Apollo in the Making is a unique project of Piotr Ostrowski, implemented over the years 2016-17 in the Workshop and Stained-Glass Museum, whose goal was to recreate one of the most beautiful projects of Stanisław Wyspiański.
The idea for the implementation appeared as a consequence of the reflection that Apollo, Wyspiański’s only secular stained-glass project is a forgotten work and exists only in the form of an imperfect reconstruction. What is more, it is unavailable to the general public.
The basic statutory goal of the Stained Glass Museum is to protect the heritage of Polish stained glass art and promote it, which is why we decided to recreate Apollo in accordance with the original intention of the creator and restore it to the general consciousness.
This was not our first project being a bridge connecting history and modernity, and also it was not our first meeting with Wyspiański himself. In the years 2002–2007 Piotr Ostrowski made three stained glass windows according to cartons designed by Wyspiański for the Wawel Cathedral. The undertaking took place in cooperation with Andrzej Wajda, who had dreamed of making these extraordinary stained-glass windows 20 years earlier, but no realization in glass gained his recognition. Ostrowski, when he bought a historic stained-glass factory from a failing cooperative in 2000, turned to Wajda with a proposal that he would undertake the implementation himself, to which the master reacted enthusiastically. After several years of attempts, the first stained glass window that gained recognition of Wajda was the one with Casimir III the Great. Wajda then began efforts to build the Wyspiański Pavilion in the centre of Krakow as a “frame” for stained glass. The Wyspiański 2000 Exhibition and Information Pavilion was completed in 2007, when the ceremonial unveiling of three stained glass windows took place.
Stanisław Wyspiański executed a stained-glass window project in 1904 for the building of the Medical Society in Krakow, where he was responsible for the overall interior decoration. Wyspiański entrusted the execution of his design in glass in 1905 to the Krakowski Zakład Witrażów S. G. Żeleński, which today functions as the Workshop and Museum of Stained Glass.
The work depicts the Greek god of light and art – Apollo – shining like the sun in the centre of the image, surrounded by smaller images of orbiting deities symbolizing the planets of the solar system. On the left side of Apollo there are male deities: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury, and on the right – there are female deities: Earth, Luna and Venus.
The topic itself was proposed by the authorities of the Medical Society, which was soon to merge with the Copernicus Society. That is why the stained-glass window illustrates the concept of an outstanding astronomer. In the centre there is a figure of the Greek god combined with the life-giving star, Earth – under his feet illustrates the coup in the perception of the movements of celestial bodies and their meanings.
But the symbolism of the work goes much deeper: it includes references to the zodiac signs and the elements, which in the tradition of the Western world since ancient times have been assigned to individual planetary deities. Male planets rule fire and air, while female ones rule water and earth.
Wyspiański also included in his stained-glass window his nuanced views on the role of the artist in society. In Roman mythology, Apollo was not only the god of the sun, but also of art, science, philosophy, music and poetry. The luminous young man symbolizes the creator – the prophet, a figure so strongly present in European and Polish romantic tradition. It was important to Wyspiański – in many of his poems and personal notes he refers to the concept of a poet hovering over the world, radiant with inspiration, like Icarus heading towards the Sun. The references are not uncritical, however, Wyspiański enters into a polemic with such an elevated vision of the creator as a demiurge. He expresses it by restraining Apollo, tying him to his own lyre resembling broken wings. A flight straight to the sun can end in a spectacular fall and rising above the rest of society means imposing restrictions on oneself, condemning oneself to eternal journey among the stars without contact with reality.
Apollo’s style resembles the artist’s earlier work – a dramatic stained-glass window “God the Father” – St. Francis’s Church in Krakow. Both works share the same expressive form and unique range of colours. Wyspiański perceives the stained-glass window as syncretic, drawing from many fields: painting, graphics, sculpture, drawing, which is, however, an independent, sovereign technique that uses its own means of expression. Starting from the classically painted sketches of Apollo, the artist decides to gradually simplify the form, building shapes solely with the help of flat spots and lines, which results in an extremely characteristic effect. The conscious rejection of effective painting is proof of the highest artistic courage.
In the Society Building at Radziwiłłowska Street, you can still admire original wall ornaments and sophisticated balustrades. Unfortunately, for windows fate turned out to be extremely cruel. Apollo was almost completely destroyed during World War II, when German troops blew up the nearby railway viaduct, just a day before the final withdrawal from the area of Krakow. After the explosion, all that was left in the frames were the remains of glasses from the middle of the triptych and 90% of glasses in the side windows. A thorough analysis of the original elements from smaller windows, preserved to this day, allowed to determine what the original Apollo could have looked like.
In 1972, the central part was reconstructed (also in the Krakowski Zakład Witrażów, which was then nationalized), but the proper conditions and access to materials were lacking, so the effect differs significantly from Wyspiański’s original project. The restored part uses antique blown glass from the glass factory in Jasło, while the original was built mainly of cathedral glass, which was never produced in Poland. The colours of the reconstructed stained-glass window also seem to be misguided, especially if you combine it with the side windows, which have mostly preserved the original glass.
Stages of work on the project
Colourful project in scale 1:1. The condition for the reconstruction of Apollo was obtaining consent and establishing cooperation with the National Museum in Krakow, which is in the possession of the original Wyspiański’s project. Director of the museum Ph.D. Andrzej Betlej was delighted with our idea. In addition, he proposed to combine the project with the planned WYSPIAŃSKI exhibition.
Customarily, during the realization of the stained-glass window, the original project was hung in the studio, where colour selection, interpretation of the contours for leaden divisions were made, etc. In this case, we had to act in a different way – with the help of a special scanner, an exact digital version of the project was created, after which Piotr Ostrowski spent many hours in front of the original project, using a computer to manually adjust and match colours so that they perfectly reflect the colours of the original.
Colour. Colour selection is the most important stage that determines the final appearance of the stained-glass window. The basic assumption concerned the types of glass: the whole central form of the composition and the light on the imaginations of the planets were made of blown and blown shell glass, while the background of the composition was made of cathedral glass, analogous to the side wings of the composition. The use of blown glass for the figure was dictated by two reasons. Firstly, Apollo’s head had to contain etching (which can only be used on blown coated glass), secondly, blown glass, having a fundamentally different transparency, allowed to isolate the main figure from the background and moved it to the foreground. The relatively narrow range of colours available in the glass resulted in the application of another technical procedure, namely the introduction of doubles. In particularly sensitive situations, two glass elements may be glued to obtain a third colour value.
Trip to the glass factory. Traditional stained glass is a product that is not easy to manufacture. Very few companies, including the German steel plant Lamberts, produce it. The surroundings of Bavaria have long been known for the production of glass, including stained glass and utility glassware. Years of activity have allowed to gradually develop and improve the complicated process of creating this material, which is directly reflected in its quality. Probably it was Bavarian cathedral (or textured) glass that was used to make the original Apollo. Hence Ostrowski’s decision to order material there. In December 2016, during a few days trip to the glass factory, he selected and ordered a total of 35 m of glass in several dozen shades.
Acid etching. The realization of Apollo required us to use a very noble and difficult technique of etching coated glass (two- or three-layered). On the head and torso of the central figure there are colour combinations showing clearly that the introduction of lead was not considered there. It was clear that Wyspiański had in mind this particular technique when designing the stained-glass window. It involves leaching the top layer of glass with hydrofluoric acid to expose the bottom layer. In this way, you can get several different colours within one element.
One of the events promoting the Apollo project under construction was the presentation of fragments of the finished stained-glass window during the 2017 Poetry Night. On this occasion, we joined forces with Michał Zabłocki and prepared a unique program for visitors referring to Wyspiański’s broad, literary and theatrical interests.
The first element of the event was a movie with a recorded poem entitled “Apollo under construction”, which Zabłocki wrote especially for this occasion. Maurycy Popiel played the role of Apollo in the movie, Paweł Hebda supervised the soundtrack and Michał Zabłocki’s Poem Foundation was the producer. On the first floor of the workshop, in a room called the “painting room”, guests could see the arrangement of ready-made quarters of the reconstructed stained-glass window. In the background, a recording with a story about the history and symbolism of the work was played.
During the Apollo project, we also took part in the Night of Museums under construction. 50 people visited the Studio and Stained-Glass Museum in twelve rounds with a guide. The key point of the program was the story of works on Apollo. The official unveiling of the finished Apollo took place during the opening of the WYSPIAŃSKI exhibition at the National Museum in Krakow on November 28, 2017. The stained-glass window was in the hall of the Main Building and was an introduction to the exhibition itself. Apollo has been the main star of the Stained-Glass Museum permanent exhibition since June 2018.
After a guest visit to the National Museum, Apollo was moved to his permanent headquarters – a specially designed room at the Stained Glass Museum, where he presents himself in an extremely original setting of multimedia animation, which symbolizes the side windows – also designed by Wyspiański.