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Michał Haake

Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań


The article deals with the methodology of art history; based on the interpretation of Pietà by Tadeusz Boruta, it argues the need to analyze how pictorial representation (motifs, forms, colour, texture) is related to the plane of the painting. The multi-layered meaning of Boruta’s work emerges from the fact the painting brings to light the inscription of motionless figures in the structure of temporality, where “before”, “after”, and the immediate “now” of the seeing process are distinguished. This structure sends a message about the essence and mission of the human life of Christ, and the incarnation of God, which is directed at every human being in the Eucharist.

Keywords: Tadeusz Boruta, Pietà, religious art


There is a boundary between a painting as a trinket, a beautiful thing, and an object creating the subjective space. I am interested in creating such a reality of the work of art in which the viewer becomes its active participant. I want the observers to exist in the subjective space, losing the distance between the picture and themselves. I want to make us – through the means of a canvas covered with paint – to feel our existence more intensely in its meaningfulness, which we so easily lose in the rush of daily life.

Tadeusz Boruta

In the history of art studies one can notice two conflicting views: the former claiming that the meaning of an artistic achievement is revealed through the relation between the work and the audience,[1] the latter claiming that the meaning of a work of art is determined finally through the context of its creation.[2] On numerous occasions it has been claimed that only the latter view can be applied to academic art study. Such an approach to what academic art history is or should be does not allow to treat the analysis presented below as conforming to the academic requirements, firstly, because the present author renounced interpreting the work as a depiction of human consciousness and attitude, and if he does so, it is the result of a different kind of thinking. Maintaining the belief that “the basic subject of the history of art is an individual work of art”,[3] the present author is consciously striving not to reach outside it, which could give rise to doubts about fulfilling the historian’s task, defined as “reaching the sphere of human actions”.[4] This study can also expect to be charged with slipping into art criticism, satisfied only with the present of the investigated object, activating only the recipient’s “aesthetic sensitivity” and concentrating the writer’s attention only on “his own experience”, resulting in “divorcing the observed object from its historical context”, as well as introducing the work into our “own time”, instead of, as becomes a historian “to move forward in search of a human being different from him, whose actions in their various dimensions and aspects are the only subject of history”.[5]

If, after all, we have decided to stick to the selected course, it is because of the fact that the view of the history of art as an academic discipline summarized briefly above is based on the belief that the aesthetic experience, also called “emotions” (with a derogative connotation) does not belong at all to “the operations appropriate for academic study” and can be mentioned only for purely “literary reasons”.[6] We think, however, that the task of the researcher is to examine reality in all its complexity; in the humanities it means a search for the most adequate language to describe this complexity, even if it should lead – as it happens in case of works of art– to the experience of the fallibility of language, to the boundaries of speech. The aesthetic influence belongs to the immanent properties of the artwork, and the manner of such influence is presupposed in such an ergon. The postulate to separate academic research from the description of this influence is a reduction of reality in the name of a particular conception of what research means, and actually is contradictory to research defined as the means of explaining reality. Such a description does not require, as it has been suggested, including in the history of art either aesthetics or “the psychology of aesthetic reception”.[7] Why should the art experience, belonging to everyday human experience, be described only in philosophical terms? Why should only scientific psychology help us to understand the importance of art which has been obvious to people for centuries? Finally, why should encountering an artwork not be akin to religious experience, as has been pointed out on numerous occasions?[8] Secondly, if we read that the artwork is studied academically only when it is approached as a “particular record of the human approach to the world, the human penetration of the world inaccessible to other instruments and attempts”,[9] we should ask, then, whether such a work of art is really a means of experiencing the external world (which, obviously, could also happen e.g. in a situation when a landscape helps one to become familiar with the sights of a remote country) and whether it does not first and foremost bear evidence about the relationship between man and art, this peculiar phenomenon with which people commune on a special basis.


It is also worthwhile to address the claim that the subject of the history of art should be the situation in which the work is created, and its academic study should involve the analysis of the “conditions under which the given activity is to be performed” and the artists’ reflection on these conditions, or the “attitude” they take “toward this activity”.[10] The importance of these relations was pointed out by Michael Baxandall, for whom they became the starting point for defining “the intention of pictures”. Its explication, performed by this researcher using both old and modern art, should not, however, in his opinion, become “the narrative of what went on in the painter’s mind”, that is to be concerned with the factors which have to be taken into account when we talk about the artist’s attitude, but it should be “an analytical construct about his ends and means, as we infer them from the relation of the object to identifiable circumstances”.[11] At the same time, this inference is always made by “the observer”, recognizing the context in the way unavoidably different from the way it is done by “the participant”, who “understands and knows his culture with an immediacy and spontaneity the observer does not share” and “can act within the culture’s standards and norms without rational self-consciousness, often indeed without having formulated standards as standards”.[12] FollowingPatterns of Intention we have to claim that the study of “the intention of picture”, although “[i]t stands in an ostensive relation to the picture itself”, it is not synonymous with the recognition, also present in the history of art, of the “pictorial order” dominant over the context and “a genuine sense of its human affinity with us”.[13]

The pictorial order is defined by Baxandall as set in the relation between the created space and the picture’s surface, important for artists, although often overlooked by theorists and, what is most important, transgressing the notionality accompanying the painting practice. It co-defines the constructional organization of the picture and is constituted through the perception and emotional experience of the work.[14] Earlier the idea about the immanent importance of the mutual influence between the depth (or space) and the surface in case of every work of pictorial art was also put forward by Günter Fiensch on the basis of his studies on the 15th-century Flemish art.[15] The analysis of the pictorial order is then a study in what the work itself reveals, as in the relation between the created space and the picture’s surface it creates a kind of visibility not existent before. The proposed course of action does not mean, then, a description of the viewer’s “emotions” but what the work itself says, as it differs from other visible things, nature or tools because “it has something to tell us”.

Trusting visual experience in an academic study of a work of art does not involve the assumption about the possibility of the unfettered “pure” vision. On the contrary, when one allows the work to be what it is and how it is, our perception slowly purifies itself from various previous ideas about the world, art and history, with which we approach the work.

In the dispute about the validity of the approach which takes into account the authority of the pictorial order it is worthwhile to remember Baxandall’s idea that the possibility of testing the validity of interpretation by others is possible only through presenting by its author the visual pictorial order. In other words, “only such statements about a work of art which are evident during its examination can be considered reasonable”.[16] Through this inferential criticism “restores the authority of a common visual experience of a pictorial order”,[17] which means that a verification of an academic judgement is open to anybody who wishes to look at the picture. This approach is, then, through its very own nature open to dialogue, because, as the American researcher writes, “[a]fter all, why else than for dialogue do something as hard and as odd as attempting to verbalize about pictures?”.[18]

Choosing for the subject of our interpretation the pictorial order of Tadeusz Boruta’s Pietà [Fig. 1] we call for an understanding, deeper than in case of Baxandall’s of the relation between space and the surface of the picture. A pictorial image is constituted through putting pigment on the ground (meaning a primed canvas, wall or plank), but as the artist and the viewer look at the picture, the ground acquires a quality which is not only the material base for the illusion of the represented world, because its presence is experienced also in the portrayed world as the plane penetrating the representation. As we are standing in front of the picture, our vision refers, even unconsciously, all the visible elements (both figurative and abstract) to its plane – it is its medium. When we look at the picture the plane is – together with its boundaries – experienced in a primary way, in an indispensable and immanent way. At the same time, since the elements of the representation are so numerous, the plane remains “the Unity” and “the encompassing” (das Umgreifende), to use Jaspers’s terms. It contains the represented elements and at the same time it moves beyond – ittranscends outside the represented world. Its authority over the representation experienced during looking, its being something more than the whole visible world, raises it to the level of something unavoidable or binding in the context of the work’s reception. As has been mentioned, a special role in constituting this authority is assigned to the boundaries of the picture. They are objectively present and at the same time they are the picture’s horizon, as far as they never belong fully to it.

The relation which is possibly most difficult to explain without an illustrative example is the fact that all the features of the plane discussed here are revealed not because in case of painting the plane is inevitably present, it is simply there. There have been made numerous representations which are indifferent to the plane order, and which locate the power of their influence in creating an illusion or the stylistic treatment of their subject. It has been noted on many occasions that this is the particular feature of the painterly depiction. Nevertheless, in such a case the plane would be in a way a foreign body whose resistance needs to be overcome (in the light of that definition the sculptor is successful when the viewer forgets that the figure’s robe is made of wood or stone). Is this view, however, in keeping with the fact that the enjoyment of art has its source, among others, in the acceptance of this particular feature of their being executed on a plane or in wood, in experiencing them in this relation of rooted otherness from any other view, in experiencing the conformity between the representation and its medium? In case of a painting this conformity means, in provisional and general terms, the “participation” of the plane in shaping of the depicted world. Perhaps the difference between an artistic and non-artistic painting lies precisely in the fact that in case of watching the former one can experience directly the mutual conditioning of the depiction and the medium as the pleasing platitude?[19]

Boruta’s painting mentioned above is one of several works known to the present author, painted in 2003–2004 and dealing with the subject of pietà. Two of them feature a similar setting and composition, the picture being filled with the depiction of a naked man lying in the arms of a woman enveloped in a heavily folded drapery [Fig. 2, 3]. We choose for our interpretation the painting which is in our opinion the more succesful one – The Pietà of 2004, in the holdings of the National Museum in Wrocław [Fig. 1].

Apart from the title, the Gospel story is also alluded to by the mutual relation of both figures, reminiscent of the numerous pietas known from the traditional European painting. However, neither hands nor feet of the man bear any nail marks, which rules out his being identified as Christ and the other figure as Mary. In the interpretation below the use of these names refers to the immanent relation between both characters and the biblical story, to the process of identifying them with Christ and his mother.

A few features of the painting are reminiscent of the art of past centuries, the most obvious formal allusion being the symmetrical composition and the possibility of containing it within a triangle. The red-orange drapery which forms the background for the figures, creates through its fold emphasized by strong light contrasts a structure complicated enough to be associated with the dress folds of late Gothic figures. Both the figures and the drapery have almost sculptural character, filling the space like bas-relief. This feature make Boruta’s work similar to the sculptural panels of the medieval altar. The affinities with old art are augmented by the spatial construction of the picture. Undoubtedly the depiction of the dead body against the “background” of the figure supporting it and the characteristic arrangement of the dead body (the head tilting inertly to a side is at the top, the arms spread to the sides and the bent legs are at the bottom of the composition) may remind one of Michelangelo’s works (not so much the work from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but rather the pietas Palestrina, Del Duomo [Fig. 4] and Rondanini[20]). However, in Boruta’s picture, unlike in the works of the Renaissance master, Mary is not standing but sitting on the ground or a low pedestal, with her legs spread to the sides. It makes Christ’s legs, although still bent, thrust out towards the viewer. On the other hand, the inert body leaning against Mary is not foreshortened but seen, as it were, from above (that is, differently than e.g. Christ in Mantegna’s famous picture). The overlapping points of view – we see Mary straight ahead, we see the dead man from above – makes the whole composition, although it depicts clearly a spatial situation, appear flattened. Christ, with his head in the background, is situated almost parallel to the picture surface. The transformation taking place here is reminiscent of the peculiar flattening of the “realistic” depiction in the medieval low-reliefs (we mean here only an association, not the structural rule) [il.6].

Equally interesting are the differences between the medieval depictions and Boruta’s Pietà, by which we do not mean iconographic questions. Differently from an altar panel (assuming such a generalization is not an imposition), the depiction in the discussed picture clearly implies the transgression of the work’s boundaries. Standing directly in front of the picture one could have a feeling that the red drapery is endless (like rocks or the scintillating burning bush with no stable outline), that it stretches into infinity outside the picture (its identification as a cloak or any other kind of a useful piece of cloth seems to be completely fruitless). The drapery is associated with some kind of limitless entity from which Mary emerges, with only a fragment of her face, hands and feet near the picture’s borders visible, holding Christ, directly opposite the viewer, “here and now”.

In presence of the infinite drapery the shape of the image can be perceived at first as a limitation which allows to show only its fragment, especially since Mary’s head and feet do not fit within the picture, and are cut off by the frame. The format seems not to match the picture, and its flatness is imposed on the sculptural poetics. If this feeling does not bother the viewers standing in front of the picture, it is not only because of the fact that for them the surface is the ultimate point of reference, influencing the whole representation in the process of perceiving the work. It is also because the emergence of the figures from the drapery is further defined by the gradation of the less prominent folds to the sides of the composition, through the swelling folds covering Mary to the massive body of the lying man placed entirely within the picture. Together with the centralization of Christ’s figure the drapery becomes for him a visual frame identical with the shape of the surface and is presented as touching against the borders of the picture. It results in a particular affinity between the stretch of the drapery and its containment within the picture. The surface becomes through this an “all-encompassing authority”.

In turn, the affinity between the figures and the surface order takes place through inscribing them within the triangle whose vertices are Mary’s head and feet. This triangle is repeated on a smaller scale in the figure of Christ, drawn by the dead man’s head situated below Mary’s head, his arms forming the sides of the figure and his hands above the woman’s feet. Over this triangle another one is superimposed, created together by both figures – its vertices are marked by Mary’s left hand on Jesus’s chest and her son’s both hands. Thus the contradiction between the size of the drapery – the world out of which the figures emerge, and the picture itself is overcome also in the relation between the figures.

The concurrence of the infinite drapery with picture’s format reflects the first subject of the work, resulting from the relation between the possibility of representation (we are standing, after all, in front of the picture), the question of infinity connected with the extra-pictorial (drapery) and the representation of Christ’s body. The concurrence of these aspects means that the infinite can be both left to the viewer’s speculations (the drapery unfolding outside of the picture’s frame) and gains visibility together with the representation of the Saviour.

The emergence of Mary and Christ from the red background is logical. Despite Mary’s clasping her son, she is almost completely separated from him through the drapery. The proximity of both figures is thus mediated through what is infinite and all-encompassing. The viewer’s gaze is directed to “the beginnings” of the process of the emergence of the figures from the background – it is lead by Christ’s bent legs directed to the left (in particular the left, uncovered one, whose massive thigh has a significant visual weight) and his right open hand. It is painted more clearly than his left hand, and set against the shadow cast on the drapery it acquires more dynamic. Christ’s legs and his right hand direct the viewer’s gaze to Mary’s foot near the left side of the picture. What is peculiar is the fact that the foot is not so much seen in a fragment, indicating its invisible, putative parts, but is an element supplemented by the drapery whose special arrangement seems to create its heel. This visible affinity between the foot and the drapery defines the initial stage of figure’s emergence. The element contrasts with Christ’s powerful left leg, depicted in its entirety. In the described relation is noticeable a temporal distinction in the process of emergence: first Mary, than Christ. At the same time, placing the dead man’s left foot parallel to picture’s border aligns the appearance of this figure with the order of the “all-encompassing”.

Christ’s left foot is at the same time directed toward picture’s lower border. A peculiar compositional device makes the right foot parallel to it. Although the ways the dead man’s legs are depicted, especially regarding their visibility, cannot be compared (one of them is exposed, the other one is covered), his feet cannot be perceived separately. The right foot seems to gain a perceivable equality with the left foot, which the right leg does not have in relation with the left leg. In this “rivalry” of the feet, actualized only during the viewing, the right one is supported by being situated closer to the picture’s border and on its axis, relating to the viewer’s position in front of the painting. In the intuitive experience of the work the mutual arrangement of the feet gives the impression of a shifted element, or the feeling of “the same thing” in a different place. Such a relation introduces a temporal interval. The relation of the right foot to the viewers, their being “here and now” makes the other one appear “there and then”. It is clearly expressed in the arrangement of the drapery surrounding the feet. The feet are separated by a fold of the cloth, which helps to perceive a difference in their positions. The left one touches a darker, narrow cloth fold which directs the viewer’s gaze to the left, to the lower corner of the picture and outside it. On the other hand, the right foot drowns in the folds which create a kind of nest around it. Its position on the axis, directly in front of the viewer and in relation to “here and now” is strengthened in this way.

The character of this “then” manifests itself through the part of Christ’s body which is furthest to the left – his right hand. It is placed between his knees, pressed between them and strains to open. It connotes a gesture which often accompanies pain and suffering. “There and then” refers to the state of agony, in the context of the picture’s theme, to Christ’s passion. The drama exuding from the open hand is emphasized by sharp, stormy folds above it and Christ’s knees.

Together with the right foot on the picture’s axis and referring to the viewer’s “here and now” are situated Mary’s head and her left hand. Her gesture touching Christ’s body makes it tangible and with reference to the drapery isolating the body – “accessible”.

In the same zone the drapery “enters within” the dead man’s body: at the bottom, between his right leg and left thigh, and at the top, over his arm. Mary’s left hand is placed on the fragment of the drapery covering Christ’s arm and between him and the broad fold covering the woman’s body. In other words, Mary is situated “between” her son’s covering and her own. It refers to the temporal interval – Christ comes first, Mary after him.

Covering Christ’s arm and Mary’s gesture lead to a perceptible division between the dead man’s head and his torso and left arm, owing to which the arm acquires a peculiar “autonomy” and “independence”. The artist portrayed it emerging from the drapery covering Christ’s body (i.e. in a way happening after the covering), and at the same time it is separated by the drapery from Christ’s back. The material divides in this section into two parallel parts, running at an angle downwards. The one on the right covers Mary’s left leg. The one on the left ends with a horizontal fold directed to the left, covering Christ’s buttocks and left thigh, while the one on the right blends with Mary’s foot. Mary’s foot in turn is the mirror reflection of the horizontal fold pointing in the opposite direction and sets the new orientation. Importantly enough, Christ’s left hand reaches outside Mary’s left foot and in this way belongs completely to the section defined by this new orientation. Christ’s left hand is presented also as the reverse of his right hand: the former is open towards the viewer, the latter is open towards the drapery. Thus in the right section of the picture we can see Christ’s body covered by the drapery, causing Christ to “open himself” towards this drapery, which takes place in separation from the body. Christ is in the picture in a way appropriated by the sources, reabsorbed by them. In contrast to the left part, where the folds of the cloth billow, here they fall into soft folds.

Mary’s foot below, “cut off” by the frame, is easily supplemented by the viewer’s imagination with the invisible toes. At the same time it belongs to the extra-pictorial infinite space. Thus the infinite can be defined as something imaginable.

Taking up the subject of pietà, Tadeusz Boruta continues the tradition of picturing the biblical history going back to the late 13th century, when so-called devotio moderna (modern devotion) brought about significant changes in the conception of the religious painting. That time witnessed the growing popularity of the images whose aim was to induce in their viewers an empathy, stronger than before, for Christ’s passion. The images were based on a select passion scene, which meant cancelling the narrative dimension of the picture, encouraging contemplation. The discussed work, however, is something more than just an approach to the iconographic theme. The painter’s intention was, through alluding to a certain iconographic context “to give a deeper perspective to human experience, speak about suffering, guilt, transience, death”, to pose questions about “human identity”.[21] Such a purpose naturally brings up a question whether the subject of pietà should be approached only as a type of human suffering,[22] or as a reference to a deeper meaning of human existence.

The problem of the connection between the pietà and the existential context (assuming they are not identical) allows us to throw a new light on the artist’s opinions about the motifs of the nude and drapery used by him for this purpose. The depictions of a man throwing off the material covering him, recurring in Boruta’s work, should mean “the outward manifestation of our identity and its changes”. With some narrations this act symbolizes “a radical change of life”: St Francis stripping himself, painted by the artist, means “the rejection of his previous easy and affluent lifestyle” and “placing himself in care of the Church” (the works from the period 2003–2005).[23] The male body portrayed in the discussed picture is an analogous manifestation of identity. However, what makes it visually different from the images of St Francis is the fact that, first, the manifestation is directed towards the viewers, and second, the drapery is not a practical item of clothing and does not mean the rejection of the previous condition. Even if the painting were not called Pietà, these aspects would require a special approach to this manifestation of human body and human existence.

The relation between the religious subject and the existential context is constructed by the characteristic features of the figures discussed above, which allows us to define them not as the Gospel characters but as the figures essentially related to Christ and Mary. Such a characteristics is dangerous since the meaning of the image is fully contained in the poses of the figures imitating traditional iconography. If the idea of the work were contained only in this device, it would not be that much different from hundreds of so-called tableaux vivants inspired by well-known paintings. However, Boruta’s picture is saved from such a trivial mystification owing to the relation between it and its viewer, since the observers can recognize the confirmation of their position directly in front of the picture, in “here and now” thanks to the axis running from Christ’s right foot to Mary’s face and left hand. Thanks to further shifts within painting’s structure (the mutual relation between Christ’s feet, the relation between his left hand and his torso) the observer recognizes being directed in time to what was before and what is going to happen later. (Leaving the figures just in the poses reminiscent of the pietà would not allow the observers to realize this temporal dimension being constituted between the surface, the image and themselves). This is the first level of meaning in Boruta’s work.

The second level is formed through the possibility of recognising by the viewer the primary determinants, such as: the origins of the figures facing the viewer from the “all-encompassing”, the ontological precedence of the figure holding the lying man (regarding the mother-child relationship), the mediation of the “all-encompassing authority” in the relation between the figures (mother and child), their turning to the “all-encompassing”, meaning the opposite of agony. Through being situated “here and there”, opposite the lying figure, the viewer relates fully to these determinants as well.

The third level of meaning is set by the fact that the temporal span of human physical existence is defined as not different from the history, not only of the passion (agony as a part of life), but also the whole of Christ’s earthly visible existence, from his birth to resurrection. In this way his figure is recalled as the basis for understanding the essence of humanity.

The fourth level relates to the fact that portraying a naked body as originating in the infinite (the sequence from the drapery to the naked figure) while comparing this body to Christ’s refers the painting to the issue of God’s incarnation, and at the same time to the problems of picturing and representation. God’s assumption of human shape was used in the iconoclastic disputes as an argument for revoking the Old Testament prohibition against portraying living creatures and the infinite, all-encompassing, invisible God himself: “[T]o give form to the Deity is the height of folly and impiety. And hence it is that in the Old Testament the use of images is not common. But after God in His bowels of pity became in truth man for our salvation, not as He was seen by Abraham in the semblance of a man, nor as He was seen by the prophets but in being truly man, and after He lived upon the earth, and dwelt among men, worked miracles, suffered, was crucified, rose again and was taken back to Heaven, since all these things actually took place and were seen by men […] the Fathers gave their sanction to depicting these events on images”.[24]

The fifth level of meaning is derived from the relation between Christ’s body and viewers’ “here and now” on one hand and Mary’s ability to touch this body on the other hand. It is being touched precisely in the moment of being directed towards the viewer. This relationship is the visualization of the possibility of directing Christ’s tangible body towards man and reveals the idea of the Eucharist.

A work of art has a direct impact on the viewer. Apparently, as the above analysis has shown more than adequately, its description creates a distance between the work and the viewer, alien to the nature of the former. However, it does not happen when the word realizes its insufficiency for the expression of the viewer’s experience. It can be proven by the fact that the phases of the viewing process, identified arduously during its description, in fact co-exist in the moment of the work’s perception and experiencing its truth. Thanks to that a work of art possesses a density of significance which the word cannot fathom.


Translated by Monika Mazurek

[1] Among research methods the closest to this view are: perception psychology, reception aesthetics, historical and artistic hermeneutics.

[2] Cf. among others: W. Hoffman, Der Kontext hat das letzte Wort, in: “Idea” 7, 1988, pp. 67–74.

[3] P. Skubiszewski, Elementy metodologii, in: Wstęp do historii sztuki, vol. I, Przedmiot – metodologia – zawód, Warszawa 1973, p. 216.

[4] W. Juszczak, Dzieło sztuki czy fakt historyczny?, in: idem, Fakty i wyobraźnia, Warszawa 1979, p. 15.

[5] Ibidem, p. 16.

[6] Ibidem, p. 19.

[7] Ibidem, p. 20.

[8] Cf.: L. Kołakowski, Horror metaphisicus, transl. M. Panufnik, Warszawa 1990, pp. 108–109; M. Brötje, Der Spiegel der Kunst. Zur Grundlegung einer existential-hermeneutischen Kunstwissenschaft, Stuttgart 1990, pp. 52–54.

[9] Juszczak (ft. 4), p. 21.

[10] Ibidem, p. 24.

[11] M. Baxandall, Prawda a inne kultury. „Chrzest Chrystusa” Piera Della Francesca, transl. E. Wilczyńska, in: “Artium Quaestiones” 5, 1991, p. 113 [109] (the text is the translation of the chapter “Truth and Other Cultures: Piero Della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ” in: M. Baxandall, Patterns of Intention. On the Historical Explanation of Pictures, New Haven–London 1986. The author analyzes, among others, the pictures by: P. della Francesca Baptism of Christ, J.B.S. Chardin A Lady Taking Tea and P. Picasso Portrait of Kahnweiler) [Translator’s note: the numbers in square brackets refer to the pages of the original].

[12] Ibidem, p. 113–114 [109].

[13] Ibidem, p. 119 [115].

[14] Ibidem, pp. 136–139.

[15] G. Fiensch, Form und Gegenstand. Studien zur Niederländischen Malerei des 15. Jahrhunderts, Köln–Graz 1961, pp. 3–8.

[16] Ibidem, p. 2.

[17] Baxandall (ft. 11), p. 141 [137].

[18] Ibidem, p. 142 [137].

[19] Cf.: Brötje (ft. 8); idem, Bildsprache und Intuitives Verstehen, Hildesheim–Zürich–New York 2001. Brötje’s ideas are discussed in: M. Bryl, Suwerenność dyscypliny. Polemiczna historia historii sztuki od 1970 roku, Poznań 2009, pp. 580–621.

[20] It could also derive from numerous works inspired by these sculptures.

[21] T. Boruta, Przemiany, Częstochowa 2007, p. 4.

[22] Such is the intention behind the cycle La Pietà by Grzegorz Podgórski. The artist claims that the pietà is “a symbol of compassion, devotion and mercy” and does not “belong” irrevocably to any particular religion but has existed for thousands of years, “for as long as man has been directed by emotions”. The artists produces photographs showing people in the poses similar to Michelangelo’s sculpture Pietà di San Pietro; they are not, however, Mary and Christ but so-called ordinary people who show mercy to each other (married couples, siblings, a homosexual couple). The work is not blasphemous. The artist’s intention is clear and I approve of it.  Nevertheless, we must not think that the artist brings the iconographic theme under review.  Nobody claims that Madonna’s pain has nothing to do with human mercy. Still, reducing Madonna’s pain only to its human dimension is a sign of ignorance (or possibly ill will).

[23] Boruta (ft. 21), p. 5.

[24] Jan z Damaszku, O prawowitej wierze, in: Myśliciele, kronikarze i artyści o sztuce. Od starożytności do 1500 roku, J. Białostocki ed., Gdańsk 2001, p. 156. [John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, transl. S.D.F. Salmond, Aberdeen 1898, pp. 842–843].

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