Vatican masterpieces and never-before-seen mementos of John Paul II go on show for first time at Warsaw Royal Castle
A collection of Vatican masterpieces and unique, never-before-seen personal items belonging to Pope John Paul II showing the influences art and culture had on him have gone on display in Warsaw.
Entitled, ‘Masterpieces of the Vatican. An exhibition on the 100th birthday of John Paul II’ on display at the capital’s Royal Castle, the exhibition sees seven pieces set within the context of John Paul II’s life in Rome, from his student years, to being made a cardinal and finally elected as Pope.
Also included are gifts given to the late Pope such as a metal relief excavated from a mass grave of Polish officers murdered by the NKVD, a crucifix carved by a concentration camp prisoner from a toothbrush, handwritten notes and never before seen archival documents from his student life in Rome.
Curator Beata Gadomska told TFN: “We wanted to show Pope John Paul II against the backdrop of works of art, because culture was so important to him. He believed man was a creator of culture but also shaped by it, that’s why his words about culture start the exhibition.”
Loaned from the Vatican Pinacoteca art gallery, part of the Vatican museums, the most valuable of the seven masterpieces is the ‘Madonna and child between Saints Dominic and Catherine of Alexandria’ by Fra Angelico, whose other works are in the Louvre and Uffizi galleries.
The oldest masterpiece is ‘Acts of Charity’ by Olivuccio di Cicarello, while others include a Saint Matthew with an angel by Guido Reni and works by Antonio da Corregio and Ludovico Carraci.
For the first time, the Royal Castle is also displaying one of its own recently acquired and most valuable works, a throned Madonna flanked by Saints and angels, by Taddeo Gaddi, the most well-known pupil of the famous Florence artist Giotto di Bondone.
One of the largest and most visually recognisable Vatican masterpieces on display is the ‘Madonna with Child’ by Sassoferato which is exhibited next to a non-religious painting of eight small canvases entitled ‘Astronomical Observations’ by Donato Creti to reflect both John Paul II’s close personal connection with the Marian tradition as well as his interests in science.
Gadomska said: “Almost every exhibit here is in some way intimately connected with John Paul II.
“The artworks on display naturally depict many images of the Madonna as he dedicated so much to her, but there is also a painting showing astronomical observations which reflects how John Paul II was a man of science and learning.”
John Paul II’s interest in science is also seen in the exhibition through a never-before-seen model for a statue of Galileo for the Vatican gardens commissioned by the Galileo Commission set up by the Pope to study charges of heresy levelled against the astronomer in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Alongside the Vatican masterpieces, the exhibition features never before seen archival documents and handwritten documents related to the life of the Pope, including from his university life at the Angelicum in Rome, his original PhD thesis and proof of student identity.
Visitors can also find historically significant personal gifts the Pope was given over his lifetime, such as a gorget (metal relief) depicting Our Lady of Częstochowa, which belonged to a Polish officer murdered by the NKVD in 1940 and later found after the excavation of a mass grave in Starobielsk in 1991.
Also on show is a crucifix carved out of a piece of a toothbrush by a fellow prisoner of the Nazi German concentration camp in Ravensbrück for Professor Karolina Lanckorońska while she was interred there and which she gifted to the Pope in 1995.
Other historically significant items include 13 handwritten catechisms entitled ‘Sermon on the Aeropag’, which were only discovered and published in 2018 and most probably written around 1965, as well as a handwritten ‘Prayer for the Homeland’, delivered by the Pope at his weekly Wednesday audience in Rome in 1982 for the intention of peace in Poland.
There are also sketches of John Paul II’s inauguration as Pope by well-known artist Feliks Topolski, never before seen gifts given to the Pope by Prime Ministers Jan Olszewski and Hanna Suchocka in 1992, and a statue in the image of the Pope in prayer gifted to him by American artist Agnes Yarnall in 1985.
The exhibition, which was delayed due to the pandemic, will be open until the 13th June and is currently available online until museums reopen at the beginning of May.