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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.




REV. HENRYK PAPROCKI - THE TRANSFORMED LIGHT

Stained glass window. Coloured pieces of glass in lead frames. A fragile work of art, in common opinion it remains somewhere in the margins of great art, except — of course — Chartres and perhaps a few other places. Yet it is a very unjust opinion. Stained glass windows are not only in Chartres. And not only in the Western Europe. Stained glass is derived from the Byzantine experience of sacred space. It has been eloquently expressed by Father Pavel Smolensky, who believed that a temple synthesized in itself the art of fire (icons' illumination with trembling candle and oil lamp flames) and the art of incense smoke (it deepens and eases the viewing perspective, expands the temple's architectural space by straying through it, obscures its dome, and softens the sharpness of edges and hardness of space), and this synthesis of artistic actions inside a temple is not confined to the sphere of fine arts, but encompasses singing and all kinds of poetry. This synthesis is a musical drama, in which everything is subordinated to the overriding objective, i.e. catharsis. Artistic actions inside a temple include the art of distinguishing smells1, putting on vestments, and of ecclesiastical choreography that defines arrangements of celebrants' entrances and exits, and of processions. The sacred space and sacred time of a temple synthesize art, and therefore the Church and its liturgy are the highest manifestation of aesthetics2.

 

Sacred space is significantly associated with the presence of light. And in two variants: daylight, and illumination at dusk and at night. Worship services are in fact exercised during the day as well as in evenings, and in monasteries also at night. Night time lighting depends on the number of oil lamps and candles, vibrating flames of which illuminate first and foremost icons and frescoes (mosaics), but not worship participants. The exception is illumination of choirs, as singers must see musical scores.

 

Whereas in daytime ''muting'' of the sunlight penetration inside a temple through its windows is urgently needed.

 

It's a highly probable guess that the first stained glass windows were abstract arrangements of coloured (mainly alabaster and yellow) small panes that provided a suitably subdued lighting of temples, especially of their areas, which did not play a decisive role in the liturgy.

 

Only later figurative stained glass followed. The extraordinary potential of this art was then realised. An analogy may be drawn with another liturgical art, the art of singing.

 

It was Joseph the Hymnographer's pursuit that worshipers ''with one mouth and one heart sing and praise the most glorious name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit''. At the same time he always had the angel pattern in mind, which he tried to convey in his compositions. In this sense, Orthodox music is an expression of the conciliar experience of the whole Church.

 

The essence of this music boils down to relentless pursuit of the heavenly archetype in order to achieve unity of the Divine and human worlds. Liturgical music is therefore a way to overcome the state of decline and to restore the lost unity. Its role may be therefore compared to that of icon. An icon shows the reality of the transformed world, and liturgical music is also overcoming the ''heaviness of matter''. Theoreticians of the ''singing like angels'' emphasised the postulate that liturgical music must significantly differ from so-called ''secular music''. Otherwise, it can't report the reality of the transformed world and the cosmic harmony. Because «singing like angles» is also an anticipation of the coming of the kingdom of God. It is therefore in a sense an icon of the kingdom, like a sacred image. This is because it's a work of the Church, which itself is an icon of the kingdom of God in the world of experience.

 

Already Tertullian (c. 220 AD), claiming that God had created the world out of nothing, identified the process of creation with work of an writer or artist, and therefore he highly prized human creations. The act of creation was regarded not only as an act of transformation of an amorphous material in the organized universe, but most of all it was creation ex nihilo – out of nothing. According to Irenaeus of Lyons God created the world with the artistic Logos by number, measure, order, and harmony. Concepts such as artistry, artist, art, and creativity are important in the ideas of the Church Fathers. The most appreciated, after ideas of the antiquity, were poetry, and music as in a special way resembling the creation ex nihilo. Equally important was the concept of beauty — the beauty of God is reflected in the works of His creation, and in human creativity. Also the analogy of creation ''in the image and likeness'' was exploited. Art should also be an ''image and likeness'' of the Divine Archetype. In Byzantium primarily a theory of the art of icon was developed, especially in the period of iconoclasm and immediately afterwards. The icon theory development was driven by the iconoclastic crisis. Because no one questioned the ecclesiastical hymnography, sacred music theory was not a priority in the Byzantines' speculations. But a lot of thoughts relating to icons can also be applied to church singing.

 

An icon reveals ''image and likeness'' of the Archetype, which it shows by means of painting. Liturgical singing aims at ''likeness and image'' of angel songs.

 

In this context stained glass is not only a pursuit of ''image and likeness'' of the Archetype, but also has very close ties with light. Whereas light is a name of God himself. ''God is light''. Our earthly light is only a shadow of the Divine light. Stained glass window, however, gets this light transformed by its colourful glass pieces and thus becomes part of the light ''not of this world''. Because art is meant to show what is not of this world. Transformed reality becomes the domain of the art of icon, but stained glass inspires a sense not only of transformation, but also of the transience of time through constant variability of saturation with colours, and at the same time of sustainability of the situation presented in the stained glass. In the process of its development the art of stained glass has «empowered» and «liberated» itself, and from a simple function of organizing space with light it has grown to an independent work of art, even not necessarily related to a temple. However, it is fully operational only in a temple. Temple is its homeland. And it is undoubtedly a sacred art, an art of icon. It’s enough to carefully read the decision of the Second Council of Nicaea, AD 787:

 

''…worshipped should be not only figures of the honoured and life-giving cross, but also the reverend and holy images, whether painted, made of mosaic, or of other suitable material (Greek: kai heteran hyles epitedeios echousen), which are to be with reverence exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, na ścianach, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways, these are the images of our Lord, God and saviour, Jesus Christ, and of our Lady without blemish, the holy God-bearer, and of the revered angels and of any of the saintly holy men […] people are drawn to honour these images with the offering of incense and lights in front of the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred cult objects, as was piously established by ancient custom. Indeed, the honour paid to an image traverses it, reaching the model (Greek: epi to prototypon), and he who venerates the image, venerates the person represented in that image. (Greek: tou engraphomenou ten hypostasin)''3.

 

''Made of other suitable material''. This includes, inter alia, stained glass, and enamel, metalwork and other art forms. In order to understand the role of stained glass in the sacred art we must refer to its very concept.

 

An icon reveals the human face of God – ''He is the image (Greek: eikon) of the invisible God'' (Colossians 1,15) – and humanity of Christ is ''the visibility of the invisible''. When the Word became flesh, the prohibition of the Book of Exodus (20: 4-5) lost part of its meaning: ''If art can not present Christ, it means that the Word has not incarnated''4. The whole theology of icon is built on the concepts of Archetype (Protoimage, Prototype) and of image (icon), which seeks to present Archetype, i.e. the pattern, because the cult refers to the Archetype.

 

Again I'm referring to Fr. Pavel Florensky: with spiritual eyes open and raising them to the altar of God, we contemplate the vision of heaven — a cloud covering the top of Sinai — the mystery of God's presence with enveloping it commandments and warnings. It is the ''cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12, 1) – of saints. They rise around the presbytery, of them, of living stones, is built the live wall of iconostasis, because they exist simultaneously in two worlds and unite in themselves the temporal and eternal lives[...]. The partition that separates these two worlds is an iconostasis [...] An iconostasis is a boundary between the visible and invisible worlds, and this chancel's partition realises [...] owing to that unity of the saints, the »cloud of witnesses who surround the altar of God, the realm of heavenly glory, to proclaim the mystery. An iconostasis is vision [...]. An iconostasis is the saints themselves. If those praying in a temple were spiritual enough, and if the sight of them all was always seeing, there would be no other iconostasis in the temple but the witnesses sent by God [...] because of the weakness of the spiritual sight of the worshippers the Church, for the sake of those praying, comes to assist them in overcoming their spiritual indolence [... Iconostasis] speaks shouting about the kingdom of God to their deaf ears after soft spoken words have turned out to be unavailable to them[...]. Figuratively speaking, a temple without a material iconostasis is separated from the chancel with a deaf wall. The iconostasis cuts windows in the wall, and through the window panes we see, or in any case we can see, what is going on behind this wall — the living witnesses of God. Destroying of icons mean walling up these windows [...] An icon, therefore, is always more than just itself, as it is the heavenly vision[…]5.

 

An icon doesn't present, but it reveals, it is presence and community. An Orthodox church's entire interior is a re-presentation of the transcendental reality, and the church's iconographic program is subordinated to this principle. In this sense it can be said that an icon shows us the realism of eschatological fullness: ''All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image''. (2 Corinthians 3:18). An icon shows humanity as the Pentecost tongues of fire in human form. It reveals the image of God in man, whose similarity was once converted to dissimilarity, and looking at the transformed humanity as in a mirror, we see God, because man is created in His image. Therefore an icon doesn't exist independently, but it leads to beings in themselves. It bears witness to the existence right now in the world of some form of parousia. From an image of Christ we rise spirit to the infinite image of God, because Christ willed to descend to us under the veil of flesh6.

 

Visible images are visibility of the invisible, because visible things are a clear reflection of things invisible7. In the orthodox meaning an image is not only a visualisation of the being therein seen, but it participates in the being's essence, and leads to the participation both its creator and recipient8. However, the anthropological image of God can be referred only to Christ. Neither the Father, nor the Holy Spirit yields to such a presentation. In the deantropomorphised picture The Holy Trinity by St. Andrei Rublev, fullness was expressed by the presentation of three angels, whose figures are inscribed in a circle. Rublev's Holy Trinity inspires the impression that all obstacles can be overcome. Despite all that, however, it may be treated only as a symbolic representation9.

 

Whereas Christ cannot be presented in an absolute and exhaustive manner: ''We know in part [...] but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end''. (1 Corinthians 13:9). The Divine Archetype — Christ — is an image of the invisible God. eikon tou Theou tou aoratou (Colossians 1:15). Hypostasis of the Son is thus imago Patris, and the light of the knowledge of God’s glory [is] displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6). Word, the very image of the Father's substance (Hebrews 1:3) is therefore a living icon of His goodness and grace. Christ may be visualised because of His human image. Evers since God appeared in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) God can be pictured at all. Since it is possible to picture a man, though a man consists not only of the body, but also of the soul, also feasible is an image of Christ as the God-Man.

 

An image of Christ is a visible and indispensable witness to the reality of His humanity. If this testimony wasn't possible, the Eucharist would lose its reality. An iconostasis visibly manifests the nature of the mystery that takes place in the chancel. Therefore theology assigns a sacramental role to iconography. St. Theodore the Studite compares an artist with God creating man in His own image. Painting Christ, an artist makes an «image of God», Hypostasis of the Word, the divinised humanity of Christ10.

 

For the Orthodoxy an icon is a sacramental sign of personal presence: ''my grace and my power is with this picture''11. The theology of liturgical presence, affirmed in the rite of consecration of images, doesn't refer to misterium tremendum, but to the Presence12. It shows us the eschatological light of the saints, it is the light of the Eighth Day, a testimony to inaugurated parousia. The worship of icons is the beginning of the vision of God, and images of the saints are an eschatological vision of the Kingdom, a revelation in man of the glory of Christ,13, who is constantly present in the Holy Spirit and invariably draws the entire universe towards parousia, which Rudolf Bultmann described as the Church's ''already'' and Apcalypsis as its „not yet. Therefore the sacred art itself has an eschatological character.

 

Vision of the future age — ''face to face'' — will be a vision of the Person of Incarnate Word. This is why the Fathers of the Church have said that neither Divine nor human nature is revealed in an icon, but the Hypostasis of Christ. Image is never synonymous with its prototype on its essence, but it is synonymous on Hypostatis and name. Therefore an icon addresses the issues of philosophy and theology of name. The fact of naming an icons at its consecration — ''This picture is an icon of Christ'' — confirms the presence also in the name, and the sacramental likeness to its original. An icon is distinguished by its name, and the rite of its consecration identifies it with its own realism of similarities, with a specific individual, and a specific name14.

 

The theology of icon, however, has not found its full expression in the period of iconoclastic disputes. The Seventh Ecumenical Council established the worship of icon but presented no developed doctrine15. It is usually claimed that at the core of the icon worship doctrine is the relation of ideas and things in the Platonic philosophy, while the opposition of what is noetic and what is sensuous had not been overcome in Neo-Platonism, especially in the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Such reduction of the icon worship theory, as Viktor Żywow notes, probably comes from underestimation of the development of Byzantine ideas in the sixth — seventh centuries16. Overcoming of the Neo-Platonic oppositions is attributed to St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 662), especially to his Mistagogia and Liber AmbiguorumMistagogia is a commentary on the Eucharist Liturgy apprehended as a series of paintings. Hence St. Maximus the Confessor's discussion of liturgical image may be easily transferred to iconic image. St. Maximus the Confessors wrote his lecture in the context of the opposition of the noetic to the material. It cannot be denied that Maximus the Confessor was under influence of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite17. Maximus' writings contain many hidden and overt references to Dionysius. The most important of these is the statement that the created universe breaks up into noetic universe (noetic, i.e. incorporeal, beings) and sensual universe18. On the other hand however, Areopagite's impact on subsequent Byzantine ideas shouldn't be unduly exaggerated, and the ideas shouldn't be reduced to Neo-Platonism only19.

 

Now let's proceed from these theoretical considerations to a specific stained-glass implementation by Adam Stalony-Dobrzański (1904-1965). Izabela Bobbe characterised his art with extreme accuracy: ''Adam Stalony-Dobrzański ... like a few of his contemporaries has fathomed the beauty and mystery of stained glass ... a great body of work, worthy of a separate monograph ... In the statement on the Resurrection in polychromes and stained glass windows ... it is one of the most difficult subjects. Sacral subject in general must require a distance. There, far more than in any other area of art, author must be liable for what he or she does, must know what standards to follow, and must facilitate the faithfull’s focus, which would mobilize to see the world and ourselves anew''20.

 

An outstanding Polish Orthodox theologian, Fr. George Klinger, drew attention to the theological aspects of Adam Stalony-Dobrzanski's works: ''The stained glass' theological perspective should be emphasised. Full balance between artistic considerations and religious content. Beautiful illustrated catalogue, explanations and motives, from the artistic and religious points of view alike... the exhibition of Adam Stalony-Dobrzanski's stained glass ... is also important in the overall life of the Orthodox Church in Poland, it informed crowds of visitors of the everlasting values of the Orthodox religious art, and in a profoundly artistic form demonstrated the spiritual base from which this art grows. Let's wish the artist further fruitful development... for the good of the Divine Cause, and our humble parishes that their churches could be further enriched with the art of this calibre''21.

 

Stained glass begins to live its own life, when penetrated by sunrays. We know this, and yet when a temple welcomes us with the symphony of colourful windows, and we yield to their charm and moved, full of concentration, we look at the images composed of glass, light and lead.

 

Adam Stalony Dobrzanski's stained glass is characterized by simplicity and harmony. The colour of his every stained glass window is perfect, and its content is communicative. His stained glass windows are at the same time modern and logical in the design of linear lead divisions. This results from mastery of the stained glass art. The artist's intuition and ability, already at the stage of cardboard pattern, to see through the eyes of imagination a stained glass window with good colour palette and saturation enable creation of faultless compositions.

 

Dobrzański tried to create each set of stained glass in different visual convention. In this he employed also cubistic imaging. Triangles, rhombi, and polygons, arranged in certain layouts, make up recognisable human figures.

 

An interesting leitmotif is lettering embedded in every picture. These inscriptions are always closely connected with the work's iconographic content, help to understand it, and form its integral part. They have specific pictorial functions, they contain or divide the stained glass' plane. A letter is as alive as any other compositional element.22.

 

Suddenly I notice that a cross appears in the background of the structure of atom. I recall a poem by Adam Stalony-Dobrzański's friend:

 

He

is not the Lord

he is a Being

the very core of existence

Power

seas' atom

trees' hidden juice

human consciences'

commotion

and a book23.

 

The hieraticality of figures brings to mind magnificent Byzantine and Russian mosaics and frescoes, and the irregular fields that make up a stained glass window resemble the Cubist vision24.

 

It is the modernity specific to Adam Stalony-Dobrzański's art. Firework of colours, with a strong dominant — depending on the composition — of dark blue and red, or green and yellow, organizes a certain vision that very quickly becomes understandable. Adam Stalony-Dobrzański's stained glass is simply an icon. It's its basic feature. Just because it's an icon, his every stained glass speaks with its almost shouting colours and shapes to anyone who is no longer a spectator, but a participant, since genuine art is an invitation to participate. Owing to its reverse perspective illusion, an icon – what Lew Zegin so brilliantly described25 – ''drags in'' to experiencing of events that are no longer merely historical but are happening now: ''Today is the beginning of our salvation!''26 As if had gone the two thousand years that separate us from the time of Christ. Stalony-Dobrzański's stained glass also «draws in» with its symphony of colours and shapes. We stand mesmerized in front of each of his stained glass windows. Since it turns out that an authentic stained glass, as well as an icon, may be the subject of contemplation. Whereas contemplation opens up these regions of psyche and spirit, which are human openness (Greek: epektasis) to transcendence, that is to something completely different, but at the same the closest. The art of icon is katharsis for people, who should constantly confront themselves, as an image of God, with the Archetype, i.e. their Creator. In this Adam Stalony-Dobrzański's stained glass provides an invaluable assistance leading us with its play of light and colour from the empirical reality to the transformed reality:

 

''You wast transfigured in the mountain,

O Christ our God,

showing to Thy disciples

Thy glory as each one could endure.

Shine forth Thou on us, who are sinners all

Thy light ever-unending

through the prayers of the Theotokos,

Light-bestower,

glory be to Thee!''27

 

A foretaste of just this light we can see in the extraordinary stained glass windows by Adam Stalony-Dobrzanski.

1 The creation of smells involves individual creativity, but it’s inherited from the great traditions of the East, especially the temple of Jerusalem. Practically the dramaturgy of light and smells has been almost always part of a specific idea of sacred space, cf. P. Heger, The Development of Incense Cult in Israel, Berlin-New York, 1997.

2 P. Florenski, Liturgia jako synteza sztuk, [ibidem:] Ikonostas i inne szkice, pp. 35-38;

3 Mansi, XIII, 378; Denzinger, 302-304; Dokumenty Soborów Powszechnych, edited by A. Baron & H. Pietras, Kraków, 2011, I, pp. 336-339. It may be concluded that none of the Christian Churches, except the Orthodox Church and pre-Chalcedonian Churches, respects the definition of the VII Ecumenical Council (in the Roman Catholic Church the cult refers only to miraculous images.)

4 St.. Maximus the Confessor, Liber ambiguorum, PG, 91, 1165; St. Theodore the Studite, Refutatio III, PG, 99, 417.

5 P. Florenski, Ikonostas i inne szkice, translated by Z. Podgórzec, Białystok, 1997, pp. 129-128.

6 P. Evdokimov, Sztuka ikony. Teologia piękna, p. 261.

7 Dionizy Areopagita, Dzieła, translated by E. Bułhak, Kraków, 1932, p. 279.

8 M. Porębski, Kubizm, Warsaw, 1968, p. 112.

9 G. Krug, Myśli o ikonie, translated by R. Mazurkiewicz, Białystok, 1991, pp. 26-36.

10 J. Meyendorff, Le Christ dans la théologie byzantine, Paris, 1969, p. 260-261.

11 From the office in honor of the icon of Vladimir Mother of God.

12 P. Evdokimov, Sztuka ikony. Teologia piękna, pp. 155-158.

13 W. Łosski, Vision de Dieu, Neuchatel, 1962, p. 140.

14 P. Evdokimov, Sztuka ikony. Teologia piękna, s. 172; cf. also: H. Paprocki, Prawosławna obrzędowość. Metafizyka sakramentów, [in:] Miniatury ekumeniczne. Księga pamiątkowa na stulecie urodzin siostry Joanny Lossow (1908-2005), Warsaw, 2009, 211-219.

15 P. Evdokimov, Sztuka ikony. Teologia piękna, p. 170.

16 W. M. Żywow, „Mistagogia Maksyma Wyznawcy i rozwój bizantyjskiej teorii obrazu, translated by R. Mazurkiewicz, [in:] Ikona. Symbol i wyobrażenie, edited by E. Bogusz, Warsawa, 1984, p. 84.

17 H. Urs von Balthasar, Liturgie cosmique. Maxime le Confesseur, Paris, 1947, p. 71-88.

18 St.. Maximus the Confessor, Mistagogia, PG, 91, 679.

19 J. Meyendorff, Note sur l’influence dionysienne en Orient, „Studia Patristic, 64(1957), p. 547-553; cf.: A. Świtkiewicz-Blandzi, Zagadnienie neoplatonizmu Pseudo-Dionizego oraz problematyka recepcji i wpływu Corpus Areopagiticum w Kościele wschodnim od VI do XIV wieku, „Studia Mediewistyczne'', 32(1998), p. 125-137.

20 I. Bobbe, „Słowo Powszechne'' of 19. 04. 1977

21 J. Klinger, Wystawa witraży Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego, „Cerkiewny Wiestnik'', 4(1957), vol. 4, p. 38-42.

22 Cf. I. Huml, Witraże Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego.

23 J. Klinger, Monreale, „Regiony. Kwartalnik Społeczno-Kulturalny, 27(2002), vol. 1(102), p. 77.

24 Cf. I. Huml, „Stolica'', 1958, vol. 51-52, vol. 28. XII. 1958

25 L. Żegin, Jazyk żywopisnogo proizwiedienija (Usłownost’ driewniego iskusstwa), Moscow, 1970.

26 Troparion of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

27 Troparion of the Feast of the Transfiguration


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