Our Lady of Czestochowa – The Image

Black Madonna Icon Faces

This is translated from Polish that appeared on jasnagora.com under Source materials and scientific studies and titled ‘Częstochowska Matka Boża – Obraz. From: EK. Lublin 1995. vol. 3, col. 852-879.

The image of the Virgin Mary of the Hodegetria type is most similar to a late 10th-century Byzantine icon in the Roman church of S. Maria Maggiore, a 12th-century mosaic icon preserved in the Serbian monastery of Chilandar on Mount Athos, and a 6th-century image of the Virgin Mary from the church of St. Maria Nuove in Rome (parallels in the details of Mary’s face and the arrangement of the Infant’s head).

A. Iconography

The painting depicts the Virgin Mary with the Child in her arms. It is painted in tempera technique on a linden board measuring 120.2 x 81.6 cm on a smooth background with large convex halos and borders obtained by deepening the board’s surface.

Mary is portrayed in a frontal position with her head slightly turned towards the Infant. She is wearing a dark blue dress and a red-lined mantle, also encircling her head. Her right hand is on her breast, and her left hand supports the Infant, dressed in a carmine dress, with his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing and holding the Gospels in his left. Mary’s mantle is decorated with Angevin lilies and a star above her forehead. In contrast, the Child’s gown is decorated with golden rosettes and circles. Mary’s robes are edged with a gilded border, imitating lace. Distinguishing features of the painting of Mother of God of Częstochova from similar images include the horizontally aligned book of the gospels, the gilded lilies and the four cuts marked in red on the right side of the face and neck of the Virgin Mary, a reminder of the profanation of the painting. Furthermore, the disproportion between the size of Mary’s head and the small head of the Infant is striking, as are the flashes of light on the irises of Mary’s eyes directed towards the centre and found only on the oldest images of the Mother of God.

The dominant feature of the representation is Mary’s face, on which the viewer’s eye is focused. Her face is imbued with an expression of gentle sadness, concentrated mainly in the unparalleled ‘penetrating’ eyes, fully conveying the dignity of her divine motherhood, boundless mercy and loving care. As a monument, the painting does not fall into the categories of a strictly defined historical style. Nevertheless, it is a unique work, presenting the idea of divine motherhood in close connection with an artistic form that captivates everyone, regardless of their level of religious commitment.

The mysterious and unusual image of the Mother of God of Częstochova has become the subject of many studies and controversial hypotheses. It has been dated to the 7th century (T. Kruszyński), the 11th century. (Ch. Rohault de Fleury), the 13th century (W. Podlacha), the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries (S. Tomkowicz, F. Kopera), the middle of the 14th century (Boris Rothemund), the period before 1382 (K. Pieradzka); it was seen as a work with traditions of Greek and Roman painting traditions, repainted in the 15th century (M. Skrudlik), or a copy made after 1430 based on an original created in the 5th century, at the turn of the 6th and 7th centuries or the beginning of the 9th century (R. Kozłowski, S. Szafraniec). Among the controversial opinions concerning the environment of its composition, the Italian provenance is supported by J. Fijałek (Bologna school), Tomkowicz (work of P. Cavallini), Pieradzka (Siena), E. Śnieżyńska-Stolot (Simone Martini circle). Support for a Byzantine origin comes from – M. Walicki, B. Dąb, T. Mroczko, A. Rogow, and Czech – K. Estreicher, among others.


In the absence of the oldest documents concerning the image, news about it is drawn from copies and oral transmissions, supplemented by amplified events relating both to the history and the translocation of other relics, e.g. the Hodegetria of Constantinople, destroyed by the Turks in 1453, or the bringing of the relics of Paul the Hermit (from Egypt via Constantinople and Venice) to Hungary. This led to historical and legendary tales, which became the source of later devotional publications.

The oldest surviving source is the Translacio tabule (a copy from an earlier one), dating from the first half of the 15th century, with the date 1474 added later. It contains a legendary account of the painting’s origins (it was supposedly painted on a cypress panel by Luke the Evangelist) and the story of its import from Jerusalem by Emperor Constantine the Great to Constantinople and its subsequent transfer by the Emperor to the Ruthenian prince Leo, who brought it to his domain. During the war waged by the Hungarian king Louis the Great, the painting was found in Belz by the king’s governor, Władysław, Duke of Opole. He brought it to Poland and presented it to the Pauline monks at Jasna Gora. The documents record the handing over to the 1382 Paulines of the Church of the Virgin Mary on the mountain of old Częstochowa, together with its affiliations (2 villages and an ironworks), emphasising the Marian character of the foundation, which was probably initiated by Ludwik the Great. Also, essential sources are the records provided by J. Długosz, most of which coincide with the Translacio tabule. P. Risinius in Historia pulchra (Kr 1523) gave the exact date (31 VIII 1384) of the donation of the painting to the Pauline Fathers and the names of the donors. At the same time, he mentions, based on an old damaged manuscript, that the painting was painted 13 years after the Passion of Christ on a cypress board. The details relating to the damage to the painting and Dlugosz’s messages were confirmed by R. Kozłowski’s technological research. Other authors – M. Lanckoroński et al., A. Gołdonowski and A. Nieszporkowicz, add certain additions of devotional significance. Moreover, A.J. Nowowiejski suggests that the painting may have been painted with a wax technique (encaustic). A different version is given by Ruthenian tradition; J. B. Zimorowicz, based on the Old Slavonic code, states that the image of the Virgin Mary was delivered from Constantinople via Kiev to the Lvov princes in 1270. Then Prince Władysław of Opole took it from them and gave it to Jasna Góra.


The origin and time of the painting are still debated.

It is generally assumed that Prince Władysław of Opole donated it to the Pauline Fathers of Jasna Gora, probably on 31 August 1384. It is considered historically certain that it was profaned and significantly damaged in 1430 and then restored with the addition of finished plates in the background by King Władysław Jagiełło. In the following centuries, the painting was increasingly venerated and associated with major national events, as evidenced by numerous donations, votive offerings and outstanding works of art at Jasna Gora. The painting was also restored several times.

In 1925-26 the painting was restored with the help of a commission, appointed in 1922 at a congress of Polish bishops to remove dirt and oil stains and fill in the defects. In addition, a painting from 1682 depicting the history of the image was peeled off the reverse and placed on a specially constructed case, to which silver background plates were attached at the front to prevent them from adhering to the painting. As a result of conservation studies, it was assumed that after the damage of 1430, the icon broke into three parts (in the places of breakage, the paint crumbled and the canvas covering the board broke) and that the face of the Mother of God was cut several times; the image, repaired at that time by painters appointed by Władysław Jagiełło and substantially repainted (according to Rutkowski), has survived to the present day.

During World War II, as a result of being hidden away, the painting became excessively damp and then dried out, causing the paint to flake off along with the mortar. Despite being secured by H. Kucharski in 1948, it continued to deteriorate. Since 1948, on the commission of the conservation commission appointed in 1948, conservator Kozłowski has conducted research on the painting using his own methods (including microscopic mineralogical and palaeontological studies and stereoscopic X-rays, which enable the depth of the artwork to be magnified several times). The repaired panel was covered with pieces of canvas, and multi-layered chalk mortar, on which a new tempera painting was painted after the remains of the old one had been removed. All that remains of the original image is a patched and glued board, which probably had a cypress board attached to the back to protect it from wood-boring (according to legend, this was the cypress table top of Mary of Nazareth). The antiquity of the painting is evidenced by the large number of nails (and their traces) detected in the panel by stereoscopic X-rays, which were used to fix the dresses and decorations. One-third of the nails dating from around 1431 to the 19th century pierced the present painting. The rest of the nails used for decoration are under the canvas. The chalky mortar (organogenic calcium carbonate), rather than the gypsum mortar used in Italy, and the place of restoration (according to accounts, Kraków) rule out the Italian provenance of the painting. Infrared photographs revealed that under the darkened varnish, the complexion of the face is light.

There are many conflicting opinions concerning the technique used to make the former painting. According to accounts, the painting was said to have been “executed in a strange and rare manner of painting” (Długosz); according to others (Risinius), during the restoration, the (Greek) painters encountered difficulties in laying down the paints, which “flowed” from the completed parts of the painting; the other (Imperial) painters who were subsequently called in, despite similar difficulties, complied with the order. The complications of the restoration of the painting, when confronted with the accounts and the discovery made at the edge of the Child’s halo (a piece of grey-brown linen with glue finish without traces of white mortar, indispensable for tempera painting, was found under the white canvas), a remnant of the original painting, suggests that the painting was executed with the encaustic method. The paint run-off was caused by the use of water-diluted tempera when retouching, which did not adhere to the former encaustic (greasy) ground. As a result of these difficulties, the imperial painters were forced to remove the original painting before levelling the panel’s surface and painting a new image. Cuts were also painted on Our Lady’s face to commemorate the desecration of her icon.

As a result of this research, it is assumed that the present painting, executed around 1431, is an approximate replica of the former painting, with features of traditional medieval painting and most probably of a 1st-millennium original of the Virgin Mary, as indicated by, among other things, the flashes of light in the irises of Mary’s eyes, which are characteristic of the few surviving encaustic paintings and 1st-4th century mummy portraits of the so-called Phaumae, which were models for the first icon painters of late early Christian and early Byzantine art.


Apart from copies intended for churches, made by well-known painters striving to faithfully reproduce the original of the miraculous image, numerous paintings, engravings, devotional items and, from the end of the 19th century, also reproductions and lithograph-prints with the image of Mother of God of Częstochova were produced for the mass public (especially pilgrims).

The most significant number of paintings (relatively small in size), dating back to the 15th century, are for private and public worship (placed in poorer village churches, chapels, wayside shrines, etc.); more impressive paintings are found in parish houses, seminaries, bishop’s residences, monasteries, especially Pauline ones, etc. The paintings were primarily made in Czestochowa (especially in the 17th-18th centuries) by Pauline painters and engravers, as well as by lay painters employed by them (e.g. F. Ratyński, C. Łaszkiewicz). In addition, there were artisans’ workshops around the Jasna Gora, mainly dealing with religious art, associated with the painters’ guild, whose production of the images of the Virgin Mary was controlled by the Pauline Fathers; these were usually transpositions of the Jasna Gora image, painted in oil on a wooden base – poplar, lime or even cypress, also found in many churches from the 17th century. Among other types are paintings (popular in the second half of the 19th century) painted on board, with a surface treated in relief, the so-called “blasted”, where the crown and robes of the Virgin Mary were treated plastically (multicoloured glazes were pressed into the non-dried mass, which decorated individual parts of the painting). In addition to the guilds, Czestochowa was also home to the so-called “tandem artists”, paper painters, and picture-makers, who often adapted to the public’s tastes. Many mass-produced images of the Virgin Mary were made on paper, with watercolours or gouache, using the cheapest means; these were often folk artists. In these images, only the basic scheme remained, together with the characteristic cuts on Mary’s face, and the whole was interpreted freely, as manifested in the facial expression; in the ornamental nimbus and the background embellished with large flowers, according to the traditions of folk art. (e.g. Mother of God of Częstochova painting on paper, Ethnographic Museum, Włocławek). Miniature pictures were also made on the back of circular panes of glass about 3 cm in diameter, set in a metal frame, as ornaments in necklaces, beads, beads, as well as glass-painted ring eyes with an image of Mother of God of Częstochova and many medals and medallions, etc.., Among 118 varieties of Mother of God of Częstochova medals from 1775-1966 examined by M.L. Jędrzejczak, 11 representation groups can be distinguished (Mother of God of Częstochova alone and with the Jasna Góra monastery, as the Queen of Poland, with Marian mysteries, with images of other shrines, with copies of Shrine of the Mother of God of Częstochova, with copies of the miraculous image, with the divine mysteries, the earthly life of Christ, the Passion mysteries, with her earthly family, with various saints and with the sacramental mysteries) on the reverse. Also created here were gorgets, introduced especially as a sign of the Confederates of Bar, in the form of a slightly convex metal plate, cut below the neck and rounded at the bottom, with an engraved and painted image of the Virgin Mary (Catholics wore gorgets in partisan groups during World War II).

Hand-painted images of Mother of God of Częstochova gradually disappeared at the end of the 19th century due to the development of factory production, inter alia, of relief or engraved metal gorgets (often in silver as a baptismal and First Communion souvenirs or with patriotic accents – against the background of the Polish Eagle with the inscription “Queen of Poland”), medals, anniversary medals with inscriptions, paper Mother of God of Częstochova compositions, music boxes with the Marian hymn and image, key rings and badges with the image of Mother of God of Częstochova and the Jasna Gora Basilica, stamps with the image of Mother of God of Częstochova from the camp mail during World War II, etc. Enamelled images of the Mother of God of Częstochova with patriotic inscriptions (e.g. “O, Mary, pray for Poland and your children”) were made, decorating the silver envelopes of watches made by A. Patka and F. Czapka in Geneva (watch from ca. 1850, Museum of the History of the City of Warsaw) or engraved – of the Gwiazda company in Wrocław (ca. 1905), which were distributed to the Polish population. Photographs of the painting were also taken, e.g. during its conservation in the millennium period and during the inventory of Jasna Góra by the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences; colour photographs of the whole painting or Mary’s face, with colours close to the original and in a relatively large format, were distributed. The Pauline Fathers gave hand-painted images of the Mother of God of Częstochova as souvenirs to influential personalities visiting the sanctuary. On the occasion of the Millennium, small colour paintings (usually retouched) were produced, and the image of the Mother of God of Częstochova was also placed on stamps (Brazil, Vatican).

In other centres at home and abroad, especially from the 17th century, paintings of Mother of God of Częstochova were often created based on graphic patterns (e.g. in icon painting), popular among Uniates and Orthodox Christians in Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia. Images of Mother of God of Częstochova can also be found in folk paintings on glass (e.g. Mother of God of Częstochova, City Museum in Cieszyn) and in folk sculpture, sometimes depicted in busts or as a whole figure (e.g. sculpture from ca. 1962 by W. Skirzyński).

In addition, there are numerous compositions in paintings and prints for which the figure of the Mother of God of Częstochova was the central motif; these include depictions of history. Such as historical representations, e.g. the engraving by J.A. Gorczyna from 1655 (National Museum of Krakow), depicting the siege of the Pauline monastery at Jasna Góra by the Swedes, which shows the whole figure of the Virgin Mary sitting on a crescent moon, sitting on a crescent with two saints, as well as a painting by Zbigniew Oleśnicki showing Jagiello the image chopped up by the Hussites by F. Cynk from 1867 (National Museum of Warsaw); moreover, in adoration scenes, the image of Mother of God of Częstochova was placed in the upper part of the composition, usually supported by angels, often with two adoring saints, and in the lower part with a view of Jasna Góra and scenes, e.g. ‘The Adoration of Mother of God of Częstochova. Adoration of Mother of God of Częstochova (Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków) and Mother of God of Częstochova adored by St. Joseph and St. Barbara (MNPz); scenes of miracles from the Liber miraculorum outside the paintings in the monastery complex were depicted, among others, by K. Dankwart in the frescoes of the Jasna Gora basilica – Mother of God of Częstochova as a dispenser of graces, while A. Grottger depicted her in patriotic scenes; J. Chełmoński also painted a copy of the painting Pod Twoją obronę (MNWwa), depicting Mother of God of Częstochova emerging from the clouds against the background of the Polish landscape.

Many compositions were created on the occasion of the Millennium, e.g. A. Michalak placed Mother of God of Częstochova surrounded by outstretched hands (stained glass window, KUL Academic Church). The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary is often found on standards, banners, chasubles and cowls, e.g. on the embroidered chasuble made for Pope Paul VI in connection with the planned pilgrimage of the Holy See. Among others, the embroidered chasuble made for Pope Paul VI in connection with his planned pilgrimage to Poland in 1966 (presented by Cardinal S. Wyszyński) shows the face of the Mother of God of Częstochova and the Polish Eagle framed by floral ornaments.