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Ukrainian Icon Painting from the 12th to the 19th cc.
The Saviour in Majesty is a focal theme in the fifteenth-sixteenth-century icon painting. The icon with this subject was placed in the centre of the iconostasis. It gave an idea of the Supreme Being, of His might as the Omnipotent, the Ruler of the Universe. Two icons of the Saviour in Majesty that belong to the second half of the fifteenth century correspond wholly to this conception with their monumental stylistics. The icon from the village of Malniv shows a more traditional solution of the composition. In it, the emphasis is made on linear plasticity, on thin curved lines. The colouring is restrained and harmonious, enriched with the play of golden hatching on softly failing folds.
The icon The Saviour in Majesty from the village of Turye differs in the character of its execution. In its modeling features of the new are felt alongside a classical tradition. The majestic, ideally handsome image of Christ is represented in warm and gentle tones. Though Christ is pictured in the icon as the Pantocrator, His image is devoid of severe and ascetic features. The tendency to humanization of an abstract religious ideal gains greater significance in Ukrainian icon painting at that time. It was the result both of the response to humanism of the Paleologian Renaissance and the impact of folk aesthetics that transformed a religious image in its own way Retaining classical clarity and balance of the composition, the icon, however, is marked by a more energetic and free modeling of forms. The colouring is strikingly expressive, tense contrasts of saturated colour create a resonant and vivid melody.
The late fifteenth — early sixteenth century saw the co-existence of various trends: on the one hand, the tendency to the majestic, generalized classical form, and on the other hand, an inclination to free and individual stylistics of the subject treatment. Sometimes, icons get a local nuance peculiar to one or other icon-painting school.
The old tradition is evident in the ascetically severe and estranged images of the saints in the icon The Apostles Peter and Paul. The conventional, expressly spatial treatment of the icon brought to absolute generalization and artistic laconism are a manifestation of the archaistic tendency in the art of the late fifteenth century. In the icon The Presentation of Christ in the Temple from the village of Zvertiv, which dates from the first half of the sixteenth century, the agile rhythm of thin lines and noble restrained colouring do not deviate from the traditional icon-painting system, though the painterly plasticity has certain features characteristic of the local school. This tendency became more pronounced in the sixteenth-century icon The Baptism from the town of Kalush. Energetic outlines and decorative correlation of rich colours betray the dynamic painting manner of a Halych artist.
The stylistics of Ukrainian painting saw even more cardinal changes in the second half of the sixteenth century. Under the impact of the European Renaissance it adopted humanistic ideas which exerted an essential influence upon the entire artistic process. It became a peculiar landmark in Ukrainian art: it was during that period that medieval dogmatic outlook began to collapse and hence the re-interpretation and transformation of traditional icon-painting forms. The turn of the seventeenth century was especially tense and eventful. After the Lublin (1569) and Brest (1596) Unions, Poland intensified national and religious oppression in Ukrainian lands, which caused popular protests and resulted in the national movement that involved all strata of the population. Petty bourgeois, which united into Orthodox religious brotherhoods and peasantry, were the main force in this movement. Being the exponents of liberation ideas, they asserted their national and religious rights. The cultural process of that period was enlivened by a mighty and viable democratic folk current which, superimposed on humanistic ideas of the European Renaissance, influenced actively all spheres of art.
Icon-painting centers, as previously, were concentrated in Halychyna, with Peremyshl, Sambir and, later, Lviv playing a leading part.
The majority of the museum icons from the second half of the sixteenth century come from Halychyna. Peasants and city craftsmen were main customers and "consumers" of icons. Their tastes and requirements influenced the icons in which Halych masters, keeping to the age-old decorative traditions, rendered sincerity and ingenuousness of folk vision of the world. All that imparted bright artistic originality and pure folkloric colouring to monuments of that period.
The Passion of the late sixteenth century from the village of Bili Oslavy is a bright example of changes in the evolution of the Ukrainian icon. The Passion cycles, along with the Last Judgment, were among the obligatory themes which were represented in almost every church of Subcarpathia and Halychyna.
The Passion theme penetrated into Ukraine from Gothic Europe in the fifteenth century, though here it got its own, peculiar iconographic canons. In the sixteenth century this culmination subject of Christian symbolism was often used in church sermons and polemic disputes as a symbol of self-sacrifice in the name of the idea, of the struggle for faith.
The number of Passion icons grew considerably at that time, their interpretation somewhat changed, having acquired genre characteristics. Such is the icon dating to the late sixteenth century where the emphasis is transferred from the tragic basis of the subject to the genre-illustrative one. On the large panel the consecutive and detailed narrative of the last days of the earthly life and sufferings of Christ unfolds in an uninterrupted frieze. The narrative is treated in ordinary, prosaic tones that free the icon of elated idealization and dramatic tension. The same commonness, naive simplicity, and absence of idealization characterize images of Christ and saints, as if perceived through folk eyes. Modeling becomes more dynamic, less constrained by traditional devices. The priority in it is given to a thin graphic line which seems to "envelop" the silhouettes, to render the motion, gestures and facial expression of personages without breaking the stylistic and compositional coherence of the icon.