Ongoing Exhibitions

Discoveries. The Icons on the Façade of St Barbara‘s Chapel in Markučiai

A spectacular corner of the Pavilnys Regional Park – Markučiai – is home to the Melnikov-Pushkin manor. The manor houses the Alexander Pushkin Literary Museum from 1940, though it was not until 1948 that it became open to visitors. The history of the Markučiai manor goes back to 1867, when the engineer, general, railway construction specialist Alexey Melnikov (1808–1879) bought a plot of land from the physician Ignatyi Godlevsky and began the construction of a new house and auxiliary buildings. In 1875, the Markučiai manor was given as a dowry to Melnikov’s daughter Varvara (1855–1935). In 1883, Varvara Melnikova and Grigoryi Pushkin (1835–1905) got married in Vilnius, and from that time were frequent guests at the Markučiai manor, until they finally settled there in 1899.

From 1903 to 1906, by the efforts of Varvara and Grigory Pushkin, St Barbara’s Chapel was built in the manor’s vicinity. The construction lasted for three years. The chapel was decorated with nine icons painted on zinc plates hung on its exterior, representing the patron saints of the Melnikov-Pushkin family. The surviving photographs of the chapel show that the icons remained in the façade niches up until the 1950s. Their further fate was unknown until 2017, when seven out of nine images were found on the premises of the Alexander Pushkin Literary Museum. The icons from the chapel’s exterior had to be restored: they were damaged not only by time and climatic conditions, but also by bullets. It is guessed that in the Soviet period the icons were subject to shooting as a way to ridicule them.

Research revealed that initially the icons were made specially for the façade of the Pushkins’ chapel in Markučiai: their shape and size precisely fits into the niches of the chapel’s façade, in which they were hung. The chapel was consecrated in 1906, thus the creation of the icons could be approximately dated by 1904–1905. The plates used as a basis for the images are longer lasting than wood and might have been chosen because the icons were meant for the exterior. Painting of icons on zinc plates is a special technique, which has very few surviving examples in Lithuania. It is assumed that St Nicholas and St Natalia, the patron saints of Varvara Pushkina’s brother Nikolay Melnikov (1853–1929) and sister Natalia Melnikova-Volockaya (1856–?), were represented in the two icons that did not survive.

The author of the icons on the façade of St Barbara’s Chapel is unknown, but we can assume that it was the famous Vilnius icon painter of the late 19th – early 20th century Georgyi Molokin (?–1905), who painted the images of St Nicholas in Lukiškės, St Michael the Archangel in Šnipiškės, the Church of Our Lady of the Sign in Žvėrynas, and the Chapel of St Sergius of Radonezh in the Cathedral of St Nicholas. Molokin had some experience of painting icons on zinc plates. It is known that the painter worked closely together with the architect of the Markučiai chapel Mikhail Prozorov (1860–1914). The architect designed a large number of buildings in Vilnius, the most famous of which are the building of the Academy of Sciences (at that time, the Russian State Bank), the Karaite Kenesa in Žvėrynas, the building of the Merchants’ Club on today’s Gedimino Avenue, and the Church of Our Lady of the Sign in Žverynas. Significantly, the Church of Our Lady of the Sign in Žvėrynas connects Molokin and Prozorov: the architect designed the building, and the artist painted images of saints in the interior.

Curators: Diana Ickovič, Nadežda Petrauskienė
Coordinators: Sigita Maslauskaitė-Mažylienė, Rita Pauliukevičiūtė, Rūta Vizbaraitė-Zaborovskienė, Julija Žurina
Architect Ieva Cicėnaitė
Designer Laura Grigaliūnaitė
Restoration of icons: UAB „Opus Optimum“
Organiser: Church Heritage Museum
Partner: Alexander Pushkin Literary Museum
Sponsor: Archdiocese of Vilnius





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