Back to the journal2022 year №4

Synthesis of Word and Image in the Religious Art

Read the articleRead the articleDownload the article
The authors of the publication:
Burkovska Liubov
Bibliographic description:
Burkovska, L. (2022) Synthesis of Word and Image in the Religious Art. Folk Art and Ethnology, 3 (395), 70–77.


Burkovska Liubov

a Ph.D. in Art Studies, a research fellow at the Department of Visual, Decorative and Applied Arts of the NAS of Ukraine M. Rylskyi Institute of Art Studies, Folkloristic and Ethnology


Synthesis of  Word and Image in the Religious Art



The problems of synthesis of religious art and literature in medieval culture are considered in the article. The nature of interactions of the artistic material and its text basis is investigated. Historical lore and the descriptions of the eyewitnesses of the Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, Apostles have been of a great significance at the early stages of icon painting images development. The period of iconography formation on the base of the evidences, memories and sacred texts has lasted till the 8th century. Gradually the icon is transformed into a peculiar sacred matrix, independent cult object, where the problem of historical similarity is replaced by reality, determined by the consent of Christian community. The necessity of comprehension with the help of faith and mind of what is reproduced by the sacred images – their spiritual, true idea – appears in the foreground.

Starting from the 17th century Ukrainian masters gain knowledge of iconographic canons, technique of icon painting, theological admonitions and precepts from Herminia – a special reference book-teaching aid for the painters. The image of a certain saint, especially the physiognomic features, is described in them by words. Several descriptions of the saints’ appearance in their lifetime are also known. These are in particular the images of Saint Nicholas, kept in ancient synaxaria. According to the dogma on veneration of icons (adopted by the Second Council of Nicaea in 787), the inscription of the saint name is an integral attribute of the icon painting. It determines sameness between the image and its prototype. Inscriptions, signatures and accompanying texts are introduced consistently into ancient easel works, wall paintings and miniatures. The images of saints are applied to the faithful, showing them the opened books, unfolded scrolls. In the Old Ruthenian art the classical thematic structure of the saints’ life cycles, basing on the Byzantine hagiography, has been supplemented with plots of the actions of Kyiv recording. Sometimes in Ukrainian monuments the inscriptions are placed near the image, on the icon’s background. These are the so-called supplementary texts. The plots of the living icons have been connected with the written sources. The synthesis of written sources and artistic material is the most evident in the book miniature. Observation of convergence of the visual material and literature shows, that the experience of various arts isn’t transferred mechanically on the surface foreign for them, but is changed, transformed, adopted by art, which has perceived it and at the same time crystallizes the peculiarity of each of them.



life icon, book miniature, art, literature, text basis.



  1. BURKOVSKA, Liubov. Icons of St. Nicholas in Ukrainian Painting of the Late 14th – 15th Centuries: Genesis, Peculiarities of Iconography and Semantics. Kyiv: Olena Teliha Publishing House, 2015, 352 pp.: ills., 48 col. ills. [in Ukrainian].
  2. DAGRON, Gilbert. Sacred Images and the Problem of Portrait Resemblance. In: LIDOV, Aleksei, compiler. Miraculous Icon of Byzantium and Ancient Rus. Moscow: Martis, 1996, pp. 19–21 [in Russian].
  3. ZHARKYKH, Mykola. The Assumption Cathedral of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra [online]. Available from: [in Ukrainian].
  4. KOMASHKO, Nataliya, Elena SAENKOVA. Russian Life Icon. Moscow: WAM Books, 2007, 352 pp. [in Russian].
  5. KREKHOVETSKYI, Yakiv. TheologyandSpiritualityoftheIcon. Lviv: Svichado, 2005, 184 pp. [in Ukrainian].
  6. Legend on the Building of the Assumption Cathedral of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra [online]. Available from: [in Ukrainian].
  7. LIKHACHOV, Dmitry. Comparative Study of Literature and Art of Kievan Rus. Proceedings of the Department of Ancient Russian Literature (Pushkin’s House) of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Moscow; Leningrad: Science, 1966, vol. 22: Interaction of Literature and Visual Arts in Ancient Rus, pp.  3–10 [in Russian].
  8. PESHCHANSKYI, Volodymyr, Ilarion SVIENTSYTSKYI. IconPaintingTechiqueanditsSources. Lviv: By the Edition of National Museum in Lviv, 1932. (National Museum in Lviv. Excerpt from the Proceedings of Analecta OSBM– 4, 1–2), 32 pp. [in Ukrainian].
  9. SYDOR, Oleh. Saint Basil of Caesarea in Ukrainian Art. Lviv: Missionary Publishers of the Order of Saint Basil the Great, 2008, 501pp.: ills. [in Ukrainian].
  10. FEDWICK, Paul Jonathan. SaintBasilofCaesarea and Christian Ascetic Life. Rome; Toronto: PP. Basiliani, 1978, 230 pp. [in Ukrainian].
  11. MANGO,Cyril. The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312–1453: Sources and Documents. Toronto; Buffalo; London, 1986, 287 pp. [in English].
  12. PATTERSON-SHEVCHENKO, Nancy. The Life of Saint Nicholas in Byzantine Art. Torino: Bottega D’Erasmo, 1983, 347 pp., ills. [in English].

The texts are available under the terms of the Creative Commons
international license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0