TRANSFERRING ONESELF INTO AN UNUSUAL SPHERE OF LIFE
Grzegorz Polak talks with Fr.dr. Robert Mirończuk – a director of the Diocesan Museum in Siedlce
GRZEGORZ POLAK: - What does Priest see, when looking at the wonderful picture of El Greco found in Podlasie?
FR. DR. ROBERT MIROŃCZUK: - Standing as an art historian and also a priest in the hall representing the picture of the genius artist El Greco ‘Ecstasy of St. Francis’, I realize the three matters: firstly – that I am standing in front of one of over 300 maintained works of the prominent artist, creating his works in the period of the biggest material and spiritual flourish of Spain which has passed to history under the name of the golden age. Secondly – that the canvass presents saint poor man from Assisi whom everybody knows, and his simplicity and modesty, fascination with the surrounding nature, boundless love to another man, fascination with God are the causes that the man stands with humility and is looking at somebody whom it is difficult to meet in today’s world. And, thirdly, that this canvass is fascinating, of a deep and timeless message, is presented in our Diocesan Museum in Siedlce.
– This is a look with the eyes of faith. But the work ‘Ecstasy of St. Francis’ can be admired by everybody, can’t it?
– It can, indeed! I think that nearly everybody who trespasses the threshold of our museum, is surprised by its atmosphere. Everybody is surprised by such rich collections, their variety and the form of visiting them. When the door of the museum closes, when we turn off a mobile and let ourselves be snatched by a guide leading us to the world of the collections, then I feel myself how people, entering other rooms, concentrate on the themes of the collections, admire the artistry, perceive the richness of the spiritual world and appreciate the heritage of generations. The crowning of visiting, is, certainly, the picture of El Grec which calms down in a special way and makes the man become humble in front of holiness of the presented mystic and stigmatic and at the exit he notices that he was unexpectedly transferred into an unusual sphere of life, about which he forgets amidst the whirl of cases and duties.
– This work has also didactic value. What does El Greco teach us?
– When we are standing in front of the picture, we can learn the language of art, expressed in a specific composition of the work, unconventional colours, texture. And thick signs of a paintbrush say about the technics of the artist who did not find his followers. Certainly, we cannot separate the works from the times in which it was created, nor omit the theme presented in it. It is the painting of El Greco from which we find out that it was created during a great flourish of religious cult. At that time human consciences were being created by such works as ‘Inner fortress’ or ‘A road of perfection’ of the Carmelite sister of St. Theresa from Avilla, ‘A dark night’ of St. John of Cross. It was then when St. Peter from Alkantara wanted the Franciscan order to return to the original asceticism of its founder – St. Francis. It was at that period when the rich nobleman, bringing hope – Miguel Manara was able to discover the fragility and vanity of the earthly life, which is beautifully described by Fr. prof. Andrzej Witko in the introduction of his book ‘Dispute about the truth’. Whereas, the life of St. Francis, who fascinates next generations of young people, is well known and often presented, as it took place last year in the spectacle ‘Francis – a call from Assisi’, performed in Katowice. As it is seen, there are a lot of impact planes of St. Francis.
– Who was El Greco? A visionary, mystic, innovator of painting art?
– It is difficult to say explicitly, because it was an untypical person. Domenikos Theotokopoulos, popularly known as El Greco, was born in Crete, was educated in painting in Italy, and created famous works in Spain. The first works are undoubtedly written icons, in his later canvasses one can feel the Italian note of Tintoretto and Tycjan, but, first of all, the Spanish mysticism of the epoch emanates from them. Undoubtedly, the contemporary term ‘innovative’ matches El Greco, if we think about creating composition, colours of his paintings which was not accepted in those times by the king of Spain Philip II, like in the case of ‘Martyrdom of St. Maurycy’ (1681-84). Nobody has painted like El Greco so far. A visionary? Maybe not. A mystic? Maybe? I bet on the innovation of his works.
– In relation to the 400th anniversary of El Greco’s death, small Siedlce are going to become a big centre of culture. What events will accompany the celebrations of El Greco’s Year?
– Well, it is a difficult question because there are many prepared events and I do not know from which ones to start not to omit anything. On 21 February we are having a press conference, and, after it there was an inauguration of the Year of El Greco, opening the series entitled: ‘A meeting with one painting of El Greco’. During the meetings it will be possible to get to know other works of the master about which prominent art historians are going to speak. International events have been planned, like the May scientific conference at the Royal Castle in Warsaw and in the palace of the Ogińscy in Siedlce. The presentation of the painting in Warsaw and in Cracow or a literary contest entitled: ‘Siedlce – a bus stop El Greco’ are going to have the nationwide character. Next, the contest of knowledge about the artist, open-air painting area, dance workshops of flamenco or painting workshops for children, a holiday trip to Spain ‘following steps of El Greco’, or probably a concert of the excellent Spanish band with a prominent guitar virtuoso Paco El Greco. I think that everyone will find something for themselves, therefore, I refer everybody to the website: www.elgreco.siedlce.pl, on which current and planned events will be placed. I hope that these actions in the International Year of El Greco will broaden the knowledge life, works and the activity of the artist, and they will also become an unrepeatable occasion for promoting our city and Poland.
– How does Priest is able to organize such a big venture?
– This all is possible thanks to the excellent cooperation of institutions in Siedlce and the whole team of people who want to pay a tribute to the artist, whose canvass is a pride of Siedlce. They deserve thanks.
– The work ‘Ecstasy of St. Francis’ outshines other exhibits in the Diocesan Museum in Siedlce. What other interesting things do you offer for visitors?
– Undoubtedly, the painting is an excellent and a special work, crowning our rich collections in 11 museum rooms and I will mention that the warehouse is full. We have rare exhibits showing the gothic decoration of churches in Podlasie, a big collection of Greek-catholic icons, unique liturgical robes or documents coming from Vatican and royal chancelleries. I assure that when You come to our museum, we will surprise You.
– Your museum also does educational activity. How do you make the youth sensitive to the sacrum and the beauty in art? It is very important if we are attacked by trash and kitsch from everywhere.
– There is an opinion that it is difficult to see children or the youth in an art gallery or a museum. So, an educational offer is very important which we propose not only to students but also teachers. I think that we present quite an interesting and rich set of topics for museum lessons, if most of our visitors are students. And the fact that groups of young people come to visit our collections for the second, third and even fourth time goes without saying.
– What else is interesting for those who would like to visit Siedlce in order to see the painting of El Greco?
– Surely, the painting of El Greco is a magnet attracting bigger and bigger groups of tourists to our museum, who often ask me: and what else can we see in Siedlce? I answer that they must see: the neo-Gothic cathedral of Siedlce and the church of St. Stanisław with valuable canvasses of Szymon Czechowicz, a palace and the Ogińska chapel,’Jacek’ – the symbol of Siedlce and organs of Joachim Wagner – the unique ones in the world! So, there is a lot to see during one visit. After the walk, one can enjoy an excellent special meal of Siedlce.