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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Through the prism of time

The Ivan Honchar Museum hosts “Warrior,” an exhibit of folk pictures and icons
5 August, 2014 - 10:44

Audiences appreciate art when it is linked to real time. The events in eastern Ukraine have suggested the idea of this exhibit.

“Now that there is a war going on, we have decided to mount an exhibit dedicated to the warrior who defends his Fatherland (from Spiritual Battle warriors – the images of Archangel Michael, St. George the Dragon Slayer, and the Virgin Mary the Protectress, to a series of pictures based on folk song subjects, such as a Cossack’s farewell to his girl, waiting for the Cossack, and homecoming from war). We mean the defender soldier, not an abstract warrior, i.e., the people who are actually defending their country. So, our exhibit is aimed at honoring the men and young guys who are standing up for our native land,” comments Tetiana POSHYVAILO, deputy director general for research and public outreach of the Ivan Honchar Museum.

The exposition displays ancient folk-style icons from various regions. Images of this kind were usually painted on canvas or on wood, but there are also pictures made by Hutsul masters on glass. They emphasize blue, orange, and green colors, show some primitivism in the anatomical body structure, and are full of flowers and ornaments. Glazed tiles with a religious picture are also typical of the Hutsul region – it is usually the Kosiv earthenware.

The most widespread image is that of St. George the Dragon Slayer. The exhibit displays several icons of this kind, including “St. George the Dragon Slayer” from the Kyiv region, dating back to the late 18th – the early 19th century, and “St. George the Dragon Slayer” from the Hutsul region, which dates back to the late 19th century.

“The image of St. George the Dragon Slayer or St. George the Victorious is mythologized to some extent,” says Dmytro IDRISOV, the museum’s junior research associate. “In general, Saint George was a soldier in the 4th-century Roman Empire. He was killed on Emperor Diocletian’s orders during the Great Persecution of Christians in Rome. The legend of his sainthood came from the Orient and spread over our land because it has something in common with Ukrainian folklore. An Oriental city (by one version, in Syria or Lebanon, and, by another, in Georgia, where this saint is also worshipped) was terrorized by a terrible dragon-like creature which ate city dwellers. St. George once appeared on a white horse, slew the dragon with a lance, and thus saved the city. This story has something in common with the well-known folklore figure of a white-horse-riding heroic warrior who rescues a girl and kills a terrible beast.”

The Hutsul icon of the same saint differs from a more traditional Kyivan picture. St. George the Dragon Slayer smiles on the glass icon, while the girl is depicted as a princess, although this tradition also often showed an ordinary Ukrainian girl whom the saint saves from the dragon.

Icons of the Holy Virgin the Protectress were widespread in the 18th century, especially among the Cossacks. The Cossacks began to mark Mary the Protecress Day as their holiday.

The folk painting tradition is shown, first of all, by the canvas Zaporozhians, a copy of Ilya Repin’s picture Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan. Its author is Panas Yarmolenko, a well-known folk artist who lived in the early 20th century in Pereiaslav.

The mid-20th century was the golden age of folk pictures which used to be sold to peasants who hung them in their houses. There was also a demand for certain subjects based on folk songs or literary pieces. Among them were Odarka and Ivan, a canvas based on Petro Hulak-Artemovsky’s song “A Zaporozhian beyond the Danube;” Yaryna Yarmolenko’s Yaryna based on Taras Shevchenko’s poem “The Prisoner;” and A Fire Is Burning on the Hill and Where Are You Going, My Gray-Winged Eagle? based on the songs of the same name. There was a very popular image of a Cossack and a girl, while a villain could turn into a positive character in the artist’s interpretation.

What is noticeably distinguished against the backdrop of the works of the 1950s-1980s is a 2003 canvas, Kosohon Mykyta, made by Maria Kosohon, the mother of a youth who went blind in a war. The short gap between us and the time the picture was made makes us ponder again over the tragedy of the time we are living in.

The museum’s holdings and the now displayed exhibition are based on the collection of Ivan Honchar. The folk pictures were mostly selected by the current director Petro Honchar. What can be called a continuation of the “Warrior” exhibit, open until September 1, are the Cossack Mamai canvases that belong to the museum’s standing exposition.

By Natalia VUITIK, Den’s Summer School of Journalism. Photos courtesy of the Ivan Honchar Museum’s press service