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

Krystyna Czerni

Cracow, Jagiellonian University


Jerzy Nowosielski (1923–2011) was one of the most outstanding Polish painters of the 20th century. His oeuvre also includes many projects in the field of monumental religious art. Born to an Orthodox family in the Ukraine, he is the author of an original concept of the modern icon, which combines the esthetics of modern painting with Byzantine tradition. He has designed paintings for private devotion, as well as for churches of different denominations. In Wrocław, he has worked with both Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches. For the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God (the former Church of St Barbara), he designed the Feast tier of the iconostas and a polychrome decoration, only parts of which were actually painted in the end: in the vaulting of the presbytery and the chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross. His plans for the other Eastern Orthodox church in Wrocław, the Polish-language Church of St Cyril and St Methodius in Piasek, unfortunately never materialized, even though all the designs, e.g. for the iconostas and the Golgotha, were ready. Nowosielski’s cooperation with the Greek Catholic was more fruitful; however, the uncertain legal status of the Greek Catholic Church in Poland also proved a hindrance to the projects. In the crypt of St Bartholomew (the lower church of the Exaltation of the Cross), the original Greek Catholic church in Wrocław, Nowosielski designed polychrome elements and stained-glass windows, ten of which were actually produced. He also made many moveable elements for the interior (the iconostas, banners, liturgical equipment, icons), which were transferred to the new church, the Church of St Vincent and St James, in 1999. Even though it was rooted in deep faith and rich spiritual experience, Nowosielski’s bold and original religious art often sparked controversies among the common people, hence its checkered fate, frequent problems with producing the designs, as well as acts of aggression and destruction against them. Today, there is no doubt that Jerzy Nowosielski has created outstanding masterpieces in the field of monumental religious art; their every trace, circumstances of creation, and history deserve scholarly attention.

Keywords: Nowosielski, Wrocław, monumental painting, Orthodox church, Greek Catholic Church, contemporary icon


Not even the admirers of Jerzy Nowosielski’s art are fully aware of the very special bond that connected the painter to the city of Wrocław. Besides the beautiful paintings collected at the local National Museum by Mariusz Hermansdorfer,[1] the artist has left his mark on no fewer than four temples throughout the city, each a true masterpiece of sacred art. Some of the works of art came to life only on paper, never going beyond the project phase; others, unfortunately, were destroyed. Those that have survived to date, however, are a real ornament to the temples of the city, and the history and circumstances in which they arose merit serious scholarly attention.

Working in temples of various rites, Nowosielski collaborated both with the Eastern Orthodox and the Greek Catholic Church in Wrocław. From the very start, his presence in the city was linked to another Eastern Orthodox painter, Adam Stalony-Dobrzański.[2] The two had regularly met at the services of the Eastern Orthodox church in Cracow; in the 1940s, they intervened with Cardinal Sapieha to protect the interior of the Greek Catholic church on Wiślna-Street.[3] In the first half of the 1950s, Nowosielski became Dobrzański’s main assistant for commissions involving religious polychrome painting. Younger, and in theory less experienced, Nowosielski soon turned out to be a valuable partner, primarily owing to his inborn “monumental sense”. Of equal importance, however, was the foundation he had received in the field of mural painting at the Kunstgewerbeschule during the occupation, as well as his year-long stay at the Lviv lavra and the icon school of the Studite Brethren.[4] No wonder then that the gifted and competent painter, equally well-versed in the demands of liturgy and Christian iconography, was often invited by colleagues to contribute to their religious polychromes. Even though he ran his own projects from the second half of the 1950s onwards,[5] his friendly collaboration with Adam Stalony-Dobrzański continued up until the 1970s. Dobrzański was especially renowned for his decorative lettering and stained-glass windows; his oeuvre comprises nearly 200 monumental stained-glass compositions.[6]

Nowosielski and Stalony-Dobrzański first came together to collaborate on a polychrome commissioned for the parish church in Trzebownisko[7] at the beginning of the 1950s. Commissions in Zawiercie (1950–1964), Gródek (1952–1955), Jelenia Góra (1953), Białystok-Dojlidy (1953), Michałowo (1953–1954) ensued in quick succession, followed by Grabarka (1963), and, lastly, Wrocław (1963–1969).[8] In theory, Nowosielski was assigned the role of a “dogsbody” in all those projects, merely carrying out the projects that Dobrzański had designed; however, his contribution and his individual style are easily discernible on the walls of the temples.

When a single work of art is signed by more than one artist, the fact poses an interesting artistic problem: more often than not, the end product is non-homogeneous, marred with a certain rupture visible even if the contribution of each individual artist is not easily distinguished. A strong style and individuality, however, occasionally break through and take center stage. In Gródek, for instance, Dobrzański also collaborated with Krystyna Zwolińska, Marian Warzecha, and Teresa Rudowicz. A skilful eye, however, will only take a moment to identify the sections painted by Nowosielski; their outline is softer, more painterly, free of dry and rigid mannerism. The polychrome paintings in Gródek presented the scenery of Leon Tarasewicz’s childhood in the nearby village of Waliły. “I remember that when I was a child”, he says, “it was only important to me that the horse was well-drawn, that the Macarius was properly hairy and his beard almost touched the ground… But later on, I could already see that the entire left side… Well, you could see a painter’s hand there, you could see that this was a painting! The right side, on the other hand: it was all just drawn, stenciled in, rigid. The contrast was striking.”[9]

Despite the genuine fondness and friendship between them, Nowosielski never disguised his skepticism of the senior colleague’s artistic achievements; he did not hold his painting in very high esteem. “In the Catholic Church, Dobrzański’s paintings were generally well-liked”, he recalled in 1987, “they were all rather in the style of decorative art, something between Homolacs and Gazdowski: ornamental, typographical, abstract motifs. Sometimes elements of figuration were needed, and I had to paint those, because I was the only one in the team to have a knack for it. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, on the other hand, Dobrzański’s reception was bad from the start because his painting was also bad; I am not surprised by the popular reaction, he really had a rather faint idea of painting.”[10] In general, Nowosielski reproached his colleague for lacking a monumental sense and his petty, ornamental mannerisms. In a letter to his wife, which he sent while working the polychrome in Gródek, he made no bones about it: “My parts are very decent. Adam massacred the rest.”[11]

However, the collaboration between the two artists continued for many years and proved very fruitful. Its crowning point was their joint participation in the important 2nd Contemporary Religious Art Exhibition[12] in Cracow. An interesting testimony of the event has survived in Jerzy Nowosielski’s letter to his friend, an Eastern Orthodox priest and poet, Jerzy Klinger:

In Cracow, the artist wrote on 3 July 1961, I experienced many great (positive) emotions at the exhibition of religious art. Not that the display itself was so good, but by some weird coincidence, both the exhibition and the catalogue (whose visual aspect was meticulously designed by Adam) emphasize the great role of the Eastern Orthodox people in creating religious art in Poland.

It occurred to me that the exhibition is being held at the same time that the existence of the Orthodox Church in this country seems threatened and we struggle to find its traces even where they should be in great abundance. A strange evaporation of certain values from one place and their reappearance in another – absolutely stunning.

The exhibition showcases the projections of Adam’s stained-glass windows and his stained-glass designs in real size; the projects of all our polychromes, i.e. Gródek, Kętrzyn, Dojlidy, Michałowo are displayed with great gusto as small windows in architectural models illuminated from within. In addition, 10 of my icons are shown in the original, three of which are also reproduced in the catalogue. These are the only exhibits that can be said to represent the Church as a whole, and not merely an individual artistic experience. So I can rightly say that, strictly speaking, I am the only artist on show to represent the church and its experience as manifested in art.[13]

It should be noted that the artist was not entirely fair in his assessment. The Dominican cloisters which provided the venue for the exhibition also showcased the projects or the photographs of religious polychromes by Wacław Taranczewski, Jerzy Skąpski, and Józef Dutkiewicz, to name but a few. Many years later, the reproductions in the catalogue are often the only remaining trace of an actual work of art that had been destroyed or painted over. Such, for instance, has been the lot of the polychrome painting that Jerzy Nowosielski and Adam Stalony-Dobrzański produced for the Eastern Orthodox Church of St Elijah the Prophet in Białystok-Dojlidy, immortalized in two photographs in the catalogue.

The 2nd Contemporary Religious Art Exhibition was also targeted at potential investors; it had far-reaching ambitions. The organizers planned for a follow-up and played with the idea of a regular Biennale of Religious Art. However, only one more Contemporary Religious Art Exhibition was organized in Wrocław[14] before the initiative was finally discontinued.

Held in the summer of 1964 in the newly rebuilt Church of Our Lady of Piasek in Wrocław, the exhibition showcased 336 works by 136 artists (selected from among 1600 submissions). The catalogue describes item 101 as follows: Adam Stalony-Dobrzański, Jerzy Nowosielski, Bolesław Oleszko: A project for the adaptation and interior design of the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in Wrocław.[15] The project received special recognition from the exhibition’s reviewer, Tadeusz Chrzanowski.[16]

The idea to redecorate the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral originated with Włodzimierz Doroszkiewicz (1914–1998), the bishop of the Diocese of Wrocław and Szczecin (the future Metropolitan Basil) from 1961 onwards. He had known and respected the two Krakow artists since they had worked on the Eastern Orthodox church in Gródek, where he had previously been the rector. In June 1963, the Eastern Orthodox community of Wrocław acquired the Gothic Church of St Barbara,[17] and the temple was consecrated as the cathedral of the Diocese of Wrocław and Szczecin, dedicated to the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God. The building was in need of a comprehensive renovation and Eastern Orthodox artists from Krakow were commissioned to adapt it to the particular needs of the Eastern rite.

Unfortunately, full designs for the interior of the cathedral have not survived; we only have parts of the projects in our possession and often have to rely on oral testimonies. For this reason, it is difficult to estimate the exact contribution of each individual artist to the end result. The participation of the painter Bolesław Oleszko (who died in February 2014), a young and inexperienced assistant to Adam Stalony-Dobrzański at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, still remains unexplained. The designs themselves also evolved in time, turning into a typical work in progress: the conceptions and roles of all contributors constantly changed. One of the initially proposed solutions, for instance, consisted in dividing the space into three naves with three separate altars, one for Greeks, one for Ukrainians, and one for Poles;[18] the audacious idea, however, was ultimately rejected by the Metropolitan. Foreseeing problems and looking for a legal safeguard, Bishop Doroszkiewicz, who favored the artists, issued a special decree on 14 September, 1964. The decree established an official Council on the Conservation of the Icons and Interiors of Eastern Orthodox Churches and Religious Architecture in the Eastern Orthodox Diocese of Wrocław and Szczecin; members of the council included architect and engineer Aleksander Grygorowicz, professor Jerzy Nowosielski, and professor Adam Stalony-Dobrzański.[19]


Clearly, the decree was issued ex post; the work had already been in full swing for at least a year. The scarce traces of the artwork include a photograph of three patrons for the figures of saints (elements of the polychrome painting in the vaulting of the presbytery), kept at the Nowosielski Foundation with a note: “IX. 1963”, and the plan of the polychrome elements in the narthex [fig. 1], approved on 26 August 1963 by Olgierd Czerner, the Chief Conservator of Monuments in Wrocław. A small gouache painting in vivid colors, easily recognized as Jerzy Nowosielski’s work, is accompanied by a commentary:

The entire entrance from the western gate to the section under the choir will be plastered over and covered by figural compositions in the fresco technique. The vaulting under the towers will also be plastered over and decorated as illustrated above.

The planned scenes, today no longer clearly legible, included the half-figures of archangels (in the vaulting), prophets, architectural elements, scenes from the life of Our Lady (the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, as a pendant to the Presentation of Christ in the Temple), and hagiographical themes. Even though the plan was approved by the conservator, it was never implemented; in later years, the polychrome paintings of the narthex were produced by Adam Stalony-Dobrzański.[20]

As evidenced by documents and testimonies, the project for the adaptation of the Church of St Barbara initially had far-reaching goals: a new interior design and the polychrome decoration of the entire building. The failure of the ambitious project, as it happens, was brought about by various factors: the lack of financial means and the resistance of the congregation. Some of Nowosielski’s ideas, however, survive as a legend in the memory of witnesses. Eugeniusz Cebulski, the vicar of the church in the 1960s, recalls:

There was a design for the nave, it was ready, I held it in my hands. I might be the last man to have looked at it with due respect. It could have been a spectacular achievement on a national scale, important in the Lower Silesia, or at least in Wrocław! If he had been permitted to create the polychrome for the Wrocław Cathedral, it would have been a magnificent contemporary tribute to the tradition of the Lublin Castle chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Cross at the Wawel Hill and the chapel in Sandomierz! The designs were ready, so were the real-size patrons, and the stencils, too. Five or six rolls altogether, beautifully folded, all in a large A2 format. Unfortunately, all these designs were lost after Metropolitan Basil had left for Warsaw. They were kept in the choir, in a chest together with some other papers; I guess one day someone just took them out with the garbage…

The project was chiseled down to the smallest detail. No background, no foundation, everything was to be put directly on brick. Nowosielski’s idea was to put the images directly on the surface, with little correction or conservation. They were not scenes, actually, but rows of saints: saints, then more saints, a circle of martyrs and followers, saintly maidens. It looked as if the figures were emanating, walking down from the walls. Then more rows below: some plain brick and, lower still, more saints. Here and there, the prazdniks. The walls are high…I still remember the designs, I still remember!

But, well, the older generation was vehemently opposed to this kind of art. The elderly ladies would rather see maudlin, pasteboard chromolithographs put there; Nowosielski was way ahead of them, way ahead…All those “babushkas” and “matushkas” had grown up in another world in faraway Volhynia and the like, surrounded by 19th century painting; they could not relate to his style at all. Over there, at home, the saints had seemed life-like, here the saint seemed dead: a bit shadowy, odd, totally unlike the real thing. So the designs were rolled up, stashed away, and then probably thrown out with the trash.[21]

As suggested above, Nowosielski was probably planning to use the rare limestone-and-casein-on-brick technique in the cathedral. In Poland, the technique had already been successfully employed, for instance, by Wacław Taranczewski;[22] Nowosielski himself also used it in the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross in Jelonki,[23] in progress at roughly the same time (1963–1964). Unfortunately, the botched conservation of the Warsaw polychrome painting in 2001 nearly ruined the original esthetic impact. The choice of technique is likely to have been inspired by Taranczewski’s monumental painting, especially that Nowosielski invited the latter’s son, Paweł Taranczewski, to assist him in the painting of the Jelonki church.

Typical of the technique, the semi-transparent silhouettes with a clear outline painted with intense pigments created an impression of a “watercolor painting on the wall”, beautifully described by Zdzisław Kępiński on the example of Taranczewski’s art:

Enchanted by the 14th century polychrome artwork in the small Church of St John in Gniezno, he now projects dozens of scenes and figures straight onto the bare, unpainted, grouted, reddish surface of the brick. Brick outlines and the grout strips between them pass directly through the shapes, robes, and faces. Flat blots of colorful draperies separated by hints of shining whites and luscious reds come to life thanks to the rugged texture of the walls, and the multi-colored grouts […] give an impression of some archaic matter coexisting with the modern cubist geometry of the inner structure of shape. The wall retains the full dignity of a bare, solid wall, but also takes on the vibrant colorful splendor of an ancient, patterned cloth. No one else in contemporary Poland has yet presented paintings that are so tightly connected with the walls that the latter seem to have birthed them.[24]

Only parts of Nowosielski’s original ambitious plans for the Eastern Orthodox church in Wrocław materialized: the frescoes on the vaulting in the presbytery and the sacristy (the Chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross) and the cycle of icons in the Feast tier of the iconostas.

The polychrome on the vaulting in the presbytery was painted in the fall of 1966;[25] Nowosielski was assisted by Adam Stalony-Dobrzański and Aleksander Grygorowicz. The artist describes the circumstances and conditions of their joint project in an illustrated letter to his wife:

My dear Zo! […] Things go rather slowly because of many delays. The scaffoldings need to be rebuilt. Also, the mason is unable to plaster over more than one casement of the vaulting at a time; I could easily do two each day. So far we have only managed to cover the striped area in the picture: [There is a sketch in the original text]

We started painting on Thursday; I basically work half a day, from midday until sundown. Before noon, I hang around in the side chapel. There, too, I have already painted a few square meters, but painting is difficult because the walls have already been plastered, so it’s not going to be a real fresco but a dry one; on the other hand, the walls are too damp for a dry fresco and everything just keeps trickling down. Also, I can’t go away too far because I have to keep the finger on the pulse (i.e. on Adam) all the time, so that he does not get too carried away with his creative temperament. Grygorowicz helped me a lot in this task; he was here for a few days and painted the bricks on the ribs (we didn’t want them to be black and white, but painted). Unfortunately, he had to leave and I was left alone – but I’ll try to hang in here somehow. […]

My dear little daughter, even though I don’t drink here, I spend a lot. The organization falters; we have more food than we can eat (parishioners bring us two lunches each day), but as tea and chai go, for instance, everyone needs to fend for themselves (e.g. I had to buy coffee, because what I found in the cupboard had only lasted me for the first two days.  So please, send me another 300 zlotys because I am already running out of money and I feel awkward borrowing from Adam because he is in financial trouble as well. I will stay here for 8–10 more days. […] Besides the striped areas in the picture, I have also painted a few small figures in the presbytery; they were not included in the original project, but seemed necessary. They are distributed like this: [There is a sketch in the original text]

They were needed to finish off the plastered sections. There are about 22 of them in the whole presbytery. The wet fresco is a wonderful technique, nothing like the dry one; it basically paints itself. I am enjoying the work a lot even though the scaffolding is not very comfortable. It is safe but very uncomfortable and dirty after the masons have left. But my reward is being able to paint on fresh plaster. […] I am attaching the plan so you can see where the St Barbara is.[26]

When painting the vaulting of the presbytery, Nowosielski faced the challenge of adapting the typical Eastern iconographic program of a Byzantine dome basilica to the specific style of Gothic architecture. He had outstanding predecessors to look to for inspiration in Poland. The polychrome paintings in Jagiellonian foundation churches, i.e. the graeco opere polychromes (Łysa Góra, Gniezno, Sandomierz, Wiślica, Lublin, Wawel),[27] required the ability to inscribe an Oriental program into the structure of Gothic interiors, in keeping with the Byzantine rule of descending hierarchy. The design of the vaulting of the Wrocław Cathedral was also premised on an analogy with the typical iconography of the Byzantine dome: at the top, the Pantocrator (Lord and Creator of the World), the Holy Trinity with the Etimasia (the Prepared Throne) along the main axis, and the Evangelists and Church Fathers below [fig. 2]. The representations carry inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek, and Church Slavonic. Each of the Evangelists is accompanied by his symbol in a mandorla or a name inscription in the same section of the vaulting; the Gospel quotations on the scrolls in their hands all refer to the Mother of God and the Incarnation.

The central iconography of the vaulting is supplemented by small images of the Church Fathers near the ribs, already mentioned in the artist’s letter to his wife. Their location in this particular place is often interpreted as a symbolic expression of the belief that they are the pillars of Church tradition: “The depiction of Church Fathers in the upper surfaces of the presbytery’s inner buttresses can be analyzed in relation to the load-bearing function of these architectural elements and the role of the Church Fathers in the Church”.[28] The Marian motif is completed by four inscribed medallions on the western side of the buttresses, in the lower part of the squinches right above the holy images of the Church Fathers. The inscriptions add up to form a salutation, a verse of praise to the Mother of God, recurring in many Byzantine liturgical hymns: “MP, ΘΥ, БЦЄ ДѢВО, РАДУЙСѦ” [“Mother of God and Virgin, Rejoice”]. In addition, on both sides of the Etimasia, the lower parts of the eastern squinch on both sides of the Etimasia contain half-figures of archangels, accompanied by quotations from the Magnificat prayer in Greek.


3. The plan of Jerzy Nowosielski’s images in the vaulting of the presbytery and the Chapel of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in Wrocław, sketch in: Architektura gotycka w Polsce, eds. T. Mroczko, M. Arszyński, vol. II, Katalog zabytków, ed. A. Włodarek, Warszawa 1995, p. 563; presbytery: 1 – God the Father: section of a mandorla symbolizing the sky with three emanating rays and a Hebrew inscription “Elohim” (“I am the one who am”), and rectangular cartouches with inscriptions on both sides: “ГОСПОДЬ БОГ” (“Lord God”), “САВАѠΘ” (“Sabaoth”); 2 – Dove of the Holy Spirit in a mandorla with three rays and an inscription: “СВ ДУХ” (“Holy Spirit”); 3 – Pantocrator with the Book, flanked by Christ’s hierograms: “IΣ”,  “ΧΣ” [fig. 4]; 4 – Etimasia, flanked by Christ’s hierograms: “IC”,  “XC”; 5 – Archangel Gabriel holding a rhipidion with the opening words of the Trisagion: “AΓΙΟΣ, AΓΙΟΣ, AΓΙΟΣ” (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), and a Greek quotation above: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1: 52); 6 – Archangel Michael holding a rhipidion with the first words of the Trisagion: “AΓΙΟΣ, AΓΙΟΣ, AΓΙΟΣ” (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), and a Greek quotation above: “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1: 53); 7 – John the Evangelist, a scroll with a Church Slavonic inscription: “Here is your mother” (John 19:27), with an eagle in a mandorla, his symbol [fig. 5]; 8 – Matthew the Evangelist, a scroll with a Church Slavonic inscription: “Mary, His Mother”, with an angle in a mandorla, his symbol; 9 – Luke the Evangelist, a scroll with a Church Slavonic inscription: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1: 26), with an ox in a mandorla, his symbol; 10 – Mark the Evangelist, a scroll with a Church Slavonic inscription: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3: 35), next to a lion in a mandorla, his symbol; 11 – St Basil and St Gregory the Great; an inscribed medallion (a piece of the salutation): “MP”; 12 – St Gregory the Theologian and Bishop Vlasyi; 13 – St Pope Leon I and St Dionysius the Great; an inscribed medallion (a piece of the salutation): “БЦЄ ДѢВО”; 14 – St Pope Clement and St Gregory and St Gregory the Wonderworker [fig. 6]; 15 – St John Chrysostom and St Dionysius the Areopagite; an inscribed medallion (a piece of the salutation): “ΘΥ”; 16 – St Ignatius of Antioch and St Cyprian of Jerusalem; 17 – St Ambrose of Milan and St Gregory the Great; an inscribed medallion (a piece of the salutation): “РАДУЙСѦ”; 18 – St Athanasius the Great and St Cyril of Jerusalem; vaulting of the chapel : A – St Marina; B – St Lavr; C – St Victor the Soldier; D – St Alevtina; E – St Luba; F – St Eugenia; G – St Barbara; H – St Dorothy; I – Św. Iraida; J – St Catherine; K – St John; L – St Matthew; M – St Luke; N – St Mark

The vaulting in the presbytery is painted in shades of sepia, beige, brown, grey, and indigo; despite its modern drawing, the artwork makes an enormously dignified impression and has an “old-fashioned” look that is in close harmony with the atmosphere of the temple as a whole. The composition, with its uniform distribution of figural and abstract elements, the rhythmical placement of circles, stripes, and squares of inscriptions in triangular squinches separated by the network of ribs, introduces a rhythm, a geometrical order, and a compositional balance so typical of Nowosielski’s art at large.

Compared to the polychrome in the presbytery, the frescoes in the old sacristy have survived in a much worse condition. Nowosielski wrote of the many technical inconveniences to his wife. Some parts of the polychrome were done al secco, others al fresco. Unbalanced proportions of plaster ingredients increased the salinity of the cement and, as a consequence, discolored a large part of the artwork. The composition was designed by Nowosielski; other contributors who worked on the project in 1966–67 included Stalony-Dobrzański, Grygorowicz, and, probably, Bolesław Oleszko. At the beginning of the 1970s, an attempt was made to “refresh” the surface of the damaged, grimy walls and restore the illegible scenes and inscriptions. The decoration was completed in 1978 when Plamen Yankulovsky, a Bulgarian painter, added a depiction of Golgotha against the backdrop of Jerusalem to the southern wall. The wooden, polychrome cross with the Crucified Christ was then placed in a mandorla painted on the wall by Adam Stalony-Dobrzański.[29] Of all the polychromes in the sacristy, the one on the southern wall adjacent to the presbytery has survived in the best condition [fig. 7]; next to the Golgotha, it depicts a scene with Saint Theodore Tyron the Martyr and an angel, as well as two female martyrs, Paraskeva Pyatnitsa and an unidentified saint below her, right above the entrance to the nave. Depictions of female saints, always presented as half-figures with crosses or vessels in their hands, can also be found on the western and the northern wall, in the glyphs of the portals and in between windows. Sadly, the damage to the polychromes makes it difficult to read the inscriptions and identify all the figures; thus far, we have been able to recognize St Paraskeva, Dorothy, Clavdiya, Lidia, and Tatiana. The western wall also attracts attention with its depiction of St Cosmas and St Damian in a semi-circular recess, whose jambs are covered with the characteristic ornamentation of black crosses on an orange background, the typical pattern of the polistaurion, i.e. the gilded robe with crosses worn by patriarchs and archbishops [fig. 8]. The placing of the scene in the upper plane of the recess was motivated by the original furnishing of the sacristy; this is where the chest with liturgical robes used to stand. This part of the polychrome was also heavily disfigured during the failed restoration attempts of the 1970s.

The figural elements of the paintings in the old sacristy are accompanied by an inscription in Church Slavonic, beginning on the altar wall behind the iconostas and circling around the chapel, by Adam Stalony-Dobrzański; the words are from a liturgical prayer known as the Troparion of the Exaltation of the Cross: “Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify! Thou art our God, we know no other God but Thou, and we glorify Thy name”

Another interesting element of the chapel interior is the discreet polychrome vaulting, with their ribs painted into segments of black and grey separated by white grouts. In the circular keystones, Nowosielski placed miniature images of holy martyrs. In addition, behind the iconostas, small emblems were fitted midway up the ribs of the vaulting, each with a symbol of one of the four evangelists by Adam Stalony-Dobrzański.

Nowosielski’s visible contribution to the cathedral’s interior is the Feast tier of the icons, the prazdniks, as well as the large polychrome cross at the top of the main iconostas. The family archives of Adam Stalony-Dobrzański have preserved the preliminary design of the cross, and an outline of the altar as a whole, both its structure and the individual icons.[30] The end result, again, is a substantial departure from the initial project. As a consequence, the iconostas of the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral is the work of several artists [fig. 9]. The largest icons in the Sovereign tier: Christ the Pantocrator and Hodegetria were painted by a Macedonian painter, Sotiris Pantopoulos, based on Adam Stalony-Dobrzański’s sketches. Pantopoulos is also the author of six smaller icons on the Tsar’s door, with depictions of the Annunciation and the Four Evangelists.[31] The icons of archangels on the Deacon’s door, by Jarosław Jakimczuk from Białystok, were only added in 2006.[32]

The icons for the Feast tier of the iconostas were painted between 1966 and 1969; the last prazdnik, the Raising of Lazarus, was completed in November 1969.[33] The row consists of twelve 70 x 52 cm icons, painted in the tempera technique on linden panels. The iconostas includes, from left to right: the Annunciation, the Nativity [fig. 10], the Presentation in the Temple [fig. 11], the Raising of Lazarus, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper [fig. 12], Anastasis [Descent into Hell], the Ascension, the Hospitality of Abraham [Holy Trinity], the Transfiguration, the Exaltation of the Cross, and the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. The icons in the Feast tier are usually arranged in accordance with the chronology of the liturgical year or the sequence of events as narrated by the Holy Scriptures. In this case, only the first eight icons follow the chronology of the Gospels. The choice of scenes likewise does not correspond to the classical set of 12 great feast days of Eastern Orthodox Christianity; this however, has occasionally happened before.[34] Lacking here, for instance, are such important feasts as the Nativity of the Mother of God and Koimesis, i.e. Dormition of the Mother of God; on the other hand, otherwise rare scenes are included, e.g., the Resurrection of Lazarus, a pre-figuration of the Resurrection of Christ, and the Hospitality of Abraham, also known as the Old Testament Trinity.

All these prazdniks were painted in a style typical of Nowosielski’s work in the late 1960s. They stand out with their vivid colors, the extensive geometric simplification of forms, and the characteristic grouping of figures, which often appear to the side of depicted scenes. The architectural elements and rock motifs that form the backdrop of the events amaze with their intense geometric rhythm, infusing the icons with a strong abstract aura. The major figures bear inscriptions to help identify them; Nowosielski was often reproached for their absence, which, by the way, has been one of the main arguments against the canonicity of the representations. The inscription on Mary’s pulpit in the scene of the Annunciation, on the other hand, is the traditional verse from the Book of Isaiah, written in the Cyrillic alphabet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The composition of the prazdniks roughly adheres to the classical canon, albeit often in a modern, simplified version; this is true of the Nativity, for instance, where the figures assisting at the birth of Christ are placed in small medallions and squares along the frame of the icon. On the left, there are four medallions with the busts of the magi bearing gifts; on the right, three medallions with angels and a square cartouche with an image of St Joseph. The central representation of the Mother of God with the newborn child finds its narrative complement in two scenes in the square cartouches in the lower frame of the icon: the bathing of the child on the left, and two tunic-clad shepherds with staffs on the right.

Other deviations from traditional iconography include the depiction of eleven apostles in the scene of the Last Supper, suggesting that the artist captured the moment after Judas had left the group.[35] On the other hand, the Hospitality of Abraham, so rarely found in iconostases, is a faithful rendition of the canon, as set in the famous icon by Rublev, but in the surprising colors of silver and pink.

The iconostas was topped by a polychrome cross (tempera on linden panel), of the croce storiata type [fig. 13]. In a letter to Tadeusz Różewicz from 28 April 1969, Nowosielski wrote: “… I will be going to Wrocław soon, because the local bishop has ordered a large cross for the iconostas. It will be 2 m high and 1 m wide.”[36] The polychrome representation of the Crucified Christ, accompanied by figures and scenes of the Passion painted on additional panels along the vertical beam, referred back to the Franciscan crosses of medieval Italy[37] and was the favorite icon type of the Krakow artist.[38] In his artistic career, Nowosielski has painted several dozen such crosses, intended either for official liturgy or private devotion.[39] The Wrocław altar cross, mounted in December 1969, is flanked by the scenes of the Passion; on the left, from top to bottom: Emmaus, the Doubting Thomas, the Flagellation, and on the right, from top to bottom: the Washing of the Feet, Christ before Pilate, the Lamentation. On both ends of the horizontal beam of the cross, the figures of mourners are placed: Mary (on the left) and St John the Evangelist (on the right). A medallion with Anastasis sits on top of the vertical beam of the cross, while a rectangular casement on the bottom contains a symbolic depiction of a grotto with the skull of our forefather Adam, the emblem of the Golgotha (in Aramaic: the Place of the Skull).

The iconostas was the work of several painters, but its upper part by Nowosielski (the cross and the row of prazdniks) is optically harmonized with the artist’s decoration of the vaulting seen above the barrier, which introduces an element of esthetic coherence and harmony into an otherwise non-homogeneous, slightly chaotic interior of the church. Even so, not all visitors were able to appreciate the artistic merits of the iconostas, finding it hard to accept the modern convention of the icons. After a few years, when the rector of the cathedral changed, an idea arose to dismantle the iconostas and replace it with a neo-Baroque iconostas from the side chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross, brought over in the 1960s from the Eastern Orthodox church in Sosnowiec. The new host of the church, backed by Bishop Alexei, even filed an appropriate petition with the Conservator of Monuments. It was only thanks to the personal intervention of Basil, the Metropolitan himself, that the artwork was saved. In his letter, sent on 17 March, 1975 to the Conservator of Monuments and the Denomination Office, Basil argued:

The Eastern Orthodox Cathedral of St Barbara in Wrocław contains an iconostas that was built in keeping with the guidelines of the Conservator of Monuments in Wrocław as well as officially approved designs. The structure is a solid, non-moveable object, composed of the following elements: polished granite, sparsely gilded, artistic doors of stainless steel, with ornamental gilded copperplate letters, and other embellishments. The icons, which were written by Jerzy Nowosielski, a professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, the most outstanding isograph [sic!] in Poland, with the help of a very talented graduate of the same school, Sotiris Pantopoulos, are of great artistic value. The iconostas is a priceless monument enriching the culture of our nation, and for this reason, it is under legal protection.

Seven years from its conception, some people want to change the action plan for the further decoration of the Cathedral which was once drawn up and approved by the appropriate state authorities. I would like to emphasize that the new iconostas is meant to form a single whole with the projected large stained glass in the main window of the presbytery. […] Should the iconostas be demolished, it would deal a serious blow to my authority as the Metropolitan and builder of the church, as well as to the state authorities that approved the project in the first place; it would also make a public laughingstock of the artists of the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, Jerzy Nowosielski and Adam Stalony-Dobrzański, who, incidentally, also belong to the Metropolitan Council of the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church. […] The demolition of the iconostas will be a great loss for our Church and will not serve the reputation of those who […] plan an act of destruction harmful towards our national culture, especially on the Recovered Territories.[40]

The letter refers to the incumbent rector, who first floated the idea of demolition, not only as the “hapless petitioner”, set on misleading the Conservator, but also as a “hot-headed instigator”, who has already managed to “incite the people” and “plot a conspiracy”. The internal disagreement within the Eastern Orthodox church was terminated by the decision of the General Conservator of Monuments at the Ministry of Culture and Art, issued on 26 May 1975, which ruled that the final decision concerning the fate of the iconostas should rest with Basil, the Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan of Warsaw and Poland.[41] As a direct result of the ruling the iconostas was saved.

Other movable monuments in the Orthodox Cathedral that have survived include Nowosielski’s icon of the Hodegetria, donated to Basil in the middle of the 1960s, which still hangs on the southern wall of the right-side nave, near the presbytery. Other contemporary icons still present in the church include ones by Dmitri Pargatschevsky, Michał Pieczonko, and Adam Stalony-Dobrzański.

According to some testimonies, Nowosielski reportedly helped Adam Stalony-Dobrzański create the idea behind the stained-glass windows of the cathedral,[42] but this is difficult to prove today. The designs we possess bear a clear mark of Dobrzański’s style; the only stylistic difference can be seen in the Crucifixion found in the eastern side of the Chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross (the former sacristy). The figural groups in the depictions of the Golgotha and the Exaltation of the Cross in the chapel are dominated by surrounding abstract compositions of multi-colored quadrangles, stylistically similar to Nowosielski’s typical abstractions.

Despite its many original elements, some of them truly outstanding, the end result of the collaboration, which lasted over an extended period and demanded many compromises, was bound to make a half-baked, rather incoherent esthetic impression. The effect was best summed up by Nowosielski’s friend, Tadeusz Różewicz, in a letter to the artist written on 8 October 1969:

I went to the church in the Mikołaja-Street yesterday; in the shed in the backyard I ran into a man with a beautiful black beard. The church was closed. I said I was a friend of Nowosielski’s and he agreed to show me around the interior. Indeed, your work there seems contaminated by the output of another artist, either elevated or somehow diminished. But maybe such situations can’t be avoided, unless we give up all artistic activity…[43]



The cooperation of Jerzy Nowosielski with the Eastern Orthodox Church in Wrocław was not limited to decorating the cathedral. On 12 October, 1970, the Metropolitan Basil, established a Polish-language Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Wrocław (in the former monastery church dedicated to St James and Anne in Piasek that had once belonged to the Augustinian nuns),[44] the only such pastoral post in Poland at that time.

            This church was also in need of a comprehensive renovation and adaptation to the liturgical needs of the Eastern rite. Certain hopes were pinned on Nowosielski, as evidenced in a letter sent to “Tygodnik Powszechny” by the new rector of the church, Eugeniusz Cebulski:

The church we took over four years ago had no vaulting, windows, doors, floors, or plasters. We have been able to carry out the renovations thus far thanks to the assistance of the conservator and the good will of people. As of 17 June, 1973, we have managed to finish renovating the spacious porch and fitted it with all the equipment necessary for holding regular Sunday services..

However, the central nave still requires a lot of work. We need to do the plasterwork;  polychromes by Krakow artists, such Jerzy Nowosielski and Adam Stalony-Dobrzański, are also among the most urgent tasks. Once completed, they will allow us to dismantle the expensive scaffolding currently in place and proceed to lay the floor tiles.[45]

Letters that the two painters exchanged with the rector document the successive stages and negotiations, the concept changes, and the mounting difficulties that, despite numerous projects and proposals, prevented Nowosielski’s art from materializing in the temple’s interior in the end. In his letter to Cebulski from 26 September, 1975, Dobrzański wrote: “Today, J. Nowosielski came over. He said he would be willing to work on the recesses and the iconostas for St Anne; please, write him now to say thanks, tell him that you wait for him, that you beg him to reply, and then send him the dimensions (I would do it myself but it will be better if he gets them from you)”.[46] Thus encouraged by Dobrzański, on 15 October, 1975, the rector sent a letter to Nowosielski with an official offer: “Dear Professor, if you can envision yourself contributing your knowledge and talent to the task of embellishing the interior of the Church of St Cyril and St Methodius, I hereby ask you to consider my offer […] I shall be waiting for your reply concerning a possible meeting to discuss the details, the schedule, and the remuneration. I was going to send you the exact dimensions of the recesses and the proposed iconostas. However, I am afraid to do it before I am sure what dimensions precisely are at stake. Would you be so kind as to provide more information?”[47] The negotiations dragged on; at first a polychrome and an iconostas were discussed, then the idea was floated of painting the Golgotha and decorating the crypt. “Let Jerzy make the icons”, Dobrzański encouraged the priest in another letter, “No one in Poland can do it better, and no one will, at least for now…”[48] According to Cebulski’s letter to the painter from 13 October, the problem of the “Golgotha and the interior of the lower church” was still on the agenda as late as 1978.[49]

Unfortunately, these plans fell through as well; in the end, it was the designs of Adam Stalony-Dobrzański, among others, that were produced by Stalony-Dobrzański himself, together with Michał Bogucki, Sotiris Pantopoulos, Nowosielski’s student Telemachus Pilitsidis, a Belorussian iconographer Sergius Tretinnkov,[50] and Vitalis Sadovwsky.[51] The iconostas, recovered from a rundown Eastern Orthodox church in Strwiążyk and thoroughly restored, was supplemented with contemporary icons by Dmitri Pargatschevsky. Egueniusz Cebulski recalled Nowosielski’s adventures with the successive versions of the iconostas after many years:

Nowosielski proposed three projects to me; after the first one, he saw I was rather skeptical. The first iconostas was simple, somewhat like that of the Greek Catholics: three simple chests, Nowosielski’s “daubing” above them, and higher still, several very contemporary icons. I couldn’t quite picture this in our Baroque interior, which had to be neutralized somehow…There were two projects with rectangles. And the third version was the richest, the most beautiful, with arches which reminded me of the Romanesque period, and Baroque, after all, is just a watered-down version of the Romanesque. It had deep glyphs, deep blues, sky blues, the glyphs were red and on the glyphs, like on Romanesque portals, there were the figures of saints. When I think that the project never panned out, I want to cry! The third project was very beautiful, elaborate, my heart was in it, but it didn’t work out. Małachowicz, the conservator, wouldn’t allow Nowosielski to work here…even though he thought the project was so good that he pilfered it from me; he could see its merits better than me at that time.[52]

Nowosielski’s plans for the Eastern Orthodox Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius ended in failure. Even though it was rooted in a deep, personal experience and vision, the language of the modern icon proved impossible to reconcile with the conservative tastes of the local community:

Nowosielski rooted for us, Eugeniusz Cebulski admits, because this was the first Polish-language Eastern Orthodox parish in Poland, and he had always wanted such a parish to exist. He was aware that his authority could help us a great deal. But he also knew that the style of his artwork would scare many away. I knew that, too, and, well, you have to make concessions… The icons we have now are mediocre, insipid, it’s definitely not what we would hope for. A person should come to an icon like it’s another human being; you look straight into a face, like a child, like a little dog, you seek, you read…This is what an icon should be. But I also held it against Nowosielski a little that he tapped into the typical antinomy of the mystical world: you were seen but did not see. It is as if he wrote the icons for himself alone, and for some snobs. This whole Manichaeism was somewhere inside him, he was not reconciled to the reality of today; and neither am I, I can’t accept this hecatomb of universally accepted sin – it dehumanizes you, you lose all sensitive to beauty after that.

So I was either not wholly convinced or short of cash. Later still, already in the 1980s, Nowosielski was going to work on the lower chapel for me; he was very into it, he sent me letters saying he had been there and had seen the place. And again, nothing came of it. Our Bishop Jeremiah was not convinced… So many plans!! If only I’d had more money, more autonomy[53]


No wonder that Nowosielski recalled the many years he was involved in monumental religious art with some bitterness:

The Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church practically wasted my talents, he complained in 1994. After all, I did maybe 10% of what I could have done! And that’s because the religious circles, Catholic or Orthodox, still have low consciousness and very little faith in art. […] I feel simply wronged! Especially by the Eastern Orthodox Church. It was my greatest wish to work for an Eastern Orthodox church, and yet I met with constant rejection. […] I have put in so much effort and now, at the end of my life, I have a feeling it was completely in vain.[54]


“The Eastern Orthodox complain that my painting is too Catholic, the Catholic – that it is too Eastern Orthodox”, Nowosielski often said. Cutting across denominations, his style often put him in trouble. This is why his projects for the Greek Catholic Church deserve particular attention.[55] The style of painting born at the crossroads between Western and Eastern traditions, Byzantine art and the avant-garde, fits in particularly well with the space of the Church whose mission, after all, is to bridge the rift in Christianity and to bring the two “wings of the Church” closer together. Nowosielski’s friendly relations with the Ukrainian circles, as well as his dissatisfying artistic experience with the Eastern Orthodox Church, led him to accept the Greek Catholic invitation with hope and benevolence. And even though his icons for the Greek eventually shared the lot of the community: frequent relocations, wandering, homelessness, around a dozen of the icons that he created for the Church are an enormous, priceless contribution to the heritage of his native religion. Among these icons, the ones produced for the Greek Catholic community in Wrocław take an important place.

The presence of Nowosielski’s art in the places of Greek Catholic worship in Wrocław is tightly linked to a priest, Piotr Kryk (born in 1945), today the Apostolic Exarch of Germany and Scandinavia with a seat in Munich. Kryk had known and respected Nowosielski for a long time; he had assisted at the consecration of the iconostas in the chapel of St Dorothy in the Augustian church in Cracow[56] and held his work in Wesoła and Górowo Iławeckie in very high regard.

From the 1960s onwards, Wrocław had a semi-official “pastoral post” for the followers of the Greek Catholic rite in the framework of the Roman Catholic Church. Co-existence was not always amicable:

We were treated as second-class Catholics, bishop Piotr Kryk, the first rector of the Greek Catholic parish in Wrocław recalls, as if they were saying: we are the super-Catholics, you are the Catholics, and the rest are the Orthodox…and we were constantly moved from place to place, we could never put down roots…For some time, we had a place at St Giles’, next to the Cathedral; in the Advent, they would send us to the rooms upstairs, after Easter, we would come back down again. There was this never-ending “migration of the peoples” going on – the Poles complained, and so did we. Fortunately, Cardinal Gulbinowicz was from the Eastern Borderlands, he was an open-minded man, and he would often ask: do you get intentions, do they bother you? So when the priests saw that the Cardinal is on our side, there were no more problems.[57]

In 1980, Cardinal Gulbinowicz vested the Greek Catholic community with the right to use the lower Church of the Holy Cross (the crypt of St Bartholomew).[58] The Gothic collegiate church, with an unusual, two-storey floor plan, erected on the plan of the cross, with beautiful cross-rib vaults in the lower storey,[59] was to become the home of the Greek Catholics in Wrocław for the next 19 years. Before that, the lower church of St Bartholomew had had a checkered history: repeatedly robbed, it had served over the centuries as a storehouse, a shelter, and even as a horse stable.

Initially, the commission to adapt the interior was given to Andrzej Stefanowski of Zielona Góra; for the purposes of the crypt, he copied a couple of icons from the Eastern Orthodox Church of St Michael in Toronto. Another artist invited to work on the lower church was Adam Stalony-Dobrzański. However, the latter fell sick and passed away in 1985. Ultimatley, Jerzy Nowosielski took over; the oldest preserved project for the polychrome vaulting dates from 1984[60] [fig. 14]. In 1985, Piotr Kryk was appointed as the rector of the church and the works took on momentum.[61] The iconostas was considered as the most urgent task.

In his first project, Bishop Kryk recalls, the icons of the Sovereign tier were meant to be circular [fig. 15], but the idea did not go down too well… So then he came up with this project, and the first icon was that of Jesus Christ [fig. 16], inspired by the Jesus from the Dolyna village, from the National Museum in Lviv.[62] The Christ in the icon really resembles a Tatar…So he brought this particular icon over here, but the rest was done on the spot – we had the materials, the structure of the iconostas was built by our own carpenters in Lubiń, where I had a carpentry workshop. Professor Nowosielski’s assistant, Halina Onichimiuk,[63] carried out the basic tasks: priming, gluing the canvas, abrading. They would come for a month, month and a half, over three seasons – so it took two years altogether.[64]

The iconostas was produced between 1985 and 1987. “The ground is ready – we start painting tomorrow”, Nowosielski wrote on a postcard to his wife from 19 September 1985. “It is so nice here, we are having a lovely day today; yesterday, we were at the carpentry workshops in Lubiń and Ruda, and Legnica as well.”[65] Nearly two years later, in a letter to Henryk Paprocki from 13 July 1987, he reported with great animation:

I was in Wrocław at the consecration of the iconostas; they did not go ahead with the oсвящения [consecration], because not everything was ready. Archbishop Mirosław,[66] a very sensible man, but also the young clergy that assisted him in a rather synodal way, have probably been peeking into our churches. There was also the ceremony of иерейская хиротония [holy orders] (4 deacons).

The vladyka highly praised my icons and my publications; he reads them all, and he told the young priests to thank God that they have someone to learn from. And learn they do indeed: they already wear riasas, and two of them have already grown a beard.[67]

Among the regular folk, however, the iconostas initially sparked some controversy:

At the very beginning, Piotr Kryk recalls, we held a debate with Cardinal Gulbinowicz, Jerzy Nowosielski, and Halina Onichimiuk; we wanted to discuss the project of the iconostas. A lot of people would come to masses at that time, about 450 people, before they all left for the West, but maybe 20 of them showed up at the meeting. Half of the parish is from the priestly caste, they have priests in the family, and a grand idea of themselves… They were simply not interested; they said: it is not my cup of tea. […] At first, the attitude was negative, there was even an isolated act of aggression. One day, I am back from vacation and sister Józefa tells me she had a vision the previous day: Our Lord Jesus suddenly turned purple. I thought perhaps she was sleepy or had fainted; I had a look before the mass, and there he was, a Jesus painted in purple. The Holy Mary was orange, St Paraskeva was smeared all over, someone gouged out two square centimeters of paint, down to the canvas, picked out the ground… On the choir, we had a storage place where we kept the paint, it also served as Nowosielski’s studio – and someone stole all the paint; thankfully, no glue was added, so we were able to wash it all off. We didn’t breathe a word to the professor, Halina, his assistant, managed to do repaint the icons, but later on, he got wind of it anyway. It is all fine and dandy not to like something, but why do you have to destroy it? Whether we like him or not, Nowosielski is a great painter of world renown. Personally, I think you shouldn’t let yourself be dragged down to the level of the people and their base needs, but rather lift them up a little instead. I am a fan of Nowosielski.[68]

Topped by a Golgotha, the iconostas produced for the Greek Catholic community in Wrocław is modest [fig. 17]; the Feast tier only consists of seven small icons (28.5 × 20 cm), from left to right: the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, Anastasis (Descent into Hell) [fig. 18], the Ascension. Compared to the iconostas from the Eastern Orthodox Church produced twenty years earlier, the style became notably different as the esthetics of Nowosielski’s art had progressed: it became less graphical, more painterly, and at the same time, more simplified. The color scheme is based on a contrast between the intense red of the prazdnik beam and the dark indigo of the pillars and the abstract screens below the Sovereign tier. The same juxtaposition is repeated in most of the icons: the red halos and robes of the figures contrast with the dark blue shade of the rocks and the background architecture. Despite the basic simplicity of its structure, the iconostas also includes ornamentation: the golden haloes of the icons in the Sovereign row, as well as their decorative, painted frames; on the back side of the beam with the prazdnik icon, two votive inscriptions were placed. The iconostas is topped by what is referred to as a Golgotha – a polychrome cross with the representations of Christ, Holy Mother of God, and St John the Evangelist.

19. The iconographic plan of the iconostas in the crypt of St Bartholomew (currently in the Greek Catholic Cathedral in Wrocław, the Sovereign row: 1 – St Paraskeva, 2 – Mother of God with the Child, 3 – Pantocrator, 4 – Exaltation of the Cross. [the patron icon of the church]; Tsar’s door: Annunciation  (5 – Archangel Gabriel, 6 – Holy Virgin Mary); the Four Evangelists  (7 – St Matthew, 8 – St Mark, 9 – St John and St Prochor, 10 – St Luke); Deacon’s door: 11 – Good Thief, 12 – Melchizedek, 13 – St Stephen, 14 – Aaron; Feast row: 15 – Nativity, 16 – Baptism of Christ, 17 – Transfiguration, 18 – Last Supper, 19 – Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, 20 – Anastasis [Descent into Hell], 21 – Ascension; the back side of the beam with the Feast row is covered in ornamental decoration and two votive inscriptions in Ukrainian in rectangular cartouches: “This iconostas was built during the term of His Holiness Pope John Paul II and His Holiness Archbishop Miroslav, Jan” and “the venerable Father Piotr, the rector; written by the servants of God, Jerzy and Halina. 1986”; Golgotha: 22 – Mother of God, 23 – Crucified Christ, 24 – St John the Evangelist

Once the iconostas was mounted in the crypt of St Bartholomew, the interior was gradually decorated with new polychrome elements, stained-glass windows, earlier icons, and liturgical equipment. The original design of the vaulting, with figures of the prophets and the evangelists and the decorative ornamentation of the ribs, was never carried out. In the end, the painter decided to confine himself to a discreet intervention along the central axis of the presbytery [fig. 20], where he decorated the vaulting with six-wing Seraphim, Thrones and the Etimasia. In the northern arm of the transept, in the recess of the eastern wall, the artist placed an image of St Catherine. The images of Archangels Raphael and Michael, which once adorned the southern arm, have been defaced during one of the many renovations.

Over more than a decade, the Greek Catholic parish received around a dozen of icons from Nowosielski, including: the Exaltation of the Cross (1986), the Baptism of Ruthenia (1989), St Joseph (1991), the liturgical croce storiata cross, the Nativity (1987), the Orant Mother of God (date N/A), St John the Baptist – the Angel of the Desert and St Ephrem the Syrian (date N/A), the Descent into Hell (date N/A). Other preserved works by Nowosielski, to name but a few, include dalmatics for the choirboys and deacons, as well as four two-sided procession banners depicting: the Pantocrator/Baptism of Christ; Mother of God with the Child/Descent into Hell; Acheiropoietos/Raising of Lazarus; St Paraskeva/Lamentation [fig. 21].

The most precious and interesting element of the interior of the crypt are the extraordinary stained-glass windows combining figural elements with abstract motifs, all produced at the Wrocław studio of Zbigniew Jaworski in 1991–1999:

We made a few stained-glass windows based on Nowosielski’s designs, Zbigniew Jaworski says. It was a great honor for us. We worked together for about ten years, in the 1990s. […] To meet an artist of this caliber and bask in his aura is an experience that is difficult to evaluate. It is nearly impossible to enter his world. […] I had fears about this project. We talked a lot. We got to know each other. I decided to show the first stained-glass window to the artist in person. I took it all the way to Cracow. The professor invited me to come over to his house. I only dared to put the stained glass on the window sill in the evening, when the dusk had already set in. Professor was a great host and made a bed for me in his studio. In the morning, he came in to wake me up. And he said he couldn’t wait to kiss me because he was so grateful. He invited me to the room where I had left the stained glass the previous night. There was a chair in the room, opposite the glass, and he had been sitting in it and taking in the light that seeped in through the stained glass since the early morning. Tears welled up in my eyes and I said we’d probably create something together. […] Later on, more and more audacious, figurative stained-glass works followed. We got into our stride[69].

Nowosielski was very proud of the stained-glass artwork. In October 1996, he sent a joyous letter to his student Andrzej Gąsieniec: “I got a call from Wrocław earlier today from the Greek Catholic rector. He told me that nine windows have already been mounted in the church. It is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture, and a good location, Wrocław”.[70] The last stained-glass window in the crypt, with the figures of St Peter and St Andrew and the quotation from Psalm 133, was funded by members of the congregation to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Union of Brest.[71] Many more designs and sketches were found in the artist’s archives and his studio, some of which were showcased at the “Jerzy Nowosielski’s icons and archetypes” exhibition, displayed, for instance, at the Książ Castle.[72] Out of the twenty two windows in the crypt of St Bartholomew, only ten were fitted with Nowosielski’s stained glass; the higher echelons of the church hierarchy had already taken decisions that would prevent him from continuing his work.

After the re-organization of its administrative structure in 1996, the Greek Catholic Church in Poland was elevated to the status of a metropolis. A year later, on the occasion of the 46th International Eucharistic Congress in Wrocław, the Metropolitan, Henryk Gulbinowicz, presented Pope John Paul II with the Church of St Vincent and St James[73] in pl. Nankiera 2; the church was intended as the seat of the new Greek Catholic Diocese of Wrocław and Gdańsk.

Dear Brothers in episcopal and priestly service!, John Paul II wrote on 1 June 1997 in a letter to the participants of the Congress, it is with great pleasure that I receive your “congressional gift” […]. May this new temple become a token of exemplary cooperation between the two rites of the city. May it be an ecumenical challenge, calling upon the current and the future generations to build the human community in the spirit of hope, faith, and love. I give my heartfelt blessing to the new Diocese of Wrocław and Gdańsk and its first bishop.[74]

The enormous, three-nave, brick basilica of St Vincent and St James, which had once served as a garrison church, was also in need of a comprehensive renovation. Between 1997 and 1999, the roof tiling was replaced, followed by other renovations and adaptations necessary for the purposes of the Eastern rite.

We officially moved to the church on 1 May, 1999, Piotr Kryk recalls. I must admit that I did so grudgingly; we’d already begun to feel at home in the crypt of St Bartholomew, I had plans for more stained-glass windows, an indigo floor, but the pope himself gave the church to us, everyone applauded, there was no way back. A lot of people say that the iconostas fitted in better with the crypt; when we moved it, it had to be cut around the edges because the room was more narrow. But, at long last, we are now masters of our own castle; the crypt had only been leased to us for 40 years. Such is our lot, wanderers and exiles on earth… Our church has always had this awareness, it is, after all, the echo of our human condition. And, quite often, art only pointedly confirms it.[75]

When the Greek Catholic parish was relocated to its new seat in pl. Nankiera, the moveable monuments such as icons, banners, and the iconostas, were moved along with it. The stained glass windows and the polychrome paintings remained in the lower church of the Holy Cross. It is true that in their new surroundings, scattered here and there throughout the large temple, the icons do seem a little lost. The largest of them, the Baptism of Ruthenia, was placed high up on the western wall, in a panel below the window [fig. 28]. The Orant was put deep in the presbytery, St Joseph, the altar icon, was placed in front of one of the pillars separating the central and the southern nave. The icon showing St John the Baptist and St Ephrem the Syrian hangs high in a recess in the northern wall of the side nave. The interior of the church is also embellished by the liturgical banners placed by the pillars. The small icons of the Nativity and Anastasis in the presbytery are placed on a tetrapod on feast days. All the icons are part of a living liturgy in a place where the congregation finally feels at home, taking meticulous care of their heritage. Nowosielski’s art is also an important part of the heritage and the troves of visitors which rush into the church during the cyclical “Night of the Churches” event can be a genuine source of pride for the hosts, as well as a proof that the art in the temple is not only of great religious importance but also belongs to the rich cultural tradition of the land and stands as an ecumenical challenge for the current generation. Bishop Piotr Kryk recollects:

I have this image in my mind: Nowosielski stands in front of the iconostas, painting the Mother of God. Tadeusz Różewicz appears; he often comes by. And he says: “Jerzy, I wish I could believe in God the way you do…” And Professor goes: “You see, Ted, faith is the gift of God, it is not yours to give. It is God who needs to grace you with the gift of faith… If you deserve it, one day you may receive it and believe…” This is how they spoke. I was a witness.[76]


Translated by Urszula Jachimczak


[1] Sztuka polska XX wieku: katalog zbiorów Muzeum Narodowego we Wrocławiu, ed. M. Hermansdorfer, Wrocław 2000, s. 214–219, 516–517; M. Hermansdorfer, Między ekspresją a metaforą, Muzeum Narodowe, Wrocław 1999, pp. 258–273.

[2] The monumental works of Adam Stalony-Dobrzański have not yet been studied. A doctoral dissertation on the subject is currently being written by Anna Siemieniec under the supervision of Professor Anna Markowska at the University of Wrocław: Kanon ikony w sztuce witrażu Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego; por. A. Siemieniec, Stworzenie światła. Wystawa witraży Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego w Muzeum Narodowym Sofia Kijowska w Kijowie (20.10 – 30.11.2011), “Quart”, 2012, vol. 2, pp. 132–139; Stworzenie światła. Witraże Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego, exhibition catalogue, Sophia of Kiev National Musem in Kiev, 20 October – 30 November 2011, ed. J. Stalony-Dobrzański, Kraków 2011.

[3] J. Nowosielski, Sztuka po końcu świata. Rozmowy, ed. K. Czerni, Kraków 2012, p. 20.

[4] K. Czerni, Ucieczka na pustynię. Jerzy Nowosielski (1923–2011) jako nowicjusz studyckiej Ławry św. Jana Chrzciciela we Lwowie [październik 1942 – lipiec 1943], in: Rola monasterów w kształtowaniu kultury ukraińskiej w wiekach XI–XX, eds. A. Gronek, A. Nowak, Kraków 2014, pp. 311–348.

[5] K. Czerni, Katalog projektów i realizacji sakralnych Jerzego Nowosielskiego, in: eadem, Nowosielski, Kraków 2006, pp. 209–215.

[6] No comprehensive list of Stalony-Dobrzański’s stained-glass windows exists in the literature. Scholars disagree as to their exact number.  M.J. Żychowska (Współczesne witraże polskie, Kraków 1999, pp. 85–86) claims that the artist has “created 136 compositions for 83 windows”, while N. Kukowalska (Sztuka witrażu, in: Stworzenie światła… 2011 (fn. 3), p. 15) has counted “over 220 monumental stained-glass compositions”, probably including the projects that were never carried out as well.

[7] Stworzenie światła... 2011 (fn. 2), p. 84.

[8] Czerni, Katalog… 2006 (fn. 5), pp. 210–211.

[9] Recording of an interview with L. Tarasewicz (Waliły, 20.07.2006), K. Czerni’s archives; cf. K. Czerni, Nietoperz w świątyni. Biografia Jerzego Nowosielskiego, Kraków 2011, p. 189.

[10] Nowosielski 2012 (fn. 3), pp. 38–39.

[11] Letter of J. Nowosielski to Z. Nowosielska, undated (1953–1954), the archives of J. Nowosielski; a copy in the archives of  K. Czerni.

[12] K. Czerni, Wyspa wolności. Mecenat artystyczny krakowskiego klasztoru Dominikanów w czasach PRL-u, in: Sztuka w kręgu krakowskich Dominikanów, eds. A. Markiewicz, M. Szyma, M. Walczak, Kraków 2013, pp. 913–917.

[13] Letter of J. Nowosielski to J. Klinger, 3 July 1961, the archives of. H. Paprocki and M. Klinger-Paprocka; a copy in the archives of  K. Czerni.

[14] Wrocławska Wystawa Współczesnej Sztuki Religijnej, “Znak”, 1964, vol. 12 (126), pp. 1492–1522;  J. Popiel TJ, Z wrocławskiej wystawy sztuki religijnej, “Tygodnik Powszechny”, 1964, vol. 31, pp. 5–6; H. Szczypińska, Wrocławskie Biennale, “Tygodnik Powszechny”, 1964, vol. 34, pp. 5–6; J.St., “Nie piszę recenzji”, “Więź” 1964, vol. 10, pp. 101–104; J. Popiel, ***, “Das Münster”, 1965, vol. 7–8, pp. 257–263.

[15] Wrocławska Wystawa… 1964 (fn. 14), p. 1520.

[16] T. Chrzanowski, Współczesna sztuka religijna we Wrocławiu, “Znak”, 1964, vol. 12 (126), p. 1502.

[17] J.L. Dobesz, Kościół Świętej Barbary, obecnie Katedra Narodzenia Przenajświętszej Bogurodzicy, Wrocław 1998, p. 29; B. Czechowicz, Ecclesia Sanctae Barbarae. Katedra prawosławna Narodzenia Przenajświętszej Bogarodzicy, in: Katedra Narodzenia Przenajświętszej Bogarodzicy we Wrocławiu, ed. I. Rydzanicz, Wrocław 1996, pp. 7–30; Atlas architektury Wrocławia, vol. 1: Budowle sakralne. Świeckie budowle publiczne, ed. J. Harasimowicz, Wrocław 1997, pp. 36–37.

[18] Personal communication with E. Cebulski, the vicar of the Eastern Orthodox church at the time

[19] P. Gerent, Prawosławie na Dolnym Śląsku w latach 1945–1989, Toruń 2007, p. 216.

[20] A. Siemieniec, Projekty i realizacje sakralne Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego dla cerkwi wrocławskich [in print].

[21] Recording of an interview with E. Cebulski (Wrocław, 30 September 2006), the archives of K. Czerni.

[22] Wacław Taranczewski (1903–1987). Malarstwo. Projekty polichromii i witraży, exhibition catalogue, Galeria KIK, Kraków, February – March 1988; M. Taranczewska, Prace monumentalne, in: Wacław Taranczewski – monografia, eds. P. Taranczewski, M. Pilikowski, Kraków 2008, p. 173.

[23] K. Czerni, Nowosielski, Kraków 2006, pp. 128–131; J. Popiel S.J., Kirchenmalerei in Polen, “Das Münster”, 21, 1968, vol. 5, pp. 319–332; A. Osęka, Między ikoną a awangardą, “Polska”, 1968, vol. 3, pp. 44–45; S. Rodziński, Świadectwo czasów, “Projekt”, 1980, vol. 6, pp. 38–45; J. Majkut, W Jelonkach za wolską redutą, “Zorza”, 1968, vol. 4, p. 16.

[24] Z. Kępiński, Wacław Taranczewski, exhibition catalogue, Muzeum Narodowe w Poznaniu, January 1958, Poznań 1958, p. 61.

[25] A. Kostołowski, Jerzy Nowosielski – rys biograficzny, in: Jerzy Nowosielski, exhibition catalogue, National Museum in Poznań, 28 March – 30 May 1993, eds. A. Kostołowski, W. Nowczyk, Poznań 1993, pp. 232–233.

[26] Letter of Nowosielski to Z. Nowosielska, undated [the fall of 1966], the archives of J. Nowosielski; a copy in the archives of K. Czerni.

[27]A. Różycka-Bryzek, Bizantyńsko-słowiańskie malowidła w gotyckich kościołach Polski pierwszych Jagiellonów, in: Między Wschodem a Zachodem, part III: Kultura artystyczna, Lublin 1992, pp. 313–347; eadem, Niezachowane malowidła “graeco opere” z czasów Władysława Jagiełły, “Annalecta Cracoviensia” XIX, 1987, pp. 295–318; and many other publications by the same author.

[28] Czechowicz 1996 (fn. 17), p. 21.

[29] Personal communication with E. Cebulski, partly corroborated by his letter to J. Nowosielski of 1978, the archives of J. Nowosielski; a copy in the archives of K. Czerni.

[30] Siemieniec (fn. 20).

[31]   Literature erroneously attributes the authorship of these icons to Adam Stalony-Dobrzański or Michał Pieczonko.

[32] M. Rusinowicz, Ikonostas Jerzego Nowosielskiego z Cerkwi Narodzenia Przenajświętszej Bogurodzicy we Wrocławiu, tapescript of a BA dissertation written under the supervision of professor A. Markowska, University of Wrocław, Faculty of Historical and Pedagogical Sciences, Wrocław 2010, p. 10.

[33]  Dates according to the documentation in the index of works by Nowosielski, stored at the Nowosielski Foundation in Kraków.

[34] Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, ed. E. Kirschbaum, vol. 2, Allgemeine Ikonographie. Fabelwesen – Kynokephalen, Rom–Freiburg–Basel–Wien 1970, pp. 26–31; L. Puhalo, Dwanaście wielkich świąt, Białystok–Vancouver 1995; J. Charkiewicz, Ikonografia świąt z liczby dwunastu, Warszawa 2007.

[35] Rusinowicz 2010 (fn. 32), p. 14.

[36] Z. and J. Nowosielscy, T. Różewicz, Korespondencja, edited and prefaced by K. Czerni, Kraków 2009, p. 68.

[37] D. Campini, Giunta Pisano Capitini e le croci dipinte romaniche, Milano 1966.

[38] Cf. the painter’s statement about the tradition of Franciscan crosses in: Zbigniew Podgórzec, Rozmowy z Jerzym Nowosielskim, Kraków 2009, pp. 324–325.

[39] K. Czerni, Krzyż z kościoła oo. Dominikanów. Warszawa-Służew, Warszawa, undated [November 2003], p. 8; M.P. Kruk, Ikony Jerzego Nowosielskiego w kaplicy świętych Borysa i Gleba przy Fundacji św. Włodzimierza w Krakowie, in: Światło Wschodu w przestrzeni gotyku – agape w Górowie Iławeckim. Materiały z konferencji naukowej w dniach 12-13 V. 2012, ed. K. Pasławska-Iwanczewska, Górowo Iławeckie 2013, pp. 55–56.

[40] Letter of Metropolitan Basil to the Conservator of Monuments in Wrocław and the Denomination Office of 17 March, 1975; the archives of the Urban Conservator in Wrocław, sign. 288/15.
[41] Letter of the Chief Conservator of Monuments at the Ministry of Culture and Art to Metropolitan Basil from 26 May, 1975; the archives of the Urban Conservator in Wrocław, sign. 288/15.

[42] The information is confirmed by Z. Jaworski, author of Nowosielski’s stained-glass windows for the Greek Catholic church in Wrocław and by E. Cebulski.

[43] Nowosielscy, Różewicz 2009 (fn. 36), p. 87.

[44] Atlas architektury Wrocławia… 1997 (fn. 17), pp. 14–15; Cerkiew św. Cyryla i Metodego we Wrocławiu. Historia świątyni, cerkiew.wroclaw.pl [accessed: 8 March 2014].

[45] E. Cebulski, Parafia prawosławna we Wrocławiu. List do redakcji, “Tygodnik Powszechny”, 1975, vol. 44, p. 3.

[46] Letter of A. Stalony-Dobrzański to E. Cebulski from 26 September 1975, the archives of E. Cebulski; a copy in the archives of  K. Czerni.

[47] Letter of E. Cebulski to J. Nowosielski from 15 October 1975, the archives of J. Nowosielski; a copy in the archives of K. Czerni

[48] Letter of A. Stalony-Dobrzański to E. Cebulski from 5 March 1976, the archives of E. Cebulski; a copy in the archives of K. Czerni.

[49] Letter of E. Cebulski to J. Nowosielski from 13 October 1978, the archives of J. Nowosielski; a copy in the archives of K. Czerni.

[50] Cerkiew św. Cyryla i Metodego… (fn. 43); Siemieniec (fn. 20).

[51] Siemieniec (fn. 20).

[52] Recording of an interview with E. Cebulski (Wrocław, 16 March 2007), the archives of K. Czerni.

[53] Ibidem.

[54] Podgórzec 2009 (fn. 38), p. 425.

[55] K. Czerni, Projekty i realizacje sakralne Jerzego Nowosielskiego dla Cerkwi Greckokatolickiej, in: Światło Wschodu… 2013 (fn. 39), pp. 87–137.

[56] Ibidem, pp. 75–77.

[57] Recording of an interview with P. Kryki (Wrocław, 30 September 2006), the archives of K. Czerni.

[58] Atlas architektury Wrocławia…. 1997 (fn. 17), pp. 10–11; Architektura gotycka w Polsce, eds. T. Mroczko, M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995, vol. II: Katalog zabytków, ed. A. Włodarek, pp. 264–265, 561; A. Grzybkowski, Kościół św. Krzyża. Przewodnik, Wrocław 1998.

[59] http://dolny-slask.org.pl/510173,Wroclaw,Krypta_sw_Bartlomieja.html [accessed: 21 March 2014]

[60] Notatki. Część czwarta. Jerzy Nowosielski, exhibition catalogue, Galeria Starmach in Kraków, February – March  2008, Kraków  2008, p. 59.

[61] K. Czerni 2013 (fn. 55), pp. 95–103.

[62] Cf. reproduction of the icon Pantocrator with the Apostles by master Dmitri, 1565, National Museum in Lviv, in: V. Otkovych, V. Pylypiuk, Ukrainian icons XIV–XVIII cent., Lviv 1999, p. 53.

[63] Halina Onichimiuk-Piękny, painter, the student and assistant of J. Nowosielski (diploma in 1992), with whom she cooperated on monumental religious projects in Tychy, Wrocław, Górowo Iławeckie, Bielsko Podlaskie, and Wesołea.

[64] Recording of an interview… 2006 (fn. 57).

[65] Letter of J. Nowosielski to Z. Nowosielska from 19 September1985, the archives of J. Nowosielskiego; a copy in the archives of K. Czerni.

[66] Archbishop Mirosław Marusyn (1924–2009), secretary to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; he held the post until his retirement in 2001.

[67] Letter of J. Nowosielski to H. Paprocki from 13 July 1987, the archives of H. Paprocki; a copy in the archives of K. Czerni.

[68] Recording of an interview…, see fn. 57.

[69] Piękno rodzi się w pracy. Z szefem Pracowni Witraży we Wrocławiu Zbigniewem Jaworskim rozmawia Anna Radziukiewicz, “Przegląd Prawosławny”, 2011, vol. 11, pp. 33–34.

[70] Letter of J. Nowosielski to A. Gąsieniec from 28 October 1996, the archives of A. Gąsieniec; a copy in the archives of K. Czerni.

[71] Nowe biskupstwo greckokatolickie. Ingres na Ostrowie Tumskim, “Gazeta Wyborcza”, 5 August 1996, p. 4.

[72] Obraz nie ręką ludzką uczyniony. Ikony Jerzego Nowosielskiego i archetypy, exhibition catalogue, ed. M. Bogucki, Książ Castle Wałbrzych BWA Art Gallery, 17 May – 10 June 2008.

[73] E. Małachowicz, W. Brzezowski, Kościół z klasztorem Świętego Wincentego we Wrocławiu, Wrocław 1993; Atlas architektury Wrocławia… 1997 (fn. 17), pp. 20–21.

[74] http://www.cerkiew.net.pl/index.php?glowna=zaryshistorii&cerkiew=cerkiew [last accessed: 8 March 2014].

[75] Recording of an interview…, see fn. 58.

[76] Ibidem.

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