František Bilek
(1872 – 1941)
Jesus and Mary Magdalene
1901 - 1902
wood
196 x 108 cm
MG-1325

František Bilek was a prominent Czech Art Nouveau sculptor, architect, ceramicist and illustrator who created impressive symbolic works. At the turn of the 20th century, as a member of Catholic Modern Art, a group of Czech intellectuals and artists, he advocated the promotion of integration of traditional Christian values and modern artistic practice, and it is when many of his works with biblical and motifs from the life of Christ were created.
The first of the three artworks acquired in 1905 for the Modern Gallery (today the National Museum of Modern Art) from Art Society was Bilek’s relief in wood Jesus and Mary Magdalene from the Christological cycle. The work conveys a strong symbolic interpretation of Christ’s resurrection. An erect figure of Christ, depicted as a sorrowful man with his head bowed and gently touching the hand of Mary Magdalene, stands above the open tomb, to the right. Mary Magdalene is barely sensing the presence of the risen Christ, while her visionary gaze is directed towards heaven. In a summarily interpreted scene with subtle symbolism, three arms and a cross on the hill of Golgotha are integrated into the landscape. An elegiac poem is engraved along the rectangular frame that interprets this pivotal Christian scene, but also tragic human love, sorrow and pain caused by transience and death, personified in the figures of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
The Czech artist was not unknown to the Croatian public because of the strong intellectual and artistic ties between Prague and Zagreb in that period. Bilek showcased his sculptural works at a notable exhibition by members of the Czech Association of Fine Artists Manes, held at the Art Pavilion in Zagreb in 1904, and his second exhibition was staged at the Salon Ulrich in 1918.

Text: Tatijana Gareljić, Museum Advisor of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2022
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2022

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