Roman Markovych

Transnational History

It is impossible to comprehend fully the Ukrainian artistic tradition if one bypasses the great creative legacy of the ancient state of Kyivan Rus that became a firm foundation for the nation’s artistic culture. The icon, as a genre of painting and as an artistic system of images, was brought to Kyivan Rus (predecessor of modern Ukraine ) from Byzantium with the conversion to Christianity. The young state eagerly absorbed the traditions of Byzantine culture and aesthetics, and through them to the entire artistic tradition of the Hellenistic world. Thanks to this, the artists of old Rus turned first and foremost to the image of a human being, which became the main them of artistic practice of the masters of that era. And although icon painting was fully subordinate to the needs of religion, in it, as in any form of visual art, we find the representation of the material and emotional spheres of real existence. The depiction of religious motifs follows established canons; the master should be concerned not with representing concrete impressions of the world around us, but with creating ideal images and saturating them with particular spiritual emotions and values.


The icon as a form of easel painting is characterized by certain technological peculiarities. In Rus (and Ukraine), the icons were mostly painted on board of linden wood, held together with glue and with special fastening clamps on the edges. On the front side, the main image was placed at the center, surrounded by borders. A special fabric, known as pavoloka, was glued onto the board to strengthen the binding with the special plaster- or chalk-based primer, known as the levkas; over the primer, the artist painted with egg tempera.