Icon Painting In The Lemko Region - (part 2)

The following article, authored by Hryhoryj Lohvyn, first appeared in Carpatho-Rusyn American, Volume 10 #3, 1987
copyright © 1987 and is used here with permission

The following article on Lemko icons with photographs were sent specially to the Carpatho-Rusyn American by the Ukraina Society in Kiev, to whom we express our appreciation. - Editor

The Pantocrator

4. The Pantocrator, from the church at Milik/Mylyk, late fifteenth-early sixteenth centuries.

The wide spectrum of compositions and color techniques, chosen carefully for their function in the ensemble. are characteristic of all icons from Lemko villages in the Lower Beskyds. The icon of the Pantocrator from the village of Milik; Mylyk (Nowy Sacz district) underlines the monumentality of this image of the all-powerful Lord. The outline of the figure is clearly emphasized against a red field. thereby evoking associations with classical statues.

The Mothor of God5. The Mother of God, from the Iconostasis in the church at Jawornyk/Javirnyk, early sixteenth century.

Lemko Region painters demonstrate a completely opposite artistic approach in the icon of the Mother of God from the village of Jawornyk/Javirnyk (Sanok district). Here the stately silhouette and the proudly uplifted head of the Mother of God emphasize her unique role. Icons representing the saints and their life stories form a separate group. Thus, St. Paraskeva and Her Life Story. from the fifteenth century, is one of the oldest examples of Lemko icon painting preserved to this day. In the center of the icon the artist portrayed St. Paraskeva dressed in a scarlet cape which falls in heavy folds from her head t o her feet, covering her entire body. This clearly suggests the painter is a monumentalist, giving preference to a powerful, laconic, and stern manner of painting. The loftiness of St. Paraskeva, the principal image of the icon, is emphasized by the miniatures in the side panels that illustrate her life and saintly acts. The pain and suffering of the heroine St. Paraskeva were well known to the common folk. This allowed for unambiguous associations with the events of her actual life, which encouraged compassion for all the downtrodden and oppressed. This theme vividly demonstrates the humanism of traditional Lemko ecclesiastical art. The unswerving courage of St. Paraskeva served as an example to the people and it helped them develop the unbreakable willpower needed to overcome evil and violence. Her courage also provided a model for people to follow a path away from sin and compromise, which would threaten moral values.

St. Paraskeva

6. St. Paraskeva and Her Life Story, fifteenth-sixteenth century, National Museum, Cracow.

Alongside St. Paraskeva, St. Nicholas enjoyed special respect and popularity, as well as other saints like Dmitrii, Basil, Barbara, and the profitless healers named Kozma and Demian. This list can be supplemented with the vast compositions depicting the Passions and the Last Judgment.

The icons described here were all created in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a time when the modern states of Europe were beginning to form. For Lemkos, this process coincided with a most difficult period in their history. However, ecclesiastical art, with its highly aesthetic, sincere, and humanistic ideals, encouraged the simple folk and gave them hope for a better future. This art also called for self-sacrifice in the name of the most noble of principles: "no feeling known is greater than the desire to die for a fellow's sake." Finally, the appearance in many Lemko icons of the canonized Kievan princes and princesses (Vladimir, Olga, Boris, and Gleb) clearly revealed the cultural ties that Lemkos maintained with Kiev, the mother of Rus' cities. Still today we can see that Lemko icon painting, with its own set of ethical norms, rules, and examples of highly moral behavior, is a veritable treasure of artistic masterpieces.

Hryhoryj Lohvyn
Kiev, Ukraine

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