Traditional art of the rural community, with its many motifs, patterns and ornaments, had a different function than the art of the educated social classes. It predominantly served as a uniting and integrating factor. It forged identity, emphasized distinctive features, informed, offered a link to the past and memory. Crafted items were not only aesthetic, but functional.
Folk art was inextricably linked with the traditional character of culture – it emerged from the combination of “the head and the hand,” of imagination and creation. Skills and patterns were passed down from one generation to the next. However, items created in different households were not identical. The hand-made items were often singular and unique. Technical solutions and details of fittings, shapes, decorations and colours were also different and depended on the used materials. Some objects crafted by folk inventors had truly surprising forms. However, they had their individual appeal – the creativity and artistry of the rural community, also in the Lubelszczyzna region, constituted a proof of their artistic talent and love for ornaments.
The most popular among the many geometric, floral and animal motifs used in traditional design from the Lublin region were: the cross, triskelion, swastika, rooster, sun, rosette (and a rose-like flower), star, heart and tree. Their popularity might have been linked with the symbolism of luck and fortune. However, it was often an unconscious decision on the part of the craftsmen. The motifs were used and repeated within the closest family or borrowed from the neighbours.
Colour also possessed its own significance. Red was a special hue – it was a colour of blood and life, of fire and the sun, of purification and of life forces that boosted the fertility of the land, of farm animals and of people. Red items had an apotropaic function and warded off demons and deflected misfortune (e.g. red ribbons, red beads used on clothes). The green of flowers and trees, especially of the coniferous species, denoted rebirth and immortality, wealth and fertility. It could also bring plentiful harvest. Yellow was associated with the energy of the golden sun and with wealth (fairy tales of kingdoms with golden mountains, golden castles, of trees with golden fruit). Brown was linked with earth and nature. Blue was associated with the sky, infinity and eternity; Mary, the mother of Jesus, was often portrayed wearing blue clothes. White stood for brightness and life, purity and virginity. Black indicated the sphere of the spirit world and black animals were believed to be incarnations of demons, they assisted witches or guided souls to the afterlife. Black was the herald of doom, danger and evil.
A cross consists of two lines that cross at an acute angle. It is the oldest symbolic depiction of the world (imago mundi). Items marked with the symbol were found in almost every corner of the world. It usually denoted a nature cult (fire, the sun). It also represented the axis of the earth, the four directions, the juxtaposition of the opposites: life-immortality, spirit-matter, zenith-nadir, east-west, up-down, right-left. It was used as a talisman in sympathetic magic to assure good harvest or to repel demons and other supernatural forces (as it was similar in form to a sword).
The cross upon which Jesus was crucified was, according to legend, made of four different types of wood: cedar, cypress, olive and palm wood, which represented the four corners of the world. In the Middle Ages, it was sometimes portrayed as a reversed Tree of Life. It epitomized the joining of heaven and earth, thus, it was pictured as the letter Y and a tree in allegories. It had the power to resurrect the dead and to cure all diseases.
Grave crosses contained an element of a magic seal according to some beliefs. They were sacred symbols, but also constituted a barrier that kept the dead from returning. Crosses and shrines were often erected on crossroads and on the borders of villages, in mediatory places that were visited by demons.
Christianity made the cross the most popular decoration motif in arts – first it was used in sacred, then in secular art. With time, people created more than 400 types of crosses.
The cross used to decorate Easter eggs in the Lublin region was similar to a Maltese cross or was combined with a swastika, often in floral patterns. It was rarely portrayed as the Christian cross – if it was, it took the form of a wayside cross. The cross motif was widely used in paper cut ornaments, on pottery, in embroidery, blacksmithing and wood-carving.
A triskelion or triskele resembles the reversed letter Y. It is a symbol made of three identical elements: arms, spirals, meanders, etc. that form a cyclical geometrical pattern. It represented the eternal cycle of life, the triadic aspect of femininity (the maiden, the mother and the crone), the three phases of life (youth, adulthood, old age) and the three forms of the material world (the earth, the sea and the sky). It was used as early as in ancient art. Many astrologists used it as the symbol of the Sun. It was one of the main symbols of the ancient Slavic religion. It was used to decorate stone circles, megaliths and other sacred places of worship, as well as sacrificial pots.
The triskelion was retained in Polish folk decorations as a reminiscence of ancient magical sigils and spells. In the Lublin region, the motif was used to decorate Eater eggs, but also in embroidery from the Biłgoraj area and on pottery created in Łążek. Some believed the triskelion to be a primitive image of a rooster.
The swastika resembles crossed lightnings and combined the symbolic of the cross and the wheel (four axes rotating in one direction). The motif was used in almost every primeval and ancient culture. The word svastika comes from Sanskrit and describes any object that brings luck. It has a right-facing and left-facing version. The right-facing, clockwise swastika mirrors the movement of the sun (as seem on the northern hemisphere) and was often associated with solar cultures (as a symbol of the sun and fire – a flaming circle) and functioned as a symbol of luck. It was associated with goddesses and fertility. The left-facing swastika (sauvastika) was a symbol of the night, darkness, ill fate and magic.
The swastika as a sun symbol was used on every continent in the world. It always signified Gods’ favour, the drive to success, victory in battle and good harvest. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, it was engraved on amulets to protect against black magic, demons, the devil and witches. Swastika was also used in the Polish territories. Among the Slavic people, it was the symbol of Swarog, the god of the sun, and was called swarga, swarzyca or swarożyca. It was traditionally carved on household items and weapons.
The swastika was used to decorate Easter eggs in the Lublin region as a symbol of the cross, and was often drawn near or on it. It was a sign of the lightning – a spring phenomenon that brings the first warm rainfall and makes the plants bloom. Placed on an Easter egg, a swastika was a fervent request for blessing and good fortune for the farm, the animals and the people.
The rooster, which symbolizes a new day and the coming of light, has been associated with vigilance and victory over darkness since ancient times. Thanks to its bright-red comb, shiny feathers and morning crowing, it was linked to fire and sun and the coming spring and also symbolized vital forces, fertility and plentiful harvest.
In the Bible, a rooster was mentioned when St. Paul denied knowing Jesus, and for that reason it is connected with the Passion of Christ – in art it was portrayed as one of its instruments. A rooster heralded the light of day by crowing in the morning, thus it became associated with resurrection and the second coming of Christ before judgment day. That is why (since the 9th century) a rooster has often been placed on church tower finials. There was also a belief that a figure of a rooster placed on a roof protects a building against hale, lightning and demons.
According to folklore, a rooster was the first bird to announce the birth of Christ and it could crow for the entire Christmas night. It was also believed that a rooster’s crow disperses darkness and banishes evil spirits and the bird was supposed to warn against evil and danger. It was regarded as an apotropeion and its image was often placed on amulets. A roosters’ feathers and claws were also believed to grant magical protection.
As a motif in folk art of the Lubelszczyzna region, the rooster was placed on wayside crosses and roofs – as finials or whether cocks. It was portrayed on iron and paper cut ornaments, on pottery (Łążek, Baranów) and on clothes.
The sun, as the ancient force of creation, was the centre of many ancient religions.
By emanating its light, it was a source of brightness that overcame the forces of chaos and death. With its round shape, it was linked with the symbolic of fire which had the power to fertilize and give life, with the warmth that was necessary for vegetation. Many religions stated that the sun that wanders the sky is a god (such as the Slavic god Swarog) or his epiphany; it was presented as the eye of the heavens. Shrines and temples were built to face east and prayers were also addressed in that direction. The sun was often the symbol of infinity, beginning, the source of energy and vital forces, fertility and good harvest, wisdom, truth, enlightenment and Christ (the day of winter solstice, 25h of December, was chosen in the 3rd century by the church authorities as the day of Christ’s birth; in ancient Rome it was celebrated as the day of the sun).
The ancient cult of the sun is often visible in ornaments on Easter eggs from the Lublin region. The first type of this motif was called an apple, the next one had a form of a circle adorned with spirals. Similar patterns were used on pottery created in Łążek, Pawłów, Baranów and Glinne.
ROSETTE (SIX-POINTED STAR)
The rosette is a solar symbol in many cultures and many peoples believed it to be magical. It was commonly used as a decoration motif in the form of a six-pointed star (a hexapental star). Since the Middle Ages it has been used to adorn doors, ceiling joists, crosses, cornices; it was used on coats of arms, everyday objects, furniture, musical instruments (e.g. the Biłgoraj suka) and on ritual items. Another name for the rosette is the flower of life. The architectural ornament in the form of a rosette is also called różyca (a rose) because it resembles the flower.
A rose is a symbol of fidelity, the sun, a star, life, the attribute of the goddesses of love, fertility, morning and spring. In Christianity it was the symbol of charity and God’s love and the attribute of Mary, among others. A red rose symbolized martyrdom, especially that of Christ, because of its blood-like colour, its structure based on the number five (associated with his five wounds) and thorns linked to the crown of thorns.
A rose-like flower painted on a dark blue background above the main ornament was a formal trademark of glass painted pictures created in the Lublin area during the 19th century.
Stars symbolized fate. It was believed that stars belonged to the spirit realm and were simultaneously bright openings in the sky. The fact that they were too numerous to count and that they shined with uneven brightness led people to believe that they constantly multiplied. According to folk beliefs it proved the fact that every person had their own star which appeared on the day they were born and fell when whey died. The star’s colour defined the person linked to it. Its dark light warned of close death, bright light meant good fortune, while red stars belonged to martyrs and saints.
The bright Bethlehem star led the three wise men and pointed to happiness and hope, to birth, purity, spiritual guidance and inspiration. The star, as a reference to Christ, was a part of the Eastern culture in the sense that according to its tradition, the king was usually called a Star or the Sun. Mary was sometimes called the Pole Star, who, by giving birth to the son of God, came before the sun-messiah. According to the Bible, a five-pointed star symbolized the key to the kingdom of heaven.
The act of observing stars was helpful in measuring the rhythm of day and night. The traditional Polish Christmas Eve supper started when the first star appeared in the evening sky. The sky also offered many insights and prophecies, for example, according to popular belief, many stars visible during the Christmas night meant a good year ahead.
In the Lublin region, star patterns were used to decorate Easter eggs and pottery. The motif was also used in paper cut ornaments, in folk embroidery, in blacksmithing and woodworking.
In many cultures and religions the heart is a symbol of love, charity, joy and sadness, conscience and moral courage, a source of spiritual enlightenment, truth and intelligence. According to the Bible it was a centre for all that is spiritual. It is a symbol of happiness and light, a source of life and vital forces, the residence of the soul. It pumps the life-giving blood and keeps humans alive. Placed in the centre of the body it has become the symbolic centre of a human being and a place of sacrum, of mediating with the divine. According to some ancient beliefs, the gods begun the act of creation from their hearts and it was the source of the most important gifts offered to humanity. The blessing of salvation comes from Jesus’ heart.
Since the beginning of Christianity, the heart of Jesus was considered an important part of the religion, but it was only in the 11th and 12th century that the first mentions of the cult of the sacred heart have been documented. After the 15th century, the five wounds of Christ (pierced heart, hands and feet) were portrayed on decorative rosettes and coats of arms and became incorporated into rosary cycles. Due to this cult, starting from the 16th century prayer books for common people were decorated with a heart, surrounded with a crown of thorns. The cult of the Immaculate Heart of Mary began in the 17th century. The symbol of Mary’s heart has also been used in art – it was then presented as pierced with a sword of sorrow, sometimes banded with roses and with beams of light coming out of its centre. A heart pierced with arrows, with a crown of thorns, a cross or held in a hand has become an attribute of saints.
Without touching the heart and without the love that flows from within it, no work of art could ever be created. In folk art it is usually used as a motif in ritual and decorative works, as a pattern on pottery and as an element of bodices form the Podlasie region, on iron wrought fittings or in wood carving.
The tree is a part of every religion, culture and folklore. The holy tree, the tree of Eden, the evergreen tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the tree of life which has the power to grant immortality. It was believed to be the axis of the world (axis mundi), as it merged the underground, chthonic forces (the roots), the heavenly cosmic spheres (its branches) and life on earth (the trunk). The tree, by harnessing all four elements of nature (roots in earth and water, branches in sun and air) became the symbol of longevity, fertility and vital forces.
Christian art portrayed heaven as a garden full of trees and flowers. All branches of arts and crafts used the motif of the tree – as a whole or via its elements: flowers, leaves, twigs, cones. The cosmic tree (arbor mundi) was presented as surrounded by stars, with the sun amongst its branches or in an inverted position – with its roots in the sky and branches on the ground. It was interpreted as the tree of life, the symbol of renewing plants and unending fertility, the cycle of renewal of the vital forces.
The cross is a version of the tree.. It was sometimes believed that the it is the tree of life that grants life eternal. In some portrayals of the cross – from the Middle Ages to Baroque – the inanimate wood of the tree of torment sprouted with buds and twigs which made the crucifix resemble a tree.
In Polish traditional culture, and not only in the Lubelszczyzna region, plant decorations used during such celebrations as Christmas, Easter, the Green Week, Corpus Christi as well as during weddings were all associated with the tree of life. It was used as a decorative motif in paintings, on furniture (such as dowry chests), in cut paper art, in sculpture, woodcarving, embroidery, pottery and on traditional Easter egg decorations. The ornament had several variations: a tree, a shrub, a bouquet in a vase or a basket, a twig, a leaf, a flower. It was stylized as fir, spruce, fern and as many different species of plants, flowers and shrubs, most often fictional than reproduced from nature.
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