History of Belarusian Art: Interesting Facts

The formation and development of culture relying on Christian traditions started in the 10th century when local rulers and population were baptized into Eastern Orthodox Christianity. This period saw the emergence of the written language, the construction of churches and monasteries, which became the cradles of education and culture. These religious centers had their own workshops for copying books and icon painting, schools of literacy. Besides, the foundations of town planning were laid, monumental architecture was developed.

These architectural hallmarks have survived to this day and are available to the public after restoration works.

The first states, including the Principalities of Polotsk and Turov, and other principalities, emerged in the 10th-12th centuries.

The Belarusian national ethos and culture began to take shape in that period. Since the very beginning, Belarusian art and architecture have had their own unique and original features reflecting the life of people.

Many outstanding works of art were created back then.

The Cross of Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk

The most famous national antiquity is the Cross of Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk, a princess and enlightener. It was made by master Lazar Bogsha in 1161. The cross went missing during World War II and was recreated by Belarusian artist and jeweler Nikolai Kuzmich at the end of the 20th century. The cross is now on display at the Savior Transfiguration Church in Polotsk.

The epic poem The Tale of Igor's Campaign dates back to the 12th century.

The trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks connecting Scandinavia and Byzantium crossed the territory of Belarus from the northwest to the southeast. It prompted the enhancement of contacts and the intertwinement of cultures.

The ancient Principality of Polotsk was located in the middle of this route and enjoyed certain preferences. The town of Polotsk became an economic and cultural center.

In the late 12th-early 13th centuries, national centralization processes gained momentum in the territory of Belarus. Novogrudok came to the forefront instead of Polotsk as a uniting force for many local principalities. As a result, a new state – the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – emerged on the political map and existed till the end of the 18th century. Old Belarusian was the official language in the country. Belarusians created true hallmarks of the political and legal culture of the Renaissance era – the Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – on the basis of the Old Belarusian legal tradition. 

In the era of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, such specimens of defensive architecture as Krevo Castle, Lida Castle, Novogrudok Castle and other citadels were erected in the territory of Belarus.


Scorina's Book

The Belarusian school of icon painting with its authentic style was development during this period. Fine art (painting, wooden sculpture, arts and crafts), music, literature, court and folk theater was developed. Arts and crafts and folklore were increasingly popular among ordinary people. The Belarusian type of the Renaissance culture was formed. Book printing by Francysk Skaryna was an outstanding achievement of the time. 

In 1569, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland merged into the federative state called the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was the beginning of a new era in history and culture. A royal palace was built in Grodno. Workshops making tapestry, lace, and glassware were opened in the territory of Belarus.  Renowned Slutsk belts are part and parcel of the Belarusian national legacy. 

The Polotsk Manuscript, a unique specimen of the Polish-Belarusian music culture, dates to the 17th century. This is a handwritten collection of music pieces by anonymous authors of the Renaissance and the early Baroque style.

Theaters blossomed in the territory of Belarus in the 18th century. Opera and ballet theaters, symphony orchestras were set up at the court of big landlords. Performing there were peasants who received special education. The music and theater life in Belarus was as vibrant as in progressive European countries.

At the end of the 18th century, the territory of Belarus was incorporated in the Russian Empire, and the influence of Russian culture became noticeable after that.

The development of literature and journalism was a distinctive feature of the Belarusian cultural life in the late 18th-early 20th centuries. The Belarusian language was popularized by renowned authors Yanka Kupala, Yakub Kolas, Maksim Bogdanovich.

Musical compositions of Belarusian natives Michal Oginski and Stanislaw Moniuszko, paintings of Ivan Khrutsky, Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya, Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Marc Chagall, and other artists received universal acclaim.

After the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, the topic of Belarus’ defense and liberation took center stage in virtually all kinds of professional art.

In all historical periods Belarusians cherished their cultural traditions, multiplied them and created magnificent pieces of folk and professional art.