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ICONOSTASIS OF LIGHT


ADAM STALONY-DOBRZANSKI


The signature compsed by the artist in the form of Gothic tracery made up of the initials of his name and surname: AS-D, shaped as St. Peter's boat, and set on an equal-armed Greek cross.




PROF. KAZIMIERZ KUCZMAN - ADAM STALONY DOBRZAŃSKI’S STAINED GLASS

Stained glass, the art of light and colour, is the most specific type of painting in which colours, animated by sunlight backlighting the image, brings a heavenly, mystical mood to church interiors. Glass pictures in windows appeared already on the threshold of the mysticism-loving Middle Ages, where known in Byzantium and in the Western Europe, and their then developed technology has survived to this day. The stained glass creation process was described in the twelfth century by monk Theophilus in the treatise De diversis artibus, as well as by certain Heraclius in the work De coloribus et artibus romanorum. The golden era of this art's development was Gothic, with its buildings’ skeletal structure forming large window areas that provided artists with enormous opportunities to dazzle viewers, and at the same time accounted for visual theological books, Bibliae pauperum. Stained glass windows in the most openwork, towering cathedrals of France, with Chartres at the head, have been the most beautiful achievements in the history of this art.

 

 

Also the Polish Gothic bore beautiful fruits in this respect. The brilliant set of stained glass preserved in the chancel windows of the St. Mary's Church in Krakow was, and still can be, a lesson and a source of inspiration for successive generations of artists. In Krakow's historic setting and artistic atmosphere, in the Young Poland period the monumental religious painting had its revival, stained glass and wall alike. Stanisław Wyspiański's stained glass, with God the Father in the Franciscan church, and Józef Mehoffer's with the Europe-wide famous set in St. Nicholas Cathedral in Freiburg, Switzerland, are the artistic zeniths and the most outstanding achievements in the history of the sacred art in Poland. This development of modern religious art in Krakow was catalysed by the renovation of the Wawel Castle Cathedral, to which both Mehoffer and Wyspiański contributed, although the work of the latter never left the cardboard pattern stage. These artists had a solid professional background for realisation of their visions. Not for nothing Wyspiański was redrawing the Dominican stained glass to penetrate ins and outs of the medieval mastery. In 1902 Stanislaw Gabriel Żeleński, son of the famous composer and brother of writer Boy-Żeleński, founded Krakow Stained Glass Studio SG Zelenski, one of the most significant in this part of Europe, and still operated, where artists executed their projects, and sometimes also designed to the owner's order.

 

Adam Stalony-Dobrzański carried on the magnificent tradition of monumental religious painting nurtured in Krakow in the first half of the twentieth century. An apprentice of Władysław Jarocki and Frederick Pautsch, he also attended classes with Józef Mehoffer, of whom, especially in the stained glass art, he became perhaps the most worthy successor. However he wasn't Mehoffer's imitator, since he demonstrated his own distinctive style. The style crystallised under influence not only of Krakow's Academy of Fine Arts, but also the city's art community, the artistic trends then prevailing in Europe, as well as his family roots, and close relationship in his childhood and early youth with religion and culture rooted in the Byzantine tradition. Stained glass was the crown of his artistic portfolio. He entered this path in a mature age already, when in 1950 the Żeleński Studio commissioned him to provide stained glass windows for a church in Trzebownisko near Rzeszów, i.e. relatively late, but not too late however to be able to fully realise himself creatively. He had this path chosen in the time least auspicious for religious art, when the Communist Polish state fiercely battled the Catholic Church. Despite that, or perhaps somewhat thanks to that, his ideological and artistic attitude became so bold and unequivocal. He revealed it in time in dealings with Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, proclaiming the principle that in religious art the depth of content should any in case be tied up with the high artistic level. He held it against priestly principals that they often sought to satisfy quite unsophisticated tasted of their clientele. He was persistent in this attitude. When creating most of his stained glass for Catholic and Orthodox churches not in major cultural centres but rather in small and remote towns, every time he raised high the bar of artistic requirements and set maximalist goals for himself.

 

Adam Stalony-Dobrzański perfectly understood the essence of the art of stained glass, its expressive capabilities, advantages and limitations. His sketches for cardboard patterns tell a lot of this genuine creative process. He used to outlined the first vision of a scene in pencil on paper, in a small, miniature format, then enlarged it and extended its composition and colour palette. His stained glass works manifest his theological erudition, excellent familiarity with iconography of the Western and Eastern Christianity alike, as well as knowledge of the forms belonging to individual great styles or to the Byzantine tradition, from the Middle Ages to recent times. Christ reigns there, often in scenes of the Passion, along with His Mother, the saints are featured in vast multitudes, while appearances of Old Testament characters, such as prophets, are rarer, Christian symbols are abundant, as well as various religious attributes. Images that carry on the traditional iconography are animated with the artist's own compositional inventiveness, as well as with verses from the Bible and other religious scriptures. Inscriptions that accompany nearly every scene are among the main distinctive features of Stalony-Dobrzański's stained glass. They carry ideological and religious messages, but also are important components of the composition, equal to figural elements. We should remember that script, as a visual form, was one of the domains of Stalony-Dobrzański's creative work. Well schooled in the craft at the Krakow Academy by Ludwik Gradowski, he joined in 1947 the staff of its Lettering Studio, and in 1957 was appointed the head of Lettering Chair.

 

A characteristic aspect of the form in Adam Stalony-Dobrzyński's stained glass is certain syncretism, which is discernible only by viewers familiar with the old art. The artist drew heavily on historical resources, sometimes of the Romanesque art, including manuscript illuminations, by casting stumpy characters, especially in side scenes, at other times he reached out for sophisticated Gothic art with its supernaturally slender figures often arranged in isocephalic lines like in portals of French cathedrals or Byzantine painting. Now and then, as if he wanted to adhere to the Romanesque law of the frame, the artist adjusted a composition to the shape of the field it was meant to fill up, and often used Romanesque mandorla for framing. In his works for Orthodox churches there are evident references to the tradition of Russian icon and wall painting, although even those are not entirely deprived of Western attributes. Deformation or stylisation of forms are rooted in the Medieval art, even if it follows the spirit of the twentieth century's expressionism. Geometrisation of forms, with references to the Cubist-like trends native of Picasso's art, seems the most important quality of the artist's style. Fully exploiting the opportunities offered by the art of luminous colours he masterly juxtaposed a variety of colour patches in harmonious decorative entireties. In some windows accents of light and colour are evenly distributed, in others main characters such as the Crucified Christ or Our Lady predominate, sometimes also individual saints.

 

This compositional wealth is differentiated due to factors such as the type of the architectural object for which stained glass was intended, or the size and shape of its windows. One window of the new church in Trzebownisko could accommodate only two or three figural scenes. Definitely better in this respect were windows of the neo-Gothic parish church in Rozwadów, and in some of them Stalony-Dobrzański deployed a dozen or so scenes apart from the main characters, while some others showcase single protagonists only. With great creative opportunities provided the artist the traceried windows of magnificent St. Jacob's cathedral in Nysa. He filled them with three rows of frontally depicted figures, thus emphasising the verticality of division fields, while in the traceries he put Christian symbols. Such verticalism was even more highlighted in the Gothic windows of the parish church in Zawiercie, where each window displays only one extraordinarily slender figure. Completely unique is the expression of the economical composition of the stained glass in the Protestant church in Warsaw, where the artist created a checkerboard pattern of rectangular fields, in which he alternatively set fragments of saints figures and religious scenes, and series of brick-like objects with inscriptions. The artist's knowledge of the Russian wall pictures preserved in Poland, frescoes in the royal chapel in Lublin in the first place, reveal his works for Orthodox churches in Gródek Bialostocki and Warsaw, which he provided, as generously as his stained glass windows in Catholic churches, with inscriptions in the Cyrillic script, in which he was an expert.

 

Stained glass windows, although predominant in the artists' work, are not the only testimony of his talents and relatively little known rich personality, which has remained somewhat in the shadow of his accomplishments. This legacy is enormous. How much poorer would have been the Polish post-war art without it! It influenced and still influents other artists. This influence was among the main factors that developed the creative individuality of Jerzy Nowosielski, one of the greatest Polish painters of the twentieth century.

 

by Prof. Kazimierz Kuczman


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