Uniwersytet Rzeszowski
Centrum Dokumentacji Współczesnej Sztuki Sakralnej
pl. Ofiar Getta 4-5/35, 35-002 Rzeszów
tel. +48 17 872 20 98

Grażyna RybaUniversity of Rzeszów, Rzeszów

Abstract:

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

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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]

[member]

Among the admirers of Bronisław Chromy’s Italian works was Archbishop Giovanni Fallani[12], Chairman of the jury that in 1973 awarded the artist the prize in the Biennale Dantesca contest. The Archbishop later made a closer acquaintance with the Polish sculptor in connection with further projects organized by the Centro Dantesco. In one of his publications the Archbishop recalled: “più indipendenti i numerosi artisti polacchi, tra i quali segnaliamo la compiutezza formale di Bronislaw Chromy”,[13] and the Kraków sculptor even writes that “they became united in sincere friendship”.[14]

According to Chromy, Giovanni Fallani persuaded the director of Centro Dantesco, Father Severino Ragazzini, to commission him to make a bronze door to the Franciscan church which was part of the museum complex in Ravenna [fig. 3]. In his artistic biography written on April 9, 1980 for the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, the sculptor notes: “For this museum [of Ravenna] I have developed designs of a door and a gate in bronze”.[15] The archives of the Centro Dantesco have kept correspondence between Father Ragazzini and Bronisław Chromy concerning the next steps in creating the “portone per la chiesa San Francesco”.[16] The enthusiastic tone and the keen interest in subsequent work undertaken by the Polish sculptor, present in Ragazzini’s letters, shows that the Archbishop had not had to try hard to convince the Director of the Centre to commission Chromy. Eventually, however, the projects did not materialize, as the artist himself says, due to a conflict with the Italian sculptors’ association.[17]

During the preparation of the projects for Ravenna, the artist, who probably wanted to to try to tackle the challenge of the prestigious project of the monumental sculptured church gates in Italy, accepted the commission to make a bronze door for the church in Nienadówka, a village near Rzeszów [fig. 9]. The unusual, innovative composition was a gift from the sculptor for the parish, and the ready, already cast door was displayed at Chromy’s individual exhibition in Kraków in November 1980, just before it was installed.[18] The exhibition attracted huge interest and led to subsequent contracts, among others from Father Stanisław Gurgul, the pastor of one of Tarnów parishes, where a new church was being erected. Bronisław Chromy made a large double door of bronze, commissioned by Father Gurgul [fig. 9, 10], and then the other, smaller door [fig. 11], installed in October 1984.[19]

In the meantime, the artist visited Italy, travelling, inter alia, in 1983 to the International Art Medal Congress in Florence.[20] In February 1985 he returned to Ravenna, invited to be a member of the jury at the next, VII Biennale Internazionale del Bronzetto Dantesco.[21] There he met Archbishop Fallani, whom he showed photographs of the recently completed door in Tarnów. Chromy’s work filled the Archbishop with admiration; he returned to the idea of a monumental bronze door being created in Italy by the Polish artist and invited Chromy to participate in a closed competition for the gate to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome [fig. 12].[22] It was to be the so-called Holy Door prepared for the jubilee of the second millennium of Christianity. Having returned to Poland, Chromy made the door model quickly and sent the required photographic documentation to Rome. The authority of Archbishop Fallani contributed to the choice of this particular project. To forestall protests by Italian sculptors, Chromy resigned from the fee, and the bronze cast door to the Basilica of St Paul was to become a gift from the Church in Kraków for Pope John Paul II.[23] However, during preparations for the completion of the door, on July 27, 1985, Archbishop Fallani died suddenly. After his death, the Polish participants withdrew from the project contract,[24] and the sculptor, left to himself, was forced once again to give up the realization that after several years of waiting was entrusted to the Italian artist, Enrico Manfrini (1917–2004), the author of, inter alia, the Door of the Coronation of Mary in the Cathedral of Siena (1958).[25]

After the death of Archbishop Fallani, who had been so friendly to the artist, and a few months later also the death of Father Ragazzini of the Centro Dantesco, the sculptor – frustrated and embittered – loosens his contacts with the Italians, resigns from sitting in the jury of the Ravenna contest, thus closing his Italian artistic adventure by participating in the Venice Biennale in 1986.[26] At the end of the 1980s, Chromy sent one more work as a gift to Ravenna;[27] however, he would no longer become engaged in the activity of the Center.

*

The model of the double-leaf door closed with a full arch (35 x 20 cm), kept in Chromy’s studio and associated by him with unrealized Italian commissions [fig. 1], is divided into a network of seemingly randomly intersecting fragments of circles. In the irregular areas formed this way enter small elements of varying scale and density, differentiating them in terms of composition and texture.

Within the linear dynamic composition, one can, with some difficulty, distinguish three main zones arranged horizontally and connected by curved arcs extending in different directions. These arcs delimit smaller units of composition, but without regard to the vertical division into the two wings of the door. The irregular compartments contain outlines of single figures or their groups, characteristic outlines of particular buildings or their complexes, symbolic characters, processions and battles. The elderly author is no longer able to determine the meaning of particular depictions, but most of them are very clear and easy to identify.

The center of the bottom zone is dominated by the scene of the murder of St Stanislaus, a reference to a popular iconographic scheme. Above are shown the Wawel castle and the Skałka church; along the curve that separates the buildings there is a line of individual walking figures [fig. 13]. It may be a reference to the traditional procession on St Stanislaus’ Day, celebrated for centuries by the Bishops of Kraków, including Karol Wojtyła before he was elected Pope. Below, the shape of a seemingly Gothic tympanum contains the figure of the Saint, depicted when blessing other figures adoring him; and this scene is also shown using a familiar medieval pattern.

On the other side one can see: the Polish heraldic eagle and a solitary tree, the Basilica of the Virgin Mary in Kraków, and standing in front of it a tall figure of a bishop blessing a procession which is moving along the arc [fig. 13]. Gradually, as they are marching upwards, their peaceful march turns into a rush of the cavalry with lances leant forward, and clashing with the enemy at the end of the bottom zone. The accompanying two symbolic swords and the heraldic signs of the Eagle and Vytis show that the author wanted this scene to depict the battle of Grunwald. The battle already belongs to the next, central zone, showing in the siege of Jasna Góra and the pilgrimage stretching from the Warsaw cathedral to the cathedral of Gniezno. In the center of this compositional belt there float two angels, while the sides are closed by slender silhouettes of bishops (?) with their hands outstretched.

Above, the representations of homogeneous elements within each polygon increasingly thicken. Around the panorama of compact settlements, among the fields covered with early autumn stacks of corn, there are regiments of cavalry and tanks with barrels pointing towards a city, whose houses extend along the curvature of the next arc. The city, part of which is on fire, is being bombarded by a squadron of diving airplanes depicted in the next field, which already belongs to the upper zone [fig. 14]. The burning city corresponds to the other side of the composition with a concentration camp surrounded by a characteristic fence, steaming crematory chimneys and a procession of fainting prisoners. The last, top zone shows joyous processions-pilgrimages with crosses, feretrums and flying banners, over which there towers a figure reminiscent of John Paul II’s monument in Tarnów, also a work by Chromy.[28] The elaborate iconographic programme of this work contains a summary of the history of Poland and the Church in Poland: from St Stanislaus to his successor on the throne of the bishop of Kraków and also of the Pope of the Catholic Church: John Paul II.

*

Probably the initial arrangements for the door of the Franciscan church in Ravenna took place already in 1977 during Father Ragazzini’s stay in Poland (Chromy was his host in Kraków and then in the Mazury Lake District[29]). In a letter written after returning to Italy, the director of the Centro Dantesco informed the sculptor that he had gathered a lot of materials on contemporary bronze doors and that he would send them in “un grosso pacco a parte”;[30] in the next letter, of December 1977, he made sure that the artist had received the catalogues of Italian masters that might inspire him “per le porte in bronzo che deve fare”. In the same letter Father Ragazzini stated: “Mi piacerebbe tanto sapere che quanto Le ho mandato Le è stato utile per il Suo bellissimo lavoro che La renderà immortale nel mondo dell’arte”.[31] There is no correspondence from the next two years; it is only known that in 1979 Chromy was member of the jury in the next biennale in Ravenna. Mention of the door returned in a letter of 3 January 1980: the artist informed Ragazzini then that he would send him completed “progetti in bronzo” both of the church door and the monastery gate.[32] Subsequent correspondence related to the Ravenna commission is not known. What is certain is that Chromy’s models reached Ravenna then and are currently held in the Museum of the Centro Dantesco.

One of them is part of the permanent exhibition Museo di Centro Dantesco dei Frati Minori Conventuali in Ravenna [fig. 4], and three others were fortunately found in the museum archives [fig. 5, 6].[33] Therefore, there are four projects, and the size and composition indicate that two of them were destined for the portal of the church, while the other two – for the gate of the monastery. All of the models, made in bronze, have a two-wing system, closed with a full arch.

The projects of the monastery gate with slightly more squat proportions (20 x 15 cm) were decorated with openwork, abstract and dynamic linear arrangements [fig. 7], which are characteristic of Chromy’s stylistics, or – in the other version – decorated with a network of fine, homogeneous forms [fig. 6]. In both models, there is a more or less clearly pronounced shape of a circle, whose line closes the outline of the upper edge of the door. This motif was repeated in the designs of the church door.

In his proposal of the church door (30 x 15 cm), the author clearly distinguishes on the axis (in the bottom part) an outline of a gate edged by a pointed arch and topped, as mentioned above, by a circle; in the other version it was supplemented by a repetition of the arch closing the upper edge of the door [fig. 4, 5]. Within this dominant division, there are fine, dynamic lines delimiting small irregular fields, as in the Kraków project. The Ravenna models also display numerous small figures arranged along the edges of fields and the characteristic profiles of churches. However, in each of the projects – both the Ravenna ones and the Kraków one – the lines of internal divisions are arranged differently and there are different details that complement them. It may be noted that the general disposition of the lead model remaining in Kraków is more chaotic and less structured and hierarchical than that of the Italian projects. It is not known whether Chromy has ever designed any other door surmounted by a full arch, and thus the surviving project must have been made in connection with the work for Ravenna.

The artist has never had the habit of making sketches or any preparatory drawings.[34] He materializes the finished concept as a clay model, which he then casts. This is, according to him, the most exciting moment of the work – to see if he has managed to actually capture the image created previously in his imagination.[35] The use of lead in the model described here indicates the sculptor’s haste and impatience in the pursuit of verification of his artistic vision because, as is known, this metal during casting requires much less labour than bronze. It may be assumed that the study preserved in Kraków is equivalent to a preliminary project, in which the sculptor just sketches an outline of the geometric structure of divisions, focusing on the narrative, while in other models he concentrates on the composition[36] in order to finally synthesize the experience. The bronze models stored in Ravenna may be regarded as a development and arrangement of the form[37] of the cast in Kraków.

Considering the purpose of the project, one may wonder at the iconographic theme present in it, a kind of recapitulation of ten centuries of Polish history. What should, however, be taken into account is the time when the concept of the door was created and its model was cast: it was made shortly after Karol Wojtyła’s election to the Petrine Throne; “the Pope from a far-away country”, completely unknown in the West, therefore arousing curiosity and, after his first public appearances, also enthusiasm of the Italians. Chromy’s door was supposed to be a kind of equivalent of the medieval Biblia pauperum: an abbreviated story of an unknown people, who gave the world a charismatic pope. Ultimately, however, the selection of scenes on the models sent to Ravenna was modified following the compositional change of the whole work.

The door for Nienadówka [fig. 8], the concept of which arose during the planning of the Ravenna projects and, unlike them, was completed, is in its form the final development of the concept intended for Italy and outlined in the still existing models. The artist resigned from the initial multitude of themes present in the Kraków model, focusing on only one, particularly close to him: that of war and Poland’s occupation, which resulted in greater formal uniformity of the work. Geometric divisions were carried out in a way that was more structured and consistent: he applied hierarchization of each arrangement, so that they all produce the impression of overlapping plans, depicted in a topographic perspective, and a unique division of the door wings corresponds to the lines breaking the internal structure of the composition. In Nienadówka the artist repeated in miniature the theme of a circle at the top of the door with the dots of stars among the celestial spheres marked with thin quasi-tracery of the divisions, already used in his Italian projects. He also implemented the concept, present in those projects, of the second internal entrance cut out in the wings of the bronze gate.

*

No model prepared by Bronisław Chromy for the Basilica of St Paul in Rome has survived. Executed in gilt bronze, Manfrini’s Porta Santa depicts six regularly spaced, softly modeled scenes on the subject of the Trinity [fig. 15].[38] However, the Polish sculptor wished to present scenes related to the Holy Year of Redemption, established by Pope John Paul II in that very Basilica of St Paul in Rome on January 6, 1983. The author himself describes the iconographic programme contained in the draft of the door in the following way: “The upper part of the composition constituted an arrangement of the planes which depicted the celestial spheres with the apostles Peter and Paul. The lower part in the ‘stained glass’ compositions showed the Pope’s passage from the Basilica of St Paul to the Basilica of St Peter. The rest of the composition exhibited the Holy Year celebrations at the shrines most beloved by Karol Wojtyła in Poland”.[39]

Jubilee Years give one the opportunity to obtain a special indulgence. For centuries, the condition of its obtaining was to visit one of four Roman basilicas.[40] In the Jubilee Year of 1983 the Pope for the first time designated a number of cathedrals and diocesan churches all over the world to be the appointed shrines;[41] they then became places of pilgrimage for the faithful. Referring to this event, the artist wanted to show in his work the Polish pilgrimages to the churches particularly beloved by the Pope as an image of the presence and influence of John Paul II on the Polish Church.

Chromy’s composition, outlined briefly, was undoubtedly the more interesting proposal, especially in terms of iconography, in comparison with the traditional solution ultimately implemented by Enrico Manfrini. It is not known, however, how the Polish artist intended to bring its exuberant and dynamic style to the requirements of the quiet, classical architecture of the Basilica of St Paul in Rome.

One may only assume, guided by the author’s own description of the project of the Porta Santa in Rome quoted above, that certain elements of this composition had been borrowed from another, so-called Papal door of the church of St Maximilian in Tarnów, made ​​at the end of 1984 [fig. 11]. They also present the pilgrimage places and the churches that were particularly close to the Polish Pope John Paul II.[42]

*

The years 1963–1986 were a period of Bronisław Chromy’s frequent travel to Italy and his intensive international contacts, probably exerting a refreshing influence on the artist, who lived in a country separated by the iron curtain from the world’s cultural centers.[43]

The last two centuries, especially the late twentieth century, were a kind of renaissance of sculpted bronze church doors as a genre in sculpture, deriving, as we know, from antiquity. Numerous examples of this kind of works of art were found mainly in Italian and German art, while in Poland before 1980 this solution was used relatively infrequently.[44] It may be assumed that the opportunity to see the famous contemporary works as well as Archbishop Giovanni Fallani’s encouragement inspired the Polish sculptor to undertake research in this field. Before making his models, he looked through the catalogues of works by Italian sculptors, sent him by Father Ragazzini, in particular the photographic documentation of the bronze doors of St Peter’s Cathedral made ​​by Crocetti (1949), Manzù (1961–1964) and Minguzzi (1970–1977) as well as photos of the door of the cathedral in Orvieto (Greco’s project from the years 1962–1964) and Renaissance and medieval doors of Florence and Verona.[45]

All these works are characterized by the classical form of vertical and horizontal divisions designating panels for individual scenes, separated by more or less pronounced borders [fig. 16–18]. These are mainly figurative compositions: sometimes dynamic, sometimes static, harmoniously ordered or dramatically deformed, tightly filling the field of composition, or – on the contrary – contrasted with the emptiness of the background, more detailed and linear or, rather, painting-like and synthetic. Compared to them, Chromy’s proposals (the Kraków project, the Ravenna models and the implementation in Nienadówka) with an irregular dynamic composition of semi-abstract forms, depicted in terms of topography, are characterized by innovation and originality. Anthropocentric compositions growing out of the spirit of antiquity[46] are opposed to by the Polish artist with his barbaric expression of the North, in which tiny human figures have been simplified to signs, and thus reduced to the role of ornament, similarly to landscape elements included in the abstract pattern network. If one was to look for distant ancestors of Chromy’s concepts, one might be reminded of parades shown in reliefs of the Ancient East or paintings by Dutch masters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Referring to the art that is closer to us in time, the spontaneous division lines seem to allude to the Formist continuation of the Cubist and Futurist tradition, present for decades in many decorative compositions by numerous artists, not only the Polish ones.

Repeatedly compared with Giacometti, the sculptor was perhaps inspired by the Swiss artist in his early works (the Auschwitz Cycle). However, in the late 1970s Chromy’s style had already been crystallized and the artist sought to use his own means of expression in a new form of art rather than to allude to other works of this type. When beginning to design his first church door, the artist used above all his own rich experience in the field of art medal making and monumental sculpture, and it is there that one must seek the sources of his original concept of monumental bronze gates.[47] The openwork motifs in the draft door of the monastery in Ravenna had their origins in the forms applied in the composition of the study of the statue of Copernicus, made by Chromy in the early 1970s; in the work of 1973, awarded at the Biennale Dantesca [fig. 2], there appear characteristic figures marching along the curves of arcs whereas the motif of two swords in the door model stored in the artist’s studio is also found on the Grunwald medal designed by Chromy.

Chromy’s Italian inspirations do not refer directly to specific solutions in his art but to the very genre of sculpture and related possibilities of artistic expression. The artist said that the form of bronze gates allowed for intensification of the wealth of themes on a small surface, requiring both conciseness of expression and the ability to apply a mental shortcut, bringing to his mind analogies with poetry.[48] Being a master of statements condensed to signs, expressed in small sculptural forms (especially in medals), he could – thanks to monumental doors – switch to multi-threaded narrative combining the previously developed compositional themes and giving the message an entirely new quality.

Speaking of the door for Nienadówka near Rzeszów: “This door had been stuck within me for so long that in the end there was the liberation”,[49] the artist was probably referring to the process the impulse for which had been the Ravenna door, contact with works by Italian masters and the models that he had then prepared.

That first door completed by Chromy was popularized thanks to an exhibition in Kraków in 1980 and Zofia Halota’s film, in which the door was the main character, symbolically opening and closing narration that presented the sculptor’s work.[50] In the 1980s the number of commissions for sculptured bronze doors began to grow rapidly in Poland, at least in the south of the country. It may be that their popularity as elements of church design was contributed to by Chromy’s work and, indirectly, by his Italian inspirations and experiences of Ravenna. Several years later, the artist made a church door of bronze again, this time for Nowy Sącz. In the concept of this door – and it is one of the greatest works of this kind in Europe – Chromy summarized his vision of the world and the presence of God in it.

*

Chromy’s intensive contacts with Italy belong to an interesting period in the development of contemporary religious art: right after the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), which proclaimed the opening of the Church to contemporary art and initiated a significant revival in this area. Among the proponents of the changes were the Italian friends and protectors of Bronisław Chromy. Above all, this was Archbishop Giovanni Fallani (1910–1985), a theologian, scholar and humanist, closely related to the Centro Dantesco, author of numerous works on Italian literature and art, mostly devoted to the works of Dante.[51] He initiated the creation of many outstanding works of religious art and watched over their completion: it was at his initiative that, among others, the bronze door of the Cathedral of St Peter in Rome was made ​​by Giacomo Manzù[52] and the gate of the cathedral in Orvieto was completed by Emilio Greco.

Giovanni Fallani went down in history not only as an expert on Dante and the initiator of the creation of several major works of church art – he was also President of the Pontifical Commission for the Sacred Art in Italy (1956)[53] and the Commission for the Protection of Monuments of History and Art of the Holy See (1963).[54] He also contributed largely to the formulation of the last Council’s position towards art in the Church today and was a champion of the creation of collections of contemporary religious art in the Vatican Museums (which happened in 1973).[55] He formulated his thoughts in several publications, extremely relevant to the post-conciliar theory of sacred art,[56] and a new journal “Fede e Arte”,[57] founded by him, served to promote new ideas. Archbishop Fallani played a significant part in preparing speeches of Paul VI and John Paul II defining the attitude toward the role of art in today’s Church.[58]

Another Italian priest who played a significant role in Chromy’s life was Father Severino Ragazzini (1920–1986), mentioned throughout this text, the founder and director of the Franciscan Centro Dantesco in Ravenna, the author of numerous scientific publications,[59] an excellent organizer and initiator of scientific and artistic initiatives undertaken by this center.

*

The Centro Dantesco, founded in 1963 in Ravenna for the purpose of study of the works of Dante and undertaking projects in the field of art, inspired by Dante’s works, is one of the more interesting examples of patronage of the Church in the modern world.[60] One of the manifestations of the centre’s activity was the international biennial of small sculptural forms, where Bronisław Chromy so successfully debuted, and which brought together hundreds of artists from different countries and continents.

The activity of the Centro Dantesco was very popular in Poland. Over five hundred Polish artists[61] participated in the following twelve editions of the Biennale Dantesca; the participation of Poles in the jury of the Ravenna competition[62] was also significant. Among the participants and the winners there are the names of almost all well-known Polish sculptors of the late twentieth century. Besides Bronisław Chromy, a winner in the first contest, among the winners of the following editions were: Alfreda Poznańska (1979), Stefan Nitsch (1983) and Piotr Klamerus (1992); the large group of those distinguished and awarded also includes Czeslaw Dźwigaj, Maciej Zychowicz and Stefan Dousa.[63]

The history of Bronisław Chromy’s projects for Ravenna and Rome is an interesting episode in the history of Polish-Italian artistic contacts in the late twentieth century. Pointing to the constraining effects of national corporate art on the free flow of creative thought,[64] it is primarily a witness to interesting phenomena in the post-conciliar Church patronage, seeking a language of artistic expression which would be in accord with the way of feeling of modern man.

A kind of epilogue of Chromy’s Ravenna experience may be found in the subject of three editions of the Ravenna biennial closing the past century. It was the depiction of The gate to the city of Dante: Inferno (1994), Purgatory (1996) and Paradise (1998). The Cracovian artist did not participate in them, but in the form of certain works submitted to the jury[65] one can sense inspiration by Chromy’s model that is exhibited in the permanent collection of the Museum of the Centro Dantesco. It is a kind of tribute to the creator of the first project of the door of the Basilica of St Francis in Ravenna, still awaiting completion.

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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, http://www.30giorni.it/it/articolo.asp?id=11927 (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,

www.vatican.va/jubilee_2000/pilgrim/documents/ju_gp_16072000-5b_it.html (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, http://www.vaticanstate.va/NR/rdonlyres/FBFEA0E8-B43A-452A-AAA0-1AF49590F658/2619/LeggesullatuteladeiBeniCulturali.pdf (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.

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