You walk through a great city grown old in civilisation, one of those containing the most important archives of universal life, and your eyes are drawn upwards, above, to the stars; for in the public squares, at the corners of crossroads, motionless characters, taller than those who pass by at their feet, relate to you in a silent language high legends of glory, of war, of knowledge, of suffering… Were you the most carefree of men, the unhappiest or the meanest, a beggar or a banker, the stone phantom seizes you for a few instants, in the name of the past, to think of things which are not of this world. This is the divine role of sculpture.
Insinuated into the flesh of a city are marks of its past in the form of statues, ornaments and sculptures. The following examples of 'carvings' in Warsaw represents only a fraction of the total. I have maintained a purely subjective perspective here, and presented only those sculptures which, let's say, tickle my fancy. After a year or two wandering through the Polish capital one becomes a little jaded with all the crosses and candles, and the monuments to the fallen. So, when you come across a statue or an ornament that goes in the other direction, there is cause for pause. That's not to say that all the following are wholly 'pacific' in nature. Warsaw without a little war wouldn't be quite the same; but I have tried to tone it down a little.
No Polish city would ever be complete without a few Jesuses jumping about. This one 'pod lipa' on the road to Kampinos is actually not too bad. It makes a pleasant change to see him standing, and not hanging. There are more than just a few JCs dotted around Warsaw that in their gorey bloodletting would make Tobe Hooper look tame.
I know what you're thinking. But a naked and ferocious Nike aside Aleja Solidarnosci dares anyone to say they're not.
The mosaic on the wall on Egipska Street in Saska Kepa, illustrating Copernicus' heliocentric view of the solar system, was inaugurated in 1973 as part of a 500 year celebration of the astronomer's birth.
One of Warsaw's more powerful sculptures, this one in Praga beside Port Praski, commemorates the Russian losses in WWII.
Though perhaps not as 'public' as some others the sculpted epitaph of filmaker Krzystof Kieslowski lies in Powazki Cemetery amongst a wide variety of other such sculptures. Cemeteries are of course amongst the finest places for architecture and sculpture, not to mention ornithology and biology, and silence and space. And Powazki, with its age old trees and deep winding alleys is a labyrinthine complex par excellence.
This sculpture of Warsaw's enduring symbol, Syrenka, is to be found somewhere in the Zelazna Brama Estate. Sadly, however, the statue has suffered from neglect over the years and the birdbath that makes up its tail is broken and waterless. It is by far, out of the half dozen or so Syrenas to be found across the city, the most evocative, the most poetic (the most difficult to find). Surrounded by shrubbery and sparrows it would have once made a lovely bathing spot for the birds. Now, it is filled with empty beer cans and broken bottles. Indeed, I wonder how many of the residents of this estate realise it is actually there.
This sculpture, found in the grounds of Palace Krolikarnia in Park Arkadia in Mokotow, is called 'The Soul Escaping the Body' (sandstone, 1918) by Xavery Dunikowski (1875-1964). It is thought that it was made for his friend and patron Antoine Cierplikowski (1884-1976) a rather eccentric and wealthy art lover (and hairdresser) who was known to sleep in a crystal coffin and who had presumably ordered it (well in advance) for his own tomb.
A statue of Jan Matejko on Pulawska with his alter ego 'stanczyk' the cour jester who features in several of his paintings. Matejko is perhaps better known for his monumental canvases like 'Bitwa pod Grunwaldem' (Battle of Grunwald) and 'Kosciuszko pod Raclawicami' (Kosciuszko at the Battle of Raclawice) which lie in the National Museums of Warsaw and Krakow respectively. As an artist Matejko wasn't interested in presenting factual events as they were but in re-presenting these events as a historical-philosophical synthesis. He considered history as a function of the present and the future. Thus, his paintings are not historical illustrations but powerful expressions of the psyche and his own attitude to the world.
Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian painter and poet, in the late afternoon light by Goworka Street in Stary Mokotow.
Stone reliefs and general ornamentation are few and far between in a city that was ruled by the Communist credo that 'all ornamentation is a crime'. Most of the reliefs (if they are to be found at all) are, like this maritime archway, to be found in the Old Town. I suppose the situation makes the discovery all the more potent, and the relief and ornament all the more wonderful.
This great stone stork is at the entrance to Ulica Piwna on the edge of Plac Zamkowy. It really is a beauty. Just along the road a bit is the pigeon sculpture featured in the top right of this blog. Again, a cracker that has sometimes (believe it or not) been mistaken for a huddle of real live birds!
This sculpture stands outside the College of Technology in the serene western end of Ulica Narbutta in Stary Mokotow. I have absolutely no idea what it is meant to be, but that doesn't stop me from admiring it. Answers on a postcard please.
Berling the Birdwatcher!
This statue of Zygmunt Berling is found surrounded by slipways and off-ramps at the eastern end of Most Lazienkowski (dedicated to Berling) in Saska Kepa. A strange looking statue if only for the fact that his legs have been cut off at the knee. Berling, although retired from active duty in 1939 due to 'ethic problems', was arrested with many other Polish officers by the Soviets, (though escaped the fate of most by agreeing to cooperate with the Russians). Due to rocky relations between the Polish government in exile in London and Stalin, Berling became eventual Commander of The Polish Corps in the East appointed by Stalin himself. He was later to come to the aid of the Polish resistance through his autonomous actions (which later saw him dismissed and transferred to the War Academy in Moscow) when he gave orders whilst waiting with his army in Praga to engage the German army across the Vistula. Though more symbolic than efficacious, it was the sort of ethical dilemma that had seen Berling retire in '39. The statue's positioning is thus deliberate marking the point where Berling's army initially grouped. However, now, with the onslaught of motorways and flyways, there is little opportunity for people to see it. A repositioning might benefit from a greater knowledge of Berling and his dilemma.
Praga's 'four sleepers' monument at the junction of Targowa and Solidarnosci signifying Polish Russian relations. This, officially called 'The Brotherhood in Arms', was one of the first post-WWII monument erected in 1945. It stands opposite Mary Magdalene Russian Orthodox Church originally built in 1867-9. And yes, it was questioned as to which direction that grenade should be launched.
A socialist realist statue to the fallen in Wawer's Ulica 27 Grudnia.
A war monument in Marysin Wawerski's WWII Officer Cemetery, a wonderful spot, thanks to its proliferation of Scots red pine, for woodpeckers and other birds.
The National Museum courtyard is full of weird and wonderful sculptures like this one.
This bronze beauty is located in the Wyspianski room of the National Museum. It is called Swist i Poswist (the pagan gods of the wind in Slavonic mythology), and is by Slawomir Celinski.
The 'Armia Krajowa' monument opposite the Senate (out of view) and a rather nice apartment block at the far end. The 'evil eye of Sauron' (the clocktower of the Palace of Culture) can be seen peaking out over the city in the far left corner.
The Polish Poet Cyprian Norwid in Lazienki Park.
The stainless steel giraffe in Park Praski, thanks to its porous design, is now riddled with sparrow and starling nests. Most of the birds are to be found in the belly of the beast itself, out of reach of any human marauders; there are however a few in the upper back-left thigh. In terms of bird-house architecture and the relatively cramped conditions of existing bird boxes, this steel marvel is like the Burj al-Arab of the bird-house world. The giraffe of Praski Park, whether intended or not, and despite its unsightly nature, is 'organic sculpture' at its best.
This spooky eyeless sculpture on Wybrzeze Koscziuszkowskie reminds me of Proust. Not because of any facial similarity but because of something he once said: The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. I might add to this (in a world that is growing increasingly ocularcentric) that it's not always about the eyes. This is something sculpture is particularly good at: touch and texture.