Visual Arts

Ukrainian visual artworks may not have worldwide fame, but they are still unique samples of the Ukrainian people’s talent. The craftsmanship of Ukrainian paintings, graphics, and sculptures can be seen in the exhibitions in many museums.

Ukrainian art stems from the time of Kyivan Rus. It was firmly connected to Christianity, which became Kyivan Rus’ official religion in the 10th century. The first paintings were icons, usually created by monks. They depict, generally, Jesus Christ, angels, and saints, as well as other religious figures. The Old Russian icon paintings reflected humanity’s rich spirituality.

At the same time appeared frescoes and mosaics, which were used to decorate temples in Rus. Along with religious scenes, the earthly realm was also depicted, showing everyday life and entertainments. The large number of artistic genres that developed during the Old Russian period is best represented in the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. It is the only temple in the Old World that has preserved the samples of the monumental Kyivan Rus paintings.

Icons remained the main Ukrainian art form until the 17th century, when engraving was developed after a printing shop was set up in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. The shop enabled books to be illustrated. One vivid example of the colorful illustrations is the Breviary (service book) of Kyivan Metropolitan Petro Mogila.

Before secular portrait painting permanently took over icon painting, the so-called parsunas became popular in Ukraine. These were portraits (usually of historic figures), painted using the techniques of iconography. The clients for such paintings often included prosperous Cossacks. Ornate design and the use of Ukrainian folk art elements were typical of parsunas. The most popular (and the most common) image of that time was Cossack Mamai, or Cossack-Kobza-Player, whose image embodied the Ukrainian fight for independence.

Talented authors like Dmitry Levitsky, Vladimir Borovikovsky, and the well-known Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko can also be listed among the prominent painters. Shevchenko is also considered to be the founder of Ukrainian genre art in painting.

Ilya Repin, who created the famous picture ‘Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire,’ and the excellent seascape painter Ivan Aivazovsky also played a huge role in the development of Ukraine’s art. A large part of Aivazovsky’s paintings is kept in a gallery in his native town Feodosiya.

20th century art was shaped by Soviet power dogmas and ideals. The pictures’ main goal back then was to fight for socialism, and the main characters were peasants and workers. The artists, who were used to thinking freely and looking for new ways to express themselves, had to limit themselves to a certain framework. Nevertheless, there were masterpieces even during the USSR period. Most of them are canvases made by Tatyana Yablonskaya and Feodor Krichevsky. You can also find examples of Soviet sculpture in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kyiv.

Modern Ukrainian artists are no longer restricted in their style or topics, and, therefore, they sometimes try their hands at completely unthinkable genres. Alexander Roitburd, Oksana Mas, Maxim Mamsikov, Zhanna Kadyrova, Ilya Chichkan, and Arsen Savadov are among the best known current Ukrainian artists. The most innovative works of modern art are on display at the Kyivan gallery PinchukArtCentre, where they are shown next to such world-famous artists as Damien Hirst and Andreas Gursky.

Ukrainian art - from the Old Russian times until today - is a huge and incredibly interesting layer of the country’s rich culture. Ukrainian museums hold many masterpieces that are not at all inferior to the famous works of art on display elsewhere in the world!

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