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Ukrainian Icon Painting from the 12th to the 19th cc.
In the first half of the eighteenth century, the Baroque entered the mature stage of its development, gaining a special splendour, richness and refinement of forms. The pair icons of the Great Martyrs Anastasia and Juliana, Barbara and Catherine are real gems of the museum collection, the consummate examples of painting of that period. The refined, exquisitely feminine and graceful Saint Virgins are painted according to new canons of beauty where is no place either for ascetic severity or conventional estrangement of images. Here all is intertwined in harmonious unity: the refined forms, delicate chiaroscuro modeling, the beauty of figure proportions, and flowing bent lines. But a special charm is lent to the icons by their iridescent colours that scintillate like real gems. Painted with a rare perfection on the gold and silver backgrounds with the use of glazing, patterns and ornaments of the rich attire, along with the gilt carving, enhance the colour symphony elaborated with an excellent taste and nobleness.
Icons from the iconostasis of the Ascension Church built in the 1760s in the village of Berezna, Chernihiv Region, are considered the acme of the Ukrainian Baroque, its finale. The majestic building of the church itself with its many-tiered iconostasis was an outstanding monument of wooden architecture (in 1936 it was demolished and part of the iconostasis was taken to the National Art Museum). The rich gilt open-work carving and buoyant multicoloured painting of the iconostasis constituted an integral ensemble that harmoniously blended with the space of the wooden church. The anonymous author of the iconostasis, an outstanding master of monumental construction and decorative ornamentation, is supposed to be a pupil and follower of Vasyl Reklynsky who made Ukraine's finest iconostases in the second third of the eighteenth century. The icons The Deesis and The Holy Apostles, which are part of the Deesis tier, provide a feeling of grandeur of the entire iconostasis. By the force of their artistic laconism and epic generalization of figures these compositions can equal medieval frescoes and mosaics, though their artistic influence is achieved by other, new means of painterly plasticity. It marks the finale of icon-painting dogmatism, when secular artistic thinking triumphs once and for all. The figures of the Apostles painted according to new painting canons of reality have not lost the grandeur and idealization of spiritual qualities. The Baroque in these compositions seems "to quiet down," the rhythms become balanced, and the strong modeling of forms is rich and energetic. The artist drew his inspiration from folk decorative tradition, enriching his compositions with lavish ornamentation and saturated beautiful colours.
Icons and allegorical compositions with the Eucharist subject, The Tree of Life, Christ in the Winefat, Christ in the Chalice, Christ the Vine, The Vigilant Eye, and The Pelican make up a separate group. All of them elucidate the main dogma of the Christian symbolism—the mystery of the Eucharist, the expiatory sacrifice of Christ. Borrowed from the western artistic culture and imbued with Baroque alle-gories, these themes became popular in Ukraine. However, their complicated sub-ject-matter is often simplified and gains in these icons a clear, easily understood form of artistic embodiment. The subject Christ the Vine was especially wide-spread. It is connected with the incarnation of the oldest Christian symbolism, of the vine with which, according to the evangelical legend, Christ identified Himself. The majority of icons with a similar subject, as well as icons The Holy Trinity and The Deesis have come from one painting shop in Volyn, which is testified by their stylistic affinity. Their anonymous author has his own peculiar manner: an expressive imagery, soft modeling and delicate colouring, thanks to which his icons are easily discerned.
Side by side with high professional artistic culture, a "lower" layer evolved in Ukraine, which was rooted in folk democratic environment. Its development was not isolated from the main stream of the artistic process; there were a close interaction and mutual interpenetration. The role of the folk decorative tradition was determinative for the formation of the national styles at all the stages of Ukrainian icon painting development. In the late eighteenth century and especially in the nineteenth century the folk icon was the main bearer of national artistic traditions which remained in force even when the main, professional, line has exhausted itself, acquiring secular academic tendency. The art of folk primitive contrasted it with a mighty life-giving strength and integrity of artistic approach.
Folk icon painting was spread in the Carpathians and in Hutsulschyna, remote from the officially recognized centers. There it found a favourable ground and incentive for its progress. Local masters created their original style resting upon poetic figurative-ness of folk perception. Notable among them is a master of a highly individual approach from the village of Kosmach in Hutsulschyna, whose icons The Deesis, The Intercession and The Holy Apostles (from the iconostasis of St. Parasceve's Church) are marked by an impeccable feeling for style, daring imagination and keen artistic insight. Rejecting conventional canons and stereotypes, he creates images that neither resemble nor imitate anybody and charm with their ingenuousness and naivety. Every image is throbbing with the artist's lively feeling, his emotional perception of the world. His force lies not in the overtly decorative brightness but in the keen sense of solidity and generalization of forms, in energetic graphical outlines of contours. Simplified and distorted proportions, elimination of everything superfluous and minor favour an exceptional artistic expressiveness that is based on folk painting traditions.