CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


New ancient Slavic Gods by Zofia Stryjeńska

Session 3 Imagination and Projection

Cabinet of Contemporary Prints and Drawings National Museum in Warsaw


In 1918 Poland regained its independence after the 123 years of partitions. It has to rebuild and bring back many ideas that were dormant for such a long time. Before Poland was christened in 966, Poles practiced Slavic religion, which evolved for over a thousand years and some parts of it were from Neolithic. Looking back for distant origins of the new Polish state, one of the prominent Polish artists in the interwar period, Zofia Stryjeńska (1918-1939) has created new Polish Slavic Gods. These gods were described in the XIX century by the Polish scientists, but their knowledge was infinitesimal, as there are very little texts coming from medieval times. So Stryjeńska invented the Polish Slavic gods portraying them at will, giving attributes and some special physical features. Her Slavic gods existed in a few versions (as cycles of drawings and lithographs). Among the Slavic Gods created by Stryjeńska there is only one who is inspired by the true existing statue of god Światowid (IX-X cent.). The statue was fished out from the bottom of the river in the XIX century. But even in this case, Stryjeńska projected her own imagination on artifact to produce work of art.

She was one of the first Polish woman artists who achieved such a success in her times. Her art is famous for its vibrancy and effervescence, dynamics and phantasy. She was fascinated with Slavic archeology and Polish folk art. Nationalists criticized her for superficiality. Feminists cannot accept her negation of femininity. Anyway, it is a modern, one of a kind, contemporary vision of the gods enshrined thousands years ago, gods that were barely described by the scientists, with almost no existing images from the original times.