The first half of the 20th century was a period of vital importance in the history of Polish culture. It included the 20 years of independence, spanned between the two World Wars. The aspiration to harmonize diverse traditions with the modernity in the re-emerging Polish state encouraged dynamic development of artistic life. A peculiar case was the Polish eastern frontier, where the richness of the historical heritage of various communities, which had coexisted for centuries, created a flourishing original culture; this culture was about to perish irretrievably in the storm of history.
In the shadow of spectacular changes and the accompanying conflicts, a realization grew that it was necessary to introduce the works of religious art in the reality of the modern society, and to leave the church walls and the narrow circle of ecclesiastical patrons. In most cases, they held conservative views on the form of sacred art, which imposed restrictions on the creativity of artists. Owing to some steps taken towards those goals, religious art was for a few decades present in the official circulation of art, until – after the pause caused by the World War– it was nearly pushed into oblivion in the real-socialist state, and functioned only half-legally.
A considerable role in the theory and practice of religious art of that time was played by exhibitions and contests, the aim of which was, firstly, evoking the interest of distinguished artists in the specific artistic activity addressed at the Church, and secondly, forming the aesthetic sense of priests and the whole community of believers. This issue is presented in the article by Joanna Wolańska. In her discussion of a range of exhibitions and the accompanying opinions of critics, artists and clergymen, the researcher from Krakow shows the evolution of postulates and expectations, which was a manifestation of a desire to overcome the commonly observed, growing stagnation in this field of art. At the same time, this article is a perfect introduction to the issues connected with the religious wall painting in Poland in the first decades of the 20th century. The Author offers a synthetic picture of the stylistic tendencies and changes of that time, recalling numerous artists and their most famous works.
Monumental religious painting of the Second Commonwealth of Poland is also the subject of the monograph article by Maciej I. Orzechowski. Presenting the paintings in the Basilian Greek Catholic church in Zhovkva, the Author discusses an intriguing clash between the iconography typical of the Latin Church and the solutions applied in the churches of Eastern Christendom. The painting works were carried out in the atmosphere of agitation, connected with the intensifying Polish-Ukrainian conflict, and the difficult history of the Basilian Order and the church itself, located on the cultural frontier, resulted in the creation of a particularly interesting complex of paintings.
The next two articles that we present to the Readers are devoted to rather unknown Polish stained-glass makers of the first half of the 20th century. Irena Kontny discusses the works of the Silesian artist Fryderyk Romańczyk, pointing out his associations with Wyspiański’s work, while Danuta Czapczyńska presents the basic facts about the activity of the unjustly forgotten Warsaw studios of stained-glass producers, Franciszek Białkowski and Władysław Skibiński.
The fact that articles on stained-glass painting are so often published in “Sacrum et Decorum” reflects the noticeable progress in the research on stained glass in the recent years. Intensification of the research work should be attributed to the energetic activities of the Association for Stained Glass Art “Ars Vitrea Polona”, of which both Authors are members, and to the impressive project that is being realized by Corpus Vitrearum Polska.
In the article opening this volume, Joanna Wolańska recalls the appeals that were constantly reappearing in the discussion on the Polish religious art of 1930s, that Church orders should be commissioned to distinguished artists regardless of their worldview. Those proposals anticipated the famous appeal to artists, formulated by Father Couturier already after the Second World War. One of many answers to his appeal was the famous Chapel of Ronchamp; diverse and often polarized ways of its reception and scientific analysis are discussed by Cezary Wąs in his article, which is a continuation of the reflections published in the previous volume of “Sacrum et Decorum”.
The last text presented in this volume, by Father Benignus Wanat, is a discussion of the renovation works conducted in the 20th century (mainly after the WW2) in the Carmelite church and monastery complex in Poznań.
The present volume, though larger than the previous ones, contains fewer articles, which cannot escape the attention of our faithful readers. However, it is our opinion that our demand that the texts should be shortened would bear negatively on their subject-related content. We do hope our Readers will share this opinion.
Traditionally, we express our gratitude to the authorities of the Rzeszów University, the ASSECO Company in Poland, and the President of Rzeszów. It is owing to their support that the publication of the new volume of our journal was possible.
Translated by Anna Ścibor-Gajewska