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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Luka Dolynsky’s talismans

Known and unknown classic Ukrainian iconographer
24 December, 2013 - 10:55
LUKA DOLYNSKY. A PORTRAIT OF AN ELDERLY PERSON / Photo replica courtesy of the author

“And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, ‘It is written, ‘My house is the house of prayer’: but ye have made it a den of thieves.”, Luke 19:45-46 reads. Swinging a bundle of ropes, Jesus Christ overturned the tables of money changers and the seats of dove-sellers on that day, as well as shamed buyers who wandered around the shrine among traders.

This story is the subject of a large painting by Luka Dolynsky, created probably for the interior of St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv in the 1770s and 1780s, but now exhibited in the National Museum in Lviv. His aim was to make people coming to the shrine and turning their thoughts to God always remember and care about cleanliness and sensitivity of their own souls.

Dolynsky was born in the town of Bila Tserkva, Kyiv region around 1745 (unfortunately, there is no more exact date of the artist’s birth, since Rastavetsky’s Dictionary of Artists and Leopolitan calendar (1863) give the above date only, and all newer researchers rely on these sources). Orphaned early, the boy went to Kyiv, where his great artistic talent drew attention of the Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Kyiv Felitsian Volodkevych who sent him to Lviv.

On the recommendation of the Lviv Metropolitanate, the talented lad started apprenticeship at the studio of Yurii Radylovsky, a famous Lviv painter. Along with other apprentices and painters of the studio, Dolynsky participated in decorating the interior of St. George’s Cathedral in 1770-71, creating a dozen religious compositions, including The Last Supper, two St. George icons and images of eight apostles. Around the same time, Dolynsky tried to branch out into the genre of secular historical portrait, painting portrait of Galician king Lev Danylovych, now kept in the Art Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine’s Stefanyk Research Library.

The prince is depicted in knight’s armor and furred robes, wearing a crown (!) and with mace in hand, against a background of a panorama of Lviv. The telling Latin inscription above reads “Leo Princeps Russiae Fundator Urbis Leopolis,” that is, “Lev the Prince of Rus’, founder of Lviv.” Modern scholars say that the portrait “became an important political symbol for the Ukrainian community of Galicia, a visible reminder of its own state-building tradition.”

The first partition of Poland in 1772 saw Galicia annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The artist’s personal life underwent major change on February 1, 1775, when he, already a famous painter, married Kateryna Savytska, a daughter of Lviv freeman tailor. Dreaming of deepening his knowledge and having received a permission from the metropolitanate, Dolynsky went to the imperial capital that year to enter the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, which was at that time a leading center of Western European painting. Late 18th century Austrian art was influenced by the traditions of the Italian Baroque, particularly of the 17th and early 18th century Venetian school of painting led by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. It was the Vienna Academy that polished the artist’s talent as he thoroughly studied the al fresco technique and copied works of famous masters of the past in the imperial gallery.

Dolynsky created formal portraits of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Joseph II in Vienna and sent them to Lviv to Bishop Lev Sheptytsky to decorate his palace, which Lviv painter Symeon Hradolevsky was painting at the time using the al fresco technique.


Dolynsky returned to Lviv with a diploma and an honorary ring bestowed by Maria Theresa in early August 1777. By order of the Lviv Metropolitanate, he immediately set out to complete interior decorations in St. George’s Cathedral. Of the works of this period, oil paintings depicting the prophets are extant.

Dolynsky drew up an agreement with the rector of St. George’s Cathedral, Bishop of Lviv Petro Biliansky on June 9, 1781 to paint four pieces for the side altars of the church: Intercession of the Virgin Mary, St. Nicholas, Saints Peter and Paul, and St. George the Dragon Slayer, bringing him general recognition and a ring from Emperor Joseph II during his visit to Lviv in 1787. The last of them is a magnificent composition, “combining traditions of the Kyiv school of Baroque painting with perfectly learned rules and techniques of European art” (it is now kept in the National Museum in Lviv).

Dolynsky decorated interior and iconostasis of the Holy Ghost Church in the Greek Catholic Seminary in 1784-87 (only its bell tower is still extant, while the church itself was destroyed by a German bomb in 1939). Of its iconostasis, only two feast compositions Christmas and Candlemas have survived together with icons of two prophets. Set in beautifully carved frames, their typological and stylistic features mark them clearly as part of the Austrian Baroque, and thus of Western culture. Judging by the artistic value of the surviving fragments, now kept in the National Museum, the Holy Ghost Church iconostasis was among best creative achievements of the Ukrainian artist.

Between late 1770s and early 1790s, the artist painted a lot of portraits, creating images of metropolitan Lev Sheptytsky, bishop Petro Biliansky, Felitsian Volodkevych, Modest Hrynevetsky and Mykhailo Harasevych, and restoring the Korniakts’ portraits, kept at the gallery of the Assumption Church at the time (they are in Lviv History Museum’s collection now).

His brilliant, original talent and great diligence made Dolynsky known far beyond Lviv. Pochaiv Monastery commissioned the master in 1807 to decorate interior and iconostasis of the Assumption Cathedral, which took him over three years to complete. Dolynsky’s interior of the cathedral survived until 1861, when Russian tsar Alexander II ordered the “Uniate” iconostasis to be replaced by a new one, reflecting new developments in the Orthodox church painting. The only source of knowledge about the initial appearance of the interior is Taras Shevchenko’s watercolor Cathedral of the Pochaiv Lavra, created by the poet in 1846. However, a few scattered paintings by Dolynsky are still extant in the cathedral: The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, Christ in the House of Martha, and Healing a Paralytic. These works clearly indicate the transition from Baroque trends to new figurative and compositional style, featuring the balance of forms, static shapes, plastic modeling, clearly-lined silhouettes, and blue-gray-silver coloristic range, all characteristics of the early 19th century European Classicism.

Dolynsky’s final major works include wall paintings and iconostasis of the St. Onuphrius’s Church in Lviv, created in 1820-21. These works have not survived, but Lobenski described them in supplement to Gazeta Lwowska (No. 28, 1854) as displaying skills “worthy of Duerer himself.” His works decorated also the monastery in Pidkamin and rural churches in Zhovtantsi, Mshana, and Voroblevychi. It is known that Dolynsky’s studio educated a constellation of talented artists who often helped the master to create his paintings. Some of his pupils became well-known masters on their own, such as Piatkowicz and Susky.

Dolynsky died in his 80th year on March 10, 1824 and was buried at the Horodok Cemetery in Lviv, which, unfortunately, no longer exists.

Dolynsky religious paintings, despite their almost totally European stylistic orientation, “can be regarded as the final word of the classical Ukrainian iconography,” artistic and spiritual component of European culture and an integral part of Ukrainian Lviv.

By Yaroslav KRAVCHENKO, Cand. of Sc. in Art Studies
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