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Small-sized wooden sculpture of the 19th century from the area of the Polish Podtarze region, depicting Pensive Christ. It cost one crown and in 1914 it was purchased in Nowy Targ by Ksawery Prauss, a collector from Zakopane. In 1920, he donated his collection to the Tatra Museum and thus the sculpture, along with 93 other ethnographic objects from Podhale, became part of the museum collection.

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Small-sized wooden sculpture of the 19th century from the area of the Polish Podtarze region, depicting Pensive Christ. It cost one crown and in 1914 it was purchased in Nowy Targ by Ksawery Prauss, a collector from Zakopane. In 1920, he donated his collection to the Tatra Museum and thus the sculpture, along with 93 other ethnographic objects from Podhale, became part of the museum collection.
Ksawery Franciszek Prauss (born in Warsaw in 1874, died in Arco, Italy, in 1925) was a teacher, as well as a political and educational activist. He stayed in the Podhale region from 1902-1905 and again from 1911-1915. Along with other collectors living at the foot of the Tatras at that time, he worked in the Ethnographic Section of the Tatra Society, chaired by Bronisław Piłsudski. Collectors gathered in the Section often organised joint field trips in order to acquire specific ethnographic objects. They searched for them not only in the area of Zakopane, but also in Spiš and Orava. Prauss also worked in the Section for the Protection of the Tatras and the Nature Section of the Tatra Society, and from 1913 was member of the management board of the Tatra Museum. His collection, which later became the property of the Museum in Zakopane, was created during the years 1912-1915. Ksawery Prauss was the first Minister of Religion and Public Education in independent Poland (1918-1919), and also a senator of the Republic of Poland (1922-1925). Shrines placed at the exit roads from villages, at crossroads, by the rivers, in forest clearings, next to houses or in places commemorating important events became an inherent part of the Podtatrze landscape. They were built as an expression of gratitude for health, for being saved from misfortune, the safe return from war and to commemorate deceased family members. Highlanders also hung small cabinet shrines on the walls of their houses. In the shrines, they placed sculptures with the figures of Christ, the Mother of God and saints, made by local, usually anonymous artists. Folk sculptors from the Tatra region of the 19th century were self-taught people. Those whose names we managed to discover were usually good carpenters and joiners, as well as woodcarvers. Almost all highlanders knew how to make wooden objects of everyday use and decorate them beautifully with carving. Their woodworking skills probably made it easier for them to create sculptures. Favourite iconographic themes in traditional folk sculptures of the Podtatrze region were images of Crucified Christ, Pensive Christ, Madonna and Child, Pieta, Holy Trinity, St. John of Nepomuk and St. Florian. The majority of sculptures were polychromes. The depiction of Pensive Christ became popular in Polish folk sculptures at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, as it was a continuation of the iconographic theme known in Poland as early as the Middle Ages. The folk tradition identifies this representation with Christ as the Man of Sorrows, experiencing the last moments before his death on the cross. This image shows Christ who sits on a block of rock, with his right hand supporting his head tilted to the side and with his left hand placed on his knee. He is clad only in a loincloth and has a crown of thorns on his head. Christ sometimes keeps both his hands at his face, having one of his legs supported on the skull of Adam; he is also presented in a purple coat and with a reed – as in the Ecce Homo theme. In wooden sculptures from the Tatra region, Pensive Christ is presented from different perspectives, which indicates that local sculptors derived patterns from a variety of images, usually woodcuts and devotional pictures acquired by highlanders at church fairs and brought from pilgrimage sites, for example from Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, as well as from sculptures of Pensive Christ located in village churches and among roadside figures. According to folk interpretation, Pensive Christ represents charity for the poor, as well as compassion and mercy towards those who suffer. Saddened, martyred Christ, lost in solitary contemplation of human misery and suffering – called "Mercy" or "Poniezusicek" in the Podhale region – was very close to residents of mountain villages. Highlanders went to shrines with his image to pray and ask for mercy, care and assistance in a variety of situations in life.
In one of his stories Na Skalnym Podhalu (In Rocky Podhale), Kazimierz Przerwa Tetmajer used the theme of a shrine of Pensive Christ and the character of a young highlander – a clumsy person living in abject poverty and misery, looking for help and advice. He wrote, "There was a shrine not far away; half-naked Jesus sat therein – bloody, crowned with thorns, resting his chin on his hands. Walek was passing by. He looked at the shrine and saw Lord Jesus. Walek, a weakling, stood before Lord Jesus, looked at Him and said, 'You have nothing?' And it seemed to him that Lord Jesus nodded to him with his head in the crown and also said, 'You have nothing?' Walek saw that He also was half-naked, bloodied, with thorns on His head, and he did not know who Jesus meant… So he asked Him,
'You or me?' Yet Lord Jesus said nothing but only Walek thought so. He nodded again with His head in the crown. 'Eh, I see, we won't talk much,' Walek thought and went. 'Among people I mustn't walk as I'm a loser,' he thought, 'if I couldn’t talk with Lord Jesus. And what advice could He give me? After all, He's as poor as I am. He even has no pants and He's dripping blood as I am. It's trouble to ask Him, who even has no pants, for anything. If the son is in such clothing, thus the father has little more. Live your life, Lord God, as You can, live' (K. Przerwa Tetmajer, Na Skalnym Podhalu, Krakow 1955).

The presented sculpture is one of five 19th-century statues of Pensive Christ in the collection of the Tatra Museum. This small number is probably due to the fact that it was forbidden to resell sculptures depicting divine and sacred figures, the same with sacred pictures. And the first researchers of highland culture and collectors from the Podhale region were more interested in buildings, carvings and paintings on glass than in figural sculptures. Nevertheless, those sculptures that were in their collections, which were donated later to or acquired by the Tatra Museum, are very valuable, and they form the core of the museum collection. Juliusz Zborowski, director of the museum who gathered items for the museum collection during the interwar period, could rarely find objects dating back to the 19th century in the area. Pensive Christ from the collection of Ksawery Prauss is a sculpture in the round made of a single piece of wood. Christ wearing a crown of thorns, with hips covered with a loincloth, sits on a high base covered with irregular cuts imitating a rock, with his head resting on his right hand and his left hand resting on his knee. One end of the loincloth, modelled in the front in a few oblique and parallel folds with the use of deep cuts, flows from the right side of Christ, across the block of rocks and towards the base. His long hair, falling to his back, is modelled with diagonal cuts from the heads sides towards the back. Attention is mainly drawn by the head of Pensive Christ, which is too large in relation to the body, and the elongated arm supporting his tortured face.
The date 16/3/1936 carved on the back of the sculpture refers to the restoration made by Kazimierz Brzozowski, a visual artist, member of the board of the Tatra Museum Society. Restoration involved the cleaning of the figure, supplementing a large loss of wood in the lower part of the sculpture (at the back and on the sides) with a mix of gypsum and glue, and adding a square base to the figure.
The sculpture is covered with oil polychrome on the primer of chalk and glue. It is secondary polychrome; the original polychrome was preserved only on the loincloth and the back of the figure. The loincloth is cinnabar, and the block of rock is grey and blue. The skin is a cream colour, with the exception of the back, where the original flesh colour, yellowish and turned grey, was preserved. Christ's hair and facial hair, as well as the crown of thorns are brown. The added base and the places where the losses in wood had been supplemented were painted black in 1936.
Ksawery Prauss, who bought the sculpture through Bronisława Giżycka (1867? -1921), a well-known collector of folk art from the Podtatrze region, did not record in his inventory the first name of Rajski, from whom he bought the sculpture. Perhaps it was Józef Rajski, who was mayor of Nowy Targ for many years and a member of the Sejm – the Parliament of the Republic of Poland. The Rajski family were engaged in crafts and trade, and participated actively in the public life of the town.
The sculpture might have come from a backyard shrine and was probably an object of private worship. It may be added that statues of Pensive Christ can be found in many roadside shrines in the Podhale region even now.

Elaborated by Zofia Rak (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane), © 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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Wooden sculpture “Pensive Christ”

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