Anyone wishing to ‘appear’ as Frantsisk Skorina can do so at the National Library’s Frantsisk Skorina and Our Times exhibition, by placing their head through a hole cut into the image of the 16th century enlightener.
No folios or monumental works are on show but everyone coming to the library will be surprised to see how deeply Skorina’s image has penetrated our daily life. This year is the 500th anniversary of his book publishing.
Exhibits have been collected from museums, schools and people’s flats, while the U Frantsiska café has themed beer cups, plates and menu covers, featuring Skorina’s emblems. Handmade articles are kept behind glass, including those made by Polotsk gymnasiums pupils: cups, packages, tea bags and pens. Other exhibits include plastic banking cards featuring Skorina, a gymnasium uniform and colouring books, so beloved by children.
Divided thematically, the ‘Scientist’ section features a necktie, a portfolio, booklets, and materials for conferences and pens — a compete uniform! All belong to the exhibition curator, Alexander Susha. Other stands include ‘Schoolchild’, ‘Collector’, and ‘Banking Business’. Skorina is everywhere!
Meeting us at the entrance is a mannequin dressed in a red shirt, stating that Frantsisk Skorina is a golden youth. Polotsk’s great man smiles conspiratorially, holding a beer tankard. Youth sub-culture has its own view of the first publisher. There’s a backpack covered with badges, each demonstrating ideas and views. Why not depict a national hero on them? Alongside is another mannequin wearing a shirt depicting Skorina as a funny doctor. Why not? We sometimes forget that Skorina was an ordinary man, falling in love, spying, studying alchemy and practicing as a doctor. Since epidemics were common in his time, he would have worn an iron beaked mask in which would have been placed disinfectants.
Frantsisk Skorina Order
Each exhibit is on loan from its owner. Galina Kireeva, a departmental head at the National Library, has loaned a Frantsisk Skorina Medal and order. Famous Belarusian writer Vladimir Lipsky has also provided his personal Frantsisk Skorina Order for the show. He notes, “Skorina is our genius. It’s a great honour to be awarded with a medal named after him. I’d like to publish his texts as separate brochures — to be distributed among Belarusians.”
Skorina’s first stamp
The first postal stamp, featuring Frantsisk Skorina, is truly rare, having been printed in 1921. Philatelists debate whether it should be called the first Belarusian stamp, but some believe it could have been released in 1918. Collector Lev Kolosov writes: ‘Skorina’s depiction from the Bible engraving is in the centre, showing exemplary delicacy of face, figure, costume and other details. ‘Belarus: Pochta’ is written in Cyrillic above and, at the bottom, ‘Frantsisk Skorina from Polotsk: 1517-1917’ is written in small letters.’
The section features other stamps depicting Skorina — published in the Belarusian People’s Republic, the BSSR and sovereign Belarus.
Belarusian books are synonymous with the name of Frantsisk Skorina, whose face is often used for ex-libris and stamps for private libraries. According to collector Oleg Sudlenkov, ‘a correct ex-libris is a piece of art’. Among the showcased exhibits is Skorina’s symbol on the home library of Mikhas Mitskevich — a son of Yakub Kolas.
“This is not simply an ex-libris of a famous artist, Victor Shmatov, made by himself,” comments the collector on another artefact. “We can see the technology: the initial pencil drawing on paper, cut from wooden board and then used to print.”
Skorina’s face on the stamp appears thoughtful, as if ready to commit his musings to paper, for us to learn from.
Magnets and lottery tickets
Celebrations for Frantsisk Skorina’s 500th anniversary received much attention in Soviet times, when the BSSR Culture Ministry launched a jubilee issue of the cash and prize lottery, played on September 7th, 1990 (during the days of the political system breaking down). The exhibition features a ticket from that issue, though it’s unknown whether it was lucky or not. Most probably, it brought success to its holder: otherwise, it would have been unlikely to be chosen. It’s an artefact bound to stir nostalgia.
There are even refrigerator magnets on show bearing Skorina’s face. How wonderful to think of these sitting alongside others from around the world in so many kitchens!
By Lyudmila Rublevskaya