Unique cultural legacy from the past returns to new life

Restored icons and paintings on show at National Art Museum, to audience’s huge delight

By Victor Mikhailov

Time is connected not only by memories and events but by material artefacts. Of course, these have more relevance than being purely aesthetically pleasing; they can be spiritually enlightening. The National Art Museum is showcasing Belarusian art works from 400 years ago, newly restored and ready for viewing, thanks to the efforts of our specialists.

No doubt, our young generation should revere the legacy of their forefathers; it’s a complaint we often hear today. It’s no secret that most icons arrive at the museum in a very poor state, requiring prompt and careful restoration. Without this, their preservation is questionable. Those on show at the National Art Museum’s Revealing Sacred Beauty exhibition have endured a long and careful path to restoration. Ten 17th-19th century paintings, from temper and oil, have been revived by Sergey Shatilo, Svetlana Dikut, Arkady Shpunt, Svetlana Olishevich, Ella Pashkina and Dmitry Karleonov. Their talent and industry have brought light back into the faces of the saints, which radiate from wooden plates. Restoration requires us to revive the original artist’s intentions, avoiding distortion. Restorers reveal anew images long hidden, opening faces of ‘pure beauty’ to exhibition visitors.

The National Art Museum’s Director, Vladimir Prokoptsov, noted at the opening ceremony that icon restoration has been possible due to financing from the Presidential Special Fund for the Support of Culture and Art. We’ve always had talented restorers and a restoration centre at the museum, employing professionals. They’re kept busy, as the museum has over 200 unique exhibits. “The restoration centre is a unique school for our specialists, allowing them to pass their invaluable experience to young masters,” said Mr. Prokoptsov.

The icons showcased at the present show arouse admiration, being unique. Each restoration story is impressive and none more so than that of the icon of Mother of God Odigitria, thought to date from the 18th-19th century. It was created in the village of Golynka, in the Minsk Region. While working on it, restorers discovered that the icon had been fully re-drawn, with the background re-painted. With later layers peeled away, it was seen that the icon was first painted in the 17th century, made at the highest professional level. Those from Zhirovichi Monastery are largely in their original form, although it’s common to find multiple layers of painting on icons. Only the ‘sky’ background had been covered in gold in the late 19th century. During restoration, this was removed, alongside darkened protective coverings. The process revealed bright colours from the Baroque age and unusually expressive and individual faces of apostles, close to the style of portrait painting.

The exhibition is well worth attending, being the only way to truly feel the spirituality of the time, while appreciating our rich cultural and historical heritage. Such a show cannot but arouse contemplation, making us ponder the eternal ties of history.

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