Miraculous power of art - Madonna of Paczółtowice11.08-18.10.2015
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Located in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland (also known as the Polish Jura), a small wooden church of the Visitation of Madonna in Paczółtowice is home to one of the ﬁnest images of Mary in the local history of Gothic panel painting in the region of Małopolska (Lesser Poland). Originally, the image of Madonna with Child in the central altarpiece and the two lateral wings featuring the ﬁgures of Saint Barbara and Catherine were parts of a triptych.
The middle image of the Virgin Mary of Immaculate Conception, painted with tempera on a limewood panel possibly in 1460–1470 by an unknown, supposedly Krakow-based, artist, is an unusual portrayal of Mary against a natural backdrop (a grove and a ﬂowery meadow), similar to several other images preserved in medieval churches in Małopolska.
This is a rare depiction of Madonna in a symbolic grove garden – hortus conclusus or enclosed garden, which symbolises the Virgin’s purity and which was present in European painting from the 15th to the 16th century. It is derived from earlier representations of Madonna in a garden or a ﬂowery bower, which gained popularity in the age of German and Czech Gothic. The Virgin with a crown on her head, wearing a cloak that features a golden twig design with oak leaves, holding the clothed Child in her right arm (rare in the iconography), is delineated with eighteen sunrays in the background, standing on a crescent moon. The painted background in this image of the Queen of Heaven consists of a dense clump of trees, their species nearly impossible to identify and their crowns speckled with ﬁery ﬂames. A splendid meadow rendered with a miniaturist’s precision stretches under Mary’s feet, abundant with a variety of plant species like a colourful carpet. The composition is ﬂanked in the corners by two ﬁgures of angels with banderols.
Full of beauty and lyricism, the image carries a lot of symbolic content. Reﬂecting a medieval tradition, it shows the Madonna of the Apocalypse on the moon but can also be interpreted as St. Mary of the Assumption (Santa Maria Assunta). Not insigniﬁcant are also the elements of nature showed in the picture. The ﬂames on the tree crowns have an interesting emblematic meaning: they refer to the lasting of the indestructible Church. Certain references to religious feasts can be tracked down in the image, such as the Visitation (the 2nd day of July), formerly known and celebrated locally as the feast of the Blessed Virgin of the Berries.
The image, which has long been considered miraculous, is also rich in symbolic references derived from the ﬂowers, fruits and herbs showed on the panel, some of them medicinal, others directly associated with Mary’s virtues. As attributes of the Holy Virgin, they form a visual litany.
The making of the triptych is linkable to 15th-century or later owners of the village, subsequently referred to as the Paczółtowskis (holders of the Topór coat of arms). Executed in Krakow, the painting might have been founded by Jan Paczółtowski, the feudal lord of the lands at the time. The image of Mary with Child has, since its creation, been entwined in the history of the church and of the village. Renovated in 1943 and ﬁnally crowned in May 2001, it is a cult representation, surrounded by a wonder-working aura. It is doubtless among Małopolska’s top images of Madonna in a grove.
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