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Our Lady of Mariazell is one of the most broadly used images of St. Mary that can be found in paintings on glass. Legend has it that in 1157 a Benedictine monk from the abbey in St. Lambrecht set out with his pastoral mission to the vicinities of this Austrian town. He was accompanied by the figure of Our Lady with Baby Jesus sculpted in the lime-tree wood.


This folk painting depicting Our Lady with Baby Jesus is completed in the colour stained glass technique on a thin and uneven glass pane with the use of oil paints. This technique involved painting in stages at the reverse side of a transparent painting base, starting from outlines and other details of depiction, through the laying of transparent and semi-transparent paint layers and then opaque paint layers, to finish the background.
The painting comes from the 19th century, and its author and place of completion are unknown. The object was bought between 1902 and 1913 in the Podhale village of Chochołów by collector Bronisława Giżycka. Bronisława Giżycka (1867–1921), member of the Folklore Section of the Tatra Society, as well as the Tatra Museum Society. In the years 1902–1914 she gathered a rich collection of objects of ethnographic value, including a large number of paintings on glass from the entire Podhale region. She sold this collection in 1921 to the Museum of Industry in Kraków (today’s collections of the National Museum in Kraków). Bronisława Giżyczka also sold her paintings to other collectors.
In 1913 the object on display was bought by Konstanty Stecki (1885–1978), botanist, teacher, environmental protection activist, member of the Nature, Folklore and Tatra Protection Section of the Tatra Society. In the years 1911–1914 he collected objects related to folk culture in Podhale, Spiš and Orava. Apart from the colourful ceramics, metal and wooden objects and outfit elements, this collection comprising 207 objects included a large number of paintings on glass. The collector was particularly interested in this type of folk art, and became acquainted with 500 glass paintings that could be then found in Zakopane both in the collections of the Tatra Museum and in private collections. Considering the method of painting, type of ornament used, colour scheme, glass size and its framing, Konstanty Stecki distinguished between three kinds of paintings which he called Spiš-Podhale, Orava and factory-made kinds. The painting on display depicting Our Lady with Baby Jesus was not qualified to any of the above-mentioned groups. The author considered the painting as new due to the good condition of both the glass and the painting layer. As a result of research works, a dissertation on the Tatra regional glass paintings (the first one in Poland) was written in 1914 and published in 1921 in the first issue of Rocznik Podhalański (Podhale Yearbook) published by the Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane.
In 1921 the objects collected by Konstanty Stecki were bought by the Tatra Museum in Zakopane. The 82 paintings that can be found there is the greatest private collection that supplements the Museum’s collection of historical paintings on glass, which is currently composed of 462 exhibits.
The history of the painting on glass technique dates back to antiquity, but in the rural settlements these kinds of paintings did not become popular until the end of the 18th century. The centre of glass paintings concentrated usually near glassworks could be found in many places in Europe, including Poland. The paintings for rural recipients were painted by craftsmen belonging to guilds, family workshops and travelling painters. The paintings were mostly devoted to religious themes. They were fashioned after popular devotional prints and church fair drawings. While copying, the original scheme was often simplified with the omission of many elements that were often of great importance for the iconography of the image.
The painters often made their own paints by grinding them and joining them with an oil varnish. The contours were painted with fast-drying watercolours. The paintings were sold at markets, fairs, in the pilgrimage centres, and often through travelling salesmen.
There is no documented information about paintings on glass in the Polish Tatra region in the 19th century. The paintings found in the highlanders’ cottages in Podhale, Spiš and Orava came from the workshops located near the glassworks in Slovakia, Moravia, Bohemia and Silesia.
In the cottages they were placed behind the balustrade of the plank shelf or hung on the walls.
Depending on the household wealth, their number ranged from several to several dozen in a single house. The most popular images depicted the images of Mary, Christ and patron saints. The least numerous secular objects depicted robber-style images.
At the end of the 19th century paintings on glass started to go out of fashion and were later replaced by printed images. This coincided with the interest of the intelligentsia representatives in the local culture that resulted, among other things, in the establishment of private collections. At first, paintings on glass did not raise great enthusiasm among collectors, which is evidenced by the scarcity of such heritage objects in the oldest collections since the 1880s. The situation changed at the beginning of the next century, when a developed interest in folk art was apparent.
In the inter-war period artists related to the Zakopane environment made their attempts at painting on glass, but it was not until after World War II that this field of art flourished in the Polish Tatra region.
The described painting depicts Our Lady holding Baby Jesus in her left arm, and a gold sceptre in her right hand. The centrally-placed figure of Madonna with Baby Jesus fills nearly the entire surface of this rendition. The composition elements are outlined with a black contour, which is slightly thinner at the face and hand section and thicker in the remaining sections. St. Mary is shown with a full-face, dressed in a long red robe fastened with a golden belt and girded in the lower part with a gold chain with a large rosette in the middle. The whole figure is covered with a broadly spread maphorion in blue-sapphire vertical stripes. Our Lady’s face is turned to the Child she is holding in her arm. Jesus is rendered in a half-profile wearing a long, dark green robe with visible bare feet. He is touching Mary’s face with his right hand and holding a golden orb in his left hand. There are arched golden crowns on their heads. Around Mary’s maphorion are green and red painted rays, a cumulous cloud and a golden half-moon with a human profile. The clean white background does not compete with the image. The painting’s intensive colour scheme, rhythmic hatching system of robes, decorations on Mary’s veil and the rays around her figure similar to flower petals make the rendition highly decorative. This effect is reinforced with the flower ornaments in the painting's corners.
The depiction draws upon the apocalyptic vision of St. John which features a sun-lit woman with a moon under her feet. The sun-shaped robe symbolises the proximity of God and the richness of His gifts, and the moon under her feet stands for purity and victory over sin.
The described painting is one of the two images painted according to the same model that can be found in the Tatra Museum collections.
When looking closely at the painting, one can observe an unevenness of the window pane in several places and some swelling of the surface. These properties characterise the poor quality of glass which was bought by the painters who made glass paintings, because of lower prices. These defects were the source of unintentional, additional value and contributed to the greater shine of the glass pane.
On closer inspection of the painting one can notice the yellowed note with the collector’s name placed in the window cut out in the lower right corner of the frame. In this way Konstanty Stecki marked all his paintings on glass in his collection (except for one where the frame was probably changed). Apart from marking his collection, the collector kept a notebook where he wrote down information about the objects he bought that were sometimes accompanied by accurate drawings or photographs.

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


Paintings on glass

Paintings on glass are painted in  the opposite order to those painted on canvas or paper; first, contours are outlined, then they are filled with details, and finally colours are applied.
Owing to their vivid colour and durability, paintings made with this technique competed with woodcuts, which were very popular in folk culture and could be often encountered in farmyard and rural cottages; therefore, their creators began to combine woodcut...


Paintings on glass are painted in  the opposite order to those painted on canvas or paper; first, contours are outlined, then they are filled with details, and finally colours are applied.
Owing to their vivid colour and durability, paintings made with this technique competed with woodcuts, which were very popular in folk culture and could be often encountered in farmyard and rural cottages; therefore, their creators began to combine woodcut with painting on glass (for example, they painted only a part of the glass surface; from under the rest of the glass pane, a piece of wood engraving was visible).
The origins of folk paintings on glass can be traced back to the middle-class paintings; in the 17th century, glassworks in Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Silesia produced this type of pictures on a large scale, at first for burghers, and then also for customers from the countryside.
Marian and Christological motifs, along with depictions of saints were predominant in folk paintings on glass (secular themes were rare).
The tradition of creating colourful depictions on glass dates back to antiquity. In the Middle Ages, coloured glass was used, among others, to create parts of reliquaries and to decorate altars.
Decorative objects made with this method became more popular in the 16th century, when glassworks began to be established in Europe. The increased availability of paintings on glass in bourgeois circles helped this form to begin to penetrate rural areas. Another reason was the popularisation of the Augsburg paintings painted with oils on glass during this period.
Painting on glass was popular from the late 18th century until the end of the 19th century.
Images of this kind were common throughout the Carpathians. Due to the fact that at the end of the 19th century, in the areas inhabited by highlanders, there were few churches, the presence of images of patron saints in houses seemed natural.
Wandering painting traders who climbed the mountains and reached villages situated even in the highest regions were called obraźnik.
The sale of paintings took the form of a ritual. First, after entering the house, obraźnik prayed with the members of the household to the paintings they already had. Then he read relevant fragments of the Gospel and praised the benefits of praying to the images he was selling. After the transaction was completed, the trader hung the newly bought image on the wall by himself. In this way, it was very difficult for the peasants to refuse the purchase and their home collection of paintings expanded almost naturally.
This form is characterised by a simple, flat drawing, which does not create a sense of a three-dimensional, static composition (except for scenes with highland robbers, which include some dynamics of motion), as well as the compositional symmetry.
In depictions of saints, they can usually be recognised due to their attributes.
Plant motifs are also typical of paintings on glass. Characters often have strongly highlighted cheeks (red circles).
Glass panes used for painting often constituted the production waste of glassworks (they had small bubbles or numerous imperfections). However, defects in the materials proved to be an advantage in the hands of an artist, providing an element of uniqueness in the work (bubbles actually enhanced the visual effect).
Usually, small panes were also used as it was easier for traders to transport them through the mountains.
As L. Lepszy wrote in 1921, the paintings on glass which can be seen in the museum space lost in some way a connection with their natural environment; that is, in the space of a dark peasant chamber, illuminated only by smoky candle light, they encouraged the household members to reflect, reinforced their religion, and became a part of the highlander’s soul and consciousness. The flickering coloured patches on the glass hid a lot more in itself and gave a sense of communion with the sacred.
An additional argument supporting the attractiveness of this form was its longer life-span (paintings on the glass wiped with a cloth recovered its former glory, unlike paintings on canvas which faded over time).
Painting on glass, unlike painting on canvas, where corrections are possible, does not tolerate random brush strokes (it is hard to hide mistakes here), so creators often underlay the glass pane with a previously prepared cardboard drawing.

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

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

See also:
Painting on glass “Highland robbers — welcoming of Surowiec”

Painting on the glass Christ in the grave from Orava
Painting on glass “Our Lady with Child of Mariazell”

Painting on glass “Our Lady of Ludźmierz” by Władysław Walczak-Baniecki


Painting on glass “Our Lady with Child of Mariazell”


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