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The virtual exhibition

The History of One Work

The Virgin Hodegetria of Smolensk from Dubyanets of the 16th century

 

Rejoice, the Divine Fire, unhurtedly in fire holding Christ in Your arm

and firing us who are cold with that

Ikos 5, the akathist to the Feast of the Intercession of the Virgin

 

The collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus has one of the few Belarusian 16th-century icons that have reached the present days – The Virgin Hodegetria of Smolensk from Dubyanets. This work is in the permanent exhibition of the ancient Belarusian art as it is a unique monument of the fine art and the spiritual culture of the Belarusian people.

The image was discovered during the 3rd research expedition of the team of the State Art Museum of the BSSR under the supervision of Alena Aladava [1; p. 7] in the church of the Nativity of the Virgin in the village of Dubyanets of Stolin district of Brest region in 1958 [1; p. 41], but only in 1977 (the 32nd research expedition) [2; p. 26] the icon entered the museum collection.

History of the iconographic type “Hodegetria” traces back to the times of Great Byzantium which made Christianity the state religion and took on the missionary burden of preaching principles of Christianity in the Slavonic land. Holy Tradition says that several icons of the Virgin were painted by St. Luke the Evangelist. Icons of Vladzimir, Częstochowa and Smalensk are believed to be painted by him. Ways how these ancient images came to the Slavonic land are interpreted differently, but it is known that one of the icons was brought to Smalensk by Prince Vladzimir Manamakh who founded the Church of the Assumption in Smalensk in 1101. It was there where the Byzantine icon found its home. Having become famous for numerous miracles – the miracle of the city’s rescue from enemies is one of them – the icon received the name of that of Smalensk. Strengthening Christian faith of people, its numerous replicas disseminated to churches and monasteries. It is one of these 16th-century replicas that was in the church of the Nativity of the Virgin in Dubyanets.

We know very little about the very church. For instance, the land that the church occupied belonged to the family of Dubyanetskiye, and the church “…was built at the expense of Kolb Seletsky, the Pinsk royal carver, in 1718” [1; p. 41]. Most likely, the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria of Smalensk was brought here from another church, perhaps from that one which had been here before the Prechystenskaya church. All these data still require archival research and revision.

Located in the altar part of the church of the Nativity of the Virgin, the icon of the Virgin of Smalensk was believed to be wonder-working. A most rare archival photograph testifies this. In the margins of the icon, round the setting, there are numerous metallic plates presented to the image in sign of miraculous healings (plates in the form of hands) and the deepest veneration for the image (plates depicting the Virgin and the Baby). It is wonderful that the image has survived the troubled years of the revolutionary atheism and World War II.

If political varieties did not touch the work’s destiny, the time was not merciful to it. After the icon-setting dismantle it appeared that it was the icon-setting that preserved the image from disappearance. The whole paint layer blistered, cracked and could fall down any moment and destroy the unique icon-painting monument. To preserve the painting, restorer – and now restorer of the highest category – Arkadz Shpunt laid preventive seal on the painting layer just in the forest, under the field conditions. Then the icon was covered with the setting again, as otherwise it could not be taken to the Museum in good condition. The research conducted during the restoration process showed that in the 19th century due to losses the original 16th-century painting was subject to gesso (i.e. a new couch was laid) and renewed and that the icon was renewed for three times. The restoration process lasted for two years. This period saw strengthening the paint layers and the couch detached from the foundation and then subsequent layers were thoroughly, millimetre by millimetre, cleaned with a scalpel. Thus, little by little unique 16th-century painting was discovered, just as any miracle happens.

It became apparent that the painting was noticeably graphic in the interpretation of the figures, in writing the titlos at the background and was amazing in colour expressiveness based on harmony of contradictory dark blue and orange, light blue and scarlet colours. Flat interpretation of the plastic of the faces and the hands, thin painting of the gaps on gradually growing light sankir reminds of ancient Russian icon-painting monuments. High spiritual prayer experience of the Belarusian people, a deepest enlightened meditativeness  were depicted by the icon-painter via plastic solutions of the images of the Virgin and the Baby, the Archangels, relations between the colour elements of the image.

Deep and dense dark blue colour of the background echoes dark blue and light blue colours of the Virgin’s clothes which can be seen under the omophorion of scarlet colours. Speaking about the colour symbolism, we should note that the mentioned dark blue, light blue, scarlet colours are those that accompany the image of the Virgin in the fine art of the Eastern and Western Christianity countries.

Deep and dense orange colour is harmonious to the epigraph line from the akathist to the Feast of the Intercession of the Virgin “Rejoice, the Divine Fire, unhurtedly in fire holding Christ in Your arm and firing us that are cold with that” (ikos 5). This flaming colour stain of hymation of Baby Christ is maintained by the colour of the upper clothes of St. Michael the Archangel, wings and chiton of St. Gabriel the Archangel which crown the composite structure in the upper corners of the icon. Having bent their heads, the Archangels are motionless in their prayer of praise to the Queen of Heaven and her Everlasting Son.

 

is a view of the icon in the church of the Nativity of the Virgin in Dubyanets, the painting is under the setting, the plates are attached along the margins.

 

is a plate depicting the Virgin.

is a plate depicting the Virgin with the Baby on the cloud. The lower part of the plate has a high relief depicting a cherubim.

is the back side of the icon. The foundation and the straight keys are made from lime tree. The 19th-century restoration insert is seen in the icon shield centre.

 

is the icon’s fragment before restoration. After dismantle of the setting falling down, blistering and cracks of the paint layer became visible. The setting protected the painting from the fullest destruction.

 

is the icon’s fragment before restoration. After dismantle of the setting falling down, blistering and cracks of the paint layer became visible. The setting protected the painting from the fullest destruction.

 

is the icon’s fragment before restoration. After dismantle of the setting falling down, blistering and cracks of the paint layer became visible. The setting protected the painting from the fullest destruction.

 

is a view of the icon under the preventive seals. The paint layer was preventively sealed literally under the field conditions as the painting integrity was under the threat of full destruction.

 

  is a view of the icon in the process of restoration. After strengthening the paint layer and the couch detached from the foundation the test unveiling of the painting was conducted. The test cleaning showed that due to wooden foundation destruction the original painting was subject to gesso (new couch was laid) and renewed in the 19th century.

is a view of the icon in the process of restoration. The 16th-century painting was partially unveiled; subsequent layers were removed; the 19th-century restoration couch was preserved in the places of the paint layer loss. This image clearly shows the difference between stylistic solutions of the painting of the 16th century and the 19th century.

is a view of the icon in the process of restoration. The 16th-century painting is fully unveiled.

is a view of the icon in the process of restoration. The 16th-century painting is fully unveiled. A fragment of the icon.

is a view of the icon in the process of restoration. The 16th-century painting is fully unveiled. A fragment of the icon.

are photographs of the church of the Nativity of the Virgin in Dubyanets. The photographs were taken from http://www.radzima.org.

is the state of the icon in the final restoration stage, after plating the tinting coatings. The icon entered the permanent exhibition of the Museum in such a state.

 

Bibliography.

  1. Высоцкая Н.Ф. Тэмперны жывапіс Беларусі XV-XVIII стагоддзяў у зборы Дзяржаўнага мастацкага музея БССР/ каталог.—М.: Беларусь,1986. —207 с.: іл.
  2. Высоцкая Н.Ф. Іканапіс Беларусі XV-XVIII стагоддзяў.—М.: Беларусь,1994. —231 с.: іл.

 

 

* photographs of the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria of Smalensk in the icon-setting in the process of restoration come from the personal files of Arkadz Shpunt.

** photographs of the church of the Nativity of the Virgin in Dubyanets were taken from http://www.radzima.org

 

The project team:

The text – by Palina Yanitskaya, head of the multimedia technologies’ department of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus (under the editorship of Arkadz Shpunt)

The photo processing – by Julia Maspanava, Palina Yanitskaya

Translation into English – by Volha Scharbakova