Examples of the Interpretation of the Structure of Painted Winged Altars in Belarusian Orthodox and Ruthenian Uniate Churches of the 18th and 19th Centuries: Prothesis and Portable Community Icons (Summary)

Юрий Пискун (PDF)

An unusual monument of Belarusian sacral art is an oblation table called prothesis from the Pokrov Orthodox Church in Chatlany village near Slutsk. It is dated from the late 18th to the early 19th century. On the Orthodox altar, the prothesis symbolises the cave of Bethlehem and Golgotha and is used to celebrate Proskomedia, the preparation of bread and wine for the Eucharist. The prothesis from Chatlany has an unusual construction with a two-condignation cupboard. The artistic programme of prothesis decoration is based on its liturgical purpose and is dedicated to the sacrifice of Christ, linked to Old Testament prototypes. The painting of the prothesis in Chatlany, which is invisible to the secular eye, expressively reveals the artistic aspirations of the Belarusian Orthodox clergy of that time. According to Andrei Snitko, a church researcher, in the early 20th century, many churches in Slutsk still had a prothesis similar to those described above. The depositories of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus have two painted doors of the prothesis: ‘The watchful eye’ and ‘Carrying the cross’. It indicates a prevalence of painted winged mensas, resembling Catholic ciborias and painted winged altars, in Belarusian Orthodox and Ruthenian Uniate churches. They are similar in construction to the cupboards mentioned in the descriptions of the fraternity guilds. Unfortunately, they did not preserve. The three-piece, portable, winged icons that were widespread in the villages of eastern Belarus in the 18th and 19th centuries probably originated from the cupboards and icons of the fraternity guilds. Sometimes, such icons can still be seen in the homes of villagers. One three-piece icon from the mid-18th century is kept in the depositories of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus, and two icons from the 18th and mid-19th centuries are kept in the Museum of Regional History of the Mogilev Region. The examples discussed above show that in the 18th century, the type of medieval winged altar became relevant and in demand on the periphery of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania among the Orthodox clergy in Slutsk and in the Uniate and Orthodox communities in the villages of trans-Dnieper in Belarus.

Keywords: painting, prothesis, Sluck, Pokrov Orthodox Church, fraternities