What is Igor Mitoraj hiding in his sculpture?

4 December 2021 | Apocalypse in discussion, Blog, Context and roots | 0 comments

Kees Zoeteman

The exhibition Façade by Igor Mitoraj at the Dutch Museum ‘Beelden aan Zee’ in The Hague (June 19, 2021-6 February 2022) made an overwhelming impression on me.

Igor Motoraj, Ikaro alato (2000) and Ikaria (1987), bronze; Museum Beelden aan Zee (photo Kees Zoeteman)

Although the exhibition offers no direct leads for an assumption that Mitoraj has been pre-occupied with the Apocalypse in his life, his work seamlessly connects to the visual language of the Apocalypse. I will illustrate this at the conclusion of this blog, with the explicit mention, of course, that this is inlay on my part and not intentional on his part. 

Mitoraj was born March 26, 1944 in Oederan, Saxony. That is near Leipzig and Dresden, in the heart of Hitler’s Third Reich. His birth was the result of a brief love affair between his mother Zofia Makina, who had been deported from Poland to a Nazi labor camp in Oederan, and a Frenchman, taken prisoner of war while serving with the Foreign Legion. There were several labor camps in Oederan for the manufacturing of ammunition and for the Audi car factories. Here worked both Jews, who had come from concentration camps, and prisoners of war. Igor Mitoraj was named Jerzy as a child, after his French father George. His parents each went back to their own homeland at the end of World War II. Thus, as a baby, he and his mother ended up with his Polish grandparents near Krakow, where he spent his childhood. His mother married into a new relation and, like her son, took his name Mitoraj. From 1963-1968 he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow with Tadeusz Kantor, who encouraged him to spread his wings internationally. He then left for Paris in 1968, partly with the intention of searching for his biological father. He found his address, but never had any physical contact with him. [ Magdalena Howorus-Czajka DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18290/rh.2018.66.4-8 ROCZNIKI HUMANISTYCZNE Tom LXVI, zeszyt 4 – 2018]. He chose to make a life for himself as an immigrant in Paris. With his decision to go to Paris he also changed his first name to Igor [Constantine, C.W.V., G. Borgna, et al., 2004, Mitoraj Mercati Di Trajano, Rome, p.5.].  After a one-year trip to Mexico around 1973-1974, he decided to devote himself entirely to sculpture and held his first successful exhibition in Paris in 1976, where his still small sculptures sold quickly. After that, his work became internationally successful and took on increasingly monumental forms. He also opened a studio in Pietrasanta, near the famous marble quarry in Carrara, Italy. He died in 2014 in Paris, aged 70.

Mitoraj in his studio in Pietrasanta (https://www.igormitoraj.com/en/igor-mitoraj)

Some typical features

Although his sculptures are, in terms of their beauty, strongly reminiscent of the highlights of Greek and Roman sculpture, Mitoraj’s fragmentary approach to the characters and gods depicted aims to add substantially new elements. No sculpture is perfect. Parts are left out and provided with square imprints. Also, especially in the early period, many sculptures are wrapped with bandages. Over time, he did offer some explanations for this [Howorus-Czajka, 2018, see http://dx.doi.org/10.18290/rh.2018.66.4-8 ROCZNIKI HUMANISTYCZNE Tom LXVI, zeszyt 4; Constantini et al. 2004, p.32 e.a.]. 

On the ambiguity of beauty and decay in his work, he notes, “The idea of beauty is ambiguous, a double-edged sword that can easily hurt you, causing pain and torture. My art is an example of this dichotomy: mesmerizing perfection attached to corrupted imperfection.” Could the root for this side of his work lay in his early years of life, one wonders. The harsh conditions in which the family lived in the labor camp in Oederan, whether unconscious or not, the separation of his parents, the childhood years in Poland, they could contribute to this dichotomy.  

About the square imprints, he has noted that this is a reference to the modern frameworks of cinematography, as practiced by his friend Federico Fellini, within which other worlds present themselves as vistas or magnifications of one-sidedness, which keep you from seeing the bigger picture.

On the wrapping of images with bandages, he says: “I carve blindfolded heads, bound bodies. To me, the bandages represent a kind of protection from a hostile reality. It’s a symbol of survival, a chance to live in the myth.” [Federico Schiaffino in https://www.whererome.com/the-myth-of-mitoraj/]

These are all indications that he wanted to bring the great myths to our attention, to make them experienceable and at the same time to protect them. The beauty he brings becomes vulnerable at the same time in our barbaric time of world wars. That is why he hides the miracle under the bandages or shows the simultaneously occurring decay that evokes a tearing pain in the heart. It is precisely because of these characteristics of his work that it connects to the visual language of the Apocalypse, without making any explicit reference to it.

Associations with the Apocalypse    

One sculpture that can be indirectly associated with the Apocalypse is the head of John the Baptist (for the relationship with John the writer of the Apocalypse, see the Blog on ‘Who is the John who wrote the Apocalypse?’) 

Igor Mitoraj, Head of John the Baptist in Museum Beelden aan Zee, cast iron (photo Kees Zoeteman)

The original marble version of this statue of the beheaded John the Baptist was donated by Igor Mitoraj to the commissioners for the making of two bronze doors for the cathedral Santa Maria degli Angeli et dei Martiri in Rome. Why did Mitoraj make this sculpture, is a question yet difficult to answer.

Any relation of Mitoraj’s work to the Apocalypse cannot be based on statements made by Mitoraj, as mentioned above. But the atmosphere his work evokes, makes it easy to relate the two. The idea came to me in response to the large sculpture ‘Hermanos’, the two brothers, which immediately reminded me of the mission of the community of Philadelphia in the Apocalypse. Then, I tried to find an appropriate image from his oeuvre for the other six communities. For the spiritual mission of each of those communities I refer to the explanation of the text fragments 4 through 10. The result is presented below.  


The community of Ephesus refers to the Old Indian culture and the desire in that culture to become one again with the increasingly veiled world of the gods. This longing is present everywhere in Mitoraj’s work. One sculpture, that we can place in that perspective in particular, is ‘Conversation’ (1983), a disc of white marble with two faces hidden behind bandagest. At the same time, the white disc evokes associations with the full Moon, the “planet” associated with this community, as also spoke from the worship of the Moon Goddess Diana/Artemis in Ephesus.

Igor Mitoraj, 1983, Conversation, marble, Museum Beelden aan Zee (photo by Kees Zoeteman)


Smyrna refers to the Old Persian cultural period and the struggle between light and darkness.  The shuttling back and forth between the worlds of light and darkness, heaven and earth is found in the god Hermes or Mercury. A related image of Mitoraj is ‘Hermes’.

Igor Mitoraj, Hermes, 2006, (https://www.artsy.net/artwork/igor-mitoraj-hermes)


The next Egyptian-Babylonian cultural period is reflected in the community of Pergamon. In this period, the foundations of external science are laid and the goddess Venus is worshipped. The danger manifests itself at the same time that beauty can slip into decadence.

Igor Mitoraj, Venus in bronze and marble, 1984, (http://www.artnet.com/artists/igor-mitoraj/venus-iCzdWcblmjL84SnouNFZcw2)

Mitoraj knows how to capture this beauty and vulnerability to decay like no other.


Thyatira refers to the Greco-Roman cultural period. The Sun is the central celestial body for this period. The sun god Apollo can be associated with this and with the coming of the Christ who is crucified and who accomplishes the resurrection. Mitoraj made an impressive crucified and risen Christ on the bronze door of the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome.  The cross, cutting through the body, is like a signature underlining the greatness of the I, the individual self-consciousness, which is about to be born.

Igor Mitoraj, 2006, risen Christ on bronze door of the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (https://www.walksinrome.com/blog/bronze-doors-by-igor-mitoraj-church-of-santa-maria-degli-angeli-rome)


With Sardis we have arrived at the current Germanic-Anglo-Saxon cultural period, a Martian period in which natural science and technology, begun in Egypt, are booming. Does human self-awareness manage to master this technology or is man enslaved to it? No mythological figure portrays this dilemma more clearly than Icarus, who tries in vain to fly to the sun with his wings of beeswax. In Icarus’ bold pursuit and overestimation of his abilities, Mitoraj frequently sculpted this typical representative of our time. Here we see an Icarus looking meekly at the ground after the failure of his flight and the loss of a wing. At the same time he carries the spear cut in his side with which the crucified Jesus was checked for having truly died. Will the Christ rise in us or do we miss our calling? 

Igor Mitoraj, Ikaro alato, 2000, Museum Beelden aan Zee (photo by Kees Zoeteman)


The community of Philadelfia is the symbol of the coming Slavic cultural period of brotherly love. The god Jupiter is associated with this community. Mitoraj depicted the promise of brotherhood with the crown jewel of this exhibition at Museum Beelden aan Zee: ‘Hermanos’, the Brothers.  They are two giant portraits lying in the center of the exhibition space waiting to be brought to life by us.

Igor Mitoraj, Hermanos, 2010, Museum Beelden aan Zee (photo by Kees Zoeteman)


The seventh community, Laodicea, refers to an even further future, called the American cultural period. In this period the consequences of the moral choices made earlier become visible. The lazy and lukewarm are called to wake up and go for true morality. The god associated with this period is Chronos, Saturn, the god of time. The post-Atlantean era comes to an end with Laodicea. For the last time the call is heard to turn around to the world of spirit. An early sculpture that closely approximates the latter is ‘Iniziazione’. This expresses the willpower to pull out the spear pressed into the side, despite the trampling foot, and stand up.   

Igor Mitoraj, Initiation, 1987, Museum Beelden aan Zee (photo: Kees Zoeteman)

Thus, without Mitoraj devoting a word to the Apocalypse, the storyline of this book of initiation can be effortlessly illustrated with the work of this gifted sculptor.     


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