The final result of the work by the Dresden-based portrait painter is really impressive. The artist restored frescoes representing the scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. The frescoes now decorate the plafonds in the central section of the vault at the Oratorium Marianum Music Hall in Wroclaw. The fresoces were originally painted by Johann Christoph Handke, a Baroque painter, who was active in Breslau in the first half of the 18th century. Handke also decorated the Aula Leopoldina.
The Oratoriun Marianum held concerts by such eminent artists as Liszt, Brahms or Wieniawski. In 1945, the hall sustained severe damage during an air raid. After World War II, the hall was divided into smaller sections with several partition walls and then converted into a storehouse in which weapons used for university civil defence training were used.
"I used to visit the place when I was a student to hand over weapons after practice, but I could hardly appreciate its beauty as it was so decrepit," admits Wroclaw University's Rector, Professor Marek Bojarski, .
The hall was partially restored in the 1990s, but the plafonds remained blank. The situation bothered not only the university governance, but also the President of the Wroclaw University's German-Polish Association, Professor Norbert Heisig.br />"Each year, as I chaired our annual meeting I had to look into these blank spaces. I finally decided that we should do something about this," says Professor Heisig, a native of Breslau (born before World War II), a doctor and the initiator of the work to restore Handke's paintings.
The first thing Professor Heisig did was to organise the funding. Over 150 thousand EUR for restoration purposes was obtained from the Robert Bosch Foundation and the Federal Ministry of Culture and the Media.
Professor Heisig: "Once we had collected the money, we had to find someone to restore Handke's frescoes. We were advised to contact Christoph Wetzel, who had previously restored frescoes at the Dresden Frauenkirche. It was not easy to persuade Mr Wetzel, so we first asked him to serve as our advisor. He called us after a week and said: I'll do the job.
Christoph Wetzel worked in Wroclaw for a year. He worked from a bed mounted on a scaffolding right beneath the hall's ceiling, but he had to come down every now and then to look at the frescoes from a different angle to assess the results.
"I started with the scene of the Nativity above the matroneum, but when I saw the blank spaces and the sheer amount of work before me, I began to worry if I would manage the job," admits Christoph Wetzel, who had to cover with frescoes the overall space of more than 200 square metres.
"I'm 66 yearsold now. Handke, when he painted the hall, was much younger than I am. Apart from that, he was an old hand, and such tasks were nothing new to him. I am a portrait painter and I am used to dealing with people in their flesh and blood."
The Dresden-based artist was provided with detailed documentation, including coloured slides of the Oratorium Marianum's interior made in 1944.
"I have managed to restore Handke's frescoes, but the work also gave some room for invention," emphasises the Dresden-based artist.
Professors Bojarski and Heisig were delighted with the final result. Professor Heisig's favourite scene is the Nativity, which is reproduced by the university in its Christmas postcards.
Christoph Wetzel also took the opportunity to insert his self-portrait among several dozen figures that he painted for the project. The portrait can be found in the largest plafond that represents the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Oratorium Marianum will be open to public on Friday 9 May. The residents of Wroclaw and the visitors from outside of the city will be offered access on Saturday 10 May.
The site will be open at weekends (from Friday to Sunday) between 10 am and 5 pm, and on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday between 10 am and 4 pm. Ticket offices at the University Museum, the Oratorium Marianum being its part, are closed half an hour before the closure of the Museum.