THE TRETYAKOV GALLERY UNVEILS TREASURES OF ORTHODOX ICONS FROM RUSSIA, UKRAINE AND BELARUS

Natalya Sheredega

Article: 
CURRENT EXHIBITIONS
Magazine issue: 
#2 2008 (19)

A joint presentation in the framework of this exhibition provides a unique opportunity to compare the artistic heritage of the three Slavic peoples, with their common roots springing out of the same spiritual legacy. Such a comparison enables seeing, thinking over and feeling both the uniqueness and the affinity of the related cultures, which through the works of art demonstrated an unswerving allegiance to the doctrine of true Orthodoxy despite the cruel, dramatic events of the past.

As part of this grandiose project, the Tretyakov Gallery together with their Ukrainian and Belorussian colleagues prepared a representational catalogue and fascinating film dedicated to the unique and truly landmark event. The film, not confined to the Gallery’s halls, showed live images of the cathedrals and churches of Kiev, Minsk, Vladimir, Suzdal, and, as obviously expected, of the Moscow Kremlin.

The Tretyakov Gallery would like to thank the Ingosstrakh and Severstal companies, as well as the “Society for the Encouragement of Arts” Foundation, for their financial support and also to express their gratitude to Vitaly Machitski, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Tretyakov Gallery, who financed both the publication of the catalogue and production of the video.

 

On May 30th 2008 the Engineering Building of the Tretyakov Gallery opened an exhibition celebrating the 1020th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’. This landmark event started the process of the Christianization of the Slavic peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

The list of exhibits includes 89 icons painted in the period between the 14th and 19 th centuries from the major museums of Moscow, Kiev and Minsk. The Tretyakov Gallery presents a collection of the oldest icons demonstrating the variety of the art of Ancient Russia’s cultural centres in the period between the 14th and 16th centuries. The collection of the National Kievo-Pechersky Historical and Cultural Reserve reveals the evolution of local icon-painting art in the 16th-19th centuries, tracing it from the post-Byzantine period to Barocco. The National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus introduces a collection of 17th-19th century icons, including works reminiscent of the Byzantine tradition, alongside those created in a manner characteristic of Barocco and Classicism.

Russia was baptised in 988. At that time, the Christian world was about to be split by the Great Schism, which divided the medieval Church into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches, later known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, with its centre in Constantinople, and the Roman Catholic Church, with its centre in Rome. In 1054, the division was completed. The list of reasons that led to this historical event is rather wide, ranging from political and doctrinal antagonisms to fatal misunderstandings. One such misunderstanding resulted from the interpretation of the article of faith on the veneration of icons, as stated by the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church (The Second Council of Nicaea) in 787. In the ages since the time of the Schism, the Roman Catholic Church formally acknowledged the article on the veneration of icons. Yet — a factor of paramount importance — it ascribed to the article a meaning different from the one given by the Orthodox Church. The disagreement evolved around the term “veneration”. According to the interpretation of the Orthodox Church, icons should have become part of the liturgic service, providing a visible object of worship and incontestable evidence of God’s incarnation. As for the Roman Catholic Church, its interpretation suggested that icons should have been treated with respect as images bearing disciplinary and aesthetic functions, as well as illustrations of historical events.

Those differences in the understanding of the concept of the holy image determined the dogmatic and aesthetic peculiarities of Orthodox art on the one hand, and the evolution of European religious art on the other hand. It is worth mentioning here that after the fall of Constantinople, or the Second Rome as it was called in many official documents of the Byzantine Empire, in 1453, the idea of Moscow representing “The Third Rome” appeared in Russian culture, attributing special significance to Moscow as the only fully legitimate successor of the true East Orthodox tradition.

The cultures of three Slavic countries — Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — are rooted in the culture of Kievan Rus. In the late 10th through to the mid-11th centuries, Kiev was the centre of one state, which united vast territories, with Novgorod in the north, Polotsk in the north-west, and Yaroslavl in the north-east. At that time Kiev lived in an atmosphere of spiritual development, with regular contacts with leading Constantinople artists, thus developing the basis on which Russian culture would later evolve. Remarkably, the grandiose cathedrals in Kiev were decorated with frescoes, mosaics, and icons.

When Yaroslav Mudry (Yaroslav the Wise) died, the once powerful Kievan Rus gradually disintegrated into smaller principalities and, together with the loss of unity, lost its power. Weak as it was, the country could not defend itself against outside attacks. In 1223, the Mongol-Tartar army inflicted a crucial defeat on the Russians, thus starting the occupation of Rus by the Mongols. In 1237, the city ofVladimir fell to the Mongols, who then ravaged Rus’ northeastern territories. Three years later, Mongol invaders occupied and nearly demolished Kiev. Only Novgorod and Pskov on the north-western borders of the once powerful state were not destroyed. Yet, they were threatened by other invaders — the Livonian knights. The cities in the north-east of Russia were in ruins and paid tribute to the occupiers. Given the catastrophic situation of the Russian state and the occupation and destruction of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1203, the country’s cultural and economic ties with Byzantium were dramatically weakened.

Still, even while suffering under the Mongol-Tartar yoke, Russia did preserve her spiritual and artistic traditions, a fact that was made possible largely due to the efforts of the Orthodox Church, its spiritual ascetics, its episcopate and monasteries. The head of the united Orthodox Church — the Metropolitan — in the 13th century resided continuously in Kiev; only in 1299 did the Kievan Metropolitan Maxim move to Vladimir, the city housing the greatest ancient relic — the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir. The icon was brought from Kiev in 1155 and later would play a tremendous role in Russia’s historic and spiritual fate.

Under Metropolitan Peter in 1326, the seat of the Russian Church’s head was moved from Vladimir to Moscow. From that time on, the city of Moscow mentioned in written sources from the mid-12th century — during the reign of Prince Yury Dolgoruky — gained the status of the political, spiritual and cultural centre of the reviving nation, which was striving for spiritual and political unity. The idea of Moscow becoming, through Vladimir, a successor to the Kievan traditions — namely, the traditions of the period of national independence — was one of the key concepts that helped build up the nation’s moral and spiritual ideal. In the reign of Prince Ivan Kalita (1325—1340), Moscow attracted the best local and foreign artists. The re-integration of Rus’ into the mainstream process of Eastern Christian art development was made possible due to reestablished ties with Byzantium and the Balkan states. The Moscow art school was highly influenced by the culture of the Central Russian principalities, where artistic life started to revive from the late 13th century.

From the first half of the 14th century icons from Rostov the Great and Yaroslavl manifested certain distinctive features, such as a tendency to tenderness and lyricism in images, colour schemes based on the combination of contiguous hues, and covering dark underpaint with a lighter ochre flesh colour typical for flesh paint. Thus having considered those features, one may suggest that the “St. Nicholas” icon from the Tretyakov Gallery collection originates from the Rostov-Yaroslavl region and dates back to the first half of the 14 th century.

The arrival of the great artist Theophanes the Greek in Moscow in the 1390s had a tremendous impact on the development of Russian artistic culture. The name of Theophanes is associated with the creation of the high iconostasis — one of the true achievements of medieval Russia, which has no direct analogues in European culture.

The Church’s doctrine of the salvation of mankind received its full visual represent tation through complex symbols in the iconostasis’ structure. The full Russian iconostasis consists of five tiers (or rows): the Veneration tier, the Deesis tier, the Festival tier, the Prophets’ tier, and the Patriarchs’ tier — the last was added in the mid-16th century. Later, other tiers were added as well. Most of the exhibits were or could be parts of such iconostases.

The defeat of Mamai-khan’s hordes by the Russian army under the command of the Moscow Prince Dmitry Ioannovich in the battle of Kulikovo Field in September 1380 became the turning point for the future of Moscow and the whole of Russia. A century later, in 1480, a bloodless victory won at the Ugra River marked the downfall of the Mongol yoke. Earlier, in 1395, when Tamerlan “the Conqueror of the Universe” invaded Rus’ and approached Moscow with his army, the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir was moved from Vladimir to Moscow in a solemn procession for the first time. The icon found its new abode in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. On the day of the icon’s arrival, Tamerlan, disturbed by threatening dreams he had seen before, suddenly turned his army away, and the Mongols left the territory of the Moscow principality. After that miracle the ancient relic received the status of Moscow’s saintly protector, and numerous copies of that highly venerated icon appeared, among them one of the earliest surviving Moscow copies dated from the first quarter of the 15th century. This copy clearly manifests Andrei Rublev’s style with its soft rounded lines, delicate colours, and luminescent image painting. As the result of slight iconographic changes in the ancient antitype, the Mother of God appears to be absorbed with devotional prayer, rather than closely watching the worshipper.

In the 15th century the art of icon painting in the provincial centres differed radically from that of Moscow. The Novgorod the Great style of icon-painting is still acclaimed as the most remarkable. It is worth mentioning that during the 20th century, for quite a lengthy period, Novgorod icons with their precise heraldic design and emotionality of open clear colours were considered the most perfect examples of the aesthetic ideal of Old Russian art. And these very features are characteristic of the composition of the “Prince Vladimir”, a magnificent 15th century deesis icon from Novgorod. Novgorod art schools continued developing their own iconographic designs for old themes. For example, unlike icons of Vladimir-Suzdal and later the Moscow schools, the “Intercession” dated 15th century is distinctly divided into registers. In the 15th century, as well as in later periods, many subjects including “Sts. Florus and Laurus (The Miracle of Archangel Mikhail)” were popular only in Novgorod and its northern territories. In the late 15th to early 16th centuries, Novgorod joined the Moscow principality as the result of the fall of the “Veche” (people’s assembly) republic in 1478. Since then, the style of that ancient art centre started losing its specific features and continued evolving along general traditions of the Russian style.

Deesis icons, as well as “The Presentation of Our Lady Theotokos into the Temple, with Scenes from Her Life and the Lives of Ioachim and Anna” represent typical examples of the 16th century Novgorod style. The emphasis laid on the narrative part and interest in multi-component designs of theological and dogmatic nature explain the wide popularity of hagiographic icons depicting the Mother of God. The contents of the centrepiece and border scenes accentuate a special role, which the Mother of God played in the greatest mystery of the Divine Incarnation.

Independent since 1240s and once a contender for the Grand Prince’s throne, Tver lost its independence in 1485. In the 15th century the evolution of Tver’s art reached its apex. The famous “Dormition of the Virgin” dates from this very period given certain stylistic features. The icon has been frequently called “The Blue Dormition” thanks to its colouring, full as it is with light- and dark-blue hues. The icon’s emotional setting is sober, peaceful, and ordered. The colouring is based on the exquisite combination of dark-blue, greenish, grey, and silver-blue tones with a glittering golden background. The images’ classical proportions and cold colouring amplified with bright sparks of red survived into the 16th century as typical features of the Tver style.

Starting with the second half of the 14th century, the Pskov style was distinguished for its originality and acclaimed as one of the brightest phenomena of Russian medieval art. Pskov artists created images of exquisite poignancy, using dark, almost brown ochres with bright highlights. Triangular dabs of white stress the intensity of the eyes’ expression. Dense green, pinkish-red, and yellow compose colourful combinations. Special significance is attributed to white, shining on the dark background, in the images’ robes, in highlights, in “pearls” which were characteristic of the Pskov style. The background and some details of Pskov icons are frequently painted golden-yellow (with auripigment as a substitute for gold).

The iconographic creativity of Pskov artists is one of the essential elements of the Pskov style’s uniqueness. One of the exhibits — a small icon “In Thee Rejoiceth” dated late 15th century — provides a spectacular example of such creativity. The icon provides an illustration to a liturgic hymn dedicated to the Mother of God and is regarded as one of the earliest Russian works of this kind.

By early 16th century, Pskov artists developed a few iconographic versions of “The Resurrection — Descent into Hell” subject. The most compositionally intense version depicts a three-quarter dynamic image of Christ in mandorla. With both hands He literally snatches mankind’s ancestors, Adam and Eve, from the depths of hell to deliver them to the assembly of saints. The Saviour’s bright-red robes recall His propitiatory sacrifice and symbolize victory over death. These details are also typical of Pskov iconography.

“The Saviour Not-Made-by-Human Hands” icon originates from Ustug the Great. In some researchers’ opinion, the icon was highly venerated in the region as a local relic. According to legends, the miracle-working icon was created during the plague outbreak on request of the town’s population. It was placed on the gates of the city walls to “deliver the city”. The chronicles attribute the authorship of the icon to hieromonk Serapion and date it to 1447.

The art of the second half of 16th century was affected by the complexities and contradictions of that historical period. In 1547 Ivan IV, later known as Ivan the Terrible, was crowned and became the first Russian tsar, and Iov (Job) was appointed the first Russian Patriarch to head the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, in Russia two “power centres” appeared, joining the efforts of secular and clerical authorities in promoting the concept of “The Third Rome”, which supported Moscow’s claims to the position of legitimate heir to the Byzantine traditions. The spirit of solemnity and grandeur marked the events of Russia’s political and cultural life. It received material implementation in cathedrals, frescoes, and novel iconography reflecting grand aspirations and the dramatic qualities of that period.

The icons dated to the period of Ivan the Terrible’s reign lack the enlightened harmony and intense tranquility of the earlier works, which to a large extent followed the traditions of Andrei Rublev and Dionysius. The wider use of allegories, repetitive symbols, complex system of hints, allusions and assimilations in icon-painting reflects the trends of the time.

Metropolitan Makarius, the former Archbishop of Novgorod, undoubtedly played the central part in the development of Russian art in the second half of the 16th century. In 1542 he was appointed the Metropolitan of Moscow and the head of the Russian Church and assumed the function of an “ideological leader”, guiding Russia’s political and cultural development.

Under Makarius, the Metropolitan’s icon-painting workshop was opened in Moscow and many Novgorod artists joined it. The famous “Venerable St. Kyrill of Belozersk and St. Cyrill of Alexandria, with Scenes from St. Kyrill of Belozersk’s Life” originates from Makarius’ workshop.

Starting from the second half of the 16th century, complex iconographic designs developed by Metropolitan Makarius’ workshops were widely used by Russian artists.

At the beginning of the 17th century Russia entered the period known in history as “The Time of Troubles”, marked by the fall of the ancient Rurik dynasty and Polish-Lithuanian intervention. That dramatic period lasted till 1613 when the occupiers were driven out of the country and Mikhail Feodorovich, the first ruler of the Romanov dynasty, was crowned as Russian Tsar. Russia was entering a new era — a period in which the development of the country’s national identity had been completed. The 17th century was a transitional period between the Middle Ages and the era of the Renaissance. Russia developed stronger political, commercial and cultural ties with European countries, and in consequence established views on science and art underwent significant changes. The Armoury was to play a new, far greater role in the development of Russian art. Established in the reign of Ivan the Terrible as a storehouse for arms, in 1640 an “icon chamber” was added to the Armoury premises. Since then, the Armoury virtually became the main art centre of the country, issuing approvals to Russian artists invited from different cities to execute large-scale orders from the Patriarch and even from the Russian Tsar. The Armoury also invited artists from Ukraine, Belarus, and European countries.

The search for novel expressive forms, together with an adherence to traditions distinguish 17th century art. The artists from the Armoury as well as from other Moscow workshops and also from Yaroslavl started using Western European prints to source new subjects . Yet those prints were used only as samples of iconographic designs, and their style was not copied. To a great extent, such combinations accounted for the ambiguity of Russian art in the second half of the 17th century, which preserved the Orthodox tradition of images but gave them a new artistic interpretation. Due to such ambiguity, in the 18th century icon-painters of the Synodic period started employing in their work some stylistic means taken from secular art.

Historically, Ukraine and Belarus largely share the same fate, and the countries’ cultural legacy clearly points to this fact. Prior to the Mongol invasion, the modern territory of Belarus belonged to the Turovsky, later Turovo-Pinsky, principality. Subsequently, it was taken by the Polotsky, Vitebsky, and Smolensky principalities. After Baty-khan invaded Russia, many principalities, save for Galitsko-Volynsky that lasted until 1259, located on the territories of modern-time Ukraine and Belarus, were ravaged and fell into desolation. Later, they became part of the Great Duchy of Lithuania established in 1240. In the Middle Ages, such territorial rearrangements occurred quite frequently. What made the situation unusual was the fact that the pagan dukes of Lithuania did not oppress the Orthodox Christians who comprised the vast majority of the country’s population. Thanks to such amazing religious tolerance, Orthodox Church art continued developing even after Lithuania turned to Roman Catholicism in 1387, and later — in 1413-1417. In many aspects, the development of religious art in those lands resembled the process taking place in North-Western Russia, namely in Tver, Novgorod the Great and Pskov. As a result, each of the regions developed its own, unique style.

Yet, the factor that had the greatest impact on the development of Ukrainian and Belorussian cultures of the 16th century proved the growing hostilities between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox populations. The conflict reached its apex in the period following the Brest-Litovsk Union of 1596, which made the Orthodox Church on Lithuanian territory subject to the Pope. The overwhelming majority of the Orthodox Christians strongly resisted the Union and formed some anti-Union fellowships, which united Orthodox icon-painters and their customers. And the late 16 th century was the very period when new trends and new technology were introduced into the Ukrainian and Belorussian art of icon-painting, changing its style radically.

According to Ukrainian researchers, the two icons originating from Western Volyn and Kholmschina, “The Descent into Hell” and “The Royal Doors”, date from the 16th century and are considered the best examples of a conscientious adherence to the Byzantine tradition.

The Ukrainian and Belorussian art of icon-painting is represented mostly by artworks of later periods, namely the 17th—18th centuries. To a lesser or greater degree, all of them bear the features of the so-called “Slavic Barocco” — a style, which smoothly blends European mannerism and barocco with national tradition. In both Ukraine and Belarus, the iconostasis systems were formed as early as the late 16 th century, and in some aspects they differed from the Russian Church’s iconostases. Usually, the artworks of that period are distinguished by magnificent carved and gilded backgrounds, as well as bright, saturated colours.

Among the most remarkable monuments of Belorussian culture at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries the icon of “The Mother of God Life-giving Spring” should be mentioned. It is of interest though that the Tretyakov Gallery houses its most immediate iconographic analogue pertaining to the Moscow Armoury’s icon-painting school. And it is worth mentioning here that in the late 17th century the Moscow Armoury was the workshop where artists from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus worked together and where new iconographic designers were developed based on novel literary sources. One such source for Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian artists became Ioannikiy Golyatovsky’s book, “Novoye nebo” (The New Sky), published in Lvov in 1665. The book recounted a story dated back to the times of the reign of Leo I, the Byzantine Emperor. Once, on the outskirts of Constantinople, the Emperor met a blind old man. A voice commanded the Emperor to lead the old man to a spring, to wash the man’s eyes, and to build a cathedral there to honour the Mother of God. The Emperor did as he had been told, and great multitudes were healed of their infirmities at the spring. Later on, the Byzantine Empire instituted a feast to commemorate the renovation of the cathedral, and it was called “the Feast of the Mother of God Life-giving Spring”. Under Patriarch Nikon the festal liturgy became a part of the Russian “Pentecostarion”, and new iconography was accorded wide recognition.

For 17th century Russia, the Armoury was truly the centre of artistic life. As for Ukraine, the Kievo-Pechersky (Kiev Cave) Monastery (Lavra) was without a doubt such a centre, too. For centuries the Lavra played a great role in the spiritual as well as cultural life of Kiev, Ukraine, and even of the whole Orthodox world. The Lavra housed an iconpainting school, and many artists from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Serbia studied there, following a specially devised syllabus. They frequently used Western prints and publications as models. The monastery was also actively involved in publishing. The fame of prints and icons based on the new iconographic designs spread far beyond the Lavra’s walls. Of special importance were the images of the founders of the Lavra and Russian monasticism — Reverends Anthony and Pheodosius of the Kiev Cave. A late 17th century icon originating from the Chernigov region depicts the Lavra’s founders as standing at the sides of the Assumption Cathedral, which they established in 1073. The cathedral’s image originates from the Lavra’s publications of the late 17th century. As already mentioned, the icon’s carved and gilded background was nearly a mandatory feature distinguishing Ukrainian and Belorussian artworks of that period. Over the cathedral’s entrance the artist placed the image of the Kievo-Pechersky Monastery’s most venerated icon, “The Dormition”. According to the Kievo-Pechersky “Patericon”, the builders of the monastery received the icon from the Mother of God. Many copies of that miracle working icon were made in the Lavra’s workshops, “in conformity with size and likeness”. The present exhibition features “The Dormition of the Holy Virgin of the Kiev Caves” icon, one of the earliest surviving copies of that famous artwork. As for the original icon, it disappeared during the occupation of Kiev in 1941—1943 Another work of the Lavra’s artists, “The Assembly of the Kievo-Pechersky Saints”, is remarkable for the image of the Assumption Cathedral positioned in the centre. Over the cathedral, angels are holding “The Dormition of the Holy Virgin” icon. The icon in a precious diamond cover was kept over the royal doors of the iconostasis. The artist copied the sacred icon in detail, laying emphasis on the image of the small silver door at the bottom, which protected the relics of seven martyrs. The images of the Pechersky saints and miracle workers, as well as of Reverends Anthony and Pheodosius, and of St. Vladimir — the prince known as “the Baptizer of Rus’”, are positioned at the sides of the Assumption Cathedral. In fact, the cathedral has been housing the head of St. Vladimir since it was found back in 1636.

The future Prelate Dmitry of Rostov the Great (1651-1709), who was born in Ukraine and was known as Daniel Tuptalo in the secular world started his great 20-year work, “The Menology” (Lives of Saints) in the Kievo-Pechersky Monastery. His spiritual activity was accorded recognition in both Ukraine and Russia. Peter the Great highly valued Dmitry’s talents of an educator and writer, and in 1702 he became the Metropolitan of Rostov and Yaroslavl. He was canonized in 1757 when his body was found incorruptible. In the second half of the 18th century, the icons of St. Dmitry were among those most frequently painted in both Russia and Ukraine. The exhibition shows two icons with this saint’s image: one is the work of the Kiev school, another from Central Russia. Both icons were painted in the period immediately following Dmitry’s canonization. However, they differ considerably in terms of iconography and scenery. The bottom part of the portrait-icon of the Kiev school features the description of the saint’s deeds in a poetic form. Also, the saint’s head is crowned with a silver mitre. The artwork from the Tretyakov Gallery collection portrays St. Dmitry in front of his home icon, “Our Lady of Vatoped”. In the background there is the Rostov Iakovlev (of Jacob) Monastery where the incorruptible relics were found in 1752, during repair works. This scene is depicted at the bottom of the icon.

In 1683, “The Fleece Bedewed”, a book by Dmitry of Rostov, was published, telling about miracles worked by the icon “Our Lady Ilyinskaya of Chernigov”. Curiously enough, the original icon was painted by monk Gennady in 1658; however, in 1662 it was already venerated as miracle-working and was widely copied. One such copy is the icon from the Kiev collection. The authorship of the icon “Our Lady of Pochaev, with Miracles” is attributed to the artists of the Pochaevsky Lavra at Volyn. The centrepiece contains the icon of Our Lady of Pochaev. According to legend, in 1559 the Patriarch of Constantinople gave it as a gift to Anna Goyskaya, and the icon cured Anna’s brother of blindness. Later, the Patriarch’s gift was moved to the Pochaevsky Monastery and became famous for its many miracles. It is of interest to mention that the miracle-working icon was venerated by both Orthodox and Roman Catholic believers. Moreover, following the Pope’s decree, the formal coronation of the icon took place in 1773. The Ukrainian icon depicts the Mother of God wearing a crown and surrounded by barocco-style cartouches with scenes of miraculous healings.

In fact, Ukrainian and Belorussian icon-painters frequently turned to Western traditions of religious painting. In their works, the artists used the images or copied the style and techniques: one example, “The New Testament Trinity”, a two-sided processional icon, on its reverse bears the images of the Mother of God and the righteous Anna, nursing the infant Christ. Clearly, it is a version of “The Holy Family” imagery, so popular in the Catholic religious painting tradition. The images of “Christ the True Vine” also originate from 16th century West-European Passion iconography. They were so popular in Ukraine that they soon became subject of prints and even common pictures. A pelican tearing its own flesh to feed its nestlings holds a special place in the complex hierarchy of the allegorical images of Ukrainian and Belorussian Barocco. It is a symbolic representation of the Eucharist, the sacrament in which Christians partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. As the symbol of Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice, the image of the pelican was used independently (as shown in the icon from the collection of the Kiev museum), and also as part of “The Crucifixion” composition (on the Belorussian icon the pelican is placed under the Golgotha Cross).

Among Belorussian icons some bear dates and the authors’ signatures. One such example is “The Virgin Hodegetria” dated 1740; another one is “The Trinity” dated 1761. It was painted by Vasily Markiyanovich, an artist who had studied at the Kievo-Pechersky Lavra’s icon-painting school. Thanks to these facts, some icons help to ascertain architectural ensembles with some precision. Thus, the icon “Reverend Avraamiy (Abrahamy) of Smolensk and the Holy Martyr Merkuriy (Mercurius) of Smolensk” shows the Smolensk Kremlin in the state it was in between 1723 and 1728. To provide a place for the “Our Lady of Smolensk” icon painted in Moscow almost two centuries earlier, a special recess was made over the panorama of Smolensk.

However, in the 19th century Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian artists, especially those executing official orders, started frequently turning to classical art. Many icons were painted in oil on canvas. Their imagery was losing national features, and for many years those features would survive only in folk artists’ works.

Illustrations

Our Lady Ilyinskaya of Chernigov. 18th century. Kiev
Our Lady Ilyinskaya of Chernigov. 18th century. Kiev
Oil on wood. 125×72.5 cm. The National Kievo-Pechersky Historical and Cultural Reserve
The Mother of God Life-giving Spring. Late 17th – early 18th century
The Mother of God Life-giving Spring. Late 17th – early 18th century
Tempera on wood. 79.5 by 82 cm. The National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
The New Testament Trinity. On the reverse: The Mother of God, the Infant Christ, and the Righteous Anna Late 18th century. Volyn
The New Testament Trinity. On the reverse: The Mother of God, the Infant Christ, and the Righteous Anna Late 18th century. Volyn
Oil on wood, metal. 79×71 cm. The National Kievo-Pechersky Historical and Cultural Reserve
Our Lady of Vladimir. First quarter of the 15th century
Our Lady of Vladimir. First quarter of the 15th century
Tempera on wood. 87×62 cm. State Tretyakov Gallery
The Virgin Hodegetria. 1740
The Virgin Hodegetria. 1740
Tempera on wood. 109.5×80.5 cm. The National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
The Assembly. First third of the 19th century
The Assembly. First third of the 19th century
Tempera on wood. 71×55 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
St. Nicholas. First half of the 14th century. Yaroslavl
St. Nicholas. First half of the 14th century. Yaroslavl
Tempera on wood. 114×74 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
Sts. Florus and Laurus (The Miracle of Archangel Mikhail). Early 16th century. Novgorod
Sts. Florus and Laurus (The Miracle of Archangel Mikhail). Early 16th century. Novgorod
Tempera on wood. 67×52 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
Prince Vladimir, from the Deesis tier. First third of the 15th century. Novgorod
Prince Vladimir, from the Deesis tier. First third of the 15th century. Novgorod
Tempera on wood. 97×37 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
The Presentation of Our Lady Theotokos into the Temple, with Scenes from Her Life and the Lives of Joachim and Anne. 16th century. Novgorod
The Presentation of Our Lady Theotokos into the Temple, with Scenes from Her Life and the Lives of Joachim and Anne. 16th century. Novgorod
Tempera on wood. 116×102 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
In Thee Rejoiceth. Late 15th century. Pskov
In Thee Rejoiceth. Late 15th century. Pskov
Tempera on wood. 60×48 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
The Resurrection – Descent into Hell. First half of the 16th century. Pskov
The Resurrection – Descent into Hell. First half of the 16th century. Pskov
Tempera on wood. 54×45 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
SERAPION (?) The Saviour Not-Madeby-Human-Hands. 1447 (?). Ustug the Great
SERAPION (?) The Saviour Not-Madeby-Human-Hands. 1447 (?). Ustug the Great
Tempera on wood. 108×95 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
Venerable St. Kyrill of Belozersk and St. Cyrill of Alexandria, with Scenes from Cyrill of Belozerskʼs Life. Second half of the 16th century
Venerable St. Kyrill of Belozersk and St. Cyrill of Alexandria, with Scenes from Cyrill of Belozerskʼs Life. Second half of the 16th century
Tempera on wood. 98×75 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
The Nativity. Early 16th century
The Nativity. Early 16th century
Tempera on wood. 59×47 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
The Holy Trinity with Genesis. Late 16th – early 17th centuries. Pskov
The Holy Trinity with Genesis. Late 16th – early 17th centuries. Pskov
Tempera on wood. 137×110 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery
The Descent into Hell. Early 16th century. Volyn
The Descent into Hell. Early 16th century. Volyn
Tempera on wood, imprint on levkas. 113×77 cm. The National Kievo-Pechersky Historical and Cultural Museum Reserve
Reverend Avraamiy (Abrahamy) of Smolensk and the Holy Martyr Merkuriy (Mercurius) of Smolensk. 1723–1728. Mstislavl (?)
Reverend Avraamiy (Abrahamy) of Smolensk and the Holy Martyr Merkuriy (Mercurius) of Smolensk. 1723–1728. Mstislavl (?)
Tempera on wood, oil. 165×96.5 cm. The National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
Reverends Anthony and  Pheodosius of the Kiev Cave. Late 17th century. Chernigov region
Reverends Anthony and Pheodosius of the Kiev Cave. Late 17th century. Chernigov region
Tempera on wood, oil, carving on levkas, gilding. 131.5×82.7 cm. The National Kievo-Pechersky Historical and Cultural Reserve
The Dormition of the Holy Virgin of the Kiev Caves. Second half of the 17th century. Kiev
The Dormition of the Holy Virgin of the Kiev Caves. Second half of the 17th century. Kiev
Tempera on wood, silver. 41.8×29.2 cm. The National Kievo-Pechersky Historical and Cultural Reserve
The Royal Doors. Mid-16th century – Second half of the 16th century. Volyn
The Royal Doors. Mid-16th century – Second half of the 16th century. Volyn
Tempera on wood, carving. 138×34 cm (left); 137.5×73 cm (right). The National Kievo-Pechersky Historical and Cultural Museum Reserve
Vasil MARKIYANOVICH. The Trinity (Abrahamʼs Hospitality). 1761. Slutsk
Vasil MARKIYANOVICH. The Trinity (Abrahamʼs Hospitality). 1761. Slutsk
Tempera on wood. 108×95 cm. The National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
The Pelican. First half of the 19th century. Kiev region
The Pelican. First half of the 19th century. Kiev region
Oil on canvas. 72×46 cm. The National Kievo-Pechersky Historical and Cultural Reserve
The Assembly of the Kievo-Pechersky Saints. Second half of the 18th century. Kiev
The Assembly of the Kievo-Pechersky Saints. Second half of the 18th century. Kiev
Oil on wood. 40×36 cm. The National Kievo-Pechersky Historical and Cultural Reserve
The Crucifixion. Early 19th century
The Crucifixion. Early 19th century
Tempera on wood. 124×112.5 cm. The National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus

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