Ancient Belarusian Art

The collection of the ancient Belarusian art of the National Art Museum of Belarus is one of the largest in the country. It has over than 1200 works of the 12th–early 19th century. The collections of the ancient Belarusian art of the museum is extremely diverse and rich in content. They were formed in the postwar period by the expeditions, return of the pre-war museum collections, individuals and public institutions.

The collection of the ancient Belarusian decorative and applied arts includes archaeological finds from the excavations of the ancient Belarusian towns of the 10th– 6th centuries. There are household items which are real masterpieces of the medieval craft such as chess figures, household glassware, beads, jewelry. There are also magnificent examples of the sacred religious art such as carved stone baptismal icons, crosses-encolpion, as well as wares of Belarusian goldsmiths – artists-jewelers of the 16th–18th centuries: liturgical chalices, calices, monstrances, the Gospels covers, icons platings, votive silver plates. The collection also includes examples of weaving and embroidery of the 17th–early 19th century: robes and chasubles from the fabrics of European and local production, fragments of famous Slutsk belts of the second half of the 18th–early 19th century, Grodno manufactory belts.

The 17th century saw enormous fame of “Belarusian carving”. Belarusian master-carvers on wood and on gold created remarkable altars and iconostases not only in the native land, but also in Muscovy. The museum funds and expositions have samples of such highly artistic works:  iconostasis basilikos, carved rows, baroque cartouches, decorated with a relief cut carving, as well as with scenes, executed in high relief technology and round voluminous sculpture.

The museum collection of sculpture and carving of the ancient Belarusian art has such masterpieces of wooden plastics and sculptures of Belarus, as the basilikos of the late 16th century from Varanilavichy, two late Gothic sculptures of archangels from small villages of Sharashova and Yalava, baroque sculptures from Polatsk and Kobryn.

The ancient Belarusian icon and sacral painting collection is one of most valuable in our country. This is the largest collection of Belarusian icon painting works in Belarus. It displays the history of original religious painting development, history of the Belarusian icon from the late 15th century (image of The Virgin Hodegetria of Slutsk) till the early 19th century. The monuments of the early 19th century still possess the traditional line of the classical Belarusian icon: carved gilded and silvered backgrounds, especial iconic plots and images. Icons “Christ Pantocrator” from Bytsen and “The Virgin Hodegetria” from Dubyanets – works dated from the second half of 16th century, “The Ascension of Christ” of the middle 17th century from Bezdzezh, “The Nativity of the Virgin” of 1649.

It is known that Belarusian artists of the 16th–early 18th centuries did not usually sign their works. However, there are several works in the museum collection, by inscriptions on which it is possible to know the name of their authors – artists of the 18th–early 19th centuries: Vasyl Markiyanavich from Slutsk, Tomash Silinich from Mogilev.

The Radziwiłł’s ex-collection portraits from their Nyasvizh Castle form the basis of the Museum’s ancient Belarusian portrait collection. They are complemented with the so called “Sarmatian portraits” – portrait scenes of the Belarusian nobility members in their traditional “Sarmatian” dress from different private homestead galleries and Hrodna Convent of St. Bridget (the portraits of Kshyshtaf and Alyaksandra-Maryanna Veselovsky and their adopted daughter Gryzelda Sapeha).

The Museum’s branch “The Wankowiczes’ House” exhibits an ancient Belarusian portrait collection part – from samples of the 17th century till homestead portraits of the 19th century, that preserve conventionality and representativeness features traditional for Belarusian Sarmatian portrait: family crests and informative inscriptions, conditional motions, frozen facial expression, special attention to the dress details.

The largest part of the museum ancient Belarusian art collection, which, with the exception of the above named items, also has a collection of handwritten books and early printing works, has been found during the Museum’s exhibition around Belarus. It arrived at the museum funds basically from closed Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the 1970–1990s. Many works were seriously damaged. They were thoroughly restored by restorers and presently, in spite of fragmentary safety, amaze us with harmony of paints and accuracy of drawing.

The Museum’s ancient Belarusian art collection has monuments, which arrived at the museum collections of Belarus as early as the 1920s, survived during the World War II and were returned after the war from abroad. In the second half of the 1940s–1960s they were returned to the Art Museum and formed the basis of the museum ancient Belarusian art collection.