Art Centre Gallery EL
The beginnings of the Virgin Mary Church date back to the 1250s. The charter permitting the Polish-descended Dominicans to settle in Elbląg was granted by the Master of the Teutonic Knights Herman Balk. The erection of the church started after 1246 with the construction of presbytery, sacristry and two small annexes on the west side. In the last quarter of the 13th century a one-naved, four-bayed nave trunk was built as well as a cloister on the north side. By around 1350 the south nave was built. Originally, it was lower and covered with a separate roof. Destroyed by the fire in 1504, the church practically lost the vault, the gable and the church interior. Soon after the fire, the rebuilding process began. The south nave was raised, which gave the church the shape of a two-naved hall. Both naves were added a net vault and a common ceiling. The roof was attached a gorgeous ave-bell, placed near the east gable. The restoration of the church from the early 16th century and numerous repairs did not change its essential shape. The development of the Reformation in Elbląg brought about the fall of the Dominican monastery. In 1542 the last two monks transferred both the monastery and the church to the Town Council. Thus for the first time the Protestants took over a Catholic sanctuary. From 1542 to 1945 St Mary’s Church was the main Protestant place of worship in town. Of all the valuable objects only some epitaphs and tombstones have survived till the present day. Most of them were destroyed during the WW2 military operations in 1945 and after the war, as a result of negligence. The most precious examples of the old furnishings are the epitaph of the burgrave Jan Jungschultz (1631), an inscription plate, funded in 1647 by Izaak Spiring in honour of Władysław IV, a mannerist tombstone of Hans Gross (1600), Martin Michaels’s epitaph (1623) and Bartholomew Meisenreis’s, Jan Slocumbe’s and their wives’ tombstones (1621). During the Soviet army’s siege of Elbląg, the church sustained serious damage. The vault of both naves caved in, causing the east and (partially) west gables to collapse. The monastery was destroyed, too. The only survivors were the presbytery, sacristry and the cloister with its roof. In the post-war period, the church, like the whole town, was in the state of ruin. Taken in 1959, the decision of its restoration had to be reconsidered due to the lack of adequate funds. The reconstruction started several years later.
In 1961 Gerard Kwiatkowski, an artist employed in a machine plant „Zamech” applied to the town authorities for converting the Dominican church ruins into an atelier. The place also functioned as a modern art gallery thanks to young local intelligentsia from „Zamech.” They were Jerzy Wojewski, Lech Rutkowiak and Wacław Nadziakiewicz. „Zamech”, the town authorities, and Socialist Youth Union supported them. The name „Galeria EL” was given through contest. The author was a painter Janusz Hankowski. The founders managed to hire Gdańsk artists such as Barbara Argasińska, Edward Bober, Jan Góra, Gizela Pierzyńska, Dorota and Jerzy Łabanowski and Bogusław Czerwiński. On 24 July 1961 Gerard Kwiatkowski and Janusz Hankowski mounted an exhibition of their works and this date is regarded as the beginning of Galeria EL.
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