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The collection of historical paintings on glass in the Tatra Museum includes 459 paintings. Most of them are paintings on sacral themes that performed religious and decorative functions in the highlanders’ rooms. Only thirteen of them are secular images. Nine of them are devoted to the scene drawn from the bandit’s legend when Janosik’s fellowship receives a new companion who shows off his agility and, while jumping over a bonfire, simultaneously cuts the tip of a spruce with a shepherd’s axe and shoots off the tip of a fir–tree with a pistol held in the other hand.

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The collection of historical paintings on glass in the Tatra Museum includes 459 paintings. Most of them are paintings on sacral themes that performed religious and decorative functions in the highlanders’ rooms. Only thirteen of them are secular images. Nine of them are devoted to the scene drawn from the bandit’s legend when Janosik’s fellowship receives a new companion who shows off his agility and, while jumping over a bonfire, simultaneously cuts the tip of a spruce with a shepherd’s axe and shoots off the tip of a fir–tree with a pistol held in the other hand.
The paintings on glass found in Podhale featured relatively few robber-themed paintings, which justifies their great value for the museum collection.
The “Janosik-themed paintings” were almost completely eradicated by Father Józef Stolarczyk (1816–1893), the parish priest in Zakopane, who fought against the bandit tradition among highlanders and ordered them to break the glass paintings even if they had religious content.
Completed around 1840 by an anonymous artist, the painting on display depicts the moment of acceptance of the robber named Surowiec to Janosik’s gang. It is on permanent display in the Main Building of the Tatra Museum.
One of the inherent pieces of equipment in the traditional highlander room in Podhale was a long shelf, known as a slat, nailed to the wall opposite the entrance behind which the sacred paintings on glass were placed next to one another. The slat pegs were used to hang holiday outfits; it was there that the decorative ceramics (plates, bowls, jugs) that were bought in Slovakia were set or hung. In the highlanders’ rooms the robber-themed paintings depicting Janosik and his comrades were hung right next to the religious paintings. One could also see them in the village inns at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. Robbing raids were a matter of honour for highlanders, and famous bandits became their heroes and were generally considered as noble people who robbed the wealthy and shared their plunder with the poor. During their raids they performed extraordinary deeds that were widely talked about in Podhale. Particular fame followed Janosik — a Slovakian robber whom the highlanders saw as a practically superhuman creature. He was the folk hero of the southern and northern part of the Tatra Mountains.
In the 2nd half of the 19th century, glass paintings started to be replaced in Podhale with oleographs. There were fewer and fewer of them in cottages, particularly due to the fact that Father Józef Stolarczyk called upon his parish members to get rid of these hideous daubs which were in contrast with the canons accepted in art of the 19th century. It was at that time that the highlanders destroyed most of the glass paintings and threw them into the streams. The rest were saved by private collectors who considered paintings on glass as an element of native culture and purchased them for their collections out of patriotic duty, even though they were not highly interesting from an aesthetic point of view. In terms of content, the images of bandits painted on glass were more attractive to collectors, as they proved the vitality of the robbers’ legend among highlanders. Unfortunately, there were few of such paintings preserved when they started their collecting activities in Zakopane and Podhale.
One of the paintings — “Highland robbers – welcoming of Surowiec” was purchased in a highlanders’ inn by Maria and Bronisław Dembowski for their collection in the years 1886–1893. Maria Dembowska hand wrote the names of the robbers on the back, as given to her by Sabała: Janosik, Gajdoś, Ilczyk, Janko Hyrczyk, Baczyński. According to the highlanders’ legends collected by Kazimierz Łapczyński and published in print in 1862, the new candidate accepted to the fellowship of Janosik who was famous in the entire Tatra region was Surowiec, while the other robbers were Janosik, Cwajnoga, Klapka, Mocny and Wyskok. According to the version recorded in an old wood engraving that is identical in drawing and composition to the robber–themed glass paintings, the depicted bandits go by the following names: Janosik, Flyg, Surowiec, Adamczyk, Potaczek, Sinocha.
Janosik, aka Jura Janošik (1688–1713), who appears in every version, was a robber operating in Slovakia. He was captured in Klenovec. Tortured during the investigation, he was then sentenced by the Hungarian court in Liptovský Mikuláš to death by hanging on a hook. One of the robbers, Surowiec, was also a historical figure, but the folk tradition mistakenly associates him with Janosik’s fellowship, as he was born and robbed after Janosik’s death. Jakub Surowiec (ca. 1715–1740), sheep shepherd, Slovakian bandit; he headed a bandit group operating in the area of Nowy Targ, Orava, Pohronie region in central Slovakia to the vicinity of Lučenec near the Hungarian border since 1739. In 1740 he was captured and executed. He became the centre of his own folk tradition that is exemplified by the songs about this robber.

Surowiec, Surowiec,                                          Surowiec, Surowiec,

kieloś wyżarł owiec?                                          How many sheep did you eat?

Owieczek nie wiem co,                                     I don’t know how many sheep,

baranów siedem sto.                                         But a hundred seven rams in all.

Robber–themed paintings on glass were created in the painting centres in Slovakia, and, iconographically, they drew upon the wood engravings and popular drawings referring to various versions of stories about Janosik. These paintings reached Podhale from our southern neighbours in the 19th century.
The painting on display comes from Ždiar in Spiš (Slovakia). It was bought in 1918 by Stanisław Hatyra. It was then resold in 1934 for 100 złotys to Juliusz Zborowski, director of the Tatra Museum. The painting had to be in very poor condition because right after the purchase it was subjected to conservation works conducted by artist Kazimierz Brzozowski, a member of the board of the Society of the Tatra Museum. He cleaned the glass and the frame, preserved the peeling paint with celluloid varnish and fixed the glass in the frame. At the back of the frame he glued the bookbinding cloth and attached plywood with screws. Thus, the protected painting survived until the next remedial conservation conducted in 2003.
It depicts Janosik welcoming Surowiec to his company. In the middle is a red cauldron (kotlik) on the ground surrounded by bonfires on all sides. Surowiec is jumping over the cauldron holding a shepherd’s axe in his raised right hand and a firing pistol in his left hand stretched to the side. He has bent legs and crossed feet. On the left is Janosik leaning on his shepherd’s axe. He is looking at the show and holding a bottle of booze in his arm stretched out towards Surowiec. Behind Janosik, on a red raised platform, is a brown barrel with a gun leaning on it. A bandit standing next to Janosik is playing the bagpipes. Legend has it that when he saw Surowiec’s jump and shot, Janosik called out the following:

Wiwat Surowiec                                                 Cheers to Surowiec

Nasz chłopiec!                                                     He is one of us!

A ty mu graj na dudkach grajku,                      Musician, play the bagpipes for him,

Bo Surowiec                                                        Because Surowiec

Będzie nasz chłopiec.                                        Will be one of us. 

On the right three robbers are standing in a row: two of them are handing a bottle of vodka to each other, while the third one is holding a rifle in his left hand and a shepherd’s axe in his right hand to support himself. The bandits’ outfits are uniforms with numerous red and gold details. They consist of white trousers with gold stripes and embroidery (parzenice), brown shirts with gold trimming at the lower end of the sleeves, red belts and boots tied to the calves with straps on the surface of the trousers, and high black hats with a red pattern and golden decoration on the edges. Only Janosik is singled out by wearing red trousers. Behind the robbers, in the background, there is a row of schematically painted tall coniferous trees with red trunks and black and grey crowns. Their narrow outline does not cover the background but is embedded in it. At the top of the painting are two red semicircles with white rims. The background of the painting is dark blue, and the drawing is made with black and brown and red strokes of various thickness.
The historical paintings on glass used vivid colours and were abounded in red, blue, yellow, green and white. The paintings were made with oil paints using hand-ground dyes, and oil and linen varnish as binder. The exhibited painting is made smoothly and opaquely with a well-ground paint, as the small pigment lumps are visible only on the dark colours. The glass face has tiny defects: at places the glass is uneven with air bubbles. Let us remember, however, that the paintings were made with the use of rejects from glassworks – poorly rolled glass panes. The defects that refracted the light unintentionally increased the value of the glass paintings. The painting layer of the image is poorly preserved. There are many extensive defects: the largest losses are along the bottom edge and two large losses can be observed in the central composition where the flames end. During the 2003 conservation works the falling sections of paint were secured and glued, and a small retouch was conducted. In addition, acid-free paper was laid on the bottom side of the painting with some colour laid locally in place of the larger losses.
Made of hand-profiled wooden boards, the dark brown painting frame is designed in such a way that the painting is enclosed and forms an integral whole with it. The frame has a closed fold, and the boards are joined in the corners with bridles. In addition, the joint places are reinforced on the face side with wooden pegs. The glass can be taken out only after dismantling the frame.
Information about robber-themed paintings in Podhale that were considered as “indispensable cottage decoration in the past” first emerged in 1830 in the accounts of travels in the Tatra Mountains. The authors of these accounts noticed them because of their attractive content. This is one example of their perception with regard to the “Highland robbers – welcoming of Surowiec” painting:
There stood a row of five people in strange golden outfits wearing golden caps with crest and neat boots with bandages which I saw ladies wear at the time of my childhood; similar to them, the sixth man in the middle of the painting did a kind of jump in the air over some golden shell — all this seemed to be the finale of some unknown ballet. I also noticed that one of the five men was smoking a huge golden pipe, while the other was showing a plaque. Large spruce trees standing in a row behind the people made me think that it might have taken place in the Carpathian Mountains, while the pistol and the axe in the jumping man’s hands gave rise to the assumption that these might be robbers (Kazimierz Łapczyński, Lato pod Pieninami i w Tatrach [Summer in the Pieniny and Tatra Mountains], 1862).
The boots with bandages are obviously boots tied to the legs with straps. The cauldron was called the golden shell; the pipe of the musical instrument of bagpipes was recognised by the author as a smoking pipe, and he mistook the bottle of vodka for a plaque.

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

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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...

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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

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Painting on glass “Highland robbers — welcoming of Surowiec”

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