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2009 | 57 | 2 | 242-282

Article title

A GROUP OF CLASSICISTIC MONSTRANCES WITH THE MOTIF OF THE PALM. THE AUTHORSHIP AND THE TRANSFORMATIONS OF THE DESIGN (Grupa klasycystycznych monstrancji z motywem palmy. Autorstwo inwencji i sposoby jej wykorzystania)

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The article presents a group of classicistic monstrances characterised by the recurrent motif of the palm tree, which functions as the stem and the base of the glory. Monstrances of that kind, scattered over the central and eastern Poland, have survived in the churches in: Janów Podlaski, Miedniewice, Mokobody, Mordy, Przesmyki, Radzanów, Siemiatycze, Sochocin and Zulin. In all the cases the composition is based on the same principle, with variation in details. Two major motifs recur: the palm tree and the crown of thorns. The crown is modelled very realistically and with all the details. The palm tree, on the other hand, is more stylized; it cannot be doubted that all the artefacts (except of the one from Sochocin) were cast in the same mould. Also the construction of the glories is analogous, although they differ in details, the rays forming a rhomboid or a star. All the feet have an oval decoration engraved but the profiles that highlight them are different; as is characteristic of classicistic artefacts, the ornaments are unostentatious, with geometric and floral motifs (laurel, acanthus and flowers) dominant. The motif of date palm is not accidental. The purpose of the artist was not to represent the tree mimetically but to introduce a recognizable sign which would evoke particular associations, easy to connect with other symbolic elements. One of them, permanently present against the background of the glory, is the crown of thorns, the other, present only temporarily but at the same time indispensable, is the Saviour's body in the form of the host placed in the receptacle. The three elements together are a metaphorical vision of the Crucifixion. The composition alludes to the special type of Crucifixion found in Christian art, in which Christ is shown on a palm not on a cross (an interesting example is a crucifix from the second half of the 17th c. in the Dominican church in Lublin). The composition also highlights the triumphal aspect of the Redemption, both through the very motif of the palm, which has always been linked with the ideas of victory and immortality, and through the laurel leaves, which have been considered a symbol of glory since the antiquity. The analysis of the group of monstrances has resulted in differentiating four subgroups according to authorship, revealing the scheme: the master - his workshop - copyists. The first subgroup (Radzanów, Siemiatycze) is characterized with the finest craftsmanship and perfect proportions in the whole artefact as well as in its parts; those specimen must have been closest to the original design and must have been crafted by the master himself. The second subgroup (Janów Podlaski, Mordy, Przesmyki) follows the same model but shows some modifications (especially in the choice of ornaments, which are based not only on classicistic but also on renaissance and baroque patterns), which suggests that some details were not crafted by the master but by the members of the workshop. In the third group (Miedniewice, Mokobody, Zulin), despite the common motifes, we can note further departures from the original model (simplifications and experiments in shapes and proportions); the quality of craftsmanship is lower, which indicates that they were made by the apprentices from the master's workshop. The fourth subgroup comprises only one monstrance (Sochocin), which is a rather primitive work. In contrast to the other eight, which were all made around the year 1790, this one is their late and poor imitation from 1892. The formal features of the eighteenth-century monstrances with the motif of the palm indicate that they were produced in the Warsaw workshop of Tobias Hoffstaedter. Hoffstaedter was an Austrian brass-smith from Graz. In 1777 he became a citizen of Warsaw. His immigration to Poland may have been induced by the growing demand for artisans of various specialties, stimulated by the court of king Stanislaus Augustus. There are documented works which Hoffstaedter did for the court. His workshop, which employed several apprentices, was at the junction of Freta and Swietojerska Streets. In 1789 he was one of the founders of the Warsaw guild of brass-smiths, although he did not sit on its board. He was many times accused by the members of the goldsmith guild of breaking the guild rules and doing goldsmithery. His work in the capital of Poland is documented in the years 1777-1792 but the end of this period did not mark the end of his career; it was rather a confirmation of the artisan's prosperity. In view of his surviving works he may be considered one of the most talented goldsmiths of the time of king Stanislaus Augustus. His compositions were both modern and cogent; they combined refined classicistc forms with deep symbolism carrying important ideas. Being a brass-smith did not prevent Hoffstaedter from undertaking tasks that were usually a domain of goldsmiths, the only difference being that he worked in brass or copper instead of gold and silver. This allowed him to produce artefacts that were equally impressive but much less expensive, for which there was a larger market. The increasing demand must have influenced the system of manufacture, therefore Hoffstaedter's original designs began to be replicated in various variants. First, the master designed an artefact and crafted its 'original' realizations himself; then, further specimen were made with the growing involvement of the apprentices. They were initially modelled after the original design, although the repertoire of ornaments may have been varied; then gradually more details were modified. Since the output of the workshop was scattered over a considerable area, for local communities each of the monstrances, despite differences in details, could function as the unique original.








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  • Ryszard Maczynski, Katedra Historii Sztuki i Kultury UMK, ul. Mickiewicza 121, 87-100 Torun, Poland


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