Visualising the Gospel

The Crucifixion

Jan Styka (b. 8.4.1858 – d. 11.4.1925)


Original - Oil on canvas

195 x 45 feet (59 x 14 metres)

Aptly titled 'The Crucifixion', this artwork has been reproduced across the world, including at the Billy Graham Centre and now, at Northside Christian College. It will be on display in the Centre for Innovation and Creativity in the very near future.

"Lit with hot light, like a desert undulating in heat, is a work of art, a transparency of a segment of "The Crucifixion," created in 1902 by Polish artist Jan Styka.

Imagine a pair of traffic lights, one on each side of a four-lane highway, and that's about the size of it.

Within its frame, on the left, thieves Gestas and Dysmas, two local no-goods, slouch in defeat, waiting. A hulky cross of crude wood lies on the ground. The central figure's rawboned, bare feet look dusty and vulnerable.

What's going to happen next is known. This is Calvary. But in this moment, it hasn't happened yet. Anticipation is stretched to the point of pain."

"A Painting's Resurrection"

March 30, 1997|By Michele L. Fitzpatrick. Special to the Tribune.

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Jan Styka was born in Lwów, Poland. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria, following which he took up residence in Kraków in 1882, studying historical painting under Jan Matejko. Later, he travelled to Italy for a short time before moving to France where the great art movements at Montmartre and Montparnasse were developing and where he would spend a large part of his life. Styka was an artist noted for producing large historical and Christian religious panoramas.

In 1894, the esteemed pianist and Polish statesman, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, commissioned Styka to paint what would become his most famous work.  Originally entitled “Golgotha” (the Aramaic name for the site of Christ’s crucifixion), the painting became known simply as "The Crucifixion". 

The piece is an enormous panorama standing 59m (195 feet) long by 14m (45 feet) in height.  “It is not just a great painting” said George Stout, President of the International Society for the Preservation of Museum Objects, when he inspected it, “it is many masterful paintings within a painting.”

The Crucifixion has a fascinating history. Upon its commission, Styka travelled to Jerusalem to prepare sketches, and to Rome where his palette was blessed by the Pope. The painting was unveiled in Warsaw to great success on 22 June, 1897. It was shown in many of the great cities of Europe, before making its way to America, to join the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, but no suitable place was found.

The painting was seized when Styka's American partners failed to pay the customs taxes, and was considered lost for nearly forty years. In 1944, the painting was found, rolled around a telephone pole and badly damaged, having languished in the basement of the Chicago Civic Opera Company for decades.

Acquired by American businessman, Hubert Eaton, the painting was restored by Jan Styka's son, artist Adam Styka. In 2005–2006, the painting underwent a massive restoration as part of Forest Lawn's centennial celebration. It is on display in the Hall of the Crucifixion at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Styka died in 1925 and was buried in Rome.  However, in 1959, Hubert Eaton arranged with Styka’s family for his remains to be brought to the United States for interment in the “Hall of The Immortals” at Forest Lawn cemetery, California.