IconographerJan Stalony-Dobrzański

​A holy iconographer gets kidnapped on a journey beyond the boundaries of our world, into a path that does not lead him in the skies but inside out the time — to the first days. But these are not the memorable Six Days of Creation, the time of the past, but the era of the Kingdom, the time without time, the epoch of the new earth and the new Heaven, that'll come just after the promised Parousia, the Son of Man's second coming in glory. He enters the gates of the City of God as revealed by St. John — New Jerusalem, where he gets to know its sacred building material. And this has ever been one material only — beauty. Because it is invaluable, it can only be given to him as a gift, provided that from now on he won't use any other earthly material for his work. This obligation on the one hand imposes on the ''angelic master'' the responsibility and the highest creative and spiritual requirements, but on the other hand vests the artist with some significant privileges. It allows him the assurance of his own image and similarity to the Creator of the Cosmos, the recognition that he also can — with the gift of his Father — build excellent works worthy of New Jerusalem. Because, as says St. John the Evangelist, ''they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into the City'' (Ap. 21.26). This differs him from an earthly master, who — involved in the affairs of this world — strives to portray as perfectly as he can the image of the invariably fallen and sinful land. And it does not matter whether he reprehends and stigmatizes this fall or is fascinated thereby, but his brush is always assigned to things that are transient, secondary, or minor. Akin to the earth, he will pass away with it on the last day.

The holy iconographer is free from the suffering of this world, he stigmatizes nothing, nothing tries to fix, and does not want to perfect the inherited reality. Moreover, he does not come into any contact and interaction with it, knowing that it is in principle irreparable. Instead, he proposes another reality, descending from the Mount Tabor, from the very beginning full of splendour, harmony and beauty. This vision is worthy of the Old Testament prophets, but this time it's not so much about the coming of Messiah descending from Heaven to the earth, but about New Israel's leaving the earth and following the Son of Man to Heaven.

However, entering the gates of New Jerusalem the holy iconographer should fulfil one more, most difficult condition — he must ... die. He must leave everything worldly behind, abandon earthly joys, dreams, passions, and dismiss earthly hope. But how can he be otherwise if he already holds in his hands the gift above all earthly delights, the most beautiful and more precious than the other jewels, the pearl from the evangelical parable (Mt. 13, 44-46). And even if he returned to our world, it would be only by way of his brush.

Adam Stalony-Dobrzański had died for the world, he also had died for himself, had become blind and deaf to everything temporal, transient, and attributed to the cards of history. He had raised a wall impenetrable to the hubbub of everyday life. That's why he was given the ability to bring from New Jerusalem some titbits of the celestial beauty, power, and lyrics, and to throw them onto the sinful earth. The beauty that bears the name of icon. His most important task was not to paint churches and create polychromes, stained-glass windows, icons, and mosaics. He was mandated with a much more serious, and even — as it turned out later — very risky mission. He became a smuggler into the earth of the heavenly beauty's glory and power.

A smuggler, because the earth had long embargoed the beauty and glory of New Jerusalem and mercilessly punished those, who had dared to break the ban. Those, who recall in their works the perfect beauty of visible and invisible things made by the Will of God, are subject to stigma, mockery, and obstruction in the modern world. Ridiculed and exiled from the mainstream of cultural circulation, they are immediately marginalised. They are considered to be malicious troublemakers, illegally and culpably reminding other people that ... it can be different. After all, a man should forget his Heavenly Homeland and has a new task to yieldingly march towards the shadow in that slave-like procession of similar fallen beings. Pre-programmed consumers of passing days under the narcotic illusion of terrestrial paradise awaiting just behind the threshold.

Icon awakens us from lethargy, calls to break the shackles of the unbearable noise of everyday life, to run for beauty, freedom, and our lost divinity as Sons of God. The sons who were given the right to raise God's Brush and, together with their Father, the Creator of the Cosmos, procure their own beauty. Icon is a crime that brings salvation. That is why an icon often follows the Saviour through its own Via Dolorosa, waiting at the end of which is the cross ... of iconoclasm. But this is what represents the most important proof of its holiness. Just as the martyr's death of the earthly Jesus has confirmed the identity of the heavenly Christ. It isn't the common admiration and devotion to holy paintings, but the iconoclasm, what maps the icon's only way to New Jerusalem, a narrow, thorny, and difficult path. Anyone who, contrary to the world and its laws, with a pure heart stands before an icon, who's enveloped in, and protected from falling by, its brilliance and harmony like a coat, is already on the way to salvation, already leaving the world's market. The bazaar, where everything is money, and money is everything. And how can you buy beauty, if you haven't resurrected it in yourself? But try to resurrect it and go out with it to ''this world'' — try to offer it the beauty „out of this world''. It is as if you demanded that our world would finally acknowledge that it is still imperfect and deficient, that not here, but elsewhere, far beyond it, lies the final answer. Such defiance must bring about — understandably — an exemplary punishment.

Adam Stalony-Dobrzański's youth fell within the bloody years of the revolution and civil war in Russia, the first years of the Bolshevik terror. He saw the catastrophe of beauty, and stood before burnt and devastated churches, destroyed icons and whole iconostases. One summer day he even witnessed the miracle of the renewal of historical polychromes under layers of cobwebs on the walls of an old cathedral, just repurposed by the Bolsheviks as a cinema. But the greatest miracle was to keep in his heart the beauty that led him throughout his life, through a Nazi firing squad, and torture chambers of the Communist security service. It led him to the icon. He never turned back from his road, never succumbed to doubt, gave up hope, yielded to the power of evil and contempt that was the fate of his generation. He did not pass — like many contemporary artists — to the dark side of art to sing praise of the most obvious misery of the world, in which we happened to live. To consider the ugliness and fall, which we ourselves bring to the earth and to our heads.

The man's bravery has been awarded with the artist's glory for the polychromes in 32 churches and more than 200 stained-glass windows in more than 30 temples of different denominations — orthodox, catholic and evangelical. The work of an ordinary man, worthy of a titan's arms. However not these numbers, but the power of creative vision is the value of the painter's revelations. Adam Stalony-Dobrzański returned to the early stages of the Church's art, to the icons known before the times of the first, still Byzantine, iconoclasm. To the icons born of the fire of faith, the delight of a mystic experiencing a vision, which is inaccessible to our eyes, of the purity of heart, and of the power of something else than human hand.

Indeed, his icons, stained-glass, mosaics and polychromes have been made by something else than human hand. These are works in which the hand and the brush of a man was guided by the right hand of his God and Master. Earthly masters are worthy of the name only if they listen to and follow their superior and divine Master, the Creator of visible and invisible beauty. The beauty of an artist's work transfixes with its splendour and also its simplicity. It is fathomless, yet easy to grasp with one look. The dozens of layers and meanings contained in each representation seem so clear and understandable as child's speech.

In his stained-glass Adam Stalony-Dobrzański has demonstrated the highest level of mastery — the mystery of so-called ''reversed harmony'', which is the harmony born of the encounter and dialogue of the most obvious antinomies. Let's look at the striking monumentality of the artist's works, his powerful and minor representations alike, all of them without exception. The actual size does not matter in this case, the secret lies in the image's internal structure, always developed from the miniature level. Because monumentality is not born from largeness, but from its opposite, a particle which, when multiplied, grows no longer linearly, not even spatially, but rises to the nth power. Like a mountain, the majesty of which is created by the multitude of single boulders piling up on it, a cathedral's monument is built of millions tiny bricks not larger than a human hand. The artist's stained-glass is a book of miniatures, which patiently — page after page — together erect the ''Opera Omnia'' of the final monument.

Further along the same path, we meet another degree of initiation. It is a dance of the extreme alien, once hard and geometric, once softly modelled, let's call it ''biological'', lead veins. They have been spanned between Heaven and earth like a rope bridge, which is constantly trembling in internal dissonance and internal tension, until this tension and this swing itself becomes a bridge, on which the soft, ethereal, and volatile matter of the earth is welcomed by the crystalline, perfect, and eternal substance of Heaven. They both look at their opposites in delight, and the delight is shared with the viewers, and captures their hearts.

And finally, we reach the third level of mastery. It's the depths of liquid light that ripples in the crystalline glass tables. Because light is a momentum, motion, and element, so in order to imprison and harness it, one should know its structure. How to set the light in place, but not to extinguish it. So it, short of breath, still runs to the horizon. And the master had found a patina that he put on the light's guard, so that the glow would flicker underneath, but could not fly away. A hard patina with underwire structure that does not negotiate the wave, but precisely drawls the waters of light, and cuts them so they retreat and return under the glassy table.

Besides the mastery of form and colour, in the artist's stained-glass there is yet another, truly Copernicean discovery. This is the twin vision of stained-glass as a substance so much painted as sculptured, and built of the play of chiaroscuro. Pieces of the artist's stained-glass are not only an arabesque of colours but also a logical arrangement of bright and dark patches which, when rendered in black and white, picture very expressive and powerful ''bas-relief'' compositions. As mentioned above, here the flat image receives a third dimension — and with it rules the space. Black and white photographs of all the other stained-glass windows, medieval and contemporary alike, immediately lose all the splendour and artistic value of their images. Whereas Adam Stalony-Dobrzański's stained-glass in the black and white dialogue turns out to be a sculptured vision no less powerful than the painted one.

They are powerful statues of faith, carved with light, filled with colour, and brought to life from the crystal level. How can it be — to grasp pulse and to ease breath with the crystals alone, geometric figures, squares, diamonds, and triangles? It can be, if you give up your brush to God and wait calmly — for a miracle! And then without any doubt the miracle comes — and transforms the sons of earth into the sons of Heaven. Mental portraits worthy of antique heroes. The look of the eyes, gestures of the hands, postures of the characters leave no doubt. They've come back from where is no return. And yet, like Elijah — they've returned — for us. Their eyes and faces are burning with the light of another life, which can be ours too. They are silent, and need to say nothing, since their gaze reaching the deepest layers of our hearts explains everything. They are Cicerones, the guides to the other side of real life. We need them, and they need us. Because for whom have they won the palm of martyrdom? Certainly not for themselves.