Wyspiański, Romańczyk and the church stained glass windows in the Coal Basin and Upper Silesia regions

Irena Kontny

Silesian Cultural Heritage Center in Katowice


The article concerns the influence of Stanisław Wyspiański’s art on the stained-glass design projects of Fryderyk Romańczyk which the latter executed for the churches of Upper Silesia and the Dąbrowa Basin. In the 30s and 40s of the previous century, Romańczyk ran a well-prospering stained-glass studio whereas his art work was characterized by a good technique and clear inspiration with the art work of the Art Nouveau period in its native Young Poland variety, in which an important role was played by motifs inspired by the local Polish flora.

At the beginning of the article, the authoress also discusses the only example of a stained-glass window designed by Stanisław Wyspiański, an exceptional visionary in Polish art and theatre, to be found on the territory of the present-day province of Silesia. The above stained-glass window which is to be found in the chapel of the Metropolitan Curia in Katowice and which presents Crucified Christ borne on the wings of a Seraph, was realized by the Cracow Stained Glass Studio S. G. Żeleński (Romańczyk participated in the work), thirty years after the creation of the design project; the above stained-glass work is an outstanding example of the Polish Art Nouveau style.

Keywords: Stanisław Wyspiański, Fryderyk Romańczyk, Upper Silesia, Dąbrowa Basin, polish art, church art, stained glass, 20th century


On the 23 March 1929, Izabela Żeleńska, the proprietress of the stained glass studio S.G. Żeleński in Kraków, wrote in a letter addressed to her son Adam: “We are working on Wyspiański’s project, but it is this Christ for the church in Biecz, – today, Romańczyk has spent the whole day in the Museum”.[1] Who was this mysterious Romańczyk mentioned in the letter? Was he only a craftsman working on the stained glass window designed by Wyspiański? And finally which stained glass window authored by Wyspiański are we referring to here if there have never been any windows executed according to the design project of this Kraków based artist in the church in Biecz? The present article constitutes an attempt to provide answers to the above queries.

In the year 1935, a stained glass window[2] representing the Crucified Christ borne on the wings of a Seraph [fig. 1] was installed in the chapel of the Metropolitan Curia under the invocation of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Katowice. The naked body of Jesus is surrounded here by the tapering wings of a Seraph: two at the top, a couple more around Jesus’ arms and another two around His hips, creating a long perizonium reaching down to his knees. The taut body of God’s Son creates a complex of vertical and horizontal lines, “suspended” in space in the form of a cross. The silhouette of Jesus is surrounded by a rose bush with thick, decoratively twisted branches and stems, ending in buds or rose flowers. The grey-blue body of Christ with a slightly greenish hue, and the crimson-orange wings together with the golden halo create an intense and warm color pattern. The flower bush and the “scale” like background surrounding Jesus form a cold color scheme which is saturated with violet and silver-grey hues, enlivened with elements of dirty pink. The above composition, which was executed by the Kraków Stained Glass Workshop of S. G. Żeleński, had been purchased at the General National Art Exhibition in Poznań by the Bishop of Katowice Arkadiusz Lisiecki in the year 1929. During this exhibition the above stained glass window adorned the pavilion of the Żeleński workshop.[3] The stained glass window had been executed in accordance with the large-scale, pastel colored project from the year 1897 which has been preserved in the National Museum in Kraków.[4] In the year 1910, the above drawing was purchased by the Museum from the artist’s legacy.[5]

Researchers specializing in Wyspiański’s art are divided in their opinions as to whether the project had been originally created for the Franciscan Church in Kraków[6] or alternatively for the parish church in Biecz.[7] In the interwar period, the predominant view (popularized by Feliks Kopera[8]) was that the design project had been prepared for the parish church in Biecz. Currently the above hypothesis is upheld by Tadeusz Ślawski who follows Wyspiański’s traces in Biecz and in the entire Subcarpathian area. In the years 1895–1897,[9] Wyspiański worked on the decoration of the late-Gothic Corpus Christi parish church in Biecz. He had been commissioned to do so by architect Sławomir Odrzywolski who was supervising restoration work in this temple since around the year 1886.[10] Wyspiański was to have prepared drafts of the painter’s decoration and was also responsible for its execution. Yet from the artist’s letters, one learns that he had created exclusively sketches of plant decorations which he continued to alter and supplement.[11] Relying on the data contained in the exhibition catalog of the National Museum in Kraków in 1932 as well as on the opinion of Feliks Kopera and Wincenty Trojanowski, Tadeusz Ślawski concludes that the preserved pastel is a design project for the church in Biecz. The above hypothesis could be confirmed by the fragment of the letter which was cited at the beginning of the present article, yet one cannot rule out the fact that Iza Żeleńska’s words (written over 30 years after the completion of the design project) constituted merely a reflection of the view, popularized by Feliks Kopera, that was common at the turn of the 20s and 30s of the 20th century. The majority of contemporary scholars are of the opinion that Wyspiański’s pastel project constitutes an alternative version of the upper section of the Kraków stained glass window. Quite recently Wojciech Bałus has unequivocally proved the justifiability of this hypothesis, pointing to the similarities between the contour-line of the rose bush branch from the pastel project which served as the basis of the Katowice stained glass window and the realized Kraków version.[12] Thus the representation in the chapel of the Metropolitan Curia in Katowice would be a fragment of the scene known from the Kraków Franciscan Church – revealing the upper part of Stigmatization with the Seraphic Christ, yet without the figure of St Francis. Moreover, the Kraków scholar presented a convincing interpretation of the iconography of the stained glass window which is also extremely important for the interpretation of the Katowice window. Bałus proved that the scene from the Kraków Franciscan Church is linked to two events from the hagiography of St Francis, namely: stigmatization[13] and a relatively little known incident known as the “miracle of the roses”. The “miracle of the roses” had been vividly and colorfully presented by Julian Klaczko in his lecture entitled St Francis of Assisi and the Italian Gothicism, which was delivered by him in the Academy of Sciences in Kraków in 1893: “On a certain bleak and stormy night, St Francis threw himself onto a thorn bush, a short distance away from the tiny church of Portiuncula. By doing so, the saint wanted to tame and mortify his senses. At that moment a great brightness enveloped this strange bed of his, and the thorn bush became suddenly covered with a multitude of the most beautiful rose flowers. The saint picked twelve of the roses: six white and six red ones”.[14] The “miracle of the roses” was known to Wyspiański.[15]

[1] A copy of the letter belongs to Danuta Czapczyńska-Kleszczyńska from Kraków, whom I would like to thank most sincerely for making it available to me as well as for her assistance.

[2] Rev. H. Pyka, Witraż Ukrzyżowany na skrzydłach serafina Stanisława Wyspiańskiego w kaplicy Kurii Metropolitarnej w Katowicach, in: Witraże na Śląsku, ed. T. Dudek-Bujarek, Katowice 2002, pp. 67–68.

[3] Ibidem.

[4] Pastel on paper, stuck onto canvass with dimensions 335 × 141cm in the clearance, 355 × 201 cm together with the frame, National Museum in Kraków, inv. no. MNK III-r.a. 13 432.

[5] The information is derived from the inventory card of the exhibit, prepared on the 4 November 1987 by Wiesława Kozłowska (entry: date and way purchase).

[6] S. Przybyszewski, T. Żuk-Skarszewski, S. Świerz, Stanisław Wyspiański. Dzieła malarskie, Kraków–Warszawa–Bydgoszcz 1925, p. 113, item 212; H. d’Abancourt de Franqueville’s article Witraże w sztuce religijnej [Stained Glass Windows in Religious Art] in the catalog to the Exhibition of Religious Art held in the vestibule of the Silesian Diet in Katowice in the year 1931, in: O polskiej sztuce religijnej, ed. J. Langman, Katowice 1932, p. 116; Stanisław Wyspiański 1869–1907. Wystawa jubileuszowa, exhibition catalogue, National Museum in Kraków, Kraków 1957–1958, item 74, p. 73; StanisławWyspiański. Opus Magnum, exhibition catalogue, National Museum in Kraków 2000, p. 127; W. Bałus, Wyspiański i tradycja. Na przykładzie witrażu ze św. Franciszkiem, in: “Teksty Drugie”, 2004, no. 4, p. 105; W. Bałus, Sztuka sakralna Krakówa w wieku XIX. Część II. Matejko i Wyspiański, Kraków 2007, pp. 125–135; I. Kontny, “Wszelakich budowli ozdoba”. Secesyjny witraż w województwie śląskim na wybranych przykładach, in: Witraż esecesyjne. Tendencje i motywy, ed. T. Szybisty, Kraków–Legnica 2011, pp. 160–162 and in accordance with the information contained on the inventory card of the exhibit (cf. ft. 5).

[7] F. Kopera, Dzieje malarstwa w Polsce. Malarstwo w Polsce w XIX i XX wieku, vol. 3, Warszawa 1929, p. 513; Stanisław Wyspiański, exhibition catalogue, National Museum in Kraków, November–December 1932, Kraków 1932, no. 75; signature under the illustration on page 2 and article Mozaika i witraż (p. 7) in: “Gość Niedzielny”, 1932, no. 23; T. Ślawski, Stanisława Wyspiańskiego kontakty z Bieczem, exhibition catalogue, District Museum in Rzeszów, Museum in Biecz, Rzeszów 1969; idem, Stanisław Wyspiański na Podkarpaciu. W 130 rocznicę urodzin artysty, Biecz 1999, pp. 93–94. Rev. H. Pyka, the monographer of the stained glass window, did not share any of the presented opinions, cf. Pyka 2002 (ft. 1), pp. 67–73.

[8] Kopera 1929 (ft. 7), p. 513.

[9] Ślawski 1999 (ft. 7), pp. 73–74.

[10] Ibidem.

[11] Ibidem, p. 81.

[12] Bałus 2004 (ft. 6), p. 105; Bałus 2007 (ft. 6), pp. 125–135.

[13] The stigmatization of St Francis is a phenomenon which is known from all historical accounts of the saint’s life. The iconography of the scene reveals St Francis “receiving” from Christ His five wounds. In the Kraków Franciscan Church, the stained glass presents a “poor man from Assisi” with upwardly raised hands and an up-turned head. The man is looking up at the figure of Christ which is sheltered by six wings of a Seraph.

[14] Citation after: Bałus 2007 (ft. 6), p. 131.

[15] Cf. ibidem.

[16] Stained glass artist Fryderyk Romańczyk is little known in the literary sources devoted to this issue. He was “discovered” by Danuta Czapczyńska-Kleszczyńska who wrote about the activity of the Romańczyk brothers in the publication Witraże w Krakówie. Dzieła i twórcy, Kraków 2005, pp. 63–65. The biographical data quoted in the present article comes from the unpublished paper by Magdalena Musiał, Fryderyk Romańczyk’s granddaughter, entitled Zakład Witraży i Oszkleń Artystycznych FRYDERYK ROMAŃCZYK. Siemianowice Śląskie, Siemianowice Śląskie 2004 (MS in the hands of the authoress), as well as from the afore-mentioned publication by D. Czapczyńska-Kleszczyńska. I also owe some of the information to the artist’s other granddaughter, Ms Barbara Romańczyk.

[17] On the stained glass windows, one can see the dates: 1937, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943. The authorship of the stained glass windows is undisputed, cf. Musiał 2004, (ft. 16), pp. 97–100. In the artist’s legacy one can find design projects of stained glass windows showing St Peter, St Francis and St Juniper (carton without the figure).

[18] I. Kontna, Witraż na plebanii. Witraże w budynkach probostw uprzemysłowionej części Górnego Śląska i Zagłębia, in: „Witraż”, 2002, nos 2–3, pp. 31–32.

[19] The design projects of the stained glass windows, dated 1936, were presented at an exhibition Fryderyk Romańczyk – the Siemianowice Stained Glass Artist, which was opened in Siemianowice Śląskie on 18 Jan. 2006; cf. also Musiał 2004 (ft. 16), pp. 42–44.

[20] Kronika parafialna [Parish Chronicle], vol. I: Historia Parafii i miejscowości Dąb, written down by A. Pająk, information referring to the year 1938. The Chronicle is kept in the Dębie vicarage.

[21] Ibidem.

[22] The design projects were completed in 1937, cf. Musiał 2004 (ft. 16), p. 57; Kronika parafialna… (ft. 20), (relating to the year 1938).

[23] This eclectic church was erected in the years 1872–1875 according to the design project of architect Liche. In all likelihood, shortly after the war it was decorated with a set of stained glass works designed by Romańczyk. The artist’s granddaughter, Barabara Romańczyk is in possession of the cartons for the stained glass windows with the images of St Cecilia, St Isidore and St Stanislaw Kostka.

[24] On the stained glass work St Agnes (in the nave), one sees the date 1938.

[25] The church was erected in the years 1935–1938.

[26] The church was erected in the years 1929–1936 in accordance with the design project of Wiesław Konowicz and Stefan Szyller.

[27] The stained glass work is signed: Fryd. Romańczyk 1938.

[28] The church was erected in 1842.

[29] The stained glass bears the signature: Executed by/ (?) ROMAŃCZYK SIEMIANOWICE.

[30] The design projects of these stained glass works were presented at an exhibition Fryderyk Romańczyk – Siemianowice Stained Glass Artist, which was already mentioned above.

[31] On the left side of the stained glass window one can see the date: 1948.

[32] Musiał 2004 (ft. 16), p. 103.

[33] Ibidem.

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