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Ukrainian Icon Painting from the 12th to the 19th cc.
Thus, a shift to secular perception takes place in the Ukrainian icon; artists successfully master means of West-European painting, new for them.
The western orientation of Ukrainian art can be traced in the interpretation of such traditional subjects as the Intercession. Instead of the canonical composition known from the twelfth century icon painters develop European compositional scheme of Madonna della Misericordia, filling the icon space with images of Cossack chieftains and the clergy. The Intercession icon with the portrait of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky is an original historical symbol. The personification of the Ukrainian Hetman, acquiring certain real features, gains in this icon a special historical meaning. The representation of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and other Cossack chieftains can be called portraits with great reserve, but their connection with the epoch is beyond any doubt. The images of hetmans, colonels and other Cossack chief officers on numerous icons of the Intercession widespread in Ukraine in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries possess live characterization and present an original gallery of national types.
Eventually, the compositions on this theme acquire even greater secular content. Such is The Intercession from the village of Sulymivka. Under the high church vault, against the background of the splendid Baroque iconostasis of gilt wood, the crowd in festive attire is represented, among which are members of the tsar's family and women of high society, Cossack chieftains and the clergy The entire scene is permeated not so much by the feeling of sanctity and religious action as of the magnificent elation of a court ceremony. The artist pays tribute to secular moods: in the interior suffused with light and picturesque radiance real personages with certain portrait characteristics are acting.
The icon Twelve Spies Sent to the Land of Canaan from the village of Sulymivka has an evidently secular mood. Its composition was adopted from an engraving in Piscator's Bible, which was well known and widely used by Ukrainian masters. The artist interprets the subject in the decorative tradition of Ukrainian national school. Dynamic figures, vigorous modeling of muscular bodies, rich colour patches, illusory rendering of space with clearly discernible fore- and backgrounds of the landscape — all that testifies to the artist's imaginative approach to the Baroque ideas.
The majority of Ukrainian icon painters mastered their skill at the shop of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, which enjoyed a high reputation and authority outside Ukraine as well. Book with studies made by the Lavra students have been preserved, which reveal the system of training in the Lavra art shop that was based on copying of European engravings, on drawing from nature, and studying human anatomy. In this manner students got knowledge and studied means and methods of European art. Having acquired mastership, they remained to work in the Lavra or went to other places disseminating artistic principles of the Lavra School.
High professional skill of the Lavra painters is evident in the icons from the Dormition Cathedral of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra that was restored after the fire of 1729. This grandiose structure was adorned with a majestic ornate iconostasis in the Baroque style that was executed by the best Lavra painters, among which Feoktist Pavlovsky stood out prominently. Shortly after, he was appointed the head of the Lavra icon-painting shop. The creativity of this talented master has not yet been studied in full. From the archive sources we know names of some other masters invited to decorate the cathedral: Stefan Lubenchenko (Lubensky), the author of the iconostasis in St. Michael's Cathedral of the Golden Domes in Kyiv, and the Chernihiv painter Yakym Hlynsky who participated in the decoration of chapels. Hetman Ivan Skoropadsky took a noble mission to reconstruct the Dormition Cathedral, allotting a considerable sum of money for the purpose.
The icons from the Dormition Cathedral, which have survived, show the manner of different artists. The Entry into Jerusalem and The Nativity, icons from the Feast tier, belong to the brush of the most talented painter who had a good command of secular painting. His works have a free many-figured composition with a rich Baroque modeling of forms and intricate foreshortening of movements. In them, the action develops in the real space of a cityscape with deep middle- and backgrounds of an architectural panorama, though a secular character of the treatment is still combined with the icon-painting style. The scene, full of genre authenticity, is dominated by strict rules of subject composition, the arrangement of figures, keeping to the rhythmical unity of linear perspective and polychromatic painting which merge into a harmonious entity. Among the icons of the Feast tier we should also mention The Descent of the Holy Spirit. The painter of this icon is characterized by a highly individual manner with colour-restrained and dynamic compositions, where expressive motions and rhythms, and elongated proportions create a certain spiritual tension.
These icons are illustrative of the style and general tendency in Ukrainian art of the first half of the eighteenth century. Though the artists employed the European painting system, they rested upon the age-long traditions of national decorative culture. Their use of chiaroscuro modeling and illusory space did not interfere with the monumental generalization of forms, the unity of linear and painterly plasticity. All that joined naturally into the general artistic system that was original, flexible and highly decorative.