Vasyl Diadyniuk: Historical Portraits
The Ukrainian painter Vasyl Diadyniuk does not possess much of a household name except in the more specialized of art historical circles. However, his paintings of luminaries from the annals of Ukrainian history — from the Princely era of Kyivan Rus’, the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, to the Cossacks and the Hetman state, for example — ubiquitously appear in widely distributed illustrations, poster designs, book publishing, and even postcards.
The icon-inspired pictures exhibited here — from the J. Makohin Family collection permanently housed in The Ukrainian Institute of America — memorialize leaders and heads of state who during their day took decisions that affected an entire burgeoning nation. Dictating the course of Ukrainian history, they had much to contend with. Wars, economic crises and humanitarian plights landed at the feet of these icons, and each answered the call in different and necessary ways. They were often far from straight forward, and almost never universally revered. Centuries of progress and adversity shaped not only the society of the day, but generations to come. Behind this progress stood these incredible individuals who chose to defy convention, and in doing so changed a nation forever.
Vasyl Diadyniuk brought to life the spirit of the ages with these images of great leaders burned into the Ukrainian nation’s collective consciousness. Born in 1900, Diadyniuk studied at the Oleksa Novakivsky Art School in Lviv (today, the seat of western Ukraine). A post-academic exhibition came to the attention of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky who commissioned the young painter to copy portraits of the church hierarchs of the 17th and 18th centuries at the Basilian monastery in Vilnius, and later in Rome and Florence.*
From 1932–33, Diadyniuk executed the series displayed on these walls, again at the behest of his sponsor, Metropolitan Sheptytsky, with the plan of them making a tour around the capitals of Europe. When the project for travel failed to materialize, the artist returned to Lviv, where he immersed himself in studio work, decorated church murals in a modernized Byzantine style and gave instruction in ecclesiastical painting in the years leading up to the Second World War. Vasyl Diadyniuk died in Vienna in 1945.
*Kubijovyc, Volodymyr, editor. “Vasyl Diadyniuk.” The Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984. vol. 1 (A-F).