Krużlowa and The Head of Christ by Alina Szapocznikow

Agata Jakubowska

Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań


In 1962 Father Józef Sadzik, who was in charge of Éditions du Dialogue arrived at the Pallottine centre in Paris. He established there an important intellectual and spiritual centre which grouped numerous representatives of the Polish émigré community in Paris. Among them was Alina Szapocznikow, who remained in close touch with Father Sadzik. An expression of their friendship was the sculpture entitled Krużlowa, which Szapocznikow offered to Sadzik in 1969. It is a highly original interpretation of the Madonna of Krużlowa (ca. 1400) or in a broader sense – the iconographic type it represents, i.e. a Beautiful Madonna. Szapocznikow’s art is often described as being centred around the human body: the body suffering during the war, the sick body, the body yearning for love and being desired. Krużlowa draws our attention to one more aspect of corporality – the body which was unable to bear and nourish a child. The Christian image of a Beautiful Madonna proved for Szapocznikow to be a good medium for telling people about this experience.

Father Sadzik asked Szapocznikow to cooperate with him on the project of the Centre for Dialogue, which was launched in the early 1970s. For a hall designed especially for the Centre, the artist created The Head of Christ. It is classified as part of the series called Herbarium, for which the artist used casts of the body of her adopted son, Piotr. It seems plausible that the whole series, which seems to be more tightly connected with the Shroud of Turin than a collection of dried plants, had originally been intended as the consecutive Stations of the Cross. This sculpture is commonly believed to refer directly to the suffering of the artist in the period of time prior to its creation, but above all to cancer that the artist was terminally afflicted with during its creation. The exceptional feature of The Head of Christ is that the Crucified is in fact her young, healthy son. This piece seems to be the continuation of the story about Mother and Her Son, or a mother / Szapocznikow and her son / Piotr introduced by Krużlowa. In the case of Krużlowa the emphasis is on her internal drama, the (in)ability to be a mother, as if irrespective of the child. In the case of The Head of Christ her feelings for the son constitute the focus of the story.

Both extremely interesting realisations confirm the importance for the artist of the previously underestimated environment of the Pallottines, especially of Father Sadzik.

Keywords: Alina Szapocznikow, Krużlowa, The Head of Christ, Herbarium, Józef Sadzik, Pallottines, The Madonna of Krużlowa, The Stations of the Cross, motherhood, the cast of the body


 In April 1964, Piotr Stanisławski, the son of Alina Szapocznikow and Ryszard Stanisławski, broke his leg while skiing. At the beginning of May, Szapocznikow wrote to Stanisławski from Paris, where she lived with her son and her second husband, Roman Cieślewicz, that she had finally found a place to take care of Piotr. “Finally, after overwhelming difficulties”, she wrote, “we managed, through the intercession of the publisher Julliard where Romek was working, to place Piotrek at a printing boarding school on beautiful grounds in a small chateau just outside of Paris. I went there yesterday and think it will be the perfect place for him until his cast comes off (28. V). […] Can you believe that we found out when we got there that the boys are watched over by two young Pallottine priests from Poland? We’re taking advantage of the holiday today to take him there ourselves.”[1] This fragment, quoted from the recently published correspondence of Szapocznikow and Stanisławski, reveals how the artist encountered the Polish Pallottines, who at the time ran two centres in France: a printing house with the said boarding school in Osny near Paris, and a house in Paris, at rue Surcouf.

A unique figure in this circle was Father Józef Sadzik.[2] At the turn of the 1960s, he was working in Fribourg, Switzerland, on his PhD dissertation devoted to aesthetics in the works of Martin Heidegger.[3] In 1962 he moved to Paris, following his nomination to the post of director of Éditions du Dialogue, based in the capital of France. The task of this publishing house was the translation into Polish and publication of important texts connected with the Second Vatican Council, which was just beginning. Father Sadzik was instrumental in creating an important intellectual, spiritual and religious (all these terms seem equally significant) centre in Paris, which brought together numerous representatives of the Polish migrant community. Alina Szapocznikow was among them, and she remained in close touch with Father Sadzik. As Piotr Kłoczowski observes, “It is difficult to say anything about the religious and confessional aspects of this bond, but for Alina Szapocznikow it was a very important spiritual relationship… It says a lot about what a special person Sadzik was – he had such class that even people who were not closely related to the Church noticed such truth, such spiritual authenticity in him”.[4] An expression of the friendship between Szapocznikow and Father Sadzik was the sculpture entitled Krużlowa, which she offered to her friend in 1969[5] [fig. 1].

Translated by Ewa Kucelman and Monika Mazuerk

[1] Lovely, Human, True, Heartfelt: The Letters of Alina Szapocznikow and Ryszard Stanisławski 1948–1971, ed. A. Jakubowska, transl. J. Croft, Warszawa 2012, p. 226.

[2] About Father Sadzik see e.g. J. Sochoń, Ks. Józef Sadzik, in: idem, Zdania, przecinki, kropki…, Poznań 1998, pp. 176–180.

[3] Published in 1963: J. Sadzik, Esthétique De Martin Heidegger, Paris.

[4] P. Kłoczowski, Z. Benedyktoricz, Dokąd mnie wznosisz, różo złota? O ks. Sadziku, Miłoszu, Lebensteinie i Biblii… – zapis rozmowy, “Konteksty. Polska Sztuka Ludowa” 4, 2011, p. 84.

[5] This sculpture is known as Motherhood.

[6] P. Restany, Forma między ciałem a grą (1967), in: Zatrzymać życie. Alina Szapocznikow, Rysunki i rzeźby, catalogue of the exhibition, IRSA Fine Art Gallery, ed. J. Grabski, Kraków–Warszawa 2004, p. 329.

[7] For more on the subject, see my presentation Szapocznikow and Politics during Alina Szapocznikow: A Symposium, 5 Oct. 2012, MoMA, New York, [accessed: 12 Sept. 2012].

[8] Szapocznikow suspected breast cancer already in 1968 but medical tests did not confirm this illness. She was diagnosed at the beginning of 1969, in spring the so-called breast-saving operation was performed. The illness returned in 1972. The artist underwent mastectomy. In spite of the operation and subsequent irradiation, it was not possible to stop the progress of cancer. The artist died at the beginning of March 1973.

[9] I wrote more about Szapocznikow’s works for which the artist used breast casts in my book Portret wielokrotny dzieła Aliny Szapocznikow, Poznań 2008, pp. 217–225. I only mention there Krużlowa.

[10] This very good example of the so-called beautiful style from about 1400 was discovered late in the 19th century in Krużlowa Wyżna, from where it was taken as an exhibit by The National Museum in Cracow, where it still remains.

[11] See e.g. M. Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, London 1976; J. Kristeva, Stabat Mater, in: eadem, Histoires d’amour, Paris 1983.

[12] See e.g. Z. Kruszelnicki, “Piękne Madonny” – problem otwarty, “Teka Komisji Historii Sztuki”, vol. VIII, Toruń 1992, pp. 31–105, or J.S. Kębłowski, Dwie “antytezy” w sprawie tzw. Pięknych Madonn, in: Sztuka około 1400. Materiały Sesji Stowarzyszenia Historyków Sztuki, Poznań, listopad 1995, ed. T. Hrankowska, vol. 1, Warszawa 1996, pp. 165–185.

[13] Lovely, Human, True, Heartfelt… 2012 (fn. 1), p. 122.

[14] In French texts it is known as Le Christ.


[15] The catalogue prepared by Irena Kolat-Ways and Roman Cieślewicz is to be found in the Archives of Alina Szapocznikow (The National Museum in Cracow, digitalised materials in the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw); J. Gola, Katalog rzeźb Aliny Szapocznikow, Kraków 2002, pp. 199–203.

[16] Photo by Witold Urbanowicz, [accessed: 12 Sept. 2012].

[17] See: Gola 2002 (fn. 14).

[18] Jola Gola stressed this fact in “Zielnik” Aliny Szapocznikow, “Rzeźba Polska, vol. 1, 1986, p. 144

[19] G. Didi-Huberman, La Ressemplance par contact. Archéologie, anachronisme et modernité de l’empreinte, Paris 2008, p. 18. For more on the subject concerning Szapocznikow’s works see M. Dziewańska, Awkward Objects: Creative Barbarity – On »Awkward« Beginnings, in: Alina Szapocznikow. Awkward Objects, Warsaw 2011, pp. 43–54.

[20] R. Rogozińska, W stronę Golgoty. Inspiracje pasyjne w sztuce polskiej w latach 1970–1999, Poznań 2002, p. 22.

[21] Ibidem, p. 123.

[22] The Archives of Alina Szapocznikow, [accessed: 12 Sept. 2012].

[23] For more on the subject see P. Leszkowicz, Alina Szapocznikow’s “Piotr”, or “The Flesh of My Son”, in: Alina Szapocznikow. Awkward object… 2011 (fn. 19), pp. 189–208.

[24] Cf. fn. 14.

[25] In 2012 both pieces were deposited in the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.

[26] Fragmenty rozmów. Z Piotrem Stanisławskim rozmawia Joanna Pużyńska, “Pokaz”, 1998, no. 23, p. 26.

[27] S. Wilson, Alina Szapocznikow in Paris: Worlds in Action and in Retrospect, in: Alina Szapocznikow. Awkward Objects… 2011 (fn. 19), p. 228.

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