100 years ago Andriy Sheptytsky founded a museum that will bear his name

By Iryna YEHOROVA, The Day Weekly Digest in English, #41` Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The National Museum of Lviv was founded 100 years ago by Count Andriy Sheptytsky, Metropolitan of Halych. Historical justice has been finally restored as President Viktor Yushchenko has just issued a decree to name the museum after its founder.

The key festivities took place on Dec. 15, although the jubilee exhibit opened on Monday night. It so happened that the Verkhovna Rada was holding “Government Days,” and the MPs were discussing the situation and prospects of protecting the monuments of Ukraine’s cultural heritage.

The statistics cited from the rostrum sounded alarming: between 50 and 70 percent of such monuments are in “unsatisfactory” condition in various regions, with every 10th listed as critical; preliminary estimates point to some 600 million hryvnias’ worth of repairs and restoration works.

The museum in Lviv was not mentioned during the parliamentary hearings, although Minister of Culture and Tourism Ihor Likhovy mentioned insufficient funding of museums and restoration works among the problems faced by his ministry.

He stated that in early 2004 a total of 700,000 monuments of Ukraine’s national cultural heritage needed restoration, and that only 12,000 were restored. Likhovy said that among his ministry’s priorities are matters relating to the legal regulation of museums and strengthening their material and technical base.

Of course, this is a crucial need today. But even more important is the awareness of personal responsibility for our national heritage, all those great treasures that we inherited from our forefathers. This responsibility must be assumed by museum staff, bureaucrats, and philanthropists. We must do this for the sake of our future; the entire history of the National Museum of Lviv attests to this.

Andriy Sheptytsky was a patron of the arts, an attentive and generous patron and philanthropist. In February 1905 he founded a church museum on the premises of the metropolitanate, at St. George’s Cathedral. This museum was destined to become a celebrated institution showcasing a national cultural and spiritual treasure trove.

The first cornerstones of the museum collections were books (rare manuscripts and ancient books), icons, embroideries, wood carvings, and other religious articles that the metropolitan acquired at his own expense from the Basilian monasteries of Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Chervonohrad, Lavriv, and Krekhiv, as well as antiques from the Sheptytsky family collection.

Subsequently, the scholarly foundation “Lviv Church Museum,” which was legally ratified by a notarized deed dated Dec. 29, 1908, acquired national museum status; the decision was made at a meeting of the museum’s Curatorship on Dec. 18, 1909. The following year the museum was officially named after Count Andriy Sheptytsky, Metropolitan of Lviv. In December 1913 the national museum was ceremoniously transferred to the public domain of Ukraine.

“My beloved people! To you I hereby present my most beloved child. May it grow and prosper and add to your glory, for the benefit of your future.” With these words the metropolitan’s museum acquired special status and began its operations with his blessing and many years of zealous care.

In the first 25 years of the museum’s existence Metropolitan Sheptytsky donated 111,000 dollars and enriched the collection with almost 10,000 works of art, including decorative and applied art, rare manuscripts, and other items. Other distinguished personalities contributed to the museum, among them the historian Anton Petrushevych (he donated 1,057 items), Professor Volodymyr Shukhevych (2,972), and the Prosvita Society (984).

Another unique personality should be mentioned in connection with the museum. Ilarion Sventsitsky headed the museum from 1905 to 1952 and carried out a great deal of scholarly and promotional work, effectively representing the museum at various research centers, societies, archives, and libraries in Vienna, Warsaw, Prague, Sofia, Rome, Stockholm, Miensk, Moscow, Vilnius, and St. Petersburg.

He worked hard to establish close contacts between cultural centers west and east of Ukraine. Owing to Sventsitsky’s indefatigable efforts, the museum evolved into an important center for the preservation, study, and popularization of Ukrainian culture in the general European context.

The jubilee of the museum was an important event not just for Lviv, which attracted museum workers, historians, and art specialists from all over Ukraine. The museum prepared special exhibits for the occasion: “Echo of the Centuries: From the Lviv National Museum’s Treasure Trove,” “Ukrainian Art at the Turn of the 20th Century,” “Early Ukrainian Art of the late 15th-18th Centuries.”

Today every exhibition hall of the museum presents a certain historical period of Ukraine as a large-scale aesthetic phenomenon, illustrating the creative achievements, innovative trends, and unique processes all juxtaposed against similar examples of world art.

The visitors were delighted to witness the launch of the art books The Mother of God and the Child and The National Museum: 100th Anniversary. The latter was a joint project, funded by Bohdan Shevchuk, a businessman from Donetsk, and published in Kyiv. This type of collaboration is further proof that the national museum is a site where the proofs of our common culture are stored. This distinguished collection is duly honored and leaves a firm imprint on our nation’s consciousness.

However, there was no way of avoiding the proverbial fly in the ointment during the great museum jubilee. The Ukrainian state lacks the funds to maintain such museums, let alone buy up-to-date equipment, including humidifiers that all museums need. There are no adequate workstations to build databases on the masterpieces.

The museum staff does not even expect salary increases; instead, they are dreaming of new protection systems to help preserve their ancient icons. The museum’s collection of icons numbers 4,000 items and is thus the largest and most representative collection in the world.

They also need stands and showcases in which to display ancient metals and fabrics. The building has long been in need of an overhaul (there are plans to do this), so that it could host an exhibit dedicated to Metropolitan Sheptytsky and the first employees of the museum.

This means that even if the Ukrainian government cannot fund this project, there should be individuals willing to provide the money. The museum needs philanthropic aid as well as help from an association of influential museum lovers. There was such an association in Sheptytsky’s lifetime and its members did much to help the museum. There is none today. No artists have donated their works to the museum, which would not only enrich the museum’s fonds, but also honor the artist in the eyes of future generations.

Unfortunately, we often wait for someone else to come to our aid with gifts. Metropolitan Sheptytsky never expected favors from anyone and worked wonders with his own hands. We are thus marking the museum’s centennial, knowing that its worth cannot be assessed; for us it is invaluable. -30-

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