspective on the artists stereotypically associated with a particular creative mode. Danuta Czapczyńska-Kleszczyńska has discovered some practically unknown stained glass works of a Kraków architect Franciszek Mączyński, and Lechosław Lameński introduces the latest religious sculptures of Marian Konieczny, surprising for the artist who has been considered to be one of the “key artists of the communist Poland” – the communist state propagandists and its beneficiaries. The presentation of Konieczny’s sacred work is introduced by an extensive discussion of the statements made by the artist himself and his critics, provoking a reflection on the ethical aspect of art, particularly important in the sacred art. This consideration inevitably leads to the age-long dispute on the role of the artists in the transmission of values: whether they should be “prophets”, uncovering new features of the sensuous and extra-sensuous reality to their audience, or whether they should be just skilful artisans, giving a physical shape to whatever is required of them, while distancing themselves, sometimes cynically, from the depicted subjects.

The texts of Michał Haake and Dorota Kudelska are dedicated to the works of Jacek Malczewski. The researcher from Poznań presents a perceptive analysis of the picture St Francis from 1908, showing the meaning of the mythological figures used in this composition in the context of the painter’s oeuvre and the main ideological currents of his age. Malczewski was a devout person and he even chose to be buried in the Tertiary habit. However, only a few among his works, now little-known, can be classified as sacred. This particular field of Malczewski’s work is discussed in the article by Dorota Kudelska, the author of the recently published “intellectual biography” of this artist.

In contrast to Jacek Malczewski, whose name is not immediately associated with religious art, Stanisław Wyspiański and Józef Mehoffer are the artists considered to be the reformers of the Polish sacred art at the turn of the 20th century. They received their first lessons in large-scale paintings under the tutelage of Jan Matejko in St Mary’s Church in Kraków. Wyspiański’s and Mehoffer’s early stained glass designs for the western window are discussed in the article by Tomasz Szybisty, which explains, among others, the question of the authorship of the individual panels.

The topic of Renata Rogozińska’s essay are the illustrations for the Book of Revelation made by a contemporary Kraków artist Grzegorz Bednarski.

Despite the fact that the authors listed above represent various universities, quite coincidentally and without any prompting from the editors, their articles focus on the work of Kraków artists. In this context the article by Monika Mazurek, titled intriguingly Pointed Arches, Papist Danger, is exceptional because it refers to the Anglo-Saxon culture. The author, who is a British literature specialist, discusses the influence of the dispute on the use of Gothic in the architecture of Victorian Anglican churches on the way Gothic architecture was represented and used in the Victorian novel.

Delivering the latest issue of “Sacrum et Decorum” to the reader, the editors wish to thank Dr. Adam Góral, the president of ASSECO POLAND PLC for his financial help in preparing the English versions of the articles. We would like to express also our gratitude to the authors, translators, the administration of the University of Rzeszów and everybody else for their warm support.

Translated by Monika Mazurek

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.