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DOI 10.12887/27-2014-1-105-17

Adam ORGANISTY – “In atonement for our sins…” On Grzegorz Bednarski’s and Janusz Matuszewski’s Religious Paintings

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The article discusses the newest paintings of Grzegorz Bednarski (born 1954) and Janusz Matuszewski (born 1963), professors at the Faculty of Painting of the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, Poland. Both painters are members of the „informal Baroque brotherhood” which is active in the academy. While they frequently adopt religious motifs, their paintings are not intended for religious interiors and they are born out of an inner need. Among the characteristic elements of these works is their historic ‘costume’ juxtaposed with colors and symbols typical of modern art. A distinctive feature of the outputs of Bednarski and Matuszewski is their fascination with anonymous guild paintings. Their art works may be perceived as a bridge between the paintings of Baroque masters and the compositions characteristic of the 20th century. The paintings of Bednarski and Matuszewski seem to exert a strong influence on the works of their students. This phenomenon may be a manifestation of the more general need for ‘updating’ religious art. What distinguishes Bednarski’s and Matuszewski’s works, simultaneously intensifying their appeal, is the motif of irrational terror intertwined with rapture. The element in question may be semantically traced back to Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy. While the discussed paintings reflect the key descriptions of a religious experience according to Otto (namely, mysterium fascinosum and mysterium tremendum), their religious content, strengthened by the presence of the artist’s self-portrait, evokes the sense of one’s being created by God (German Kreaturgefühl). The sacred character of these paintings is manifested in the two senses distinguished by Otto, namely the numinotic and the moral. The moral aspect of the description of ‘holiness’ in the paintings in question is seen in that both artists adopt the attitude of ‘dependence’ or atonement. Therefore Bednarski’s and Matuszewski’s paintings are not merely aesthetic works, manifesting Baroque tenebrism or 20th century expressionism. The formal painting techniques applied in the case of these works tend to incite terror in the viewers who have grasped their religious message, and, in terms of Otto’s conception, make them feel ‘worthless.’ The artists seem to be reminding the viewers about the need for penance and grace. According to Otto, this particular need has found its fullest expression in Christianity.

Translated by Dorota Chabrajska

Keywords: modern religious painting, the Cracow millieu, Rudolf Otto’s category of the sacred as an interpretational key

Faculty of Painting, Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts,
Plac Matejki 13,
31-157 Cracow, Poland
E-mail: ethos@kul.lublin.pl

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» 105_Organisty_content.pdf

  1. ISSN 0860-8024
  2. e-ISSN 2720-5355
  3. The Republic of Poland Ministry of Science and Higher Education Value: 100.00
  4. Quarterly “Ethos” is indexed by the following databases: EBSCO, CEEOL, Index Copernicus (ICV 2017: 55.26), Philosopher’s Index, ERIH Plus.
  5. DOI Prefix 10.12887