Is There Still Room for Artists in the Church?

Vernissage of the paintings of the Merciful Jesus in the Monastery of the Dominicans in the Basilica of the Holy Trinity in Krakow. Photo: Wojciech Latawiec/St. Nicholas Foundation

Ten images of the Merciful Jesus will long worry, move and shake-up the faithful in churches (seven canvases have already been bought by parishes), critics and scoffers.

Of course, every vernissage (private preview of an art exhibition) has its laws, even one honored by the presence of bishops, rectors, superiors of religious orders and the metropolitan archbishop: it is always crowded, there is too much small-talk, critics in overlong scarves glance at the dazzling graduates of the Graphic Arts Department, lamps are shining, saucers clink, and some malcontent nags that the wine is not only weak, but that there also isn’t enough.

Ballet of habits

But on the other hand – at how many vernissages is the din reflected not from a suspended plasterboard ceiling, but from a 14th-century vault? Where the crowd can wander around the cloister, deciphering the epitaphs (“Look, you who stand here, whoever you see is right / a portrait of a Catholic as if living / Andrzej Gawronek rests here in his grave / he took a nice wife into his company…”) from February 3 of the year of Our Lord 1633? And where, standing off to the side a little, you can look not only at the purple of bishops and graduates, but above all, at the circling of the Dominican habits around the gray and black marble floor, as if it were a ballet with scenery arranged by M.C. Escher? “Glassy floor, black dress, white dress and hands.”

There was probably only one such vernissage in Poland this year if in any recent year. But long after the memory of the evening in the Dominican (OP) monastery in Krakow on Stolarska Street fades, ten images of the Merciful Jesus created by Polish painters, based on the visions contained in the Diary of St. Sister Faustyna Kowalska, will continue to worry, move and shake-up the faithful in churches (seven canvases have already been bought by the parishes of the Warsaw-Praga diocese), critics and scoffers.

The exceptionally “providential” motif has probably been re-painted the most, along with Our Lady of Częstochowa, or possibly “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, which for years served as a standard First Communion gift. The most commonly known versions are those referring to Eugeniusz Kazimirowski’s painting, created in Vilnius on the basis of Sister Faustyna’s instructions in 1934 (although, as Dorota Lekka, an art historian and doctor of theology, proves, there are at least three widely known versions – apart from Kazimirowski’s, these are Adolf Hyła’s paintings from 1944 and Ludomir Śleńdziński’s from 1954, as well as countless other original attempts, variants and repaintings).

Ten Faces

This “Vilnian” Merciful Jesus is treated and often dismissed, surrounded by even deeper disdain than that with which many big city elites treat everything related to Catholicism: “some ‘Diary’, who reads it?”, they snort in editorial offices and institutions (answer: half the world). But also printed at times, commissioned by parish priests of new parishes almost as an “element of interior design”: “we’ll place the Merciful Jesus to the left of the altar.” It will be pink and blue, as if someone were buying jumpsuits for twins.

You can read the full article here.

– Wojciech Stanisławski
– Translated by Nicholas Siekierski