Christ Pantocrator, 2nd half of the 15th c., Nowosielce

Subcarpathia is a unique region both for its scenic and historical value. When in 1340 AD Orthodox Red Ruthenia, also called Subcarpathia, was incorporated into the territory of The Polish Kingdom by Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki), the area of Subcarpathia became a place of coexistence of two Christian rites – Eastern and Western. A tangible evidence of those remote times is the collection of the Orthodox and Greek Catholic art in the Historical Museum in Sanok comprising 700 icons as well as Orthodox and Greek Catholic church crucifixes, banners, robes, books and liturgical paraments.
Almost from its very beginnings the Church preached its doctrine both through the word and the image. Hence, in spite of the Old Testament ban on worshipping images, imagery has always been a potent and important force within Christianity. The icon (from the Greek ‘eikon’ – a picture, image) created ages ago – within a single, undivided Church yet – constitutes the main and integral element of Eastern spirituality today. That special status of sacred images being an intermediary between the earthly and heavenly worlds, which the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Church attributes to icons, is comparable to the way saintly relics are viewed in the Roman Catholic church. The difference consists in the fact that in the East icons are seen as having the possibility of attaining divine power whereas in the Western church relics are exclusively seen as providing divine protection. The painting in the Catholic Church has never achieved such a great sacral, dogmatic and liturgical significance as in the Eastern Churches but only devotional, aesthetic, illustrative and didactic. In the spirituality of the Eastern Churches the icon is an element which enables contemplation and approach to the Sacred. Therefore it will always remain a religious rather than artistic work. As a mystical image and the transmitter of grace the icon is the miraculous presence of that which is depicted on it.

The icon enraptures with the depth of its message contained in the abbreviated form of symbols. Yet, in order to understand its content one must get to know the signs which are used by it. In 787 AD the second Nicene Council defined an iconographic canon and the obligation of complying with the unchanging archetype (the proto-image). For those reasons any departures and artist’s creative freedom, forced ‘to follow the path of asceticism and fast of the senses’, is not possible. A creator of an icon must renounce all personal creativeness in the domain of form, which is the means of conveying the idea, in order to focus on the most significant matter which is the recapturing of an original. Hence, a maximal reduction of the compositional elements is sprung, as ‘in an icon a single tree is enough to depict the entire forest, a single man to depict the entirety of mankind’. A painter uses prepared iconographical schemes, contained in the special painting books called podlinniki (Greek ‘hermeneia’), in order to faithfully depicts an archetype. An ‘ikonopisiec’, a man who writes (paints) an icon, is the painter in material sense only. He is a person who ‘lends his hands to the Lord so that He might be revealed’. Therefore the majority of icons are unsigned. The icon shows heavenly and spiritual beauty rather than the earthly and material. Therefore one does not find naturalism in icons (it is not supposed to show ‘natural things’ but ‘the nature of things’). The presented world is intentionally made free of earthly reality. There is a lack of three-dimensionality and direct historical references (the icon cannot be perceived as an illustration of a certain event). The use of abbreviation and the symbol, as well as deformation of landscape and elements of architecture, is a characteristic feature of the icon. It is an outcome of applying the ‘inverted perspective’ (divergent), rather than the Western norm of using a convergent perspective. Gold is ubiquitous in icons and is treated as a reflection of divine energy. The use of gold as an outline for robes of the saints and the chrysography (gold patterning) of the robes themselves indicates the fact that the saints ‘dwell in Heaven’. The palette of colours is modest and each colour has a symbolic meaning. There is neither play of light and shadow (chiaroscuro) nor the source of light, since the light is a subject of an icon. Deformation of a painted person (no gestures and traces of human body underneath the robes, big motionless eyes) is to show its spiritual and holy nature. Figures are depicted hieratically and are frontally arranged towards a believer, enabling them to establish direct contact. The saints levitate in icons. They hang between Heaven and Earth and mediate between God and man. The smallest detail cannot be neglected in the course of making an icon. Absolute faithfulness to the tradition and care given to the method of making the icon guarantee its transcendental element. The oldest icons are the most canonical and crude in their form. In more recent icons there is an increase in divergence from principles adopted ages ago, resulted in mounting creative freedom.
The archangel Michael, 1st half of the 17th c. Lipie

The Union between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church in 1596 considerably contributed to such a situation. The Greek Catholic Church, which originated in result of the union, accepted the Pope’s supremacy and adopted the dogma of the Catholic Church with regards to the origin of the Holy Spirit from the Father God and the Son and the doctrine of church fetes and purgatory. However, the Greek Catholics retained the individuality of the liturgy (celebrated in the Old Church Slavonic language), secular priests’ right to marry, the Julian calendar (in the Catholic world the Gregorian calendar had been in force since 1582), their own hierarchy and significant autonomy in church administration. The Greek Catholic Church, in order to emphasize its distinctiveness from the Orthodox Church, had often introduced practices drawn from Roman Latin rite, both within the scope of ecclesiastical terminology and art. In that way the icon increasingly began to resemble Catholic religious paintings (decorative, architectural and sculptural elements of frames, perspective, movement and gesticulation of figures introducing action into image).
In the collection of the Historical Museum in Sanok there are a small number of icons painted on canvas and metal sheet, whereas the major part of the collected icons is painted on wooden panels and once formed part of iconostases. The oldest icons from the Sanok collection are painted on limewood boards whereas those made later in the 17th – 19th c. are painted on cheaper and more readily available fir and spruce boards. Painting wood supports had been usually made out of the two boards joined with ‘a groove and swell’ which means that at the edge of the first board a groove was cut whilst the other had a protruding ‘feather’ that would slot into the groove. In order to additionally protect the board against warping, on the back of the boards were placed so-called ’szpongi’ (lit. claws or talons, the technical term in English being cradces), which are strips running transversely to the join, usually from two opposite sides. Whereas in the middle of the surface of the boards was grooved a depression, a so-called ‘kowczeg’, for future representation. Apart from aesthetic and formal aspects, a groove of a few centimeters around the edge of the icon created a natural frame – that measure also has its symbolic meaning. Confusingly a type of small chest earmarked for storing relics was also known as a ‘kowczeg’. Additionally, linen stripes were stuck along the joints of the boards. This allowed the painting surface to remain flat and provided additional protection against warping. Once the base for the icon was prepared the artist could commence with the painting itself. First the base-layer, or primer, of a few thin coats of chalk-ground would be applied. Then a drawing was directly traced and the contour was painted or engraved on that surface. At that stage of the process a background was also prepared (usually with the aid of a stencil). After gilding a painter started painting less essential parts of an icon, the so-called environment (architecture, nature), then robes, the face and hands. Only paints of natural origin, mainly mineral, were employed, with egg yolk used as the emulsion medium. This technique of painting was called egg tempera. The underpainting, the first layer of paint, was the darkest. When the paint dried a few layers of the same tint but with brighter shadow were laid. Additionally the whole painting was brightened with stripes of white paint. The face of a figure was also painted in layers. At first, dark olive underpaint was laid, so-called ’sankir’, then the facial features were drawn using ever brighter layers. At the end of the process the inscriptions were made (the name of a figure or the theme of a described scene). Omission of its identifying inscription would cause an icon to be incomplete and therefore unable to fulfill its role as a transmitter of grace. For the inscription constitutes the ‘proper name’ of an icon, which allows one to correctly recognize it. But above all it is ‘confirmation of the everlasting character of a representation’. Dates of completion of icons, on the other hand, were never added since the icon was thought to have a timeless character. Finally, with the icon would be covered in an oil varnish called an ‘olifa’ (it was being prepared with linseed oil in Russia or resin or an egg white in Subcarpathia) to protect the icon against dust and smoke from candles and incense.

Icons depict portraits of the saints, episodes of their life (hagiographical icons) as well as scenes illustrating the content of the Holy Bible, Apocrypha and legends. Obviously Christ is the most frequently presented figure in icons. Christ Pantokrator is the most common depiction (Almighty, or Ruler of All). Such images of Christ, in accordance with the dogma of the consubstantial nature of the Father and the Son, were simultaneously considered as a representation of the Father God in Byzantium. There exist several variants of the image of Christ Pantocrator: throning Christ, surrounded with three mandorlas (Christ in Majesty) or without them, and Christ standing in a full length or in half length. In all of these representations Christ is presented frontally, attired with the robes typical for the late antiquity; he has a stern, majestic facial expression and his head is surrounded with the golden cross halo, sometimes enriched with the letters ‘Ω’, ‘Ο’ andΝ’ which are translated as ‘He, who is’. The Omnipotent Christ performs a gesture of blessing with His raised right hand (His fingers form His own monogram IC XC) whereas in the left hand He holds the Gospels opened to the text of John ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’ (John, 8:12) or ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters through Me shall be saved he shall come in and go out, and find pasture’ (John, 10:9). The representation of Christ ‘The Saviour in Majesty’, ‘The King of Glory’ (‘Spas w Silach’), made on the strength of the vision of Ezekiel (1:5-28) and Revelation of John (4:2 - 9), has especially developed the symbolic idea of domination over the universe. The divine ruler sits on the throne in glory, surrounded by the three mandorlas which have symbolic meaning. The first mandorla, situated just behind Christ, in the shape of a red rhombus is the reflection of His divine, fiery nature and glory. The second, a blue oval symbolizing the world of angelic hosts is the heavenly sphere which is ruled by Him. Finally, the last mandorla in the shape of a red square, since ancient times symbolizes everything that is associated with the earthly sphere. The four living beings which are the symbols of the four Evangelists, the preachers of Christ’s doctrine in every corner of the earth, are situated in the corners of the quadrangle: an angel, symbolizing the highest knowledge and the will of God, represents Matthew, an ox, symbolizing the almighty strength of God, represents Luke, a lion, symbolizing the power of God, represents Mark, and an eagle, symbolizing the omniscience of God represents John. Four icons, situated in the first chamber on the ground floor of the castle, present already discussed examples: Christ Pantocrator from Wujskie, 15th c., Christ Pantocrator (Christ in Majesty) from Nowosielce, 2nd half of the 15th c., Christ Pantocrator (Christ in Majesty) from Surowica, end of the 16th c. and Christ Pantocrator in the group of Deesis from Bartne, end of the 16th c.

The Hodegetria Virgin from Paniszczów, 1st half of the 16th c.The Hodegetria Virgin is one of the most popular images of Our Lady, both in the Catholic and the Orthodox world. In accordance with tradition the prototype image of the Virgin Mary was painted by Luke the Evangelist. The icon was stored in the port district of Constantinople in the church of Ton Hodegon, hence the venerated icon was soon called the Hodegetria (’She who shows the Way, the Guide’). The Virgin Mary points with her right hand at Jesus the Emmanuel. Jesus sits on her left arm and blesses with his right hand whilst holding a scroll of scriptures or the book of Gospels in his left. Presenting in this manner her own Son, who said about himself: ‘I am the Way, Truth and Life’, she becomes the Guide of the world on the way to salvation. Frontal, majestic and quite stern image of the Virgin Mary is to make a presentation hieratic. In the region of Subcarpathia the images of the Hodegetria Virgin are quite frequently found with figures of archangels (upper corners) hiding their hands under their robes as a sign of reverence. The Virgin was also often surrounded by figures of the prophets, the apostles and Joachim and Anne who were her parents. The prophets and the apostles hold scrolls of scriptures professing apotheosis (glorification) of the Mother of God and essence of the Incarnation. These figures are painted in the ‘klejma’ - rectangular spaces surrounding the main composition and depicting some figures or episodes from the life of a person from the main composition. In the first chamber of the castle one can see the following icons: the Hodegetria Virgin from Dolina, 2nd half of the 15th c., the Hodegetria Virgin from Kostarowce, 16th c., the Hodegetria Virgin from Szklary, 2nd half of the 16th c., the Hodegetria Virgin from Weremień, 2nd half of the 16th c. and the most precious in the collection the Hodegetria Virgin from Paniszczów, 1st half of the 16th c.

Our Lady Enthroned, 15th c., FlorynkaAnother type of representative image of the Mather of God at the Sanok collection is Our Lady Enthroned from Florynka from the 1st half of the 16th c. (1st chamber of the ground floor). Our Lady is depicted in full length against a background of double mandorla. The first, blue, mandorla symbolizes the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven whereas the second, red, mandorla as the Queen of the Earth.

An icon of the Transfiguration is part of a tier of festive icons (’prazdniki’) in the iconostasis. The icon depicts the event which took place on Mount Tabor where Christ, praying along with His specially favoured disciples (Peter, Jacob and John), showed His divine countenance (’brightened with divine light’). Then in the sky appeared a bright cloud and a voice from the sky said the words: ‘This is My Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!’ (Matthew, 17:2 - 6). At the foot of the hill we can see the frightened apostles and Moses and Elijah standing on both sides of the Lord. This icon is especially important because the theme of the Transfiguration is practically a symbolic introduction to the art of icon painting. An entrant ‘ikonopisiec’, or icon painter (lit. icon writer) had to paint exactly that event as the first in his career. The painter was obliged to reach for the divine nature of Christ and recapture it in some way. Thanks to that he was to learn that the icon is painted not as much as with colours but above all with that miraculous supernatural light in which Christ had shown Himself. In the exhibition we can see the following icons: the Transfiguration from Weremień, 1st half of the 16th c., 1st chamber on the ground floor and another also from Weremień, 17th c., 3rd chamber on the ground floor.

The icon of The Descent into Limbo (Greek ‘Anastasis’) depicts the feast of the Resurrection. The scene shows Christ against the background of a mandorla descending into the abyss of Hell which is symbolized by the broken gate in the form of a cross, clearly reminiscent of the Sacrifice. Christ gives his hand to the first earthly father – Adam, next to whom we can see Eve, prophets and priests arrived to see God’s covenant with the people. The icon of the Descent into Limbo from Witryłów village, 1st half of the 16th c., is situated in the 1st chamber on the ground floor.

The Dormition of Our Lady, 15th c., Ĺ»ukotynThe Dormition of Our Lady (Greek ‘Koimesis’) is a feast commemorating the death of the Virgin Mary. The icon illustrating that event is a part of the tier of the festive icons of the iconostasis. The theme is one of the most important in the Mariological cycle. The genesis of the depiction is owed to liturgical texts on the Feast of the Assumption (15th August) based on the Apocrypha (not canonical texts). The Dormition of Our Lady from Żukotyn from the 1st half of the 15th c. (the oldest icon in the Sanok collection, situated in the 1st chamber on the ground floor) represents an earlier version of the theme. The Virgin Mary lies on a horizontal bed in the center of the picture. Behind her stands Christ in a mandorla holding an infant on His left arm, symbolizing the soul of the deceased. Around the bed we can see the gathered apostles and bishops and a lighted candle beneath them. In later versions of the scene one often finds the figure of Jephonias, a Jew who, according to the Apocrypha, tried to defile the body of the Virgin Mary before the archangel Michael cut off his hands. (for instance the Dormition of Our Lady from Klimkówka from 1665, 4th chamber on the ground floor). Jephonias’s hands miraculously grew back after repenting. The content of this scene is additionally enriched by the legendary motive of the miraculous arriving of the apostles brought by angels from different corners of the world to the house of the Virgin Mary.

The Crucifixion is a representation of Christ martyred on the cross, who redeems the Sins of humanity and accomplishes the act of Salvation. In iconography the crucifixion is usually set against the background of the walls of Jerusalem. The number of participants of the Passion of the Lord changes constantly (apart from the Virgin Mary and John, there may also appear Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, Mary Salome and the centurion Longinus). The form of the Cross can change too (one of the beams, which is called the ’suppedaneum’, a beam supporting feet of Christ, can be depicted horizontally or tilted to the right, to the side of good). The gestures of the figures of the Virgin Mary and John can be presented as gestures of imploring, confessing testimony, speaking or despairing. The inscriptions written on the ‘titulus’ (the upper beam of the Cross) are valuable clues in the process of dating the icons. In the 15th and 16th centuries the inscription read ‘The King of Glory’ whereas later it became ‘Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews’. The rocky hill on which the Cross is situated is called Golgotha or the Place of the Skull, where, according to the tradition, Adam was buried. This motif contains the idea of Christ as the second Adam. The bones and the skull below the Cross symbolize the victory of Christ over sin. Visible Characteristic features of the depiction of the Crucifixion in eastern Christianity there is visible restraint in presenting feelings (the Virgin Mary has never despaired in such extreme way as in the art of the West) and the suffering of an exhausted Christ (His face is full of peace and the body never hangs down on loose arms). The icons of the Crucifixion in the collection of the Museum are, among others: The Crucifixion from Owczary, 15th c., 1st chamber on the ground floor, The Crucifixion from Kostarowce, 2nd half of the 16th c., The Crucifixion from Izdebki, beginning of the 17th c., 2nd chamber on the ground floor.

The Nativity of Our Lady – the literary source of the representation is the Apocrypha. The place of birth and the names of the parents of the Virgin Mary is not known. Thus they have been given symbolic names. In Hebrew ‘Anna’ means grace whereas ‘Joachim’ means announcing the Lord. The scene consists of representations of Anna lying or sitting on a bed with maidens standing by her, and frequently nannies bathing the new-born Mary at the bottom of the icon. The 16th century icon of the Nativity of Our Lady from Weremień is in the 1st chamber on the ground floor.

The Annunciation  – this type of icon presents a heavenly envoy, the Archangel Gabriel, haunting Mary and announcing to her that she has been chosen to be the Mother of Jesus. Mary usually appears on the right side. She sits on a throne, or stands, slightly turned towards Gabriel, who raises his right hand in gesture of greeting. The archangel holds the cross symbolizing Christ’s destiny and a lily representing the virginity of Mary (or three lilies triple virginity – mean that she was a virgin before, at the moment and after the birth of Jesus), or a rod alluding to his dignity as the divine envoy. The architecture situated behind them implies that it is the house of Joseph or the Temple of Jerusalem. The Virgin Mary can be presented in the act of reading a book, indicating her wisdom, drawing water from a well, or weaving a purple curtain for the Temple. The icon of the Annunciation in the exhibition comes from Witryłów from the end of the 15th c., 1st chamber on the ground floor.

St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker, 2nd half of the 15th c., OwczarySt. Nicholas who lived in the third and the fourth centuries is one of the most popular saints, both in the Roman and Greek Catholic Church as well as in the Orthodox Church. He was a bishop of Myra, a town situated in the southern part of Asia Minor. When the Turks conquered Myra in 1087 AD, Italian merchants stole his body, which then was buried in Bari (southern Italy). This event is presented by the icon from Dobra village from 1682 AD, located in the 4th chamber on the ground floor. St. Nicholas has received great popularity thanks to his generosity and miracles done during his life that have led to many legends about him. Ruthenia recognizes him as the patron of travelers and a protector against fires and wolves. A great rank held by this saint is evidenced by the fact that in one of the images we can see the figures of Christ and Mary depicted above him (the icon of St. Nicholas from Weremień, 1st half of the 16th century, 2nd chamber on the ground floor). The most popular are the icons presenting St. Nicholas in half or full length, blessing and holding a book in one hand, whilst wearing an omophorion (the most important part of the episcopal robe). Often his figure is surrounded with scenes from his life (so-called ‘klejmy’). The icons of St Nicholas the Miracle Worker are as follows: from Długie village, last quarter of the 15th c., 1st chamber on the ground floor, from Oparówka, 2nd half of the 16th c., 1st chamber on the ground floor.

IIn icons we also find representations of the hermit saints, martyrs and ascetics. St. Simeon Stylites (the icon from Kostarowce, 2nd half of the 16th c., 1st chamber on the ground floor) who spent forty years living on a column, fasting and praying, is ranked among them. From his column he preached to huge crowds of people. He did not leave the place of his penance even when his mother died (the moment is symbolically presented by the body of his mother lying beneath the column). Among numbers of martyrs St. Parascheva the Martyr, popular in the East, deserves special attention (the icon from Pętna, 17th century, 4th chamber on the ground floor). She was tortured and eventually decapitated during the persecutions of the Christians during the reign of the emperor Diocletian. Her name means Friday, that is the day of Christ’s death. The same name is shared by another saint, St. Parascheva of Tirnovo, known also as Parascheva of the Balkans (the icon from Ujście Gorlickie, 15th century, 1st chamber on the ground floor) who resigned from worldly comforts and spent her life in a hermitage. Such a path of sacrificing one’s life in the name of God’s love was also chosen by St. Onuphrius (the icon from Stańkowa, 1st half of the 17th century, 3rd chamber of the ground floor and another in the 1st chamber of the 1st floor). According to church tradition he spent sixty years living in isolation as a hermit in Egypt, his only food being grass and dew. After thirty years of praying for the sinful of mankind, God sent an angel to bring him food and the communion. St. Onuphrios is always depicted as an old man with a beard down to the ground (an attribute of hermits). Martyrdom in defense of the Christian faith was a fate suffered by Sts. George, Cosmas, Damian and Andrew the Apostle. St. George was executed during the reign of Diocletian because he refused to offer a sacrifice to the pagan deities of Rome. Iconography depicts him in soldier’s clothes slaying a dragon, a symbol of the victory of good over evil i.e. the opponents of Christianity (the icons from the 17th and 18th century, 1st chamber of the first floor). St. Andrew the Apostle died on an X-shaped cross as he considered himself undeserving to die on a cross similar to that of Christ. Certain academics believe the tilt of the bottom beam of the crucifix to the right to be a reference to St. Andrew who is the patron of Ruthenia. The twin brothers, Saints Cosmas and Damian, were doctors helping the poor. They were martyred during Diocletian’s Christian purges (the icon from Przegonina, 2nd half of the 17th century, 4th chamber of the ground floor).

The Mandillion, 1664 AD, JankowceThe Mandillion (from the Hebrew ‘mandil’ meaning scarf, Greek ‘acheiropoietos’ meaning ‘not made by (human) hands’ is a representation of Christ to which are ascribed miraculous origins and powers. The Mandillion is an image of Christ’s face on a scarf, but in contrast to the Latin Scarf of St. Veronica, the Saviour’s image does not have signs of suffering (open eyes, no crown of thorns). According to legend the image was created at the request of a seriously ill king Abgar of Edessa who reigned from 13 to 50 AD. An envoy of the ruler was to make a portrait of Christ, as he could not personally come to Abgar. Despite his best efforts the envoy was not able to capture a faithful representation of the face of the Lord. Having seen it Christ washed and dried his face with the linen scarf on which his face features were impressed. The scarf was brought to the king, caused him to be cured immediately and the scarf became unusually popular (the Mandillion from Krempna and from Jabłonica Ruska, 16th c., from Wysowa, 1st quarter of the 17th c., from Jankowce, 1664 AD, 2nd chamber of the ground floor).

The Eleusa Virgin, 17th c., HłomczaAmong the vast number of iconographic types of Our Lady with Child one of the most popular is The Eleusa Virgin (from the Greek ‘éleos’ meaning mercy). This is an image of the Virgin in half-length holding the Child in her left arm and hugging it with both hands. Her face is turned and slightly bent towards the Child who nestles his cheek to his mother. The Virgin’s stern bearing and dignity completely disappears, to be replaced by a mother’s ordinary human love and tenderness to her child. The face of the Virgin is full of sadness and reflection over the future fate of Christ. There are icons of the Eleusa Virgin from Hłomcza, 1st half of the 17th c., 2nd chamber of the ground floor and from Bóbrka, 17th c., 4th chamber of the ground floor.

The Old Testamentary Holy Trinity, 17th c., WeremieńThe Holy Trinity in the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Church the Holy Trinity is presented according to the Old Testamentary version of a scene depicting three men (angels) visiting Abraham, the so-called the Hospitality of Abraham. The origin of this scene comes from the doctrine of the Eastern Churches according to which the Father God can only be represented indirectly ’since nobody has ever seen Him and does not know what He looks like’. The icon of the Holy Trinity from Weremień from the 17th century (2nd chamber of the ground floor) shows the moment the three angels arrive at the grove of Mamre in order to announce to Abraham and Sarah the joyful news of their future parenthood. The angels are arranged in a pyramid: the central one has cross nimbus which allows us to guess that he is Christ whereas the Holy Spirit can be recognized by the green robes. Apart from the Old Testamentary version of the Holy Trinity there exists also the New Testamentary version, the so-called the Paternitas. That is the image that appeared under the influence of Western art and represents the Father God as an old man with Christ the Emanuel sitting on his knees and the Holy Spirit imagined as a dove (John 1:18). The icon of the New Testamentary version of the Holy Trinity located in 2nd chamber on the first floor is painted on canvas.

The Eucharistic Christ  – the image of Christ after the Passion and the Resurrection sitting on the sepulchral tomb (the icon in the 2nd chamber of the ground floor) or in a goblet with the crown of thorns on His head and the Arma Christi around (the instruments of the Passion). He squeezes a grapevine growing from His side into the goblet, since the blood of Christ for the redemption of the world becomes wine which gives eternal life. It is a mystical representation which simultaneously depicts two evangelical moments: the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. It was during the Last Supper that Christ said ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God’ (Mark 14:22-25). Thus the Eucharistic feast is the announcement and the admission to the eschatological feast. On the exhibition we can find such a representation of the Eucharistic Christ from the 17th century in the 2nd chamber on the ground floor.


A more complex narrative can be found in the icon painted on canvas which is situated in the 2nd chamber on the first floor. The picture is divided into three zones. In the middle one can see Christ depicted in the manner described above, below that one can see the Last Supper whilst at the top a pelican feeding its chicks with its own body, a clear reference to Christ’s sacrifice. A slightly different version of this theme is depicted in the icon of the Eucharistic Christ from Dołżyca from the 18th century in the 2nd chamber on the first floor. Christ is represented inside the goblet where his blood, oozing from his wounds, is drained. Under the goblet, identically as under the cross, stands the Virgin Mary, with heart pierced by a sword (Our Lady of Sorrows), beside John the Evangelist. These scenes, in symbolic way, connect the bloody sacrifice with a bloodless one.

The Union of the Churches led to the adoption of certain themes, earlier appearing only in Catholicism, via the art of the icon. One of these is an image of the Mother of God holding the tormented body of Christ on her knees with the cross in the background. The word ‘Pieta’ derives from the Italian and in the Middle Ages it was used to determine the virtue of mercy (pietas). The Virgin inducing by the virtue of mercy (’pietas’) sacrifices her own Son, participating in the process of the Redemption. There are icons from Dobra from the 2nd half of the 17th century, 3rd chamber on the ground floor and from Habkowce from the 2nd half of the 17th century, 2nd chamber on the first floor.

Our Lady of the Pokrov (Our Lady’s Mantle) – is a representation of the Mother of God as the most powerful advocate, an intermediary and protector of mankind. It was an extraordinarily popular image of the Virgin in the Subcarpathian region. The image illustrates a legend contained in the source of ‘The life of St. Andrew God’s Madman (’Jurodiwy’)’. According to legend the Mother of God appeared to him and his disciple Ephifanios during a service at the church in Blachernae in Constantinople. Since then the Virgin’s maphorium (wimple), which she spread out over the believers in sign of benefaction that night, has become the most important relic in the Blahernum Sanctuary.

The icon of The Elevation of the Cross (from Dobra village from the 2nd half of the 17th c., 3rd chamber on the ground floor) is situated in the tier of the festive icons in the iconostasis. The icon illustrates the miraculous finding of the Lord’s cross by the mother of the emperor Constantine the Great, the empress Helen, during her trip to the Holy Land in 326 AD.

The Passion is an icon consisting of the scenes of the Passion and the events immediately following the death of Christ. The icons of the Passion were unusually popular in Subcarpathia. They were not fixed in iconostases but used to be hung on the southern wall of the church, so that they were clearly visible for the mainly illiterate crowd of believers. The image of the Passion situated in Sanok castle (from Lipie village from the 1st half of the 17th c., 4th chamber on the ground floor) is composed with the central, bigger scene of the Crucifixion surrounded by 22 smaller scenes arranged chronologically. Starting from the upper left corner the scenes are as follows: 1. Christ Raises Lazarus from the Dead 2. Christ Rides into the Jerusalem on a Donkey 3. The Last Supper 4. Christ Washes His Disciples’ Feet 5. The Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane 6. The Arrest of Christ 7. Christ before Annas 8. Christ before Caiaphas 9. The Denial of Peter and Derision 10. Christ before Herod 11. The Crowning with Thorns and Christ before Pilate 12. The Flagellation of Christ 13. Ecce Homo (’This is a man’ – the image of Christ after the flagellation) 14. The Washing of Hands by Pilate 15. Leading to the Golgotha 16. Christ is Nailed to the Cross 17. The Main scene – The Crucifixion 18. The Descent from the Cross 19. The Entombment 20. The Resurrection 21. The Descent into Limbo 22. The Holy Women at the Tomb 23. Unfaithful Thomas.

The Last Judgement, 17th c. LipieThe Last Judgement (icon from the 17th century from Lipie village, 4th chamber on the ground floor) is one of the favourite Christian themes both in the East and the West. The literary sources are from different fragments of the Old and New Testaments as well as the Apocryphal writings. The Last Judgement is viewed as the Parousia, the second, ultimate, coming of Christ the Judge, which brings to an end the history of the world. The art of the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Church, in contrast to that of the West, used only one canonical type for the image, enriched only with details, right until the 19th century. The presentation is composed of a series of scenes in a vertical arrangement, which must be considered sequentially in order to understand the content of the entire picture. The image of the Last Judgement should be read from the top where the story begins. The upper scene depicts the day of the Judgement which is simultaneously the day of the end of the world. The angels roll up the sky because the material sky is no longer needed. Day and night become one. Below this scene we can see Christ the Judge in majesty sitting on a rainbow within a luminous mandorla among the angels, holding the Arma Christi symbolizing the redemption on the cross. By means of the presentation of Christ, who is depicted bare breasted, showing his wounds, rather than dressed in the coat of the Pantocrator, attention is brought to the idea of the Redemption, Resurrection and Ascension rather than the threat of judgement and condemnation. This way of presenting Judgement only came about with the union of the churches (The union of Brest between the Catholic and a part of the Orthodox hierarchy was concluded in 1596. The Greek Catholic Church, previously called the United, has been established under that agreement). Standing closest to the Judge are the greatest advocates of sinful mankind, the Mother of God on the right and John the Baptist on the left. They form, along with Christ, the group of Deesis. Below, on the long benches (stalls) sit the apostles who arrive on Judgement Day. In the center of the picture is situated the Hetoimasia, the empty throne prepared for the second coming of Christ. The Hetoimasia has a double meaning: on the one hand it points to Christ as Judge, on the other hand as Ruler. Simultaneously it is a symbol of the Holy Trinity (the throne is identified with God, the cross with Christ, and the Gospel with the Holy Spirit as it is a book that was written under His inspiration). On the throne, adored by the first parents, lies the Gospel, the cross, sometimes the instruments of the Passion, and a dove, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The first parents kneel with imploring gestures under the Hetoimasia. Behind Adam and Eve stand two groups of figures, the group of the saved on Christ’s right (the prophets, apostles, martyrs, etc.), whilst on the left Moses leads the condemned nations (the Jews, Germans, Turks, Tartars), pointing at the scorned Saviour and doctrinal mistakes committed by them. The next zone contains the ‘Womb of Abraham’ encircled by garden walls. This is an image of paradise in which sit the Virgin surrounded by angels, and the Good Criminal and the three Old Testamentary figures of the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At the entrance to the garden we can see St. Peter to whom Christ had given the keys to the paradise, leading crowds of the saved. On the opposite side the dead rise from their graves to the sound of archangels’ trumpets in order to be Judged. God’s hand holding the Psychostasia (the weighing of souls) appears from under the throne. In this zone, the eternal fate of each soul is decided. The archangel Michael standing beside as ‘a spokesman of God’s people’ fights against devils trying to tip the scale to their side. Hellfire, shown as a river of fire, reaches up to the scales, leads condemned souls to the jaws of a beast, representing hell, where Lucifer sits holding Judas or the Antichrist on his knees. The eternal tortures of condemned souls are depicted on both sides of the fiery river. Among the sins depicted are: laziness, represented by a priest who does not get up in the morning to celebrate mass; and dishonesty, shown by an alewife pouring water into wine, and men cheating in a game of cards. Inscriptions bearing explanations of the individual narrative plots also appear on the icon.

Temples, from the beginnings of Christianity, were divided into two parts: the sanctuary and the nave. The reasons were both liturgical and symbolic, drawing on the dualist view of Creation. According to this conception the nave symbolizes the earthly sphere and everything that is connected with it, whereas the sanctuary represents the heavenly, transcendental sphere. Such division resulted in the need of establishing a border that would simultaneously separate and join these two worlds. This border is a wall made of icons – the iconostasis (from the Greek ‘eikon’ – picture, image; and ’stasis’ placing, position, location). The iconostasis, having been already known in the early Christian basilicas, had been permanently accepted and become the most significant internal division of the church in every country which had applied the Byzantine liturgy. The iconostasis presented in the castle on the first floor in the first chamber does not come from a single church, but is a reconstruction consisting of selected icons from various iconostases. The tier structure of the iconostasis symbolizes the hierarchical structure of the world. The icons which are called ‘megalai eikones’, that is ‘the local icons’ (‘namiestne’), are placed in this lowest tier. They are usually greater in size than the rest. The double door called by the Greeks ‘horeia pyle’ (the beautiful, clean gate) or ‘hiera pyle’ (the Holy Gate), and by the Slavonic nations the sacred or holy gate or the royal, tsarist, imperial gate are located in the middle of this tier. They also mark out the axis of the entire iconostasis. The gate is holy because during procession of the Great Entrance (’megale eisodos’) a priest enters through it carrying the symbols of the Eucharist onto the altar. It is royal as that moment symbolizes the Entry of Christ as a king (a priest is His deputy on earth) into Jerusalem as well as the descent to earth and the voluntary sacrifice. Thus, it symbolizes the entrance into the kingdom of God, to salvation. The Christ-Gate leads into the interior of His being which is symbolized by the sanctuary. In the course of the liturgy the Evangel is carried in and taken out to believers through the gate. God’s Word (the Gospel) has been revealed through the Good News, hence the proper and the symbolic scenes of the Annunciation (Archangel Gabriel announcing the Good News to the Virgin Mary and the four Evangelists who announce the teaching of Christ to the people) are depicted twice on the Royal Gate. In later versions of the Royal Gate the Tree of Jesse is often present too. On both sides of the Royal Gate are situated smaller, deacon, gates leading to the sided parts of the sanctuary, to the prothesis where the proskomidia is celebrated, and to the diaconicon where the robes and liturgical utensils are located. The archangels who symbolize the service of a priest, or the first martyrs Stephen and Lawrence, usually adorn on deacon gates. On the right side of the Royal Gate (between the Royal Gate and the southern deacon gate) is located an icon of Christ Pantocrator, being a call to join the path of salvation that is Jesus Christ “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6) and “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7). On the left of the Royal Gate one finds the icon of the Guide (the Hodegetria Virgin) (between the Royal Gate and the northern deacon gate). An icon located on the right edge of the tier represents the patron saint of the given church and is called the ‘chramowa’. Whereas the one on the left edge represents the most popular saint enjoying special worship in the given church. The tier of the ‘namiestne’ icons might consist of a greater or lesser number of icons, depending on size of the church. Over the Holy Gate is placed the Mandilion which is an image of the dogma of the Incarnation of God. This icon began to be replaced by that of the Last Supper (’The Communion of the Apostles’) following the union of the churches, since the Eucharist established in the course of it, is the heart of the liturgy and a visible sign of Christ’s presence. This composition made the believers, in some way separated from the ceremony of the Eucharist (celebrated in the sanctuary behind the closed Royal Gate), familiar with the events happening on the other side of an iconostasis. The introduction of a composition of the Last Supper to the scheme of the iconostasis also had an ideological message as it justifies the need of the unity of the Churches. It was during the Last Supper when Christ expressed the hope that all believers would be unified. The second tier consists of the icons of the twelve festivals of the Church. The icons which represent those festivals are called ‘the icons of the feasts’ (Greek ‘dodekaorton’ and Ruthenian ‘prazdniki’) and are located in the order of the liturgical year(they are sometimes shown in chronological order, but this is rare). They can be taken out and placed on a lectern (‘proskynetarion’) in front of an iconostasis in order to
be adored by believers. The festival icons depict important events of the New Testament, which prove that Christ’s entire life was for the redemption of mankind. The scenes of the festival icons are as follows: The Nativity of Our Lady, The Presentation of the Theotokos, The Annunciation, The Nativity of Christ, The Baptism of Jesus (the ‘Theophany’), The Transfiguration, The Raising of Lazarus, The Entry into Jerusalem, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection (The Descent into Limbo), The Ascension, The Pentecost, or The Descent of the Holy Spirit (sometimes an icon of The Holy Trinity takes its place), and The Dormition of Our Lady. Icons of The Elevation of the Cross and Our Lady of the Pokrov (Our Lady’s Mantle), as well as icons of other festivals, can often be found in the festive tier.

The Deesis, 1530, BartneThe Deesis icon (from the Greek ‘imploring’), which is the main theme of the iconostasis, is placed in the third tier. This icon, being a key to deciphering the symbolism of the entire tier through depicting Christ as an intermediary between God and the world, is placed in the center of that tier. It depicts the Saviour sitting on a throne, after accomplishing his earthly mission and the second coming, as the Judge and the King of kings and simultaneously as the Saviour of the World, The Lord of the Heaven and the Earth. On His right side stands Mary, the Mother of God and first person of the New Testament, interceding before the Son for mankind. On His left side, stands John the Baptist as ‘Prodromos’, the last prophet of the Old Testament and the predecessor of Christ, prophesying the coming of the kingdom of God and calling for repentance before the first coming of Christ. Such symbolism of the Old and New Testaments find unity, fulfillment and incarnation within Christ. These two, the greatest intercessors for a sinful mankind stand before the Lord in order to implore for forgiveness for the world. Behind the Virgin and John the Baptist we can see, successively approaching the throne of Christ, the figures of archangels, apostles, saints and prophets, who are also coming to Judgement. The iconostasis is crowned by the Crucifixion because through it the story of the salvation is fulfilled. That story has been told through the icons arranged in a wall of the iconostasis.

Apart from icons Sanok exhibition presents liturgical utensils used by churches of the eastern rite. Amongst them the wooden, carved or painted, Eastern crosses deserve special mention. They include small, hand-held crosses, used for blessing (usually containing a scene of the Crucifixion on the obverse side and an image of the Mother of God with Child on the reverse), altar crosses and processional crosses (with a depiction of the Crucified Christ on the obverse and the Baptism of Christ on the reverse). The wooden candlesticks imitating metal candlesticks, richly ornamented Gospels, goblets, patens and liturgical spoons are exhibited in display cases. The richly embroidered funerary phelonion is particularly representative. The phelonion forms part of a priest’s liturgical garments. It has a form of a sleeveless, outer cover of shoulders, symbolizing the purple coat which was put on Jesus at the course of the judgement before Pilate. There are also ‘epimanikion’ cuffs (from the Greek ‘epi’ – on, and ‘maniki’ – sleeve) and an ‘epitrachelion’ (from the Greek ‘trachelion’ – neck), a belt with seven crosses
embroidered on it, symbolizing the seven sacraments and playing the same role as a stole in the Catholic Church. Among the display cases, in recreated sanctuary, is situated an imitation of a sacrificial table called a ‘prestol’ or ‘a throne’ (the sole altar in the church), covered with a linen tablecloth. On the altar is a wooden ‘syjon’ (Zion) which is the equivalent of a tabernacle symbolizing the Holy Sepulchre. Inside the syjon, which resembles an Orthodox and Greek Catholic church, is stored a special box (’kowczeg’) with the Holy Gifts. On the altar lies a small cloth, made of linen or silk, called an ‘antymins’ (from the Greek ‘antiminsion’ – instead of the altar). On its upper side are usually depicted scenes of The Deposition from the Cross or the Entombment of Christ, whereas on the other side are placed the relics. The antymins can replace the altar during liturgy and is one of the most important objects in the whole church. Thus, for instance, in case of a fire, a priest must save the antymins from destruction, even at the risk of his own life.

A substantial part of the Orthodox and Greek Catholic art collection is made up of a group of approximately 150 banners, painted on canvas by means of tempera or oil technique. They contain a huge set of freely interpreted themes and rich ornamentation, and play an essential role during liturgy and numerous processions. The 19th century ‘plaszczenice’ in the second chamber on the first floor, deserves special attention. This sizable painting on a canvas or a board with a presentation of dead Christ, plays the same function as a spatial imitation of the Holy Sepulchre installed in a Catholic church on Good Friday. The exhibition of the Orthodox and Greek Catholic art in the Historical Museum in Sanok ends with the presentation of the 19th century icons painted on canvas. They are very often painted with oil paints instead of egg tempera. These icons are differ greatly from the oldest and the most canonical depictions. They take new themes, in past centuries quite unknown, in icon art. They imitate iconographical patterns and compositions existing in the sacred art of the West (the icon of The Deposition from the Cross according to the painting of Rembrandt, 19th century, 2nd chamber on the first floor) and depict the saints typical for the Catholic Church (e.g. icons of the St. Florian and St. Julian, 18 – 19th c., 2nd chamber on the first floor). The icon, for the faithful of the Eastern churches, is something more than just a religious painting. It is a doorway for entering into transcendence. This specific contact between the icon and the believer is celebrated through the ceremony of ‘proskinia’. This ceremony is exercised immediately after entering into the church and consists in lighting a candle, making a sign of the cross and touching or kissing the icon. Although, of course, “in a museum an icon loses its religious role and only exists like a dried flower in a herbarium or a butterfly pinned to a card in a collector’s box; artificially taken from its environment an icon becomes mute.” Nevertheless this is how nowadays museum exhibitions allow people to know the nature of the icon, a distant echo of a great art which might have not survived if museums have not preserved them. For today’s man, in his secular world, the icon is mainly defined by its aesthetic value, it allows him to discover endless symbolic information which, this way and that, may guide him towards transcendence.


Joanna Szymbara
Translated by Piotr Zelny and Eric Jelinek

(1) Jazykowa, Światt ikony, Warsaw 1998, pages 41-42


Opening hours:

16 April to 15 November

Mon 8am - 12pm
other days of the week 9am - 5pm


16 November to 15 April

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