Arts Gallery


By M.M. Skoryk
Re-edited by R.M. Bihanskyi in 1972
Narodna Tvorchist ta Etnografiya 1988, No. 4 (Kyiv)
Translation by Orysia Paszczak Tracz
The Ukrainian Weekly, April 27, 1997

This work appeared in Narodna Tvorchist ta Etnohrafiya 1988, No.4 (Kyiv), with the note: "This study was written by the author in 1946 in the Lviv Department of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR Institute for the Study of Art, Folklore and Ethnography. In 1972 R. M. Bihanskyi re-edited the study, condensed it, added recent publication references, and did the illustrations, for which the author expressed his thanks."

Pysanky by Betty Christenson

The English-language version published here was translated by Orysia Paszczak Tracz with the permission of the editor of Narodna Tvorchist ta Etnohrafiya, O. Kostiuk. [Translator's notes: There are some ornament and plant names that are just not translatable. Where possible, I have tried to at least give an impression of what the word means - or its root. The botanical names have been added by the translator to help readers in identifying the plants.]

Article by M. M. Skoryk: The art of the pysanka has interested ethnographers, folklorists and art scholars for a long time, both as an ancient custom and as an expression of the talents of folk artists-miniaturists. The origins of the various types of pysanka ornaments and their development have so far been little studied. Basic research would help in highlighting many questions of the origin of folk ornaments in general. Many national and foreign researchers have been interested in pysanka ornament.

A general classification of ornament has been accepted in European scholarship based upon mythological and symbolic motifs, in some way common to all peoples, and upon original motifs. In 1889 D. Hlynskyi attempted a division of pysanka ornament into geometric, symmetrical, right-angle, plant motifs, and those that began as a result of copying manufactured weaving designs. The article by V. Horlenko, "Lubny Museum of I. M. Skarzhynska" (Lubenskyi muzei I. M. Skarzhynskoy) also is relevant to the study of this question.

Pysanky from Slobozhany region

"Pysanky" by M. F. Sumtsov is one of the most important works by a Ukrainian scholar on pysanka ornament. He divides it into geometric, solar, plant, animal, article-utilitarian and religious, noting that solar and geometric ornaments almost "come together," i.e., are almost the same. In his article "Pysanky" Ivan Franko indicated that M. Sumtsov devoted little attention to the study of plant and animal motifs, and it would be worthwhile to systematize their symbolism. But, noted Franko, "Sumtsov was hindered by his too quickly accepted theory of an Eastern Christian source of pysanky among the Slavs."

"Pysanky in Halychyna" by the Polish ethnographer F. Krcek, is a valuable article that gives much information about pysanky, especially about their ornament. He divides the ornament according to its source: geometric, the material surroundings (useful articles), nature (the plant and animal world, celestial bodies), and religious concepts and motifs.

M. Korduba's "Pysanky in the Halychyna Part of Volyn" contains interesting information, as does "Opys Kolektsyi Narodnykh Pysanok," which contains 2,219 color and black-and-white illustrations of mostly Ukrainian pysanky.

In his work "Osnovni Elementy Ornamentatsiyi Ukrainskykh Pysanok i Yikh Pokhodzhennia" [Basic Elements of the Ornamentation of Ukrainian Pysanky and Their Origin], V. Shcherbakivskyi (Prague 1925) gives only three basic types of ornament, i.e., the cross (in Ukrainian terminology: lamanyi khrest [broken cross], hachkovyi khrest [hooked cross], mlynochok [little windmill]), the triquetre (troiachok, trynih [tripod]), and the rosette (rozha [rose or hollyhock], zirka [star]). All other motifs are considered only as constructive-thematic variations of the above. This work was done under the influence of the cultural-historical school [of anthropology].

A few works on pysanky also appeared in the 1920s-1930s, but these did not exhaust all that was possible to cover about pysanka ornament, and this subject is still awaiting its own basic monographic study.

Among the most recent publications, the 1972 album "Ukrainski Pysanky" should be noted. It contains the article by S. Kolos "Historical and Artistic-Constructive Principles of the Structure of the Pysanka Ornament" (particular positions differ from our interpretation). The compiler of the album justly expresses the expectation that "future study of the designs on Ukrainian pysanky will uncover [and answer - O.T.] not only countless riddles from the pre-history of the eastern Slavs, but will also lead to a better understanding of the sources of contemporary Ukrainian decorative art."

The purpose of this work is to share a few observations concerning the little-studied plant pysanka ornament. We will observe only the plant ornament on the basis of collected materials, without going into theoretical considerations of whether it is borrowed, or inherited from ancient times, or whether it has a symbolic meaning while in form it is geometric with added floral motifs.

Pysanky from different parts of Ukraine

Studying pysanky, we note an interesting fact to which researchers previously did not pay sufficient attention. In classifying pysanka ornaments, M. Sumtsov included in the animal category such motifs as "kuriachi lapky" [chicken feet], noting that the ornaments could stem from deepest antiquity, or are the result of coincidental games of fantasy, for example, the motif "pavuky" [spiders] which, if one did not know its name, could be classified as a plant ornament. Other scholars included the following into the animal category based on the names of the motifs: "kuriachi, kachachi, husiachi, sorochyni, zolulyni, kotiachi lapky," [chicken, duck, goose, crow, cuckoo, cat feet or paws], "kachachi shyiky" [duck necks], "zayachi vushka" [rabbit/hare ears], "baraniachi rohy" [ram's horns]. Sumstov considered the motif "vovchi zuby" [wolf's teeth] a traditional one, indicating that it was borrowed from weaving patterns. Sumtsov could not explain the motif "kalytky" [pouches] and referred to Rodnevych, who considered the motif borrowed from icons.

Dividing ornament into geometric, plant and animal, M. Korduba noticed a general tendency of its everyday, traditional interpretation, stemming from names and changes in appearance. He wrote: "It is characteristic ... that where a given ornament in its appearance looks similar to everyday objects, it immediately takes on their name." People overemphasize this similarity, thus losing the historic meaning of the given design, which [then] takes on everyday attributes.

The researcher S. Kolos explains the names of motifs "krutorohy" [things with large twisted horns], "pavuchky" [little spiders], "metelyky" [little butterflies], "sakvy" [fish nets] as analogies to objects in everyday surroundings.

M. Korduba also included "baraniachi rohy" [ram's horns] in animal ornament, but noted that in its appearance the motif is similar to the geometric, as is the motif "kuriachi lapky" [chicken feet], which "got its name through analogy with the appearance of the chicken foot." He expressed the thought that this, possibly, is an ancient form of a geometric ornament, widely known to folk artisans from the earliest times, which belongs to the Phoenician alphabet and is a runic sign. The researcher noted that sometimes this form is just the very tip of the plant ornament "smerichka" [little pine], from which it is often difficult to distinguish.

M. Korduba thinks that the motif "husiachi, kachachi lapky" [goose, duck feet] reminds one of the duck or goose foot with three fingers and the stretched web between them. At the same time he could not help but notice that "in design this ornament is purely plant-like, with a wide-leafed form." Still the scholar includes it within the animal ornament category, as he also does "kotiachi lapky" [cat's paws]. Sometimes the one motif "pavuky" [spiders] and "metelyky" [little butterflies], notes M. Korduba, is more similar to four longish leaves tied together. So, even though the researcher was close to the conjecture that many motifs with animal names come from the plant world, he did not solve this question and did not return to the pysanka ornament again.

I. Hurhula divided the ornament according to names and included in the animal motifs "baran" [ram], "voroniacha lapka" [crow's foot], "husiacha, kachacha, kotiacha, kuriacha lapky" [goose, duck, cat, chicken foot/paw], "zayachi vushka" [rabbit ears], "shulyni pazuri" [hawk's claws], etc., but without comment she included "zozuliachi cherevychky" [cuckoo's little shoes] in the plant ornament. She noted that in the pysanky of Halychyna and Bukovyna, the animal ornament is found rarely and, apart from realistic rendering of complete animals, "often only fragments are drawn, for example paws, horns, ears, etc."

The Ukrainian Weekly, April 27, 1997, No. 17, Vol. LXV, Copyright by The Ukrainian Weekly and Orysia Paszczak Tracz