Success of enlightener of the past

Belarusian artist Isaak Davidovich succeeds in reflecting whole historical age in single work

By Victor Mikhailov

Really, only a strong work — in all respects — is worthy of being shown alone at an exhibition. It must be significant in its theme, be created with great artistry and inspire an emotional response. It must substitute for a whole gallery in its force of attraction.

The National Art Museum introduced the practice of demonstrating a single picture some time ago. Museum staff are obliged to choose carefully and, in the case of Isaak Davidovich’s Frantsisk Skorina (currently on show), there is no doubt that their choice is correct. The museum has managed to select a worthy canvas for display.

Mr. Davidovich belongs to that group of artists who are little known yet still occupy a worthy place in the history of Belarusian art. He worked in the field of easel and monumental painting, in addition to easel graphics, illustrations and posters. The museum has around twenty of his paintings and over two dozen graphic pieces. Mr. Davidovich is noteworthy not only for his diversity but for his unusual artistic range. Some are mythological inspired huge compositions on official topics of Soviet history and modern day themes and others are extremely lyrical and hugely sincere.

His ability to delicately perceive the world and sharply feel its drama came to the fore in the early 1940s, although he did not fully realise his potential until the 1960s. At that time, he painted a monumental picture: Frantsisk Skorina — first exhibited at the 1968-1969 show. Frantsisk Skorina (who was born around 1490 and died in about 1551) was a Belarusian and Eastern-Slavonic scientist and enlightener who became our first printer. He is of great significance for the Belarusian nation, history and culture. In 1967, Belarusian book printing — launched by Skorina — celebrated its 450th anniversary. At that time, the artist decided to create his own vision of the man via the theme of book reading. In fact, the artist had worked at a publishing house for many years; his first works were exhibited at a show of book illustrations.

Mr. Davidovich painted an historical portrait with a well-thought-out plot and theatrical and illustrative aspects (as are unique to Mr. Davidovich’s life). His painting depicts a girl in national Belarusian costume, reading a printed edition of the Bible, with Skorina seen nearby. Other people are depicted, symbolising true unity. Mr. Davidovich often painted children, doing so skillfully, so it’s no surprise that his reading girl is sincere, lofty and touching: she is reading the Bible for the first time, doing so in her native language.

Isaak Davidovich was not the first to depict Frantsisk Skorina but his work stands out in uniting optimism, drama and, even, tragedy — through tense and contrasting use of colour. It has a Renaissance style power and is expressive in its detail.

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