A Pole (Polak)
A Pole (Polak)
Leszek Sobocki
National Museum, Kraków
Curated by
Prof. Andrzej Szczerski, Director of the National Museum in Kraków commissioned by the Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport
Technical details
Oil on canvas, 90 x 90 cm


For the authorities of the Polish People's Republic, the election of Karol Wojtyła (1920–2005) as Pope in 1978 was an unfavorable fact, heralding the revival of the religious and dissident movement in the country. Censorship to a large extend suppressed information about John Paul II. Leszek Sobocki's painting is a crypto portrait of the Pope. The artist painted it several months after the conclave, especially for the “Polaków portret własny" (Poles self-portrait) exhibition, prepared at the National Museum in Krakow in 1979. Since it was to be expected that censorship, fearing patriotic and religious demonstrations, would not allow the display of the image of John Paul II, the painter resorted to camouflage, composing a portrait of the pope from his effigies and a picture of himself. He also resigned from identifying the model by the legible features of the insignia of an archpriest, using instead the formula of a male half-nude painting. The only sign of the papacy was the white zucchetto, almost invisible, hardly distinguishable from the complexion of the face and naked shoulders. However, he used other elements defining the Pope - the well-known gesture of his clasped hands supporting the chin, the characteristic gaze and the blue-dominated colors symbolizing spirituality and transcendence. In 1979, the painting with a "general, unspecified title" – A Pole, did not leave much leeway for the censorship, and it was displayed at the exhibition. (Text by Wacława Milewska, the National Museum, Kraków).