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

Download the article in PDF

Krystyna Czerni
Institute for Art Historical Research IRSA

Abstract
The sacred art of Jerzy Nowosielski, an outstanding Polish painter of the second half of the 20th century, is an example of the creative continuation of the Byzantine tradition in Poland, but also an embodiment of the debate with the painting tradition of the East and with the experience of the Church. Both in theory and in painting practice, the artist redefined the concept of the icon, attempting to expand its formula so that it not only spoke of the Kingdom, but also included the image of the earthly, imperfect reality of the pilgrim Church. In his designs of sacred interiors for churches of various Christian denominations, Nowosielski wanted to combine three theological disciplines and their respective ways of representation: Christology, sophiology and angelology. Beside a classical icon, called by the painter a “Christological-Chalcedonian” icon, Nowosielski demanded a “sophiological” icon, bringing into the space of a church an earthly, painful reality, traces of inner struggle and doubt – hence the presence of doloristic motifs in his icons. The “inspired geometry” also became a complement to the holy images; the artist noticed a huge spiritual potential in abstract painting, to which he eventually assigned the role of icon painting. The poetic concept of “subtle bodies” – abstract angels testifying to the reality of the spiritual world – drew from the early Christian theological thought, which argued about the corporeality of spiritual entities, from Byzantine angelology, the tradition of theosophy and occultism, but also from the art of the first avant-garde, especially that from Eastern Europe, which inherited the Orthodox cult of the image. Nowosielski’s bilingualism as a painter – practicing abstraction and figuration in tandem, also within the church – paralleled the liturgical practice of many religious communities using different languages to express different levels of reality: human affairs and divine affairs. The tradition of apophatic theology, proclaiming the truth about the “unrepresentability” of God, was also important in shaping Nowosielski’s ideas.
For Nowosielski’s monumental art, the problem of the mutual relationship between painting and architecture proved crucial. The artist based his concept on the decisive domination of painting over architecture and the independence of monumental painting. His goal was the principle of creating a sacred interior as a holistic, comprehensive vision of space which leads the participants of liturgy “out of everyday life” and into a different, transcendent dimension, in which the painter saw the main purpose of sacred art. From his first projects from the 1950s till the end of his artistic practice Nowosielski tried to realize his own dream version of the “ideal church”. In many of his projects he introduced abstraction into the temple, covering the walls, vaults, presbyteries, sometimes even the floors with a network of triangular “subtle bodies”. Forced to compromise, he introduced sacred abstraction into murals, as accompanying geometries, or into stained glass windows. The interiors, comprehensively and meticulously planned, were supposed to create the effect of “passing through”, “rending the veil” – from behind which a new, heavenly reality dawned. In practice, it was not always possible to achieve this intention, but the artist’s aim was to create an impression of visual unity, a sense of “entering the painting”, of being immersed in the element of painting. Painting in space was supposed to unite a broken world, to combine physical and spiritual reality into an integral whole. When designing sacred interiors, Nowosielski used the sanctity of the icon, but also the pure qualities of painting which were to cause a “mystical feeling of God’s reality”. The aim of sacred art understood in such a way turned out to be initiation rather than teaching. In this shift of emphasis Nowosielski saw the only chance for the revival of sacred art, postulating even a shift of the burden of evangelization from verbal teaching to the work of charismatic art.

Keywords: Jerzy Nowosielski, sacred art, icon, murals, Byzantine tradition, abstraction, avant-garde, subtle bodies

Bibliography
Alpatov M., Rublow [Rublev], transl. J. Guze, Warszawa 1975.
Bałus W., Czego chcą ornamenty? [What Do Ornaments Want?], in: Ornament i dekoracja dzieła sztuki. Studia z historii sztuki [Ornament and Decoration in the Work of Art. Studies in Art History], eds. J. Daranowska-Łukaszewska, A. Dworzak, A. Betlej, Warszawa 2015.
Bednarchuk E., Tvorchyi indyvidualizm Iuriia Novosel’s’kogo, “Nasha Kul’tura” 1960, no. 10.
Białopiotrowicz W., Z problemów ikony karpackiej [The Issues of the Carpathian Icon], in: Chrześcijański Wschód a kultura polska [Christian East and Polish Culture], ed. R. Łużny, Lublin 1989.
Bulgakov S., Drabina Jakubowa. Rzecz o aniołach [Jacob’s Ladder: On Angels], transl. T.P. Terlikowski, Warszawa 2005.
Czajkowski J., Grządziela R., Szczepkowski A., Ikona karpacka [The Carpathian Icon], Sanok 1998.
Czerni K., Nietoperz w świątyni. Biografia Jerzego Nowosielskiego [A Bat in the Church. A Biography of Jerzy Nowosielski], Kraków 2011.
Evdokimov P., Życie duchowe w mieście [La Vie Spirituelle dans la ville], transl. M. Żurowska, Poznań 2011.
Gelytovych M., Ukraĭns’ki Ikony XIII – pochatku XVI stolit’, Kyiv 2014.
Hammerstein R., Die Musik der Engel. Untersuchungen zur Musikanschaung des Mittelalters, Bern–München 1962.
Jamie J., Muzyka sfer: o muzyce, nauce i naturalnym porządku wszechświata [The Music of the Spheres: Music, Science, and the Natural Order of the Universe], transl. M. Godyń, Kraków 1996.
Juszczak W., Występny ornament [Corrupt Ornament], “Znak” 1993, no. 11.
Kiilerich B., Abstraction in Late Antique Art, in: Envisioning Worlds in Late Antique Art: New Perspectives on Abstraction and Symbolism in Late–Roman and Early–Byzantine Visual Culture (c. 300–600), ed. C. Olovsdotter, Berlin 2018.
Kłosińska J., Ikony karpackie [Carpathian Icons], in: Malarstwo Jerzego Nowosielskiego. Karpackie obrazy kultowe [Paintings by Jerzy Nowosielski: Carpathian Cult Images], exhibition catalogue, Warsaw Archdiocese Museum, 5.10– 9.11.1985.
Kruk M.P., Ikony Jerzego Nowosielskiego w Kaplicy świętych Borysa i Gleba przy Fundacji św. Włodzimierza w Krakowie Krakowie [The Icons of Jerzy Nowosielski in the Chapel of Saints Boris and Gleb at the Foundation of St. Vladimir], in: Światło Wschodu w przestrzeni gotyku. Materiały pokonferencyjne [The Light of the East in the Gothic Space. Conference Proceedings], ed. K. Pasławska-Iwanczewska, Górowo Iławeckie 2013.
Marion J-L., Bóg bez bycia [God Without Being], transl. M. Frankiewicz, Kraków 1996.
Merton T., Szukanie Boga [In Search of God: a collection containing The Ascent to Truth, Monastic Peace, What Is Contemplation, Sacred Art and the Spiritual Life, The Primitive Carmelite Ideal], transl. P. Parlej et al., Kraków 1983.
Naumow A., Aniołowie w prawosławiu [Angels in the Orthodox Church], in: Księga o Aniołach ]Book of Angels], ed. H. Oleschko, Kraków 2002.
Nowosielski J., Listy i zapomniane wywiady [Letters and Forgotten Interviews], Kraków 2015.
Nowosielski J., Między Kaabą a Partenonem [Between the Kaaba and the Parthenon], “Znak” 1968, no. 7-8.
Nowosielski J., Sztuka po końcu świata. Rozmowy [Art after the End of the World. Conversations], Kraków 2012.
Nowosielski J., Zagubiona bazylika. Refleksje o sztuce i wierze [The Lost Basilica. Reflections on Art and Faith], Kraków 2013.
Onians J., Abstraction and Imagination in Late Antiquity, “Art Journal” 1980, vol. 3, no 1.
Otto R., Świętość. Elementy irracjonalne w pojęciu bóstwa i ich stosunek do elementów racjonalnych [The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational], transl. B. Kupis, Wrocław 1993.
Panas W., Rozmowa o Nowosielskim [Conversation on Nowosielski], in: Jerzy Nowosielski. Malarstwo [Jerzy Nowosielski: Painting], exhibition catalogue, The Art Gallery of the Visual Stage of the Catholic University of Lublin, February 1988, Lublin 1988.
Paprocki H., Rosyjska sofiologia [Russian sophiology], in: Gnostycyzm antyczny i współczesna neognoza [Ancient Gnosticism and Contemporary Neo-Gnosticism], ed. W. Myszor, “Studia Antiquitatis Christianae”, vol. 12, Warszawa 1996.
Paprocki H., Związki między ikoną, teologią i liturgią [Relationships Between Icon, Theology and Liturgy] [publ. 16.10.2011], http://liturgia.cerkiew.pl/texty.php?id_n=142&id=114 [access date 16.04.2016].
Podgórzec Z., Rozmowy z Jerzym Nowosielskim [The Conversations with Jerzy Nowosielski], Kraków 2014.
Popiel J., Zagadnienie sakralnego wyrazu sztuki chrześcijańskiej [The Question of the Sacred Expression of Christian Art], “Znak” 1964, no. 12.
Poprzęcka M., Między koniecznym a niemożliwym. O próbach nowej ikonografii religijnej [Between the Necessary and the Impossible. On the Attempts at New Religious Iconography], “W Drodze” 1989, no. 3.
Potkaj T., Modlitwa w malowanej desce [A Prayer in the Painted Board], “Tygodnik Powszechny” 2002, no. 20.
Peers G., Subtle Bodies. Representing Angels in Byzantium, Berkeley–Los Angeles–London 2001.
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, O hierarchii niebiańskiej [The Celestial Hierarchy] in: Dzieła Świętego Dionizyusza Areopagity [The Works of Saint Dionysius Areopagite], transl., introduction and preface E. Bułhak, Kraków 1932.
Puskás B., Między Wschodem a Zachodem. Ikony z regionu Karpat z XV–XVIII wieku [Between East and West. The Carpathian Icons from the 15th – 18th c.], in: Łemkowie w historii i kulturze Karpat [The Lemkos in the History and Culture of the Carpathians], ed. J. Czajkowski, Sanok 1994.
Różycka-Bryzek A., Wyobrażenia aniołów w bizantyńsko-ruskich malowidłach kaplicy Św. Trójcy na zamku w Lublinie (1418) [Representations of Angels in Byzantine-Ruthenian Paintings of the Holy Trinity Chapel in Lublin Castle (1418)], “Folia Historiae Artium” XIII, 1977.
Rudenko O., Jerzy Nowosielski – malarz świecki czy religijny? {Jerzy Nowosielski: A Secular or Religious Painter?], “Kresy” 2000, no. 4.
Stróżewski W., O możliwości sacrum w sztuce [On the Possibility of the Sacred in Art], in: Sacrum i sztuka [The Sacred and the Art], ed. N. Cieślińska, Kraków 1989.
Waniek H., Jak to było z Nowosielskim? [What Was the Deal with Nowosielski?], “Twórczość” 2011, no. 10.
Waniek H., Sztuka jako świętość i grzeszność [Art as Holiness and Sinfulness], “Konteksty” 1996, no. 3-4.
Warland R., Defining Space: Abstraction, Symbolism and Allegory on Display in Early Byzantine Art, in: Envisioning Worlds in Late Antique Art: New Perspectives on Abstraction and Symbolism in Late–Roman and Early–Byzantine Visual Culture (c. 300–600), ed. C. Olovsdotter, Berlin 2018.
Wodziński C., Trans, Dostojewski, Rosja, czyli o filozofowaniu siekierą [Trance, Dostoyevsky, Russia, or Philosophising with an Axe], Gdańsk 2005.

Skip to content