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The theme of a Pensive Christ is one of the most popular ones in folk art. The figure from the Pieniny Mountains Museum collection comes from the village of Sromowce Niżne, the population of which belongs to an ethnographic group of Pieniny highlanders. It was made in 1937 by Michał Plewa, a folk artist.

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The theme of a Pensive Christ is one of the most popular ones in folk art. The figure from the Pieniny Mountains Museum collection comes from the village of Sromowce Niżne, the population of which belongs to an ethnographic group of Pieniny highlanders. It was made in 1937 by Michał Plewa, a folk artist. Expressive in its content, the sculpture is a good example of an original work of autogenous art. Certain awkwardness of form provides it with charm and uniqueness.
Christ is presented in a sitting position. His feet are resting on a rectangular base decorated with the ornament in the shape of teeth. His unnaturally long right hand resting on the knee is bent and is barely touching his face. His face reveals extreme suffering. The head is surrounded by a crown of thorns. His left hand and legs are disproportionally short and slim in relation to the rest of the body. His ribs are strongly marked. The whole figure is covered with a long red coat with a blue perizonium (loincloth). The uncovered parts of the body are light brown.
The figure probably comes from a chapel hanging on the external wall of a residential building. It is the expression of religiousness of the folk population, in this particular case — one of the former residents of Sromowce Niżne.
The sculpture belonged in writer Jan Wiktor’s collection. It found its way to the collection in the Pieniny Mountains Museum after the death of its owner (1967), initially as a deposit of the National Museum in Kraków, and from 1982 as an exhibit at the Pieniny Mountains Museum.

Elaborated by Barbara Węglarz (Nowy Sącz District Museum), © all rights reserved

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Writer Jan Wiktor and Szczawnica

Jan Wiktor (1890–1967) was a novelist and journalist, the eulogist of the landscape and history of the Sącz land. His relationship with the Pieniny Mountains began in 1913 when he arrived in Szczawnica for medical treatment. He actively participated in the life of the resort and for some time worked in the Resort Committee. 

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Jan Wiktor (1890–1967) was a novelist and journalist, the eulogist of the landscape and history of the Sącz land. He was the author of Orka na ugorze [The Plough on the Fallow Land], Skrzydlaty mnich [The Winged Monk], the monograph Pieniny i ziemia sądecka [The Pieniny Mountains and the Sącz Land], the column Rozmowy pod parasolem [The Talks under the Umbrella] and the co-author of Ilustrowany przewodnik po Pieninach i Szczawnicy [The Illustrated Guide to the Pieniny Mountains and Szczawnica]. His relationship with the Pieniny Mountains began in 1913 when he arrived in Szczawnica for medical treatment. He actively participated in the life of the resort and for some time worked in thWritere Resort Committee. He called for the development of Szczawnica and represented the interests of the Pieniny Mountains and the National Park. His engagement in the life of the local highlanders resulted in the collection of valuable ethnographic materials. The writer was also an enthusiast and collector of folk art. He left a rich collection of paintings on glass, roadside chapels, figures, clay ceramics and others.

Elaborated by Barbara Węglarz (Nowy Sącz District Museum), © all rights reserved

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What afflicts Christ from the shrine

Shrines and roadside crosses have become a permanent feature of the Polish landscape. One of the most frequently taken up folk themes by sculptors and most frequently encountered figures was — and still remains — the Pensive Christ. The attitude of the suffering Christ — who is lost in reverie — was close to the faithful, recognizing the enormity of human affairs and miseries in his concerned face. The vitality and frequency of this image is an example of attachment to a certain representational tradition. In Christian terms, it was symbolic and carried deep passion, but now is no longer fully readable.

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Shrines and roadside crosses have become a permanent feature of the Polish landscape. One of the most frequently taken up folk themes by sculptors and most frequently encountered figures was — and still remains — the Pensive Christ. The attitude of the suffering Christ — who is lost in reverie — was close to the faithful, recognizing the enormity of human affairs and miseries in his concerned face. The vitality and frequency of this image is an example of attachment to a certain representational tradition. In Christian terms, it was symbolic and carried deep passion, but now is no longer fully readable.
Ichnographically, this type of image was identified with the presentations occurring in German literature as: Christus im Elend, Christus in der Rast. It distinguished itself from a scene of Resting before Crucifixion (Preparation before Crucifixion, Anticipation), which was a phase on the Way of the Cross (situated between the Stations X and XI), which is not regarded as being an element of Station of Cross nowadays. The medieval writings considered it to be the most painful of all the Stations of Cross, when an exhausted Christ sat on the “stone of rest” and was deep in melancholic thoughts. In the 17th century, after the station of Christ’s Passion was ultimately arranged, the scene was deleted.
In literature and fine arts, this arrangement of characters has a relatively long representational tradition. In ancient art, for example, Hercules was shown in this way, resting after carrying out all his works; in the early Christian tradition, Adam, Job, and Saint Joseph — and thereafter also Elias — were all presented in such a fashion. Each of these figures is depicted while resting after enormous effort — beyond their power — during which they succumbed to deep quandary, the feeling of sadness, and everlasting regret. This manner of depiction was common in the iconography of many cultures.

Albrecht Dürer, title page of Little Passion, woodcut, 1511, source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Researchers assume that one of the sources of the popularity of this image was, among others, Albrecht Dürer’s drawing from the cover of “Little Passion” (a collection of 37 drawings created at the beginning of the 16th century), which was a source of inspiration, and an iconographic pattern for many artists.
The attributes of the Pensive Christ are elements associated with the passion and the consequence of situations prior to this scene: i.e. the mocking of Christ or the way to Golgotha. That is why Christ has a crown of thorns on his head and a coat on his shoulders, and sometimes he also holds a sceptre, a cane, or a palm in his hand. Such an interpretation of the image may indicate the merging of two types of presentations: Pensive Christ and Ecce Homo (from Latin: Here is Man). Often, a skull appeared at Christ’s feet, which was the skull of Adam. After reaching Golgotha — while Christ waited for the sentence to be executed — soldiers dug the hole to put the cross in. During this action, they came across bones, because — according to legend — the grave of Adam’s forefather was to be found there (hence the frequent depictions of the skull and crossed tibias on the underside of the crucifix beam). This way, the history of salvation ran full circle.
Frasunek in old Polish means worry, sadness, or grief. The presentation of the Pensive Christ is an extremely intense character study. All the formal elements of this image — from the body posture to the facial expression — reflect his psychological state. This depiction is very suggestive, because Christ becomes “human” in his concern and very close to a single individual. Therefore, it can be interpreted in many ways. Religion very often uses general, timeless symbols, adapted by iconography, which are legible both on an intellectual and intuitive level.
Knowing the genesis of the iconography, we see that certain threads persist in cultural consciousness in an unchanging formal and semantic form, but may be interpreted in many ways. Pensive Christ — as any other work — can be understood and perceived individually (without reference to the wider context), although placing this representation against the background of the whole passion allows its full image to be obtained, enabling us to learn its proper sense and deep meaning.

The only museum collection of figures of Pensive Christ in Poland is located in Jeżowe.

Elaborated by Editorial team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

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

Bibliography:
Agnieszka Ławicka, Religijność ludowa — Chrystus Frasobliwy [access: 09.2019].

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Folk shrines: churches, boxes and canopies

Shrines are a material expression of popular piety, so characteristic of the Polish landscape. Among their various forms, we can find both churches and shapes and finally different types of canopies.

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Shrines are a material expression of popular piety, so characteristic of the Polish landscape. Among their various forms, we can find both churches and shapes and finally different types of canopies.
The shrines were located in the centre of the village, on its borders, in fields, in the forest, along roads leading to a settlement, and especially at their intersections, in places of tragic accidents, battles, and extraordinary events. In the nineteenth century, the custom of hanging them on the walls of houses and setting them up in front of farmsteads became widespread. In Małopolska, including Podhale, shrines used to be hung from almost every cottage.
Shrines intended for hanging often had original forms, referring to the local sacral architecture. They served as a cover for the statues of the saints placed inside them, which were believed to guarantee safety and prosperity.
In Podhale, they were mostly depictions of Christ: Pensive, Crucified, Falling under the cross, The Holy Trinity, the Mother of God with the Infant Jesus, Pieta as well as the figures of saints, especially John of Nepomuk and Florian. The authors of the sculptures were local carpenters and woodcarvers who knew well various types of wood and the principles of its processing, and crafted them for the needs of the village community or a family circle. They found patterns in rural churches; they also obtained them from roadside figures or pictures brought from pilgrimage sites.
The theme of the sculptures depicting the Passion of the Lord, which were popular in Podhale, was influenced by the pilgrimage centre in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, where, in 1602, Michał Zebrzydowski funded the first Polish Calvary. Since the seventeenth century, people from Podhale, Silesia, Slovakia, and Hungary made pilgrimages to that sanctuary. Religious experiences related to the participation in the mystery of the Christ’s Passion on Good Friday, the opportunity to observe images of saints, and devotional pictures brought from the place of worship were often a source of inspiration for the folk artists from Podhale.

Read more about the shrines erected among lilacs and lime trees, roadside crosses and shrines, and about the iconography of the Pensive Christ: what troubles the Christ from the shrine.

Elaborated by Anna Kozak (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane), © all rights reserved

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Wayside crosses and chapels

Wayside wooden crosses were usually several metres high. With time, the wood decayed and had to be dug in again; this was usually done after All Souls’ Day. This action was repeated until the cross became quite small. Chapels and crosses, which were an expression of...

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Nowica, wayside chapel, 1918,
source:
 National Digital Archives

Wayside wooden crosses were usually several metres high. With time, the wood decayed and had to be dug in again; this was usually done after All Souls’ Day. This action was repeated until the cross became quite small.
Chapels and crosses, which were an expression of folk religiosity, were erected at crossroads, intersections, and also at the ends of villages or small towns, on the border between the inhabited space and the space of nature. It was believed that the presence of a holy sign would not only ensure the safety of the inhabitants, but also effectively ward off evil spirits and demons.
It was also common to put up cholera crosses that commemorated epidemics of this disease.
The founders of chapels maintained the shrine, as well as its surroundings. They planted trees nearby, mainly lime trees and chestnuts which bloom, smell and attract insects in the spring. Sometimes, it happens that by determining the age of a tree, one can also determine the date when the chapel was erected.

See in our collection:
Chapel entitled “Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross”
Wayside shrine “Pensive Christ”
Shrine with a scene of the Scourging of Christ


Currently, wayside chapels can be found not only in rural areas, but also in the centres of big cities. They are often a sign of the past of the places in which they stand and a testimony to how developing cities took over rural spaces, of how borders are being pushed back, and what changes are taking place in the landscape.

Elaborated by Anna Berestecka (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums), 
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland.

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Sculpture “Pensive Christ”

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