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Dorota KudelskaThe Catholic University of Lublin


Jacek Malczewski’s paintings often deal with biblical subjects, but strictly sacred pictures, i.e. intended for worship, are in his work very rare. When discussing the artist’s faith, it should be mentioned that apart from the habit of prayer he learnt at home, as a young man he was a member of St. Vincent de Paul Society encouraging not only charity work, but also systematic reading of the Old and New Testament and other spiritual texts.

The two Crucifixions painted by Malczewski are similar in their composition (the first one, from the family chapel belonging to the Konopkas of Breń at St Catherine’s Church in Olesno, known only from photographs, was painted in 1898; the other, in All Saints Church in Bobowa was painted around 1903). The documentation presented in the article helps to recreate the circumstances of making of both pictures and their dating. The author confronts the character of the Crucifixions with the “optimistic” subjects recommended for general church teaching, such as the Virgin Mary and the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, stressing the hope for salvation.

The way the Bobowa Crucifixion is painted emphasizes the expressionistic, cadaverous features of Jesus’s body. The model was a suicide, whose body was set in the appropriate pose by the artist in the autopsy room at the Department of Anatomy in the Unit of Forensic Medicine, whose head, Prof. L. Wachholtz was Malczewski’s friend. The traces of this model are clearly visible in the Bobowa picture – the vertical beam of the cross has a crack identical to the crack in desk supporting the suicide’s body in the photograph. Other visible elements are the wire stuck into the arm and the pegs under the armpits, supporting the body and helping to place the body in the position appropriate for forensic photography. The perversity of this concept (the suicide, judged by the standards of these times, juxtaposed with the physicality of God-man and its results) has much in common with the contemporary literature which used often hyperbolic monumentalization. Such an approach to this subject was, however, hard to swallow both for the provincial parish priest and his parishioners, and for that reason the painting was removed from the main altar.

keywords: Jacek Malczewski, Crucifixion, Olesno, Bobowa


Jacek Malczewski on many occasions painted scenes from the Bible, often choosing forgotten iconographic motifs (such as Ezekiel’s prophecies) or took up in a novel way those constantly present in the European painting tradition (e.g. the life of St John the Baptist). However, only four pictures of this artist known today have sacred character, that is, in my understanding of this term, they were intended as the objects of worship. These are: two Crucifixions from Olesno and Bobowa, discussed below [fig. 1–2], Triptych with the Virgin Mary from the palace chapel in Sandomierz (currently in the parish church in Rzepiennik Strzyżewski) and Crucifixion from the side aisle at the church in Domosławice (formally different from the ones discussed here and therefore omitted).[1]

Crucifixion from St Catherine’s Church in Olesno is known nowadays from two photographs (the painting was stolen in 1983).[2] It was intended for the chapel of the Konopka family from Breń. The correspondence regarding the details of painting the picture is extant. The painter spent many a night, talking with Jan Baron Konopka, who had commissioned them, about “the ultimate matters”, as he himself noted on the drawing depicting the scene in the cafe.[3] Baron was the owner of the mansion house at Krupnicza 8, where the Malczewski family were living for many years. The picture “Jesus on the Cross”, begun in 1897, was completed – as the artist promised – in January 1898. He made it according to the detailed size specification he had asked for – within the inside diameter and allowing the margin for the frame.

The story of the second Crucifixion[4] remained unclear for a longer time. As early as in 1933 even the members of the artist’s family did not know for whom it was painted and where it was placed (currently the painting hangs in the chancel of All Saints Church in Bobowa). Adam Heydel, who had the complete family documents and photographs of Malczewski’s works, published in his monograph of the artist a small reproduction of the discussed picture, dating it at 1903 [fig. 3]. Since he did not have first-hand knowledge of this work, he did not discuss it extensively.[5] The fortunes of the picture are explained almost completely in the letter of Fr. Stanisław Warchałowski to Bishop Leon Wałęga from 1920.[6] The cause of the correspondence were the claims of “Count Zborowski”, who twice demanded the return of the canvas – he claimed to be its donor, and the picture “lies neglected in the attic”. Most probably the priest refers here to Stanisław Zborowski, who was the third companion during the night conversations “about soul” mentioned above. As the letter indicates, the story of the picture began when the count “came to see the newly painted church”. He was supposed to talk with the then parish priest Antoni Mamak and support financially the work done in the church. This allows us to place these events between August 1904, when the Neo-Gothic altar and polychrome wall paintings (now no longer extant) were completed, as indicated by the report from bishop’s visitation,[7] and 1908, when Fr. Mamak left that parish.[8] Zborowski donated 200 krones, which Fr. Mamak intended to use as a contribution towards commissioning Jan Styka to paint a picture for the main altar. Zborowski argued that 1200 krones would hardly suffice for covering the cost of painting supplies and would not be enough for the picture. He proposed then to give the commission to Malczewski and he offered his services as an intermediary in this matter (“I’ll make sure he will paint it and you won’t have to pay anything more than that”). Fr. Mamak learnt later that the count “paid his friend additional 1200 krones”, which however, in his opinion, did not mean that Zborowski was the picture’s donor.


However, not only documents indicate that both Crucifixions were meant to be the objects of worship. It is also corroborated by the fact that Malczewski did not model Christ’s face on his own, which – as we know – he usually did.[9] His artistic choices in this matter are undoubtedly influenced by his religious commitment. He is known to belong as a student to the elite Society of St Vincent De Paul, which set its members high standards, both ethical and intellectual. A particular emphasis was laid on reading and exegesis of The Old and New Testament.[10] The preferred mode of action was the personal involvement in the practical charity activities and work on one’s own spiritual development (not only in the religious sense). This programme puts the members of the Society of St Vincent De Paul within the circles of Catholic modernism. We do not know for how long Malczewski was an active Society member, but the records of the books read by him (among others Ernest Hello) allow us to assume that he constantly followed intellectual disputes and publications connected with Christian spirituality and philosophy. The influence of Catholic modernism on literature has already been discussed in a number of works on the subject, but it is also known to have influenced the visual arts as well. The emphasis on the individual religious reflection on difficult life problems and theological issues, by its very nature did not fit the agenda of the official optimistic church iconography. Here the most important thing was supporting the community and reaching the lower social orders, as clearly indicated by the disseminated “optimistic” Virgin Mary motifs[11] and the allegorical depictions of Christ giving the assurance of salvation (e.g. the Sacred Heart of Jesus).

The anxiety caused by discussing and challenging the articles of Christian faith coincided with the simultaneous opening to “good news” of all cultures and religions. Hans Hofstätter indicates a particular relevance of Steiner’s anthropology for the artists interested in mysticism and religion in Steiner’s anthropology – “from his point of view the physical world is the embodiment of the spiritual world perceived by the senses and owing its existence to the spiritual world. All the attempts at religious orientation are based [then] on individualism. Their aim was not the communal faith but the personal experience of the divine”.[12]

This context was undoubtedly relevant also for Malczewski as a constant reader of the theosophical texts, which is reflected in his paintings, letters and poems. The artist was very demanding regarding the sacred art – a good picture should “convert the masses”. That is why it should be honest and its author should paint religious subjects also without any particular commissions. The interest in the modern forms should not, according to Malczewski, dominate over art in general and over sacred art in particular. This does not mean a disregard for their artistic composition and execution.

We know that the commissioner had no influence on the approach to the subject in the painting from Olesno. The picture from Bobowa was also commissioned by a friend of the artist, who knew that the painter would not accept any preconditions, which the patron certainly respected. So all the decisions regarding the composition were the artist’s own choice and they are a testimony of his religious and existential reflections.

Malczewski’s toying with the audience’s expectations, the theological and consequent iconographic importance of the subject and the significance of sacred painting for him,[13] lead here to individual meditation on the Church’s teaching about Christ’s death and resurrection. Naturally, it is not about the institutional framework or the presentation of dogma. However, the way God’s physicality is depicted is automatically connected with an answer to the question whether Christ’s nature was human or divine, and therefore whether he suffered and died on the cross like an ordinary man. Another thing here is the choice and framing of the model, which is also, as it is going to turn out, an ethical and religious decision.

Both discussed paintings are obviously the polar opposite of the depictions of the triumphing Christ, as ordained by the Council of Chalcedon. There is no symbolic conventionality, protecting God’s body from profanation by the recollection of his passion and suffering, but there are also no traces of having been pierced with the spear. The paintings, while alluding to Baroque takes on this subject, are also complicated in the way characteristic for the turn of the 20th century.

The discussed pictures are similar in terms of composition and style, although there are also some important differences. Both works are the full-length depictions of Christ, whose body is slim, even gaunt, with slightly elongated expressive shape. The dimensions of the bases are alike, and vertical and horizontal divisions of the image run similarly with respect to the edges. The horizontal stripe divisions, generally speaking, divide the canvas into three parts. Their rather clear boundaries coincide with the places semantically important for the image (the knees of the figure, the crossing beam). The stripe above the arms of the cross seems to be darkening to the right side of both pictures. At the bottom, a little below Christ’s feet there is a dark, black stripe of earth (with the upper colour edge drawn most distinctly), slightly smudged with the warm reddish brown of the next stripe, reaching in the middle of the canvas up to the knees. On both sides it clearly enters the greyish layer of billowy clouds, somewhat lightened with cold, grey-lead white, limited by the lower edge of the crossing beam. The space above the beam is shrouded with utter darkness of the clashing colours in the gloomy graphite-olive sky, into which the upper part of the vertical beam of the cross disappears. Such a gloomy, heavy part of the sky hangs right above Christ’s head in both pictures and seems to envelop the viewer as well. The backgrounds, defined through the geometry of the cross arms, divided by the stripes of muted colours, aim at almost abstract quality.

The pictures from Olesno and Bobowa allude stylistically to the Passion scenes as depicted by Spanish Baroque because of their dark tone and the feeling of being lost in space deprived of any historical setting, the tension of the body and the alienation of Christ, the large crown of thorns and only partly barked wood post in the scenes Ecce Homo and Crucifixion[14] [fig. 4, 5]. The discussed pictures clearly distance themselves from the genre, drawing on the mystical visions of the crucifixion, portraying both death and metaphysical life. The viewers were placed in the place which they could achieve only in the act uniting contemplation and creative imagination.[15]

What matters for the interpretation are three differences in the composition. The first one is the angle and the distance of the body on the cross from the screen, which we assume to be the surface of the canvas. It can be seen most clearly in the different angles of the crossing beams.

The second difference is the point of view of the intended viewer: a little below the bottom edge, to the left (Olesno) and above it, almost on a level with Christ (Bobowa); in the latter case the frame is also much closer. Although in both pictures the space behind the cross seems to be portrayed as if seen from the top of Golgotha, in the Crucifixion from Olesno we can see the remote landscape,[16] while in the Crucifixion from Bobowa the ground is dark and completely empty. The juxtaposition of a sharply drawn silhouette with painterly background is nothing exceptional in Malczewski’s work. However, in the picture from Bobowa the boundary between earth and sky is blurred. The space behind the cross can be described only in abstract terms: parallel colour stripes of varying length, covered very unevenly, toned down with other colours. It produces an impression of disorientation in space and strengthens the feeling of being lost.

Finally, both pictures differ in details of the depiction of Christ’s figure. In the picture from Olesno the face of the Saviour raised upwards is slightly turned to the left, following the direction of the slanting crossing beam. The man, despite his closed eyes (according to the description from the inventory card) is not inert. In the whole figure the greatest tension is produced by the atypical and studied position of legs. The right one, lifted upwards and leaning on the left shin is pierced with a large nail on a level with the left ankle. It causes a dramatic shift of the right knee to the front. It is closest to the viewer. The dramatic positioning of the figure clearly grows downwards (or perhaps weighs down), and concentrates in a dance-like, frenetic spasm, emphasizing the cruelty of nailing.

Crucifixion from Bobowa draws on the biblical symbolism of the Tree of Life, and similarly to the former picture presents the Gothic nailing with three nails, without suppedaneum, despite the fact that the unbarked beam is deeply notched under Christ’s feet. The beam and the arms of the cross reach the edges of the picture as if they were infinite. On the intersection of the arms there is a clear titulus (the cross and the plaque are of different colours, which indicates different kinds of wood). A particular feature of the picture is the head hanging down and the lethal stiffness of the body breaking away in the upper part from the cross surface. The man is suspended on his arms and at the same time leaning forwards. His head hanging limply down, with the face turned away, draws the viewers’ attention as the element of the composition closest to them. Undoubtedly this is a sign of death. The figure of Christ is modelled by strong, cold, artificial light, whose source is placed beyond the left edge of the picture. The light is the strongest on the feet with their toes slightly apart; despite being pierced, they do not touch the ground. Here, in contrast with the former picture, only the upper part of the body is subject to gravity, and not the whole figure. The lower part looks as if it were exempt from it. The lethal stillness is emphasized by the sculptural portrayal of the flesh and perizonium as an intermediary between the picture and the model and canvas.

In both Crucifixions the artist demonstrates not only his deep knowledge of anatomy, but also his observation of the various stages of dying and rigor mortis. The body in the picture from Bobowa is intriguing through its veristically portrayed lifelessness, all the more disconcerting because shown without visible signs of torture (without Grünewald’s brooding and exaggeration, which, at least in my opinion, introduces a kind of artistic conventionality, artistic amplification helpful in depicting the dramatization of the whole situation). Malczewski’s circumspect presentation of the truth about man’s physical death seems to dominate over the transcendence. In a natural way it focuses the viewer’s attention on the cooperation between the artist and the model which is so difficult to imagine, and difficult to achieve even for such a master of painting human figures from memory and from his imagination as the author of The Doubting Thomas.[17]

I was helped in solving this question by a pathologist, Adam Gross M.D., who pursues the subject of human corpse in painting as an offshoot of his professional interests. We were approaching the same pictures from two opposite directions. Dr Gross was looking for the pictures painted by Malczewski in the mortuary at the Department of Anatomy and the Unit of Forensic Medicine of the Jagiellonian University. When researching the history of his Department, he was looking for the lost picture from Olesno (mentioned in a press note by the Department’s founder – Prof. Leon Wachholtz), but he did not have its photograph. He also did not know the details of Malczewski’s acquaintance with Wachholtz, and he did not know about the existence of the picture from Bobowa. Gross, however, had at his disposal the archive of the mortuary photographs and, more importantly, on having seen my reproductions he shared with me his expertise and experience as a pathologist. Our exchange of letters and photographs allows me to present the findings below, which are, for a large part, our joint work.

In the 1890s the painter rented a studio from Wachholtz in a villa at Prądnik Czerwony (where he painted, among others, Introduction, Melancholy and The Vicious Circle). They also used to meet in Jaksa Chronowski Club at the Poller Hotel. The department founded by Wachholtz in 1895 specialized in expert opinions for the police – in the suicide autopsies. Although he could use other mortuaries, Malczewski chose to paint right there, alone often for many hours. On many occasions bodies were arranged and suspended especially for him. Wachholtz writes also about placing the body “on a special support similar to the position of the body on the cross”. He mentions that the artist “without a shadow of disgust or fear remained alone in the autopsy room and painted his studies of the corpses, often for several hours”.[18]

In the pictures of Malczewski there are no traces of these explicit sources of inspiration, with one exception.

Thanks to the Department’s photographic archive Gross found out that the model for the figure of Christ in the discussed picture was Michał Rycerz, who committed suicide at the age of 36.[19] The picture dated approximately for 1898 shows the corpse of man, visible down to mid-thigh, leaning against a wide, upright plank, with a visible crack on the left. The body is supported with two pegs under the armpits, the right one driven a bit higher. Such an arrangement was enforced by the technique of photographing with the box camera, which made bird’s eye shots impossible. The crack and the same proportions between the breadth of the plank and the arms of the figures in both pictures are similar to those portrayed in the photograph. In the Crucifixion from Bobowa there are also slightly asymmetrical pegs under the armpits. According to Gross, the corpse resembles the figure in the painting also from the anatomical point of view.[20]

The position of the body in the picture from Olesno, despite the fact that the portrayed Christ is still alive, in Gross’ opinion also proves the use of a model lying in the mortuary (which is clearly evinced by the arms spread at right angles to the trunk and the tilting of the head, giving the impression of it being raised). A trace of this special suspension is the fragment of an additional rod visible to the model’s right, probably supporting the lifted hands.

While in the picture from St Catherine’s Church in Olesno the connection with painting it at the mortuary is vague, in the picture from Bobowa it is very clear, not only regarding the physicality of the main figure. The important question is – why did the artist leave the trace, i.e. two kinds of supports? One should also consider the relationship between the model and the depicted figure, not only when it comes to the visual aspect, but also ethical and religious one. The supports reveal a relationship, if not with the suicide, then at least with the mortuary, with the technique of photography and of artistic composition (because of the suspended rod), if it can be called that way. Such a demonstrative uncovering of some elements of the artist’s technique makes it difficult to shift from reality to fiction depicted in the picture described by Wiesław Juszczak. The real world figures – the portrayed models – give the figures in Malczewski’s pictures their own personality to such a degree that they lose their own material and existential reality. According to Juszczak, even well-known historical figures are drawn by Malczewski into the painting’s fiction, which makes them similar to actors, who on stage surrender to the roles they play.[21] However, it is not that simple in every case, and the rule is not universal, even though it seems to work at first contact with the discussed pictures. Although Malczewski valued the freedom given, as he wrote, by “portrait oddities” where he could “put” various persons,[22] in many cases the choice of a particular actor for a particular role was important for him. It is a situation similar to a director’s position, especially if they have to deal with character actors.

We could assume that the choice of a suicide for the model was for practical reasons only – the artist was allowed to work in a particular mortuary – however, it does not provide an answer to the question about the reason for leaving the technical traces, that is both kinds of supports. Additionally, the sin of suicide was then a considered to be a particularly heinous one and was considered to be a breach of Christian duties. In the picture from Bobowa in order to show the death’s dominion the artist used many compositional devices, both in the narration and in form, and the human physicality of this particular model additionally decreases the assurance of salvation and not only plunges God in despair but makes him a failure at this particular moment. After all, the connecting element between the earthly and the transcendent is the matter “lent” to the physicality of the characters portrayed in the picture.[23]

Can it be that the use of a suicide model was a kind of provocation, taking into account the scene he was used for, since suicide resulted automatically in being excluded from the ranks of the saved? Could it be immaterial for Malczewski, a conscious, reflective Catholic prone to individual religious meditation, in view of the technical and compositional advantages? Does the use of such a body (at least for the viewers aware of the situation) not have any influence on interpretation, not complicate the portrayed Biblical scene? Does it not emphasize in a perverse way Christ embracing death which was (or was it?) avoidable? Does the disgrace of being buried outside the graveyard not coincide with the prominently displayed, mocking and contemptuous titulus? Angst and the end of humankind become the dominant feature. We do not know the artist’s reasons, but the latter picture does not lead to epiphany, especially when compared against contemporary iconographic conventions. The remaining feeling is the one of anxiety, characteristic for the modernist approach to religion. The choice of the subject and such a distinctive approach to it require individual meditation and experience; they do not rely on the simple certainty of allegory. The contemplation of annihilation portrayed in harsh light is not the way to obtain an easy comfort offered by the pretty “sweet face” Jesus gazing from cheap pictures.

The indirect comfort, if it can be called such, offered by the communal experience of unhappiness and the eternal annihilation of the universe, is very characteristic for the contemporary poetry, discussing religious issues and posing difficult questions challenging the “social pedagogics” of the officially preached dogmas. The questions discussed were difficult theological issues, passed over by the official church art, concentrated on the accessible iconographic programme. The popular subjects were the allegorical depictions of Jesus the Comforter and the scenes with Virgin Mary, advocated by the Pope Pius X in his writings fighting with the consequences of Catholic modernism, mentioned above. The Biblical passion (that is, the depiction of ontological catastrophe) was quite often used as a subject at the time close to the publication of Kasprowicz’s Dies irae (April 1899). Wojciech Gutowski pointed to the image of Christ’s agony as a christological leitmotif of the predominant pessimistic mode in the poetry of this period; the agony which is “completely isolated, excluded from the Gospel, a sort of ‘freeze frame’ repeated many times, hyperbolically monumental and absolute, filling the infinite time and space”.[24] The visual narrative of the discussed Crucifixions by Malczewski is close to these descriptions.

In the contemplative meditation the intended viewers are up high, in the picture from Bobowa directly opposite the absolutely lonely Christ, as if they were watching him from a close distance. The unreal landscape portraying the mystical emptiness of the world increases the impression of total bereavement, expanding beyond the world. In the Crucifixion from Bobowa the harsh painting of Christ is almost hyper-realistic, one step away from Crucifixions by Dali, who moved his viewpoint even higher, posing through it new questions – whose viewpoint it is and what the subject of the contemplation is.

The difficulty is in taking the risk of believing “despite everything”, despite the temptation of rejecting the mission of world’s salvation and chances of its success. The picture thus forces us to reflect on human doubt and lack of knowledge.

The depictions carrying such a message could not have been well received by common parishioners or, as it turned out, by the parish priests. In Olesno the situation was a little better, since the picture was intended for a private chapel. Nevertheless, Piotr Dobrzański thought it fit to ask Jan Bołoz Antoniewicz, the organizer of the first individual Malczewski exhibition (famous all over the country), in Lviv in 1903 (or somebody from his office) to send him an additional catalogue. He was going to give it to “the parish priest in Olesno, in whose church there is the picture of Jesus crucified, to make him appreciate this picture properly when he becomes acquainted with the works of the Master”.[25] He wanted to strengthen in this way the favourable opinion about the artist’s renown.

In Bobowa the picture placed in the main altar belonged to the parish. We do not know whether Fr. Mamak was happy with it, but certainly we know that the picture did not appeal to his successor and the congregation. It is proved by the quoted letter and the answer of the Fr. Warchałowski to Zborowski’s charges:

“The accusation that the picture is now removed to the attic is completely groundless. Since the parishioners asked me to get them another picture, because this one – as they claimed – did not inspire them with piety, I found another one, that is a copy of Our Lord Jesus by van Dyck, executed in the imperial museum in Vienna by a painter Jan Warchałowski and donated for free to the church in 1916.[26] Appreciating the high artistic value of Malczewski’s picture, I decided to keep it in the church, and for that reason immediately after removing it from the central altar I ordered with the help and guidance of a painter Kasper Żelechowski an appropriate frame in Kraków, and when it was made in 1917, I hung the picture in the church in the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows where it has been placed since then.[27] According to the experts this picture is in these times worth between 60000–80000 markas”. Let the measure of how highly valued the picture was be the fact that at the lower edge of the canvas was placed the information about the author visible from a distance (the full name of the painter on the golden background).

The artist himself could not have considered the works presented here to be the fulfilment of his ideal of the sacred painting. After all, it had to be creating “an image whose appearance would have to convert everybody”.[28] In 1906, when writing about the sacred painting, Malczewski still used future tense and presented this aim as still valid for art.


Translated by Monika Mazurek

[1] Jacek Malczewski, A Tribute to the Virgin Mary, triptych, oil on wood or pressed wood [?], signed in the right bottom corner of the right wing: “J Malczewski”; the central part: Madonna with Child and Young Angels, 110 x 40 cm; the left wing: Tobias Wandering with Angel; the right wing: St Jacek Odrowąż, both wings 54 x 22 cm; commissioned by Karol Dolański, completed in 1913. Cf.: Sztuka Sakralna w Polsce. Malarstwo, ed. T. Dobrzeniecki, J. Ruszczycówna, Z. Niesiołowska-Rotherowa, Warszawa 1958, table 286–288. One could also add the flag design for the Pauline Fathers Monastery at Jasna Góra: Jacek Malczewski, St Casimir with the Angel, approx. 1880, tempera on canvas, 106,5 x 79,5 cm, signed in the bottom right corner: „J. Malczewski”. Cf.: Katalog Domu Aukcyjnego Agra-Art of 21 May 2006; Z. Niesiołowska-Rotherowa, Opis ilustracji, in: Sztuka sakralna w Polsce. Malarstwo, ed. T. Dobrzeniecki, J. Ruszczycówna, Z. Niesiołowska-Rotherowa, Warszawa 1958, p. 365; W. Skrodzki, Polska sztuka religijna 1900–1945, Warszawa 1989, p. 26.

[2] Photographs: a) on the commemorative print of Lady Anna nee Bronowska, the wife of Jan Baron Konopka from 1924, the caption under the photograph depicting the chapel with its surroundings reads: “The graves of the Konopka family at the cemetery in Olesno”, the caption under the photograph of Malczewski’s picture reads: „The picture/of Christ Crucified/ painted by Jacek Malczewski/ in the patrons’ chapel/ of the parish church in Olesno” (The Jacek Malczewski Regional Museum in Radom, inv. no. Dspl. 423); b) in the inventory card from the Conservations Office (the former Tarnów county, currently in the police files of the Kraków Regional Headquarters).

[3] The drawing depicts an artist Stanisław Zborowski and Jan Konopka, signed underneath: “JMalczewski from Saturday to Sunday/ conversation on soul/ 11/ June 12” (The National Museum in Kraków, inv. no. III r.a. 10471, pencil on paper, 20,5 x 30,7 cm).

[4] Jacek Malczewski, The Crucifixion, oil on canvas, approx. 200 x 135 cm (ID); a golden stripe at the bottom edge of the frame (13 cm wide. in the inside diameter) with the inscription: “Jacek Malczewski”. Taking the picture down from the side wall of the chancel, let alone photographing it, was impossible, despite the kind help of Fr. Marian Jedynak, the parish priest. For that reason I cannot provide data on the reverse side: the kind of stretcher and the technique used in order to put the inscription stripe above the lower part of the frame.

[5] A. Heydel, Jacek Malczewski. Człowiek i artysta, Kraków 1933, p. 206, Fig. 99 and the legend for the list of illustrations.

[6] The Diocesan Archive in Tarnów (further referred to as: ADT), The local files, Bobowa parish 1901–1920, Fr. S. Warchałowski to L. Wałęga (13 Sep 1920), LB XI 21, separate card. I would like to express my thanks to the Rev. Prof. Janusz Królikowski for pointing me to this and other documents from the Diocesan Archive in Tarnów quoted below as well as granting access to them. To prove his argument, Fr. Warchałowski quotes a fragment from the letter he received from Fr. Antoni Mamak in 1917, regarding Zborowski’s first request to return the picture. This letter was not used as a source by K. Majcher (Bobowa, historia, ludzie, zabytki, Bobowa 1991). since he claims that the discussed picture was presented to the neighbouring St Sophia Church after the death of Filomena Kossakiewiczowa and that Malczewski painted it in 1886 (p. 39), which is not confirmed by the stylistic analysis. The author does not cite the source of the information.

[7] ADT, canonical visitation no. I/2, Wizytacje kanoniczne, Bobowa deanery.

[8] Fr. A. Mamak left Bobowa on 31 December 1908, cf.: A. Nowak, Słownik biograficzny kapłanów diecezji tarnowskiej 1786–1985, vol. 3, Tarnów 2001, p. 182.

[9] In Malczewski’s sketchbooks from his late period one can find many drawings which are the variations on the figure of Christ, portrayed down to his arms, suggesting being stretched on the cross, or  the depictions of only his head in a large crown of thorns (cf.: G. Kubiak, Jacek Malczewski. Dessins et esquisses à l’huile du Musée National de Poznań, Catalogue Exposition à l’Institut Polonais de Paris 4 Feb – 2 March 2000, Fig. 34). The studies and pictures on this subject are also discussed by Michalina Janoszanka in her monograph of the artist (Wielki tercjarz. Moje wspomnienia o Jacku Malczewskim, Poznań [1936], pp. 192–193) and in the unpublished manuscript Pierwiastek religijny w obrazach Jacka Malczewskiego (The Jagiellonian Library, MS, akc. 1098/99, c. 3, 4).

[10] This society, founded in France, at the beginning had only academic members, that is male college students, members of academies and college professors. When it reached Poland, it did not have any age limits anymore, it accepted also women and members of social and financial elites (not necessarily with university diplomas). The society focused on two fields: the active participation of its members in the care for the poor (constant care over one person or family) and work on one’s own spiritual development. The last task included, among others, each member of the community choosing reading texts for the others and prepare its interpretation. Apart from the Bible it could be any spiritually improving texts. For further reading on this subject and bibliography: Kudelska 2008 (ft. 1), chap. O formacji i obrazach religijnych.

[11] On the particular intensity of the cult of the Virgin Mary and its effect on the visual arts: P. Krasny, „Le vrai de Notre-Dame”. O próbach odnowienia ikonografii maryjnej w XIX wieku, in: “Sacrum et Decorum” 2, 2009, pp. 31–37.

[12] H.H. Hofstätter, Symbolizm, trans. into Polish by S. Błaut, Warszawa 1980, pp. 23–24.

[13] A letter from J. Malczewski to K. Lanckoroński, in: Listy Jacka Malczewskiego do Karola Lanckorońskiego, ed. M. Paszkiewicz, in: “Rocznik Historii Sztuki” 18, 1990, pp. 244–245; for commentary see: Kudelska 2008 (ft. 1), chapter Wokół polichromii wawelskich.

[14] For instance such pictures as: Juan de las Roelas, Christ on His Way to Calvary (approx. 1620); Francisco Zurbarán, Veraikon (approx. 1631–1634?); Antonio de Pereda, Ecce Homo and many others.

[15] Cf.: Pathos ed estasi. Opere d’arte tra Campania e Andalusia nel XVII e XVIII secolo, ed. F. Buono, Napoli 1999: J. de Roeals, Christ on His Way to Calvary (p. 62); F. Zurbarán, Veraikon (p. 55); A.E.P. Sánchez et al., Prado, Polish edition edited by W. Krauze, transl. into Polish by H. Andrzejewska, Warszawa 1994: Antonio de Pereda, Ecce Homo.

[16] According to the description in the inventory card mentioned above it was “a remote landscape in grayish-blues and greens”.

[17] A similar impression, created by the positioning of figures impossible to achieve during regular posing, is produced by The Vicious Circle.

[18] L. Wachholz, Klub Eustachego Chronowskiego, in: „Czas”, 1936, no. 354 (24 Dec), p. 10. The author writes about sketching the body of a young woman who committed a suicide drowning herself and „was soon portrayed faithfully in a painting in oils. Her dead body lying on the mortuary table was moved by the artist onto a shoal in a stormy and foamy lake or see and behind her, a triton was rising up from one of the waves, with his horrified eyes fixed on the victim of the element”. The picture described here is unknown. See also: A. Gross, Zwłoki człowieka jako model w malarstwie, http://www.forensic-medicine.pl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=37.

[19] Although I have a digital copy of the photograph mentioned above, out of respect for the deceased and because of its explicit nature I refrain from presenting it here.

[20] The correspondence of the author with Adam Gross.

[21] W. Juszczak, Narracja i przestrzeń w malarstwie Malczewskiego. (Notatki z wystawy poznańskiej), in: Fakty i wyobraźnia, Warszawa 1979, p. 142.

[22] Malczewski painted portraits of his friends with pleasure, and other people’s, as he wrote, only “when in need”. If he wasn’t given a free choice of props and situation, he refused the commission, as was the case with Bishop Bilczewski, see.: M. Samlicki, Pamiętnik, The Regional Museum in Bochnia, H/4104/5, pp. 180–181.

[23] In the art of Western Christianity it was allowed to use models for divine figures, but there were no particular regulations in this field which, as we know, sometimes stirred up conflicts between artists and the Church authorities. Christ’s body was modelled according to the current knowledge of anatomy, and with regard for the iconographic tradition (as a continuation, modification or contestation). The passion scenes belong to those which portray the relationship between suffering and pain with cruelty; in the course of ages the limits of permitted explicitness were evolving, just like the reflection on the body, its meaning and the permitted ways of its depiction, inextricably connected with this subject were evolving. All these elements enter into a dialogue of shapes and the ideas, values and the artistic relationship of the matter personified by them (and personified also in the mode of existence of the ordinary mortals and saints). On the relation between portraying Christ as man, the theological dogmas and the artistic form through the ages, see: L. Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, Chicago 1996 (1st ed. 1983). On the need to portray such scenes (close to battle pieces, exotic slaughter scenes etc.): M. Gill, Image of the Body. Aspects of the Nude, London 1989, pp. 293–300; W. Gutowski, Motywika pasyjna w literaturze Młodej Polski, in: Problematyka religijna w literaturze pozytywizmu i Młodej Polski. Świadectwa poszukiwań, ed. S. Fita, Lublin 1993, pp. 263–307.

[24] W. Gutowski, Z próżni nieba ku religii życia, Kraków 2001, p. 189 and chapter VII; see also: H. Filipkowska, Z problematyki mitu w literaturze Młodej Polski, in: Problemy literatury polskiej lat 1890–1939, series I, ed. H. Kirchner and Z. Żabicki, Wrocław 1972.

[25] P. Hubal Dobrzański to [J. Bołoz Antoniewicz] in the Society of Friends of Fine Arts in Lviv, quoted after: J. Puciata-Pawłowska, Jacek Malczewski, Wrocław 1968, pp. 101–102 (no MS catalogue number given).

[26] Jan Warchałowski was a graduate of the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts. We do not know whether the similarity of the surnames of the priest and the painter is a coincidence. The picture still remains in the church chancel. A copy of the same picture, painted by A. Kugler, was presented earlier (1890) by the emperor Franz Joseph to the seminary chapel in Tarnów. The original (slightly differing in some details from the copy) is in the holdings of Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. See.: W. Szczebak, Na 100-lecie obrazu Pana Jezusa Ukrzyżowanego w kaplicy seminarium duchownego w Tarnowie (1890–1990), in: “Currenda” 140, 1990, pp. 331–341; idem, Jeszcze raz o obrazie Chrystusa na krzyżu w kaplicy seminarium duchownego w Tarnowie, in: “Currenda” 142, 1992, pp. 470–477. The Crucifixion by van Dyck was very popular in the Tarnów diocese – every seminarian received its reproduction at the end of his seminary formation. Both pictures by Kugler and Warchałowski are reminiscent of The Crucifixion by Van Dyck from the National Museum in Gdańsk, whose theft was discovered by accident in 1974. In 2008 the police renewed the search of this object.

[27] The short time which passed between the first attempt of Zborowski to seize the picture and framing and hanging the picture in the chapel seems to be important here. Perhaps it was the count’s action which inspired the priest to get the picture out from some dark corner and appreciate it properly.

[28] J. Malczewski, [a questionnaire answer], in: “Przegląd Powszechny” 23, 1906, vol. 90, p. 81.

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