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Ukrainian Icon Painting from the 12th to the 19th cc.
New Renaissance ideas often acquired folkloric interpretation, which led to the relaxation of rigid regulations of medieval canons, to humanizing of religious images, their approach to the earthly ideal.
Saint Nicholas on the icon from the village of Busovysko is a kind and sincere peasant, wise and affable. The type itself, the decorative generalization of colour masses, broad lines of the silhouette, the ornamentation of the clothes and the relief background reveal the painter's taste and skill which rest upon folk traditions of artistic culture.
Sometimes rather flexible and versatile system of decorative generalization of Halych masters was slightly simplified and schematic, as in the icon The Apostles Thomas and Bartholomew from the second half of the sixteenth century. The remarkable force is pulsating in the saints’ stocky figures with clear-cut contours, the stiff rhythm of motion, and radiance of pure and bright colour combinations.
The icon from the Deesis tier, The Apostles Peter and John, dating from the second half of the 16th century, is no less expressive with its subtle linear rhythm and harmony of restrained, subdued colours. Despite the evident difference in their painting manner, icons of that time are united by a common stylistic approach to the representation of religious subjects dictated by new requirements and the spirit of the time.
Emotionally charming are small icons from Kalush, which were part of the Feast tier of the iconostasis in a small wooden church that were numerous in Hutsul villages in the Carpathians. The interior of such a church had an air of special sincerity, of intimate comprehension of the idea and content of the work of art. Heartfelt lyricism and poetical outlook combine in icons with the dynamic colour sounding, energetic modeling of form, and design.
Adhering to the traditional iconography, to established compositional schemes and structures, artists seemed to open "a window" into the living, real world. Elements of life impressions penetrate the icon more often: either of a local landscape (the Subcarpathian massif in The Resurrection from Halychyna) or genre scenes with views of some concrete environment. All that testifies to the painter's interest in the surrounding reality which inevitably influence the traditional painting idiom in icons. Then this process was only in the making, but with time it led to cardinal changes in the artistic structure of an icon image. Though it had not definitely changed the canonical icon-painting system, still the first step was made to overcome the conventional scholastics of the medieval vision and to renew the icon-painting means. The conception of the lofty and ordinary, of man's significance and the eternity was changing and the road to the origin of secular ideals in art was paved.
The seventeenth century brought even more essential transformations into Ukrainian icon painting. Through the Baroque, which dominated in countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine integrated into the general European artistic process. Under the impact of this great international style Ukrainian art not only assimilated achievements of European painting but got over scholastics of medieval thinking.
From the late seventeenth century the development of Ukrainian artistic culture went on under the sign of the Baroque, gaining new dimensions. It was favoured by new socio-political conditions which arose at that time in Ukraine. The country experienced then one of the most momentous periods in her history when, after the end of the prolonged national-liberation war, it got autonomy and self-government. The time of stability came, of national culture flourish. The spirit of the Baroque with its ornate festivity and elaborate dynamic forms answered to optimistic, life-asserting feelings of the Cossacks who won the victory.
The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, which regained its status of a great cultural centre, was "an arbiter" of taste and disseminator of new artistic ideas. Its influence spread far beyond Ukraine's borders: to Orthodox countries, to the Balkans. New western trends were reinterpreted according to the Orthodox ideology and perceived in a modified aspect.
The Baroque penetrated into Ukrainian culture when age-old medieval norms were still strong, and the crossing of different, as to their character, tendencies brought an expressive artistic synthesis. This synthesis defined the original style of the Ukrainian icon of the Baroque epoch. The National Art Museum possesses the largest collection of icons from Left-Bank Ukraine dating to the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The Ukrainian icon of that time is a unique artistic phenomenon. It gradually acquired a secular interpretation. Its turn to reality changed its artistic structure and transformed its painterly idiom. Elation and luminous force of colours, their buoyant sounding enhanced with rich decorative ornamentation, the use of gilt carved backgrounds, all that united in the festive mood of the icons.
The icon Saint Anne (1680-1685) testifies
to rather essential changes in the treatment of a religious image. The Saint dressed in a red clock, has flower in her hand, full of real beauty and femininity, and is "moulded" from a concrete life material. But the worldly origin does not deprive the image of poetic idealization, the chiaroscuro modeling of her face and figure goes with consistent generalization of monumental form.
A new secular approach is even greater felt in The Crucifixion of the late seventeenth century, with the portrait of the donator Leonty Svichka, Colonel of the Lubny Cossack Regiment. The acute individual characterization is not inferior to that of portrait painting of the time. If the iconographic scheme of the composition still retains its stability, then means of painting realization change drastically. Here nothing is left of the conventional flatness of the icon-painting manner: the three-dimensional treatment of the figure imparts it material ponderability, while the closed space breaks, penetrating into the depth thanks to a realistically reproduced landscape.