It seems as if famous painter and graphic artist Mykola Storozhenko has spent five years creating the unique canvas Presentiment of Golgotha for the sake of resurrection of our souls, and all this time he has been cherishing the hope for the awakening of the spiritual light, which he poured on the panoramic artistic space.
The presentation of this painting took place on October 28, 2013 in the exhibition hall of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of its creator, academic secretary, current member of the NAAU, laureate of the Shevchenko National Prize, the People’s Artist of Ukraine.
With his Presentiment of Golgotha Storozhenko invited us to participate in a spiritual dialog by offering a complex system of gospel symbols and allegories as a kind of a cathartic ritual for human souls through experiencing the sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God, in the name of saving the sinful world. This is the reason why the Lamb, the Lamb of God, is one of the main images of the painting, since it traditionally symbolizes Jesus Christ. The Lamb is bleeding. The Son of God shed His blood in hope to make lanterns of faith out of human souls, so that according to the Holy Scripture, we turn from the sons of night and darkness into “sons of light and sons of day.”
Storozhenko’s artistic interpretation of works, images, motifs in Shevchenko’s Kobzar comes to mind, in particular, the interpretation of Testament, in which the artist was struck by the prophetic verses: “...I tended lambs...” / “...the lamb, it seems, was merry.”
The artist says: “The lamb that was merry was the firstborn lamb. That firstborn lamb is the presentiment of blessing of the Holy Spirit and the Father.”(1)
And this presentiment is inspired by God’s blessing, by God’s will to create the light: “Let there be light!” and therefore, the birth of faith and its settling in the human soul.
As St. Augustine emphasized in his Confessions, “we are light only in faith, but not in vision,” thus reminding about the covenants of the gospel prophets: “Do not adjust to this world, but change, renew your soul.”(2)
The light of faith dispelled the gloom of disbelief, it scattered the ancient darkness and opened the space for living and learning. Darkness is nothing but the absence of light. The creation of the earthly world started with God’s thought: “Let there be light!” And this creation happened through the Word. “And with this Word, which is coeternal with You,” confesses St. Augustine before God, “You say at the same time and eternally what You say, and everything You order to exist, starts to exist. And You create with the Word alone.”(3)
That is why Storozhenko renders biblical truths on the canvas in the form of the Word: “I am the path,” “I am the truth,” “I am the bread of life,” “This cup is the new testament.”
The artist wraps his symbolic images in a life-giving light of pinks, pastels, and delicate purples, and these gospel images raise above the world to the heavenly height, soar in the space of pouring light, and thus witness the rise of their symbolic meaning to spiritual heights thanks to the Holy Spirit.
The central scene of Presentiment of Golgotha is the portrayal of the Gospel story of washing the feet. But it is not Jesus Christ washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. In Storozhenko’s work, this symbolic act is performed by a woman. Perhaps, it is Mary Magdalene, who washes the feet of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary. The Mother of God is a perfect symbol of love and mercy, the sacrificial dedication to serving the ideas of her son, the Savior of the human race. In general, the image of the Mother of God, the Woman, the Mother, the Foremother, the Keeper of the Kin and the People is probably the most precious for Storozhenko. “Everyone has their own icon, to avoid worshiping an idol. I confess to the icon of the Mother of God, which occupies the place of honor in my house in the form of the miraculous image of the Three-Handed Theotokos,”(4) wrote the artist, referring to the figurative interpretation of Shevchenko’s heroines Maria, Kateryna, Hannah the servant, blind Mother, and mermaid. Each of these women, created in Shevchenko’s imagination, is given a symbolic meaning, because she drinks her cup of suffering and redemption.
So, the repentant sinner Mary Magdalene, who was present at the Last Supper, and then led the disciples to the Holy Sepulcher, performs an act of washing feet in Storozhenko’s painting. An image of the Grail in the top part is a special symbolic sign. According to the numerous legends, Joseph of Arimathea used the Grail to collect the blood of crucified Jesus Christ. The other version of the apocrypha is that it was the Grail that Jesus and his disciples used during the Last Supper for communion with bread and wine. There is also another legend: “the argonaut of spirit,” the angel hands the Holy Grail to Mary Magdalene. Perhaps, with this symbolic cup the artist reminds us of the words of Jesus Christ, which he said to his disciple Peter during His arrest by warriors and officers of the chief priests and the Pharisees: “...shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?” (John 18:11).
Gospel narratives, the philosophical knowledge and figurative symbolic generalization of which attract Storozhenko, have a multiple-aspect legendary and folklore foundation, as well as a complex associative and symbolic implication. With his Presentiment of Golgotha the author wants to bring up the existential epistemic problems of life that are important for modern man. In the first place, those are spiritual and moral problems, the relevance of which is intensified under the influence of global cataclysms, catastrophic decay of spirituality, and moral degradation of the society.
Presentiment of Golgotha is a figurative and symbolic sign of forewarning, an invitation to carry out a kind of a prayer pilgrimage to oneself, to one’s own soul and conscience in order to reach redemption, fill oneself with goodness, mercy, and compassion to one’s neighbor. That is why this panoramic artistic canvas must be open for viewers, available for contemplation and reflection. There is every reason to consider its permanent exhibition at the National Art Museum of Ukraine, at the Ukrainian House, at the Mystetsky Arsenal, or even at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
When one starts thinking about the images, symbols, and allegories of Storozhenko’s polyptych, glowing in the reflections of the eternal Light, Shevchenko’s Prophet comes to mind, whom God, “out of love for those people,” sent to the sinful Earth:
To annunciate his love!
To proclaim the holy truth!
1 Mykola Storozhenko. Mii Shevchenko (“My Shevchenko”). Kyiv: Hramota. 2008.
2 Saint Augustine. Confessions. Translated from Latin by Yurii Mushak. Kyiv: Osnovy. 1996.
4 Mykola Storozhenko. My Shevchenko.