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Received: June 7, 2002

Ukrainian and Byelorussian Festive Icons in Old Poland: review on Michał Janocha book

Valancin Hryckevič,
Academy of Culture, St. Petersburg

Michał Janocha, Ukraińskie i białoruskie ikony świąteczne w dawnej Rzeczypospolitej. Problem kanonu. (Ukrainian and Byelorussian Festive Icons in Old Poland. The Problem of Canon), Warszawa: Publishing House Neriton, 2001. 560 pages, 281 photos & XXIV coloured plates.

The Publishing House “Neriton” in Warsaw edited the monograph of father Michał Janocha Ukrainian and Byelorussian Festive Icons in Old Poland. The Problem of Canon (volume 42 printer’s sheets, printed in 500 copies). Its author is the historian of art, adjunct of the Institute of the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art in the University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyñski in Warsaw. He defended the doctor dissertation on the theme The Iconography of the Holy Mass in mediaeval and modern Polish Art. (adited in 1998 as monograph) and is co-author (with his former tutor Fr. Janusz St. Pasierb) Arititic Polonica in the Vatican Collections.

The main theme of the reviewed monograph is the crisis of canon in Post-Byzantine icon-painting by example of the evolution of the festive icons in the Byelorussian and Ukrainian icons on the territory of the First Polish Republic.The author compares two conceptions of the time which are preponderated in the Christian culture of the East and the West, and their reflection in the art. There is given the survey of the term “canon”. The author choose more appropriate to Byzantino-East-Slavonic tradition definition of the canon by A. F. Losev. M. Janocha distinguishes five stages of the history of Byzantine canon. He lays emphasis that change of the canon did not be self-sufficient goal, mpreover, the developement of the canon not always was comprehended by Byzantines. The problems are the components of the culture of the macroregion which among the philologists is named as Slavia Orthodoxa.

The territories investigated by M. Janocha embraced contemporary Ukraine, Byelorussia and the south-eastern Poland.

The intrinsic factor which formed Ukrainian and Byelorussian icon-painting and which distinguishes it from Great-Russian icon-painting was the belonging of Ukraine and Byelorussia to the united polyethnic and polyconfessional Polish-Lithuanian State (First Republic, I Rzeczpospolita) and then the influence of Italian Renaissance and Baroque. The great integrational role in Ukrainian and Byelorussian icon-painting played Brest Union. The organic developement of the Ukrainian and Byelorussian sacred art. was interrupted in these lands which were captured bit by bit by Russian Empire. Icon-painting which distinguishes from Great-Russian have chance to continue during all XIXth century only in Galicia.

The main sources of the monograph were the icons themselves which the author investigated in more than forty museums and the written sources which he studied in the archives of some countries. The bibliography of the study has more than one thousand bibliographical positions.

The author’s analysis of the sources of XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries shows that icon-painting in Rzeczpospolita did not caused any deep philospohical-theological reflexion in contradiction to Great Russia and that in the orthodox-catholic discussions around the Brest Union the problems of icon art. did not arouse large disputes. Sacred art in Ukraine and Byelorussia was rather the element which united two confessions and two rites. The Ukrainian and Byelorussian icons were typical work of the cultural borderland.

The researcher calls attention to the more poverty of Byelarussian art. in comparision with the Ukrainian art. not only on account of the worse economical situation and poorest art. tradition, but also because of the larger demolition of the cultural monuments at first after the abolition of the Brest Union in the XIXth century, and then during the Soviet goverment. The disproportion between the quantity of the icons in Ukraine and Byelorussia manifests in the disproportion in the state of studies in both countries. The researches of Ukrainian icon-painting have tradition more than one century and the researches of Byelorussian icon-painting could not have such tradition because of the forcible rusification of the country and because of the neglect to it of the Russian and Soviet historians of art.

The second, the greater part of the book contains the analysis of transformation of the canon in Post-Byzantine time. There is considered the history of forming of the iconographic cycle of twelve Great Feasts and its place in the iconostasis. This part consists from twelve sections. In the begining of each section the author presents detailed bibliography of the theme and written sources concerned to the illustrated event. It is the key to understeand the theological message of the icon. Thee the author describes the forming of the iconographic canon of each Feast, recalling the developement of the similar subject in West-European tradition with underlining the elements which immediately influenced the form of the changes.

The process of the occidentalization of the iconography in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is showed by the author against the background of the Post-Byzantine culture with regard to the neighbourning art regions - Central and Northern Great Russia, Moldavia, Valachia and Balkans in context of the historical and religious events of Polish-Lithuanian state in comparition to the literature, theology, liturgu and ethnography.

The process of the transformation of the style and theme of the icon-painting in described period from the point of view of classical canon and theology of icon sholud be considered as the manifestation of the decline and deep crisis. But from the point of view of the Ukrainian and Byelorussian cultures searching for their roots it is the creative and original period. It is essentian element of the art. identification of this region which alwaysplayed the role of “the bridge” between the rationalistic West and mystical East. The life in Poland, in the land of cultural borderland, in the land of the fraternal connections and fratricidal wars, in the territory which spontaneusly connects the West with the East offers particular point of view on the problems regarded in the study.

The monograph is imbued with friendly feelings of the author to the cultural heritage of Ukraine and Byelarussia, did not muddy with any imperial optics. It means to me that this study is good contribution to the investigation of the Ukrainian and Byelorussian cultures.

The book is ended with the summary in English, Russian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian languages.


Valancin Hryckevič. Ukrainian and Byelorussian Festive Icons in Old Poland: review on Michał Janocha book / Byzantine Studies, (

© 2002, Byzantine Studies