Masterpieces of Islamic miniature art, calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting
10 May – 3 September, 2023
On 10 May, the Museum of Applied Art and Design held the opening of two exhibitions from the collections of Ukraine’s The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts. Qalam and Brush introduces Islamic miniatures and calligraphy works, while Message from the ‘Ideal World’ brings to Lithuanian viewers masterpieces of traditional Chinese painting. These exhibitions were organised as a continuation of the close cooperation between the Lithuanian National Museum of Art and Ukrainian museums, seeking to highlight the value of cultural heritage that belongs to all of humanity, urging the world to actively protect Ukrainian museums from destruction and looting.
Fine and delicate oriental brushes
17th century traveller Jean Chardin wrote about the Persian miniature art: “Their brushes are fine and delicate, their paintings are full of life and shimmering…” The exhibition Qalam and Brush presents a small-scale yet extremely valuable collection of Islamic miniatures and calligraphy, representing the 13th-19th century art from the Arab world, Persia, Turkey and India. The exhibition in Vilnius presents all the artefacts from the Islamic art collection of The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts, for the first time in over a hundred years of the museum’s history.
Visitors to Qalam and Brush exhibition will be able to not only admire the delicate art of the oriental pen and brush, but also enrich their knowledge of Islamic culture and history. “There are no substantial collections of Islamic art in Lithuania, so it is rather difficult for us to critically evaluate and understand these works. Keeping that in mind and driven by the wish to present these works to the Lithuanian viewer, the curator of the exhibition Hanna Rudyk dedicated a lot of attention to explaining cultural context, religious tradition, and visual codes,” – says Skaistis Mikulionis, the chief exhibition curator. “Such an important exhibition of Islamic art in both Lithuania and Ukraine is an event, the first of its kind in probably thirty years. The artistic and monetary value of the pieces on display was confirmed by a sale fixed at Sotheby’s a week ago when a similar Persian illustration of the Shahnameh sold for almost five million pounds.”
The exhibition is divided into three parts, the first of which is dedicated to calligraphy and book illumination, the second to book miniatures, and the third to albumen painting. Such a division symbolically mirrors the development of art arising from the practice of studying the Koran, the holy book of Islam. Calligraphy and ornamentation flourished the earliest: the Koran and other religious texts were decorated exclusively with ornaments intended to convey the order and harmony of the universe created by Allah. The 11th century saw the art of illustration flourishing in Islamic book culture. Arab miniature became the first bright flash of the original tradition. The art of book painting reached its apogee in Iran. Five centuries later, painting became an art in itself. As the interest in Islamic art grew, in the 19th century various works flooded the European market. Unfortunately, the demand for ‘pictures’ encouraged art dealers to mercilessly cut out illustrations from manuscripts as selling a miniature was much more profitable than selling a whole book. The exhibition Qalam and Brush invites viewers to not only get acquainted with the art of Islamic calligraphy and miniatures, but also to ponder the phenomenon of colonialism.
Perfecting the world
The exhibition of traditional Chinese painting, Message from the ‘Ideal World’, presents depictions of landscape, animals, humans and deities. In traditional Chinese culture, landscape paintings were valued above all genres. Artists created imaginary realms where all natural and man-made elements interweaved harmoniously. Certain details like buildings and trees were supposed to be highly elaborate while water and sky were depicted as blank spaces, so viewers could imagine their colour and state: stretches of water as calm and translucent or as rough, bulging waves; the sky bright or overcast. The Chinese landscape is supposed to be contemplated fragment by fragment as if slowly moving across the silk or paper surface.
Chinese painters did not seek to present a direct copy of reality, but rather a picture of an ideal world. “Pretentious, ironic, mystical or dictated by the pragmatism of international business – the messages of Chinese painting are so varied! But whatever the expression, the artists – and the viewers – were always sure that all the opposites and contradictions of the world were balanced in the paintings. In ancient China, art was a way to perfect both your personality and the universe as a whole. The artist acted as a medium, showing the eternal harmony between people, nature and spirits,” says curator Marta Logvyn about the exhibition Message from the ‘Ideal World’.
Explanations of the cultural context prepared by the curator and the educational programme running alongside both exhibitions will help the visitors to read the message from the ideal, constantly perfected world.
The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts
The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts is home to the most significant national collection of world art in Ukraine. The museum was founded by Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko, prominent Ukrainian collectors, cultural figures and philanthropists of late 19th – early 20th century. In 1918, Varvara Khanenko donated the rich and multifaceted Khanenko art collection and an opulent villa in the center of Kyiv for the purpose of founding a public museum of world art in Ukraine. The heritage of the Chanenko family remains a valuable core of the museum’s collection to this day.
The museum collection contains all genres and styles of Chinese painting. One of the museum’s founders, Bohdan Khanenko, bought his first Chinese paintings in May 1914 at the Georges Petit Gallery auction in Paris. In the 1950s, artist Thais Jaspar gifted or sold more than 300 scrolls and albums of Chinese paintings to the museum. Separate fascinating works by 20th-century Chinese artists were acquired in the 1960s.
More opportunities to explore the collections of Ukrainian museums in Vilnius
The historical and artistic treasures of Ukrainian museums are presented to the Lithuanian public in several departments of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art. In the Radvila Palace Museum of Art, viewers can see the painting exhibition Magnificent Refugees of War and the old graphics exhibition From Dürer to Rembrandt, while Vilnius Picture Gallery is currently hosting Old Masters at the Ukrainian Museums. This series of impromptu exhibitions, realised in the unfortunate context of the current of war, offers an important cultural, moral and material support for Ukraine.
The exhibitions Qalam and Brush and Message from the ‘Ideal World’ at the LNMA Museum of Applied Arts and Design (Arsenalo St. 3A, Vilnius) will run from 10 May until 3 September 2023, with a programme of educational events running alongside them.
Organisers: LNMA Museum of Applied Arts and Design and The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts
The exhibitions were organised by the Lithuanian National Museum of Art and The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts, The Borys Voznyckyi Lviv National Art Gallery and The Odesa Museum of Western and Eastern Art under the patronage of the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania Simonas Kairys and the Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko
Project managers: Dr Arūnas Gelūnas, Julija Vaganova
Curators: Marta Logvyn, Skaistis Mikulionis, Dr Hanna Rudyk
Exhibition architect: Jurgis Dagelis
Exhibition designer: Sigitas Gužauskas
Partners: Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Ukraine, Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Poland, Embassy of Ukraine in Lithuania, Customs of the Republic of Lithuania, The Lithuanian Armed Forces, The Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union, The Lithuanian Police Force, Department of Culture of Kyiv City State Administration, National Police of Ukraine, Jonas Karolis Chodkevičius Charity and Support Foundation
General Sponsor: BTA Vienna Insurance Company
Sponsors: Charitable Foundation Crown of Dukes of Ostrogiški, Heat transfers company, AD REM Group, Chef the Viking
The Lithuanian National Museum of Art also extends its thanks to Valdas Dovydėnas, Marija Kozak, Narimantas Savickas, Stanislav Vidtmann, Vadimas Šamkovas and the graphic restorers of the LNDM Pranas Gudynas Conservation Centre for their help in preparing the exhibition.
3A Arsenalo st, Vilnius, Lithuania
+370 5 212 1813;
+370 5 261 25 48; +370 5 262 80 80.