Restoration of Late Baroque Masterpieces

Paintings of Szymon Czechowicz and Tadeusz Kuntze from the Polish church in Rome

By POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Polish church of St. Stanislaw in Rome (1578/1757)POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

With its shelter for pilgrims and students, the church of St. Stanislaus the Bishop and Martyr, has played the role of the Polish centre in Rome since the end of the 16th century.

The church building dates back to the fourth century AD and was erected on the ruins of an ancient theater awarded to the Poles in the sixteenth century by Pope Gregory XIII at the request of Cardinal and royal secretary, Stanislaus Hosius . However, the temple was in need of a complete reconstruction. The founders of the new church were Queen Anne Jagiellonka,  Stefan Batory and baronial families of Poland. St Stanislaus of the Poles, as it is known today, was consecrated in 1591.

Polish church of St. Stanislaw in Rome. Interior decoration (1578/1757)POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The church’s interior  has not been altered since it was renewed at the behest of Stanislaw August Poniatowski during the second half of the 18th century. The side altars boast works of late Baroque artists. Among these is the work of Szymon Czechowicz – one of the most outstanding Polish artists of the time. There are also compositions created by Czechowicz’s students: Tadeusz  Kuntze and Franciszek Smuglewicz.

Szymon Czechowicz, printed copy of artist's self portrait, Jan Feliks Piwarski after Szymon Czechowicz, 1850, Original Source: POLONA
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Martyrdom of John of Nepomuk, Szymon Czechowicz, 1730, Original Source: National Museum in Warsaw
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Czechowicz (1689-1775) is considered to be an outstanding Polish artist of the late Baroque period, and his compositions brought the best of the Italian school of art to Poland - the precision of classical drawing, the rich, Venetian, palette of colours and the richness of composition. It is for this reason that Czechowicz’s works  were so highly appreciated. Paintings for churches and palaces were commissioned by magnates  including Hetman Jan Klemens Branicki, Franciszek Maksymilian Ossoliński, and Paweł Sanguszko.

St Hedwig of Silesia, painting after restoration (1725) by Szymon CzechowiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The painting depicting St. Hedwig of Silesia adoring the Cross was painted by Czechowicz in 1725, at the request of the Sandomierz canon, Franciszek Omański. 

The large-format composition was created for the main altar of the Polish church of St. Stanislaus in Rome, however today, it graces one of the side altars. 

The work was painted when Czechowicz, having completed his studies at the Academy of St. Luke, was creating works and continuing his education in Rome. It is one of his most outstanding works. Czechowicz showed the modelling and expression of the characters in an extremely elaborate yet delicate manner. 

Masterful usage of light to model and bring out the figures of St. Hedwig and the crucified Christ gave his composition strong emotional expression. This particular work was produced in accordance with the highest standard in the Rome at the time. 

Ressurection of Piotrowin, painting after restoration (1754) by Tadeusz Kuntze (Konicz)POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Tadeusz Kuntze (Konicz) (1727-1793) was a student of Szymon Czechowicz. Like the master, he studied painting at the Academy of St. Luke. He spent most of his life in Italy, where he was known as Taddeo Polacco. 

Italian aristocrats and Polish benefactors commissioned paintings from him. One of his works was also in the collection of Stanisław August Poniatowski, the benefactor of the interior of the Polish church of St. Stanislaus in Rome. Tadeusz Kuntze’s, Resurrection of Piotrowin, painted before 1754, to this day hangs in one of the side altars of the church.

Baroque painting returning to church after restoration (2021)POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The works of Szymon Czechowicz and Tadeusz Kuntze from the Polish church of St. Stanislaus in Rome were subjected to conservation work, in 2019. Restoration work was performed on the paintings, with only the most minimal yet necessary amount of intervention, in order to stop and reverse deterioration and protect against future damage to the paintings. The first stage was to remove the paintings from the altars in the church and and transfer them to the conservation workshop.

Restoration of the painting by Szymon Czechowicz

St Hedwig of Silesia, inscription on the back of the painting (1725) by Szymon CzechowiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The image of St. Hedwig of Silesia was painted with oil paints on a canvas stretched over a wooden frame. The frame is made of poplar wood cut with an axe. On the reverse side of the painting, on the canvas, there is a Latin inscription referring to the foundation of the painting with the date of it's creation  - 1725.

St Hedwig of Silesia, detail (1725) by Szymon CzechowiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The work was painted using thin transparent layers of paint, layered sequentially from the darkest to the lightest shades. The layer of primer placed directly onto the canvas on which the entire composition has been painted is lead white. 

St Hedwig of Silesia, detail (1725) by Szymon CzechowiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The primer and the layers of paint are so thinly and subtly laid that the surface of the picture is marked with the texture of the canvas on which it was painted. On the surface of the primer, there is an outline of the figures and their robes made with a brush. 

St Hedwig of Silesia, detail (1725) by Szymon CzechowiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The composition was painted using oil paints, using commonly pigments such as lead white, sienna (pigments obtained from baked clay) and vermilion – red colour, obtained from mercury sulphide.

St Hedwig of Silesia, painting befote restoration, Szymon Czechowicz, 1725, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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St Hedwig of Silesia, painting after restoration, Szymon Czechowicz, 1725, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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Picture of St. Hedwig was not badly damaged, and the biggest issue was that of the discoloration of the varnish – its darkening and yellowing, as well as the layer of dirt and sediment on the painting’s surface.  Owing to the passage of time - the aging of pigments and the reaction to light, the tone of the dark background of the work had also changed.

St Hedwig of Silesia, detail before restoration, Szymon Czechowicz, 1725, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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St Hedwig of Silesia, detail, Szymon Czechowicz, 1725, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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Cleaning the surface of the artwork restored the original depth of the warm background colors and softened the contrast between light and shade, which improved the aesthetic value of the image. Punctures and dents from nails and impact were found in several places on the canvas. All paint losses and wholes have been filled in, and the frame of the painting on its original backing has also been strengthened. 

Restoration of the painting by Tadeusz Kuntze

Ressurection of Piotrowin, painting after restoration (1754) by Tadeusz Kuntze (Konicz)POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The painting The resurrection of Piotrowin is in very good condition. During conservation works performed with minimal interference with the original, the canvas was strengthened and supplemented in places where it was torn or worn.

The original frame, onto which the canvas support is stretched, was in such good condition that it did not need to be replaced.
The work, in accordance with the technique used at the time, is painted in layers with oil paints. When preparing the paints, the artist also added lead white to the pigments, giving his painting a bright, light tone. In places where the shape and texture needed to be emphasized with a light reflex (a so-called flare), for example on the folds of robes, a thicker layer of white paint was applied - impasto.

Ressurection of Piotrowin, painting after restoration (1754) by Tadeusz Kuntze (Konicz)POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Tadeusz Kuntze signed his painting on the stone covering the tomb of the resurrected Piotrowin, with his traditional Latin sentence "Tadeusz Kuntze Pinx " [Tadeusz Kuntze Painted].

Resurrection of Piotrowin, detail (1754) by Tadeusz KuntzePOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The surface of the painting was cleaned of dirt and sediments with a special mixture of chemicals selected after testing on the surface of the painting. 

Resurrection of Piotrowin, detail during restoration (1754) by Tadeusz KuntzePOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

This gel mixture was applied with a brush to a small area and after a specified time it was carefully removed with cotton swabs. This resulted in only dirt being removed, with the varnish and layers of paint not being affected.

Resurrection of Piotrowin, painting before restoration, Tadeusz Kuntze, 1754, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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Ressurection of Piotrowin, painting after restoration, Tadeusz Kuntze (Konicz), 1754, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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Painting before (left) and after conservation (right).

Polish church of St. Stanislaw in Rome. Painting after restoration, 2021, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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Painting of Szymon Czechowicz after restoration. Return to church, 2021, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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Painting after restoration. Return to side altar, 2021, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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Image of Szmon Czechowicz and Tadeusz Konicz’s work, following restoration work in Italy, were presented at exhibition in the National Museum in Krakow. "Baroque genius. Szymon Czechowicz (1689-1775)”. After the presentation in Poland, in the spring of 2021, they returned to the church of St. Stanislaus in Rome. They were placed back in their places in the side altars. The conservation work, financed by the POLONIKA Institute, was performed by Susanna Sarmati .

Credits: Story

Text and editing: Anna Ekielska

Photo: © Susanna Sarmati,  © Monika Tarnowska-Reszczyńska, © Instytut POLONIKA

Restoration works were leaded by National Museum in Kraków and Institute POLONIKA.
The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad POLONIKA
Supervisory institution: Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport of Republic of Poland

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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