Faces of the Saints

Masterpiece of Jan Henryk Rosen at Armenian Cathedral of Lviv

Lviv. Armenian Cathedral (14th - 20th century)Original Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

History of the Cathedral

The Armenian Cathedral of The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lviv may not be the oldest, but certainly is  the  most important material evidence of the centuries-old presence of Armenians in the city. The construction of its oldest part, which faithfully reproduces the style features of the churches of ancient Armenia in Asia Minor, began before 1363, which coincided with the establishment of the Armenian Archbishopric in Lviv in 1367. 

Armenian Cathedral of Lviv, interiorOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

In its present form, the Cathedral consists of three main parts, each of which was built in a different epoch and a different style. The subsequent remodellings and transformations of the building reflected the changes which took place in the Armenian community of Lviv over the centuries and Franciszek Jaworski’s statement from more than a century ago (1911) is still valid: “Everything that the Lviv Armenians went through, the Cathedral went through with them, and thus it became a book with many chapters”.

Armenian crosses (khachkars) at Armenian Cathedral of Lviv, unknown, Original Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury
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The oldest part of the church, built in the 14th century, still features the original stone ornaments on the cornices of the pillars and the arches of the central apse arcade, as well as stone stelae with carved or relief traditional Armenian votive crosses, the so-called khachkars. In 1925 resto- ration works revealed wall paintings on the jambs of a small window in the southern wall, conservatively dated to the early 16th century (they were restored again recently). Apart from the architecture itself, this is all that has been preserved from the medieval cathedral.

Armenian Cathedral of Lviv. Interior decorationOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

Before 1630 the Armenians living in Lviv belonged to the national Armenian Apostolic Church (called “Gregorian”, because it was founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator, the Apostle of Armenia), headed by the Catholicos of All Armenians in Etchmiadzin with no connections to the Pope. In 1630 the Lviv Armenians declared the church union with Rome. As a result of the union and the growth of the community the Cathedral was extended by adding an elongated nave in the west, which overturned the original central plan of the old church. The new structure was a church built on a Latin cross plan, so it resembled Roman-Catholic churches, while the old part of the building became the chancel of the new temple. Further repairs and renovations were carried out as a result of fires which destroyed the Cathedral several times in the 17th and early 18th centuries. In the 18th century the church received new interior decoration and furnishings. The original Armenian features of the building were completely lost under layers of stucco, Baroque paintings and Rococo altars and sculptures.

Decoration of the dome of Armenian Cathedral of Lviv, Józef Mehoffer, 1907, Original Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury
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At the beginning of the 20th century Archbishop Józef Teodorowicz took steps to, as he himself described it, “take off the church’s Rococo robe, enforced on it in the 18th century, extract the old surface of ornamental wall from under the plaster and regain everything from the past centuries that has yet survived”. The restoration and extension of the Cathedral lasted over 30 years and although the porch facing Krakowska Street was not finished, Archbishop Teodorowicz almost achieved his goal.

Lviv. Armenian Cathedral, 14th - 20th century, Original Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury
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The Cathedral as we know it today is the result of his - often very controversial - decisions and efforts. Among those who participated in the works were Franciszek Mączyński (architect, designer of the westward expansion of the Cathedral in 1908-1910), Józef Mehoffer (designer of the 1913 mosaic in the dome made in Venetian work- shops on Murano), Karol “Zyndram” Maszkowski (designer of the 1909 stained glass window in the smaller dome), and finally Jan Henryk Rosen (creator of the wall paintings and stained-glass windows made in the years 1925–1929) and Witold Minkiewicz (author of interior design in 1930 and designer of the Eucharist chapel added in the north). The Cathedral and its decoration - apart from the badly damaged stained glass windows - survived World War II relatively well.

Jan Henryk Rosen (1891-1982) by Jan NeumanOriginal Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

Jan Henryk Rosen, author of the wall paintings

He was born in 1891 in Warsaw, but soon afterwards the family moved abroad – first to Paris, and around 1904 to Switzerland, where Jan Henryk finished grammar school and completed two years of humanities studies at the University of Lausanne. Then he studied in Munich and Paris; at the Sorbonne he studied art history under Emile Mâle, a scholar who conducted re- search on French medieval art and is still considered an authority in iconography of medieval art. These studies and the influence of Emile Mâle’s books resulted in Rosen’s great love for the Middle Ages and the art of that period, and in the great importance which he always attached to iconographic solutions in his paintings.

Armienian Cathedral of Lviv. Crucifixion (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

After I World War he briefly worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1923 he abandoned civil service to focus exclusively on painting, since while working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs he could only afford evening classes at the School of Decorative Arts and Painting.

Adoration of the Shepherds. Armenian Cathedral of Lviv (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

In 1925 the Warsaw Zachęta Gallery hosted his first solo exhibition, which was a great success. It was thanks to this exhibition that Archbishop Józef Teodorowicz offered Rosen a job decorating the Armenian Cathedral in Lviv. Although Rosen had no experience in wall painting, he accepted the commission and made a set of paintings which is undoubtedly his greatest achievement.

Awaken gaze (2019)POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Crucifixion scene. Armenian Cathedral in Lviv (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

Hidden portraits

The history of art is rich in the stories about "real" portraits of people introduced in masterworks of the painting.These stories are mostly anecdotal, because they usually concern former times, and their truthfulness can rarely be verified at  present. Besides, usually they are not about portraits but rather self-portraits of great masters, and anecdotes, typically, are told about the greatest works of art, living their own lives, as it were, in isolation from historical reality. Who – perhaps apart from art historians – is interested in the problems of iconography or the complexity and subtlety of painting techniques? Usually we are most interested in people and their fates, and we do not care whether they lived centuries ago and were depicted in paintings or if they are our contemporaries and we see their pictures in magazines or the Internet. And beautiful fiction is always more appealing than the usually much less attractive truth.

Armenian Cathedral of Lviv. Detail of painted decoration, Jan Henryk Rosen, 1927/1929, Original Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury
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Jan Matejko, as we know, on his huge canvases portrayed not only people, but also objects which - collected over the years and reproduced in paintings in order to add historical truth to the scenes presented in the pictures. Jan Henryk Rosen’s father, Jan Bogumił Rosen, used similar solutions in his artistic practice, so it is no wonder that his son painted the same way. In order to paint a figure with a psychologically convincing facial expression, Rosen had to reproduce a living model. As Rosen’s assistant Kazimierz Smuczak recalled, “Rosen never worked from memory, someone always portrayed for him” (and “portraying” meant posing for Rosen to paint the face of a given figure).

Institution of the Eucharist. Armenian Cathedral of Lviv (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

The portrait-like facial features of figures depicted on the walls of the Armenian Cathedral in Lviv render the paintings really life-like, which is one of the most important qualities of Rosen’s work. This was noticed by Jan Parandowski, who wrote about the paintings in this way: “Here is a piece of our life rising from commonplaceness and in an ennobled form, through the features of our generation, it is to bear witness of us to the future times”. And so it did. The walls of the Cathedral feature a whole gallery of portraits – apart from Lviv’s (and not only Lviv’s) celebrities, there were also “ordinary” people – the painter’s acquaintances and friends, people connected with the Cathedral, such as students of the Armenian boarding school, or perhaps even inhabitants of Lviv happening to visit the Cathedral.

Armienian Cathedral of Lviv. Crucifixion (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

Today it is not always possible to establish the identity of the people portrayed. The models can be identified with any certainty for only a handful of portraits, when there are reliable sources of information supported by archival photographs. In most cases, however, the identification is based on the faded and distorted memories of former Lviv residents and the legend which has grown around the paintings.

Archbishop Józef Teodorowicz (1864-1938) (1927/1937)Original Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

Fr. Józef Teofil Teodorowicz

Fr. Józef Teofil Teodorowicz (1864-1938), the Armenian Archbishop of Lviv, who initiated the renovation and restoration of the Armenian Cathedral in Lviv and commissioned the paintings decorating the interior of the Cathedral, was portrayed twice on the painting depicting the Crucifixion of Christ, which is one of the most important paintings in the church and certainly the most spectacular one. It fills the entire southern wall of the transept in the oldest part of the church, which served as its chancel since the mid-17th century. The painting presents Crucifixion in a very original way, on the burgundy background. It is against the backdrop of this painting, exactly on its axis, at the foot of the cross shown in the middle of the composition, that the 1930 design of the presbytery by Witold Minkiewicz placed the archbishop’s throne, where Fr. Teodorowicz was seated.


Armienian Cathedral of Lviv. Crucifixion (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

However, there is no doubt about the validity of giving the features of Fr. Teodorowicz to St. Gregory the Illuminator, shown en face, wearing magnificent bishop’s robes and a miter, holding a crosier. The justification was the position of Fr. Teodorowicz as an outstanding pastor of the Armenian Church (St. Gregory converted Armenia to Christianity, and he was the patron saint of the Armenian nation and church).

The archbishop’s Teodorowicz fame as a great preacher explains the idea of presenting him also as St. Thomas. A critic wrote: “Due to the immense mental capacity and the extraordinary sharpness of the intelligence of both figures [i.e. Father Teodorowicz and St. Thomas], the choice [...], is perfect”.

Funeral of Saint Odilo of Cluny. Armienian Cathedral of Lviv (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

The Funeral of St. Odilon

 is a completely unique scene which greatly
stirred the imagination of the con- temporaries
due to its unusual form and subject matter, but also its mysteriousness. A critic wrote that “the three figures of the monks carrying the
bier represent three degrees of religious
initiation. The first monk, wrapped in a hood, does not yet seem to
hear the call from the other world, the second one, with his blazing, focused eyes, looks towards the happiness
detached from this world, and the third
one walks in mystical
concentration, immersed in what only the chosen souls are allowed
to see and hear”.

It is known from oral accounts that once the middle monk was identified as Father Adam Bogdanowicz, these “three degrees of initiation” started to be seen as directly associated with his person and his path to priesthood.

St. George. Armenian Cathedral of Lviv (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

Above the Funeral of St. Odilon, on narrow vertical stripes of wall on both sides of the window, another two saints from the group of Fourteen Holy Helpers are depicted: on the left – St. George, and on the right – St. Christopher, the patron saint protecting from sudden death and dangers while traveling. At first glance the figures are not very remarkable, as they are presented in accordance with their traditional iconography, but their attractiveness lies in the vivid yet harmonious color scheme and particular psychological realism, rendered by expressively treated facial features.

St. George is a portrait of Fr. Tadeusz Fedorowicz (1907–2002). In 1929 Tadeusz Fedorowicz received his Master of Law degree from the Jan Kazimierz University in Lviv, and later (1931-1936) he entered the Lviv seminary and studied theology at the Jan Kazimierz University. He was ordained in 1936, later he voluntarily joined the Poles deported by the Soviet authorities to Kazakhstan. Officially – although informally and in secret – he served among them as a priest. He is presented as St. George fighting the dragon.

St. Christopher. Armenian Cathedral of Lviv (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

St. Christopher is probably portrait of Wacław Damian Moraczewski, an outstanding doctor and biochemist, professor at the Academy of Veterinary Medicine in Lviv (1929–1933) and rector of the same university (1925–1927).

Armienian Cathedral of Lviv. Crucifixion (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

The  Crucifixion

very famous scene, so relatively much is known
about the identity of the people painted
there. Rosen was said to have given the features of Włodzimierz
Dzieduszycki (1885-1970) to the  face of
the crucified Christ, and of Anna Wolańska, née
Dzieduszycka (1860-1944) to Our Lady; Tadeusz
Wojciechowski (1902-1982) was St. John. The description on the photograph of the Crucifixion in the collection of Fr.
Tadeusz Fedorowicz states that Witold (Tadeusz) Czartoryski (1908-?) was
portrayed in the figure of St. Casimir, while in the background under the cross stand: Fr. Andrzej Głażewski (1905-1973) as St. Stephen and Adam (Michał Józef)
Czartoryski (1906-1998) as St. An- drew Bobola. Rosen’s assistant,
Kazimierz Smuczak, posed for St. Maurice, and St. John of Nepomuk is a
self-portrait of the artist.

While the gallery of saints depicted under the cross is a highly original feature, determining the uniqueness of Lviv’s Crucifixion, the group of Mary and St. John was a typical element of presentations of this theme. It was a historical feature, not a symbolic one, illustrating the event described in the Gospel and the words of Christ addressed to his mother: “Woman, behold thy son” and to the disciple: “Behold thy mother” (John 19:26-27). In Rosen’s painting he latter has the face of Tadeusz Wojciechowski, painter and architect, creator of numerous stained glass windows.

The features of Jacek Malczewski, who was a painter but also a Franciscan tertiary, were given to St. Francis of Assisi. Malczewski was one of the most eminent Polish painters. He liked to paint self-portraits; however, they were rarely meant to depict him as himself, most often they involved various “roles”, or rather disguises – he would represent himself as a knight, an exile or Don Quixote. Or as Christ.
Rosen’s idea to “cast” Malczewski in the role of St. Francis was by no means original. Many years earlier, in 1908, Malczewski painted St. Francis, where he portrayed himself wearing a Franciscan habit, surrounded by Parcae, fauns and chimeras; this painting is currently housed in the National Museum in Warsaw.

Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929) (1929)Original Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

In the Crucifixion Saint Francis represents one of the three oldest and most important orders in the Catholic Church, the Franciscan Order, alongside the Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas (portrait of Archbishop Teodorowicz) and St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine Order (Archbishop Andrzej Szeptycki). Interestingly, the patron saint of painters, St. Luke, received the features of Archbishop Bolesław Twardowski.

Przebudzone spojrzeniaPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Armenian Cathedral of Lviv. Wall paintings (1927/1929) by Jan Henryk RosenOriginal Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

Helena Ottawa (1874-1948) was presented in the group of Fourteen Holy Helpers as St. Margaret of Antioch – the saint who was asked for safe childbirth – wearing a rich Byzantine headgear decorated with jewels, half hidden behind St. Barbara carrying the tower as her traditional attribute, which is why the attribute of St. Margaret, i.e. a dragon which she held on a chain, could not be fitted into the painting. The richness of St. Margaret’s costume is a reference to her tradition- al representation wearing a royal crown, but most of all it highlights her eastern origin.
Helena Ottawa was recognized pianists and she was running own musical school in Lviv.

Rosen always tried to paint according to “historical truth” (even when it concerned legends), even against the usual iconographic patterns; since St. Margaret was an early medieval martyr living in Antioch in Pisidia in Asia Minor, he decided that she should not be depicted wearing a Western crown and gave her a headgear typical of Eastern art, a golden diadem decorated with a cross, with strands of pearls falling down from it. The costume of the saint can also be interpreted as an allusion to the fact that St. Margaret is worshipped both in the Western Church and in the Eastern Church.
And perhaps it also refers to the model of the painting herself: Helena Ottawa was of Armenian descent, so she belonged to a nation that comes “from the east”, and is commonly and traditionally associated with the East.

Zofia Drexler-Pasławska presented as St. Barbara, patron saint of good death and miners, accompanies Helena Ottawa in the painting depicting her as St. Margaret. These are two out of the three holy virgins among the Fourteen Holy Helpers (the third, St. Catherine of Alexandria, posed for by Halina Hamerska, is depicted in the third bay of the nave).
Zofia Drexler-Pasławska was a chamber singer and teacher, she also completed her doctorate in philosophy. She frequently performed with the pianist Helena Ottawa.

Armenian Cathedral of Lviv (1363/1937)Original Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury

In 2006

for the first time the Armenian community and the Lviv City Council’s Historical Environment Protection Board decided to start cooperating with the Polish Ministry of Culture and some NGOs, who started restoration works in the church thanks to grants from the program “Protection of Cultural Heritage Abroad” of the Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage. As a result of the cooperation with the Heritage Academy Alumni Association, the Polish-Ukrainian team of specialists restored all the paintings by Jan Henryk Rosen as well as the relics of the oldest wall painting, mentioned above. Thanks to the involvement of the Foundation for the Culture and Heritage of Polish Armenians, the restoration works also comprised the stained glass window by Karol “Zyndram” Maszkowski, the sculpture group “Golgotha” in the courtyard, and the column with the figure of St. Christopher. The most valuable epitaphs have also been restored with the funds from the Polish state. 

Armenian Cathedral of Lviv. Wall decoration, Jan Henryk Rosen, 1927/1929, Original Source: Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury
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In 2018 for the first time the works in the Cathedral were co-financed by The POLONIKA National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad. Thanks to these funds, the Heritage Academy Alumni Association completed the restoration of Rosen’s painting The Institution of the Eucharist (“Last Supper”) in the Cathedral‘s chancel, and in 2019 they could undertake the renovation of the mosaic The Holy Trinity designed by Józef Mehoffer.

Credits: Story

based on the text of Joanna Wolańska
photo: Paweł Mazur
editing: Anna Ekielska

© Joanna Wolańska
© Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury (photo: Paweł Mazur)
© Narodowy Instytut Polskiego Dziedzictwa Narodowego POLONIKA
Supervisory Institution: Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego RP

The exhibition uses photographs prepared for the International Cultural Centre in Krakow. In 2015, the ICC created an exhibition devoted to the Armenian Cathedral in Lviv. The exhibition "The Armenian Cathedral in Lviv and its Creators" had a new edition prepared in cooperation with the POLONIKA Institute in 2019.

International Cultural Centre

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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