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- Date of production 19th century
- Place of origin Nowy Targ, Poland
- Dimensions height: 29 cm
- ID no. E/795/MT
- Collector Ksawery Prauss
- Acquired date 1920
- Object copyright The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane
- Digital images copyright © all rights reserved, Tatra Museum
- Digitalisation RDW MIC, Małopolska's Virtual Museums project
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.more
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