To realize this unprecedented project the permanent exhibition of European art from Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum was dismantled. The exhibition presents 100 paintings by old European masters from the state collections of Ukraine. This exhibit is the continuation of the project started by Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (“The Return of ‘St. Luke.’ West European paintings of the 6th-18th centuries from the museums of Ukraine,” Moscow). The second, Ukrainian, part of the project is initiated and coordinated by Khanenko Art Museum.
The paintings for the exhibit are courtesy of Donetsk Regional Art Museum, Zhytomyr Regional Museum of Local History, Lviv National Art Gallery, Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Art Museum, Odesa Museum of Western and Eastern Art, MykolaYaroshenko Poltava Art Museum, Mykhailo Kroshytsky Sevastopol Art Museum, Kharkiv Art Museum, Hryhorii Halahan Chernihiv Regional Art Museum.
A lot of paintings were presented for the first time since they had never left depositories before. Before being demonstrated, some paintings were significantly restored. As for other works, new scientific information was received: authorships, dating, plots and names of the people portrayed on them or of their previous owners.
The exhibit consists of paintings representing the brightest pages of the European art. Two ancient Byzantine encaustic icons of the 6th century The Virgin Mary with the Child and John the Precursor (Kyiv) open the exhibit. These world-known early Christian masterpieces combine the antique corporality with sacral distance making way for the European Renaissance art.
Painting of the new age marked by the exquisite skillfulness and crystal-clean faith is represented by works of painters of the 15th-16th centuries: The Holy Virgin with St. Dominic and Peter the Martyr created by an artist from Piedmont and St. Magdalene, St. Odilia and St. Clare attributed to the environment of Martin Schongauer (Lviv) and Landscapes with a Scene from the Legend about St. Roch of the environment of Joachim Patinir (Kharkiv). The famous monument of the early Italian art, The Virgin Mary with the Child, from Khanenko Museum looks in a new way. A recently decrypted inscription revealed the name of its real author: the youngest son of the famed maestro Paolo Veneziano.
One of the most interesting parts of the exhibit are the works of the followers of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), whose innovative painting inspired talented artists not only in the South, but in the North of Europe as well (Saint Sebastian by Bartolomeo Manfredi and the picturesque pendant Woman Playing the Guitar and Man Playing Viola da Gamba by Gerrit van Honthorst (Lviv), unsurpassed Concerto by Hendrick ter Brugghen (Chernihiv), the monumental diptych Annuntiation by Matthias Stomer (Zhytomyr) and Young Shepherd Playing with a Cat and a Mouse by Tommaso Salini (Sevastopol)). Caravaggisti’s paintings vary in genres and techniques but all of them are marked with the new understanding of the light, one of numerous innovations offered by the Italian “rebel from painting.”
Works of Dutch and Flemish masters of the 16th-17th centuries make nearly a third of collections of European painting in art museums all over the world which reflects on the exhibit “European Dimension.” This phenomenon can be explained by high demand of the then art market, perfect technology owing to which paintings are preserved better than works of other painting schools and a special world-view of northern artists. They could feel something divine in every detail of the world and created surprisingly realistic still lifes, portraits, landscapes and genres as if they were repeating their everyday pray glorifying the Creator.
The “light breath” of the gracious 18th century, the age of real educating aristocratism can be felt in the works of the famed artists, first of all, portraitists from different European countries: Jacopo Amigoni from Italy (Donetsk), Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun from France (Kyiv) and Johann Friedrich Tischbein (Kyiv) and Heinrich Heuser (Chernihiv) from Germany.
Chronologically the exhibit finishes with a child’s portrait dated 1811. This work can be considered symbolic in the context of the exhibit. It was painted in Paris by baron Jean-Baptist Regnault (successful painter from the environment of Napoleon Bonaparte) ordered by Nikolai Riepnin-Volkonsky, the legendary hero of Austerlitz and later general governor of the Chernihiv and Poltava governorates. The painting is a portrait of his little son Vasilii Riepnin, the future Taras Shevchenko’s friend and one of the first listeners of Dead Souls by Mykola Hohol.