Two photos of one painting: in one, Mary has an elongated face and narrow eyes, in the other – much larger and clearly defined. This is the result of the conservation of the polychrome “Mother of God in Krakow’s outfit” by Stanisław Wyspiański located in the Krakow Franciscan church. The conservator assures that in fact the controversial image is the closest to the original.
Photos before and after the conservation of the polychrome were published in social media a few days ago by the Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments. Some of the commentators criticized the effect of the works, even accusing the restorers of destroying the work.
On Monday, in the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Krakow, an urgent meeting of the Social Committee for the Restoration of Krakow Monuments was convened. – We got acquainted with the facts and all the documentation on the basis of which the conservation is carried out – said Borysław Czarakcziew, chairman of SKOZK. – It must be admitted that from the moment the original work was painted by Stanisław Wyspiański, major changes took place, resulting from the restoration works carried out at different times during those hundred years – added the chairman of the committee.
He emphasized that much of the original had been lost, and restorers, wherever there were traces of it, tried to preserve and emphasize fragments made by Wyspiański himself. – There remains the issue of the artistry of performance, which may evoke certain emotions – said Czarakchev.
After the meeting, it was decided that experts – experts in Wyspiański’s polychrome paintings, would issue an opinion on the effects of conservation, and if that was their verdict, corrections would be made.
“Nothing bad happened”
According to the vice-chairman of SKOZK, professor Bogusław Krasnowolski, “nothing bad happened” and the conservation problem was “impossible to resolve”. – Authentic Wyspiański is in everything that the cat cried or nothing. However, the question of how to respond to subsequent restoration and conservation remains. I believe that the team of conservators approached it very honestly – he assessed. He added that the people who conducted the work had collected all available materials from the beginning of the 20th century to the end of the 1980s.
– We will wait for the opinion of experts. Perhaps you will have to make small adjustments to some of the faces, for example the face of Maria, who raises the greatest doubts, looks more like a modern girl than a peasant from Bronowice – he added.
– You should rather tone up the public opinion. No tragedy happened. There are some minor adjustments to be made. The work of a good conservation team cannot be discredited, assessed Professor Krasnowolski.
“Technologically weak” paintings
Art historian Rafał Kalinowski said that the paintings made personally by Stanisław Wyspiański were technologically weak. – They were not frescoes, but paint on plaster that began to peel off very quickly. It is known from the documents that as early as 1905 they had to be corrected – said Kalinowski. He added that their condition after the war, in 1945, was terrible. It was then that the first conservation, and in fact restoration, took place, and subsequent works were carried out in the 1980s.
– A few weeks ago, the committee made a decision that we should balance black and white photographs, preserved ruffles and other iconographic sources, and make a version closest to Wyspiański. It was made clear that there is no question that Wyspiański would do it again on a wall where he was no longer there, emphasized the art historian. He added that the misfortune was that unfortunate photos were found on the Internet.
“To respect all those who have done very hard work”
Father Łukasz Brachaczek, supervising the works on behalf of the order, emphasized that the team of conservators was selected in a tender, and the works were thoroughly documented and consulted with a wider group of historians, art historians and conservators. He called for patience and waiting for the opinions of experts and for the final result. – What can I ask for? To respect all those who have done very hard work – appealed Father Brachaczek.
– We are trying, thanks to the support of donors and financing the works, to leave Wyspiański’s work in the best condition to posterity – said the monk.
During the work on the polychrome by Stanisław Wyspiański, conservators had access to the original cardboard boxes with the design of the painting decorations, to the so-called rags and photos taken right after the painting was made. Conservation included, among other things, cleaning them of dirt and dust and restoring the original form and colors of the works of Stanisław Wyspiański.
Polychrome in the Franciscan church
The competition for painting the polychrome in the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Krakow was resolved in May 1894, but the winning design by Józef Mikulski and Franciszek Górski raised reservations, so a second competition was announced. In March 1895, the jury selected the design of Mikulski and Górski again – with the recommendation that it should be implemented under the supervision of the architect Władysław Ekielski. Before starting the work, Ekielski asked both artists to carry out painting trials in the church, but they failed. Eventually, Stanisław Wyspiański was commissioned to make the polychrome.
The artist covered the walls of the presbytery, transept and the beginning of the nave with decorations in pastel colors with floral motifs. When he painted lilies, poppies, pansies, mullein, forget-me-nots, dandelions, nasturtiums, sunflowers and other flowers, he modeled himself on his herbarium. Plant motifs arranged in stripes have been separated by tapes with a geometric pattern.
In the presbytery of the basilica, Wyspiański painted the Mother of God with the Child in a Krakow national costume, the personification of mercy “Caritas”, “The Downfall of Angels” and the figure of Saint Michael the Archangel. In the rear part of the presbytery, Wyspiański painted a gallery of sixteen Polish Piast eagles, which was of particular importance during the partitions. He also created a sapphire vault covered with hundreds of gold stars.
Over PLN 3.5 million for maintenance
Figural representations requiring more craftsmanship, Wyspiański painted on the walls himself. The works were accepted by the artistic commission on December 30, 1895 and was fully favorable to both Wyspiański and Ekielski.
The current conservation work in the basilica is scheduled for autumn 2022, will cost a total of about PLN 3.6 million and is subsidized by the Social Committee for the Restoration of Krakow Monuments from the National Fund for the Restoration of Krakow Monuments, from the budget of the city of Krakow and from sponsors.
Main photo source: Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments in Krakow