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The painting, Triptych of Saint Mary Magdalene, from Moszczenica Niżna near Stary Sącz is preserved in a rare state of completeness. The essence of the retable can be investigated based on this example.
At the end of the 15th century, the retable constituted an expanded structure composed of an immovable main panel, the movable wings attached to it; a predella, which served as a basis for the wings, the main panel, and a finial.

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The painting, Triptych of Saint Mary Magdalene, from Moszczenica Niżna near Stary Sącz is preserved in a rare state of completeness. The essence of the retable can be investigated based on this example.
At the end of the 15th century, the retable constituted an expanded structure composed of an immovable main panel, the movable wings attached to it; a predella, which served as a basis for the wings, the main panel, and a finial. The mechanism which opens and closes the wings allowed one to change the appearance of the altarpiece and adapt it to the everyday or ceremonial character of the day (according to the liturgical year). The main panel of the altarpiece from Moszczenica depicts St. Mary Magdalene who — according to a legend — spent the end of her life in a hermitage and was taken up by the angels many times during the day in order to listen to heavenly choirs. The front sides of the wings bear the figures of Saints Nicholas and Florian while the back depicts Our Lady of Sorrows and Christ of Sorrows. The finial is filled with an image of Archangel Michael weighing souls on the Last Judgment day. On the predella, there are two angels stretching the image of Christ’s face which, according to legend, was imprinted on the veil of St. Veronica on the way to Golgotha. Differentiation based on the importance of the front and back sides was shown by the various frames: from the inside, they are silver-plated; from the outside, they are only painted red with black rosettes. A similar gradation can be seen in the background and also in the simplification of the painting technique at the back.

Elaborated by Wojciech Marcinkowski, PhD (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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“Columbus egg”, that is, about drawing the thinnest line in painting

An ancient historian from the 1st century — Pliny the Elder — in his 37-volume encyclopedia titled Natural history, compiled knowledge gathered from works of about 200 authors, thanks to which he preserved the echoes of lost writings and information about the Greek world for posterity, which included many stories concerning art. It was he who repeated the now famous anecdote about the dispute between Apelles — the greatest painter of his time — and another representative of this craft: Protogenes. Apelles — once he had heard of the fame of his competitor — went to Rhodes to see his works. However, he did not find the painter at home, while a board ready to be painted was set on the easel, watched by an old woman. When she asked Apelles who was visiting, the painter grabbed the brush and drew an extremely thin line through the centre of the painting, then he replied: “That’s who.”

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An ancient historian from the 1st century — Pliny the Elder — in his 37-volume encyclopedia titled Natural history, compiled knowledge gathered from works of about 200 authors, thanks to which he preserved the echoes of lost writings and information about the Greek world for posterity, which included many stories concerning art.
It was he who repeated the now famous anecdote about the dispute between Apelles — the greatest painter of his time — and another representative of this craft: Protogenes. Apelles — once he had heard of the fame of his competitor — went to Rhodes to see his works. However, he did not find the painter at home, while a board ready to be painted was set on the easel, watched by an old woman. When she asked Apelles who was visiting, the painter grabbed the brush and drew an extremely thin line through the centre of the painting, then he replied: “That’s who.” When Protogenes came back and heard the story about what had apparently occurred, he immediately recognized the opponent. He took the brush and drew an even thinner line through the middle of the painting using another colour. He ordered the old woman to present the picture to Apelles by saying, “this is the one he is looking for”. When he arrived the next day and saw that he had been defeated, he drew an even thinner line through the middle of his opponent’s line using the third colour. The line was so thin, that he could not be defeated. Once Protogenes had seen the painting, he paid tribute to the winner. The board — on which only three intersecting lines had been painted — was given to posterity to admire the highest artistry. Unfortunately, the work was not preserved, because it was destroyed in a fire at Caesar’s house in 4 BC. There is nothing strange about the fact that the craft’s quality and the mastery of a painter was measured by the thickness of the drawn line. Drawing was the first stage of creating a painting, and learning this skill was the basis of painting. Each character and object was contoured. The line created shapes which were later filled with colour, making them spacious and deep; the hair structure was drawn with a line. As an aside, this method was opposed only by Leonardo da Vinci, who questioned the existence of a contour in nature, and thus its use in painting at the end of the 15th century.
Was it possible to go further than Apelles and cut through the thinnest painting line? Yes. The proverbial “Columbus egg” — a simple solution to a difficult issue — were the Concetto spaziale (from Italian “spatial concept”) paintings by Lucio Fontana from the mid-1950s. The artist cut the canvas, creating the thinnest possible line on its surface. At the same time, he created a spatial work out of a two-dimensional plane. Interestingly, the relationship between these two paintings becomes much more evident once the description of the painting — created as a consequence of the ancient artists’ dispute according to Pliny the Elder — is quoted and compared with the works of Fontana:

It was great and contained nothing but lines, almost invisible, so that it might seem empty when juxtaposed with the exquisite works of other artists, but that was the reason why it caught the eye and looked more noble than any other painting.

 

Check the meaning of the line and the outline in the following paintings on the website of Malopolska’s Virtual Museums, Triptych of St. Mary Magdalene; the icon Our Lady Hodegetria.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Bibliography: 
Myśliciele, kronikarze i artyści o sztuce. Od starożytności do 1500, oprac. Jan Białostocki, Warszawa 1988.

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Dragons in medieval art: the sacred

Viewing the dragon as a symbol of evil is rooted in the Bible – even in Psalms, where the power of God is described in the context of defeating dragons (“You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.” – Psalm 74:13, ESV; “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” – Psalm 91:13, ESV). In the Book of Daniel there is a story about the destruction of a serpent, worshiped by the Babylonians – in ancient translations, for example in the Douay-Rheims Bible it was called a dragon (Dn 14:23-27). Finally, the key role in the Apocalypse was played by the dragon: it revealed itself as an evil force, lying in wait for a woman interpreted as the Mother of God (“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child, he might devour it.” – Rev. 12:3-4, ESV).

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Magdalena Łanuszka

Dragons in medieval art: the sacred

Among the royal tombstones in the Wawel cathedral we have, among others a magnificent monument of Władysław Jagiełło – now it is already known that this tombstone was created during the king’s lifetime, and therefore the ruler himself decided what content was to be included on it. The political program was captured through the figures on the sides of the tomb, holding the coats of arms of various lands, and Jagiełło himself (depicted in portrait fashion) was presented as a Christian king who had defeated evil. This evil is symbolised by the dragon writhing under the feet of the ruler.
Medieval recipients grasped the meaning of such depictions in which a good hero tramples evil, represented as a dragon – most often they were displayed on altars, because some saints were considered dragon slayers.

Biblical clues

Viewing the dragon as a symbol of evil is rooted in the Bible – even in Psalms, where the power of God is described in the context of defeating dragons (“You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.” – Psalm 74:13, ESV; “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” – Psalm 91:13, ESV). In the Book of Daniel there is a story about the destruction of a serpent, worshiped by the Babylonians – in ancient translations, for example in the Douay-Rheims Bible it was called a dragon (Dn 14:23-27). Finally, the key role in the Apocalypse was played by the dragon: it revealed itself as an evil force, lying in wait for a woman interpreted as the Mother of God (“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child, he might devour it.” – Rev. 12:3-4, ESV).

Miniature from an Anglo-Norman manuscript of the Apocalypse with commentaries, England (London?), ca. 1265–1270, Bodleian Library in Oxford, MS. Douce 180, fl. 56. Wikimedia Commons


This apocalyptic dragon was to be defeated by Michael, probably the most important of the archangels. The traditionally held view is that he was the one who appeared to Abraham, told Sarah that she would give birth to a son, and warned Lot about the destruction of Sodom. It was Michael, who was supposed to have stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac and save Jacob, with whom he wrestled. These and other biblical scenes were therefore shown in icons dedicated to St. Michael (an example of which can be the icon from the church in Szczawnik from 1631, currently at the District Museum in Nowy Sącz). However, most importantly, Michael was portrayed as a commander and warrior: dressed in armour, with his sword raised.

Icon “St. Michael Archangel” from Orthodox church in Szczawnik, 1631, Nowy Sącz District Museum

 

Michael’s key victory was defeating the Dragon mentioned in the Apocalypse – casting down Satan and his angels: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Rev 12:7-9, ESV).

However, Michael was not always shown fighting the dragon – sometimes he stabs his sword through a devil (not a dragon-shaped one) or devils hanging on from the pan of the scales held by the archangel since it is Michael who is to weigh the deeds of souls during the Last Judgment.

Finial of “Triptych of Saint Mary Magdalene” from Moszczenica Niżna near Stary Sącz,
ca. 1480, National Museum in Kraków, public domain


Knight and princess

However, when we see a holy knight fighting a dragon in some work of art, it does not have to be Michael – if he has no wings but mounts a horse, then it is certainly someone else, namely St. George.

The Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków possesses a 19th-century plaster cast of a sculpture of St. George slaying the dragon. The original cast in bronze comes from Prague Castle and today is held in the National Gallery in Prague. It was founded by the Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg, probably from 1373. These types of images of St. George adorned castles and manor houses all over Europe – rulers, brotherhoods of knights or military orders, eagerly adopted this saint as their special patron.

“Saint George slaying the dragon” – a plaster cast of a medieval sculpture from 1373 (the bronze original in the National Gallery in Prague), 19th century, 
Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków


The cult of St. George began to flourish during the Crusades – and it was then that the episode with the dragon entered his legend. Earlier, St. George was simply worshiped as an early Christian martyr – a military tribune from Cappadocia (today central Turkey), martyred as part of the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian, at the turn of the 3rd and 4th century. Meanwhile, during the Crusades St. George’s legend came to include a theme, derived probably from the ancient myth of Perseus who saved Princess Andromeda sacrificed to a monster. The oldest iconographic examples of the cult of St. George as the dragon slayer, come from Cappadocia; it is worth noting that in this case St. Theodore of Amasea, called Tyro, might have served as an intermediary, who – just like George – was supposed to be a warrior martyred in the early 4th century. In Theodore’s legend, the victory over the dragon was already in circulation in the first millennium. The most popular medieval collection of the lives of saints, i.e. the 13th century “Golden Legend” by Jacop da Voragine, popularized this story in the context of St. George: a dragon was said to have lived in Libia, which contaminated the air with its breath. To appease him, the inhabitants of a city gave the beast two sheep every day; and when sheep became scarce, the dragon began to receive mixed sacrifices: of sheep and people (so the creators of “the Game of Thrones” were right in showing that dragons eat cattle first and then switch to devouring children...). One time the king’s daughter drew the lot – but the princess was saved by St. George, who defeated the dragon. According to one version of the legend, he killed it immediately (and seeing this, the inhabitants of the city were converted), and according to another, he imprisoned the dragon and killed him later, when the inhabitants of the city converted to Christianity.

St. George, a field from the wing in the Triptych of the Holy Trinity, 1467, Świętokrzyska Chapel in the Wawel Cathedral. Wikimedia Commons

A woman with a dragon

However, we must not forget that female saints also appeared on altars with dragons as attributes. Sometimes this would take the form of a baby dragon, carried on a shoulder or even held on a leash – as if it were a little dog. Most often this image refers to St. Margaret, Virgin and Martyr.

The Holy Choir of Holy Virgins (Margaret with a dragon on a leash), a field from the wing of the Holy Trinity Triptych, 1467, Świętokrzyska Chapel in the Wawel Cathedral. Wikimedia Commons


Margaret is another early Christian St. who is thought to have been martyred in the early 4th century under Emperor Diocletian. She is said to have come from Antioch; she refused to marry, because she decided to sacrifice her life for Christ, whereby she was tortured and finally beheaded. A popular medieval legend said that during her imprisonment Margaret survived the temptation – the devil appeared in the form of a dragon, but she was not intimidated. The folk version of this story even conveyed information that the dragon swallowed Margaret, but the saint used a cross to rip the beast’s belly open from the inside and escaped. Therefore, in many medieval depictions St. Margaret is not so much trampling the dragon as emerging from it.

The keystone with the representation of St. Margaret, a plaster cast of the sculpture from before 1322 (original on the sacristy vault in the Wawel cathedral), 18981899, National Museum in Kraków.
Digital Cultural Heritage, public domain


Interestingly, some legends identified Margaret with the princess saved by St. George. Apparently, being swallowed by the dragon was destined for her.

Although St. Margaret could not be called the Mother of Dragons, it is worth noting that she was not only pictured with a dragon, but was also... the patron saint of mothers giving birth! Although the choice of a virgin as a patron during labour may not be quite accurate, in this case, the story about being swallowed by a dragon tipped the scales. Because since Margaret managed to get out of the dragon’s belly unscathed, her intercession could prove effective in the dangerous (both for the baby and mother) act of childbirth...

Saint Martha Taming the Tarasque, from Hours of Henry VIII, Jean Poyer, Tours, ok. 1500, The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, MS H.8, fol. 191v. Wkimedia Commons

 

Another saintly woman with a dragon was St. Martha – evangelical sister of Maria, identified with Magdalene, and Lazarus. She was too supposed to have received Christ in her home and fed him – hence this St. became the patron of housewives. Martha (like Mary Magdalene and Lazarus) has been surrounded by special worship in southern France, because according to medieval legends, the siblings were said to have gone there after Christ’s ascension, ended their lives there and their remains were said to have been interred in the local churches.

Of course, in this situation the life of St. Martha also appeared in the “Golden Legend” collection: we learn from it that in the forest by the Rhone, somewhere between Arles and Avignon, there lived a terrible dragon named Tarasque – it dwelled in the river, and when Martha set off to meet it, she found it devouring a man. The saint sprinkled the dragon with holy water, showed it the cross, and the beast immediately turned into a gentle creature. Martha tied the beast with her own belt, and the local folks killed it with spears and stones. Interestingly, in some images, St. Martha “lost” the dragon and appeared only with a bucket and aspergillum as attributes – an example of such a depiction could be a field from the wing of the altar from Korzenna (Master of the Triptych from Wójtowa, ca. 1525, The National Museum in Kraków).

St. Martha and St. Dorothy, quarter from the wing from Korzenna, Master of the Triptych from Wójtowa, ca. 1525, National Museum in Kraków. Photo: Photo Lab NMK, public domain


Dragon tamed

The lives of many saints contained an episode about defeating a dragon – Michael, George and Margaret were the most popular, but this type of beast was also said to have been tamed by, for example, Pope Sylvester, St. Clement Bishop of Metz, St. Romanus, bishop of Rouen or St. Hilarion the Hermit. We have a depiction of the latter on the wing of the polyptych of St. John the Almoner, founded by Mikołaj Lanckoroński from Brzezie before 1504 for the chapel at St. Catherine church in Kazimierz (a district in Kraków). Today, this altar is exhibited in the National Museum in Kraków – its iconography is very interesting, because it contains scenes from legends of saints from the Eastern Church who are not so familiar to us. Hilarion was said to have made the sign of the cross, over the dragon, upon which the beast burst into flames.

A field with a scene from the legend of St. Hilarion, polyptych John the Almoner, before 1504,
National Museum in Kraków. Photo: Photo Lab NMK, public domain


On the second wing of the same reredos, another dragon is shown – but this time, it is not dangerous. This field presents a little-known episode from the legend of St. Simeon Stylites, recorded in the early Christian collection of Lives of the Desert Fathers. Once, a half-blind dragon crawled up to the pillar on which Simeon lived; it turned out that a huge splinter had become lodged in the dragon’s eye. Simeon pulled it out and thereby healed the dragon, which remained under his pillar for two hours, thanking for being rescued, and then returned to his lair without harming anyone.

 

A field with a scene from the legend of St. Simeon Stylites, John the Almoner polyptych, before 1504,
National Museum in Kraków. Photo: Photo Lab NMK, public domain


In addition to the lives of saints, dragons also appeared in the secular culture of the Middle Ages, for example, in knightly romances or in local legends of various cities and towns... But this is material for a completely different story.

Elaborated by Magdalena Łanuszka, PhD
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland.

 

Magdalena Łanuszka, PhD – a graduate of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków with a PhD in the History of Art, a specialist in the Middle Ages. She has cooperated with various institutions: in the field of didactics (giving lectures at, among others, the Jagiellonian University, the Heritage Academy, numerous Universities of the Third Age), research work (including for the University of Glasgow, The Polish Academy of Learning), as well as in popularizing science (e.g. for the Polish National Archives, the National Institute of Museology and Protection of Collections, the National Library, Radio Kraków, and Tygodnik Powszechny). She is the coordinator of the project Art and Heritage in Central Europe at the International Cultural Centre in Kraków as well as the editor-in-chief of the local RIHA Journal. The author of a blog on looking for interesting facts related to art: www.posztukiwania.pl.

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Niezwykłe przygody świętego Mikołaja

Biskup Mikołaj był od średniowiecza jednym z najpopularniejszych świętych, czczonych zarówno na Zachodzie, jak i w Kościele wschodnim. Z tego powodu wiele jego wizerunków zachowało się i w ołtarzach kościołów rzymskokatolickich, i na ikonach.

Mikołaj żył na przełomie III i IV wieku, był biskupem starożytnej Miry w Azji Mniejszej (dzisiaj Demre w Turcji), ale bardzo często tego świętego określa się jako Mikołaja z Bari, ponieważ w XI wieku włoscy kupcy wywieźli jego relikwie właśnie do tego miasta. Skradzione z Miry szczątki biskupa złożyli w specjalnie do tego celu wzniesionej bazylice św. Mikołaja, gdzie kilka wieków później pochowano naszą królową Bonę.

Najstarsza wzmianka o Mikołaju pochodzi prawdopodobnie z VI wieku. Jest to opowieść o tym, że biskup ocalił trzech dowódców wojskowych, niesłusznie skazanych na śmierć. Wielką popularnością cieszyła się także legenda, wedle której Mikołaj w cudowny sposób uciszył burzę na morzu i dzięki temu uratował żeglarzy – przedstawienia związane z tymi opowieściami pojawiały się niemal w każdym cyklu legendy świętego Mikołaja.

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Biskup Mikołaj był od średniowiecza jednym z najpopularniejszych świętych, czczonych zarówno na Zachodzie, jak i w Kościele wschodnim. Z tego powodu wiele jego wizerunków zachowało się i w ołtarzach kościołów rzymskokatolickich, i na ikonach.

Mikołaj żył na przełomie III i IV wieku, był biskupem starożytnej Miry w Azji Mniejszej (dzisiaj Demre w Turcji), ale bardzo często tego świętego określa się jako Mikołaja z Bari, ponieważ w XI wieku włoscy kupcy wywieźli jego relikwie właśnie do tego miasta. Skradzione z Miry szczątki biskupa złożyli w specjalnie do tego celu wzniesionej bazylice św. Mikołaja, gdzie kilka wieków później pochowano naszą królową Bonę.

Najstarsza wzmianka o Mikołaju pochodzi prawdopodobnie z VI wieku. Jest to opowieść o tym, że biskup ocalił trzech dowódców wojskowych, niesłusznie skazanych na śmierć. Wielką popularnością cieszyła się także legenda, wedle której Mikołaj w cudowny sposób uciszył burzę na morzu i dzięki temu uratował żeglarzy – przedstawienia związane z tymi opowieściami pojawiały się niemal w każdym cyklu legendy świętego Mikołaja.

Ikona Święty Mikołaj, 1. ćwierć XVI wieku, Muzeum Okręgowe w Nowym Sączu.
Digitalizacja: RPD MIK, domena publiczna


Pierwszy żywot świętego, autorstwa pewnego Michała, powstał w 1. połowie IX wieku (Vita Per Michaëlem), podobnie jak kolejny żywot, pióra św. Metodego Wyznawcy (patriarchy Konstantynopola, zm. 847 – to inna postać niż brat św. Cyryla), znany na Zachodzie z łacińskiego przekładu Jana, diakona neapolitańskiego z X wieku (Laudatioi Sancti Nicolai). Jednak najpopularniejszą wersją legendy i źródłem wiedzy dla artystów średniowiecznych była niewątpliwie opowieść zamieszczona w trzynastowiecznej Złotej Legendzie Jakuba de Voragine.

Tryptyk świętej Marii Magdaleny z Moszczenicy Niżnej koło Starego Sącza – lewe skrzydło,
ok. 1480, Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie. Digitalizacja: RPD MIK, domena publiczna


Święty Mikołaj był przedstawiany w stroju biskupim, ale to akurat dotyczy wielu świętych; Mikołaja możemy rozpoznać po jego szczególnym atrybucie, jakim są trzy złote kule, najczęściej leżące na trzymanej przez niego księdze. Atrybut ten wywodzi się z opowieści o tym, jak biskup chciał pomóc ubogiemu człowiekowi, który miał trzy córki i nie miał dla nich posagu – ale chciał zrobić to anonimowo. Ojciec córek był gotów, jak mówi Złota legenda: „[…] trzy swoje niezamężne córki wysłać na ulicę, aby w ten sposób móc żyć za cenę ich hańby”. Mikołaj zdecydował się nocą podrzucić bryłę złota przez okno do domu tego człowieka – ów zaś natychmiast wykorzystał dar i wydał najstarszą córkę za mąż. Następnie duchowny jeszcze dwa razy powtórzył swoją nocną wyprawę. Za trzecim razem jednak ojciec córek obudził się i pobiegł za darczyńcą, aby mu podziękować. Wszystkie trzy dziewczyny oczywiście szczęśliwie wyszły za mąż. W związku z tą legendą przyjęło się, że Mikołaj nocą podrzuca dzieciom prezenty.

Św. Mikołaj uposażający trzy ubogie panny, kwatera
ze skrzydeł z Domaradza, ok. 1520, Muzeum Narodowe
w Krakowie. Fot. Pracownia Fotograficzna MNK


Choć Mikołaj stał się patronem dzieci, to w opowieściach podkreślano jego wyjątkową dojrzałość. Jedną z bardziej intrygujących scen w cyklach legendy św. Mikołaja jest przedstawienie jego narodzin. Ten epizod odnosi się do tekstów jeszcze z pierwszego tysiąclecia, według których święty już urodził się jako świadomy i pobożny człowiek, nawet fizycznie rozwinięty zdecydowanie ponad swój wiek. Natychmiast po narodzinach, kiedy go kąpano, nawet o własnych siłach samodzielnie stanął w wanience! Ponadto w niemowlęctwie miał odmawiać matce przyjmowania pokarmu we środy i piątki częściej niż raz dziennie, ponieważ już jako noworodek narzucał sobie w te dni pobożny post.

Narodziny św. Mikołaja, kwatera ze skrzydeł z Domaradza, ok. 1520, Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie. Fot. Pracownia Fotograficzna MNK


W wielu średniowiecznych żywotach świętych pojawia się postać Żyda – zazwyczaj jako bohatera negatywnego, który jednak na koniec się nawraca. Jako że św. Mikołaj był patronem nie tylko żeglarzy, ale także kupców, to sporo związanych z nim legend dotyczy pieniędzy – i jakoś tak automatycznie bohaterami tych opowieści stają się Żydzi. Co ciekawe, nie zawsze to Żyd jest czarnym charakterem; przykładowo, w Złotej Legendzie przeczytamy, że pewien człowiek pożyczył od Żyda pieniądze, jako zabezpieczenie składając przysięgę przy ołtarzu św. Mikołaja. Potem zaś długu nie oddawał, Żyd zatem pozwał go przed sąd. Sprytny dłużnik napełnił monetami wydrążoną laskę i w sądzie, przed złożeniem przysięgi, dał tę laskę swemu wierzycielowi do potrzymania. Następnie przysiągł, że oddał cały dług, po czym odebrał laskę i udał się do domu. Po drodze zginął jednak w wypadku. Przejechał go wóz, przy tej okazji laska złamała się, a złoto wysypało. Musiało być to niedaleko od sądu, ponieważ zaraz zbiegli się ludzie, a wśród nich był i ów oszukany Żyd. Zamiast jednak zabrać pieniądze, które mu się należały, Żyd nagle powiedział, że odbierze swój dług, o ile zabity wróci do życia za przyczyną świętego Mikołaja. Tak też się stało – i oczywiście Żyd wówczas przeszedł na chrześcijaństwo.

Kolejna, nie mniej absurdalna opowieść mówi, że pewien Żyd, choć nie czcił chrześcijańskich świętych, kazał sobie wykonać figurę św. Mikołaja – słyszał bowiem, że jest to patron ludzi interesu. Liczył na to, że taka figura w magiczny sposób będzie chronić jego dobytek. Niestety, pewnego razu złodzieje ograbili dom Żyda, pozostawiwszy jedynie ową rzeźbę. Po powrocie do domu gospodarz bardzo się rozgniewał, zaczął biczować i chłostać nieszczęsną figurę. Tymczasem, gdy złodzieje dzielili się łupem, nagle objawił się im sam święty Mikołaj! Był cały posiniaczony i pobity; powiedział, że to z ich powodu tak cierpi. Złodzieje oczywiście byli wstrząśnięci tą cudowną wizją, w związku z czym wrócili do Żyda i oddali mu wszystko, co ukradli. Tradycyjnie na koniec wszyscy się nawrócili – zarówno złodzieje, jak i Żyd, który zdecydował się przyjąć chrzest.

Ocalenie żeglarzy oraz Biczowanie posągu św. Mikołaja, kwatery skrzydła retabulum,
1. połowa XVI wieku, Muzeum Czartoryskich, Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie.
Fot. Pracownia Fotograficzna MNK


Żywoty świętych obfitują w niezwykłe przygody, ale trzeba przyznać, że legenda Mikołaja była wyjątkowo barwna. Postać ta również w niezwykły sposób osadziła się w we współczesnej kulturze, wiele zresztą tracąc ze swego pierwowzoru. Angielski Santa Claus wywodzi się z holenderskiego Sinterklaas, który jest zbitką od Sint-Nicolaas – zapewne mało kto dziś już o tym pamięta, zwłaszcza, że strój biskupa zastąpił czerwony kombinezon, spopularyzowany w latach trzydziestych XX wieku przez reklamy Coca-Coli. Z drugiej strony, musimy też pamiętać, że określenie Mikołaja jako przybysza z dalekiej północy, lecącego po niebie z zaprzęgiem reniferów ma przedchrześcijańskie korzenie – sięga do tradycji germańskich i wiąże się z zimowym świętem przesilenia Jul oraz z bogiem Odynem. Cóż, nawet jeśli popkultura odarła Mikołaja z biskupiej powagi, to przynajmniej przy okazji w niepamięć poszły również niezbyt sensowne legendy o tym świętym – zwłaszcza te o antysemickim wydźwięku.

Opracowanie: dr Magdalena Łanuszka
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa 3.0 Polska.

dr Magdalena Łanuszka – absolwentka Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego w Krakowie, doktor historii sztuki, mediewistka. Ma na koncie współpracę z różnymi instytucjami: w zakresie dydaktyki (wykłady m.in. dla Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Akademii Dziedzictwa, licznych Uniwersytetów Trzeciego Wieku), pracy badawczej (m.in. dla University of Glasgow, Polskiej Akademii Umiejętności) oraz popularyzatorskiej (m.in. dla Archiwów Państwowych, Narodowego Instytutu Muzealnictwa i Ochrony Zbiorów, Biblioteki Narodowej, Radia Kraków, Tygodnika Powszechnego). W Międzynarodowym Centrum Kultury w Krakowie administruje serwisem Art and Heritage in Central Europe oraz prowadzi lokalną redakcję RIHA Journal. Autorka bloga o poszukiwaniu ciekawostek w sztuce: www.posztukiwania.pl.

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