Connected Central European Worlds, 1500-1700

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Taras Shevchenko, Inside Pochayiv Cathedral (1846) ©

Watch Lecture by Mariana Levytska

"The Holy Rus’: Concept and Religious Art with Political Connotations"


The notion of Holy Rus’, constructed throughout Russian imperial history is important for understanding this “sacred space,” and the elucidation of the links between religion, politics and art, reveals one of the mechanisms for spreading this doctrine, raised to a sacred level. Pochayiv monastery which has existed for centuries as one of the most important Ukrainian sacred places (Christian—Orthodox, Uniate, and even Catholic) is a vivid example of how theology can be transformed into ideology. This lecture is focused on the consequences of the political transformations of Ukrainian religious art in the nineteenth century, after the forced transfer of the shrine of the Ukrainian Uniate to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The aim of this paper is the analysis of how religious art in Pochayiv became a visual tool in the implementation of the Holy Rus’ concept through analysis of Pochayiv monastery’s architecture, icons and decorative artefacts as well as historical documents and the monastery’s chronicles. It can be argued that new imperial authorities legitimized their reign not only “through the law of force”, but also “through the power of tradition” (Edward W. Said), addressing both history and faith.



Dr Mariana Levytska is Senior Research Associate in the Department of Art Studies in The Ethnology Institute at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Lviv. Dr Levytska specializes in Central-East European Art (especially Ukrainian and Polish art) of the 19th century, on which topics she has published widely. She is particularly interested in post-colonial history of art and processes of national identity formation among the non-state Slavic peoples. Her current research concerns Ukrainian religious art of the 18th century, in particular Marian shrines and pilgrimage sites in Ukrainian territories, Marian iconography and visualization of devotional practices in art.


Dmytro Chizhevsky (1959)
Edward Kinnan (2003)
Valter Lang (2003)
Eric J. Hobsbaum & Terence Ranger (2005)
Ewa Thompson (2006 )
Alain Besançon (2012)
Martin C. Putna (2015)



Part of a lecture and discussion series ‘From Kyivan Rus’ to Modern Ukraine: Virtual Conversations on History, Art, and Cultural Heritage’ co-organized in collaboration with Dumbarton Oaks and North of Byzantium.