Panel of the Month


Fig. 1. The Virgin clothed in sun, Diocesan Museum, Tarnów

Fig. 1. The Virgin clothed in sun, Diocesan Museum, Tarnów

Ewa Łapa

Ewa lives in Poland and is an architect, art historian and occasional stained glass designer.  She is a member of the Polish stained glass art society, ‘ARS VITREA POLONA’.


Although stained glass filled the windows of Poland’s churches in the Middle Ages, only a tiny fraction of Polish medieval stained glass – about 250 panels – survives today. This month we feature one of them, a small panel showing an Apocalyptic vision of the Virgin Mary [Fig. 1]. Now in the Diocesan museum in Tarnów, it originates from the Church of the Visitation in Iwkowa, a small village in southern Poland.

Description of the panel

The panel measures 22 x 40cm and depicts a figure of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. She stands in mandorla of golden rays upon a crescent-shaped moon. The panel comprises glass of five different colours: white, yellow, pink, light blue and a flashed violet. The glass is clear, without ‘seeds’ or impurities. It is painted on its interior and exterior faces. Silver stain is also present.
The Virgin is shown as an idealized beautiful woman, typical of the art of the late Middle Ages.  She has a round face with a prominent forehead and peaked chin. The look on her face is sad and thoughtful, but without dramatic expression. Her slender neck and fingers emphasize delicacy. A wide cloak covers the whole figure, its folds flipped over Madonna’s left hand. They float down in a decorative flourish, highlighting the contrapposto pose of the Lady. The Christ Child lies in the Virgin’s hands, his left hand raised in a gesture of blessing. The body of the Holy Child is shown with care for detail and proportions. His halo is decorated with a pattern scratched in the paint. The moon on which the Virgin stands is shown in the crescent phase and its corners are turned down. On the shape of semi-circle, a face with human features is painted. It has bulging eyes, a straight nose and round chin. Its expression is quite disturbing – a menacing frown, perhaps suggesting cruelty.  The delicate way the details of the figures are painted contrasts with the way the mandorla of glory has been painted. Sharp, triangular beams shining from behind the figure of Mary strengthen the expression of the whole image. The background of the composition is decorated with a foliate design. It is surrounded by a narrow strip of the frame.

History of the panel

Fig. 2. The panel in situ in The Church of the Visitation, Iwkowa.

Fig. 2. The panel in situ in The Church of the Visitation, Iwkowa.

The panel comes from the Church of the Visitation in Iwkowa [Fig. 2]. The church, serving now as a cemetery chapel, was built in the second half of the fifteenth century, and replaced an earlier building. The panel can be dated to around 1420 on stylistic grounds, suggesting that it was kept from the earlier church and re-installed when the church was rebuilt. Unfortunately, no details about its history are preserved in documents, although Wierzebięta of Branice is mentioned as a patron of the church.
The panel was probably made by a workshop in Kracow, the nearest centre of stained glass production to Iwkowa. In the beginning of the fifteenth century, there were more than a dozen stained glass workshops in Cracow. Three workshops, known to have worked at the church of Corpus Christi in Kazimierz (now a district of Cracow, then a separate city), have been identified as possible creators of our panel.
The panel survived until the middle of the twentieth century, and is illustrated in the Catalogue of monuments published in 1953 [Further Reading: Katalog]. Unfortunately, it was seriously damaged in subsequent years and in 1994 was replaced with a copy and moved to the Diocesan Museum in Tarnów.

Date and Style

The panel, dated by the late Professor Kalinowski to around 1420, is an example of the so-called International Style, which came to Poland through Czech art in the early fifteenth century and flourished in Lesser Poland between 1400-1450. It may be compared with sculptures of the Virgin Mary from Więcławice (around 1420) and from Krużlowa (around 1400). There are similarities in the face of Mary with the triptych from the National Museum in Cracow (around 1420) and other paintings, like the Wierzbięta from Branice epitaph (1425). Other contemporary parallels include manuscripts such as St. Catherine of Alexandria (1420-1430) from the Hymnarium kept by Augustinian Order in Kazimierz, Mary with Cardinal Oleśnicki or Madonna of the type of Mulier amicta sole from Jan Olbracht’s Gradua. A nearly identical crescent moon mask may be found on Madonna Assumpta from Cerekwia (1450-1460). The influence of Czech art is visible in comparison with sculptures from Udlice, Pilzno or Brno.


The image derives from St John’s vision of the Apocalypse, which records:
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” [Et signum magnum apparuit in caelo: Mulier amicta sole, et luna sub pedibus eius, et in capite eius corona stellarum duodecim The Holy Bible (English Standard Version 2001), Book of Revelation 12:1].
In the early medieval period the woman clothed with the sun was interpreted as a nameless virgin, the personification of the Church. With the evolution of Marian theology after the twelfth century, she was identified as the Virgin Mary.  This resulted in the development of an explicitly Marian version of the image including, at a later stage, the addition of the Christ Child.
The astral attributes of the image were interpreted theologically. The twelve stars often shown around her head could be read as a crown or as the twelve Apostles, present during Mary’s death.. The sun, which clothed Mary, was usually represented – as here – as beams or rays and was interpreted as representing her freedom from sin and sometimes her motherhood of Jesus. The moon under her feet had a rich array of meanings, representing evil, Satan, temporal goods, sin or death, over which Mary triumphed. For Bernard of Clairvaux, the image of the Woman Clothed in Sun was proof of the assumption of Mary (Madonna Assumpta). The image was also used in the discussion of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (Madonna Immaculata), which was accepted in the fifteenth century [Further Reading, Stefaniak]. What exactly the maker or donor of our panel intended is not known, but the imagery may be connected with the theological environment of the place of its creation. In the early fifteenth century at the Cracow Academy (the first university in Poland) there were many theologians propagating the idea of the Mary’s immaculate conception.


Fig. 3. The panel before conservation.

Fig. 3. The panel before conservation.

In 1994, the panel was removed from the church and taken to Wrocław. Some of the glass pieces were cracked and some were missing (7% of the surface of the panel). On the exterior side, the glass was weathered. White, irremovable sediment in the structure of the material made the translucency and opacity of the glass weaker.
First the panel was cleaned. Then all the missing parts were supplemented. Colours of the new glass pieces were matched with the original ones. Also, painting was accomplished so as to best match the original colour and pattern. Most of the original leading was re-used again, but mending leads, probably from a fifteenth-century restoration, were removed and the broken glass bonded with polyepoxide. Because of the irregular shape of the panel, a frame made of white, transparent glass was added.


Illustrations used in the paper are owned by the Diocesan Museum in Tarnów.

Further Reading

L. Kalinowski, ‘Malarstwo witrażowe’ in A.S. Labuda and K. Secomska (eds), Malarstwo gotyckie, 1995, 202

S. Oleszczuk, Dokumentacja konserwatorska kwatery witrażowej z przedstawieniem Matki Boskiej z Dzieciątkiem z kościoła Nawiedzenia NMP w Iwkowej, Wrocław 2004, [unpublished documents kept in the archive of Diocesan Museum in Tarnów].

M. Piwocka, K.J. Czyżewski, D. Nowacki, (eds), Wawel 1000-2000: wystawa jubileuszowa 5 maja-30 lipca 2000: przewodnik, Kraków, 2000, 107

J. Samek, Polskie rzemiosło artystyczne: średniowiecze, Warszawa, 2000, 242

L. Stefaniak, Interpretacja dwunastego rozdziału egzegezy, Kraków, 1958, 65

J. Szablowski, ed. Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce I: Województwo krakowskie, Warszawa, 1953

A. Wirska-Parachoniak, Wybrane zagadnienia z historii szkła, Kraków, 1976, 54

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