The Zhovkva Iconostasis by Ivan Rutkovych
The Zhovkva Iconostasis by Ivan Rutkovych

By Roksolana Kosiv | Lviv National Academy of Arts, Andrei Sheptytskyi National Museum in Lviv, Ukraine


The Zhovkva iconostasis was painted between 1697 and 1699 by Ivan Rutkovych for the church of the Nativity of Christ at Basilian Monastery in Zhovkva (Ukraine). It is considered one of the finest examples of monumental iconostasis in Ukrainian art, measuring 10.85 x 11.87 m. Unique in this region, it consists of seven tiers (usually, iconostases of that period had only five tiers) and has 82 preserved icons, including images on doorposts of the Royal Doors and the Deacon Doors (at least six other icons of the iconostasis are lost). The tiers, from bottom to top, consist of the predella with the ornaments, the sovereign icons, additional tier (with the images that were thematically connected with the sovereign icons), the Sunday-Pentecostal register, the festal icons, the Deësis, and the prophetic images. A large Crucifix with the Passion scenes (the height of the Crucifixion is 3.30 m) stands at the top of the iconostasis.

The icons of the iconostasis have three execution dates and carry two signatures of the artist. The date 1697 is written on the icon of the Baptism in the sovereign tier, where it is stated that the icon was “funded by the pious gentlemen of the shoemakers guild”. On the predella below it, there is a date of 1698, the name of the artist Ivan Rutkovych, and a text that repeats information about the donors of the Baptism icon. The date of 1699, presumably the completion date of the work on the iconostasis, and the signature of the artist “Ivan Rutkovych, painter of Zhovkva” are found on the icon of the Last Supper.

In the 19th century, the iconostasis was either sold or transferred to the сhurch of the Synaxis of the Theotokos in the village Nova Skvaryava near Zhovkva. From that church, it was transported to the National Museum in Lviv in June 1937 where it has been stored to this day. Four icons from the sovereign tier of the iconostasis and several others have not survived (they were probably lost in the 19th century). The last complete restoration and reconstruction of the iconostasis were carried out by the museum between 2007 and 2011.


The Zhovkva iconostasis by Ivan Rutkovych stands out for its expanded iconographic program, which reflects not only theological innovations but also historical realities. One of the peculiarities of the iconostasis is the additional tier with images thematically related to the sovereign tier icons and the Deacon’s Doors with the images of the archangels Michael and Gabriel. The additional tier began to appear in the iconostasis of the Lviv school in the first half of the 17th century. In the Zhovkva iconostasis, it consisted of 10 icons: the Christ in Glory, the Holy Family, the Old Testament Trinity, Christ in the house of Mary and Martha, Christ healing the woman with the hemorrhage, Three Angels walking towards Sodom and Gomorrah, the Flight into Egypt, Christ sending disciples to preach, and the Preaching of St. John the Baptist (the first icon on the left before the Christ in Glory is not preserved).

Rutkovych also developed a separate Sunday-Pentecostal tier in his iconostases, which contained scenes of Gospel stories that are read on the Sunday after the Resurrection of Christ, and until the Descent of the Holy Spirit. This tier is typical only for the iconostases of the Zhovkva school of the 1680s–1750s, and those related to it. These scenes are: the Doubting of Thomas, the Women Myrrhbearers at the Lord’s tomb, the Healing of the paralytic, Christ and the Samaritan woman, and the Healing of the blind man. The last image, for the sixth Sunday, was illustrated with a scene from the history of the Church: the Appearance of Christ to St. Peter, Patriarch of Alexandria, which confirmed the teachings of the Holy Fathers on the Eucharist.

Rutkovych added two more scenes to the Sunday-Pentecostal tier: Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene in the guise of a gardener and the Road to Emmaus. Both images are from the Paschal period, but they don’t belong to the Sunday-Pentecostal cycle. Probably they were added because Rutkovych wanted to have equal width of the tiers in the iconostasis. Most of the images in these two tiers, as well as some scenes from the festal tier and the Passion scenes, were borrowed from Western European engravings. Certain compositions (the Healing of the Paralytic, Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene in the guise of a gardener, the Descent from the Cross) emulate the works by Antonie Wierix, Marten de Vos, and Egbert van Panderen. Some patterns of Western European masters could be borrowed from the printed Bibles by Gerard de Jode and by Piscator that were popular in the 17th century among local professional artists. Thus new iconography started to appear in iconostases, connecting East and West.

Another exceptional feature of the iconostasis program is that Rutkovych added the images of St. Constantine the Great and St. Volodymyr the Great as co-apostles to the Deësis tier. This is the only known example of such a Deësis. The cult of the saints of Kyivan princes, in the 17th century, was developed by theologians and professors of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in the context of state-building. Rutkovych or the Basilian monks for whom the iconostasis was created, favored the cult of the holy princes. But it is also worth noting that St. Constantine was probably the patron saint of prince Constantine Sobieski, who inherited the Zhovkva palace after the death of his father, king Jan III Sobieski (1629–96). Zhovkva, for whose church the iconostasis was created, was one of the residences of the king.

Another nuance of the iconography of the iconostasis is that the centurion Longinos from the Crucifixion group at the top of the iconostasis is depicted with the features of the aforementioned king Jan III. The Sobieski family supported the Basilian monasteries, presumably including the one in Zhovkva. This may have been the reason for the inclusion of the portrait of Jan Sobieski in the iconostasis.

In addition to the portrait of Jan Sobieski, the iconographic program of the ensemble includes St. John the Baptist, who could have been the patron saint of the king and of the artist who executed the icons, Ivan Rutkovych. Besides the icon of the Baptism of Christ in the sovereign tier, another poorly preserved icon in this tier represents the beheading of St. John the Baptist. Two icons with his image are in the additional tier of the iconostasis. Interestingly, this image complements the scenes in the prophetic tier of the iconostasis. In the prophetic tier of Ukrainian iconostases, the image of St. John the Baptist was not included, so the Zhovkva iconostasis also stands out in this regard. The paired image with St. John the Baptist in the prophetic tier is Adam holding a large apple. Thus Rutkovych showed the first and the last representatives of the Old Testament.

Besides the iconography, the iconostasis is noteworthy for the high level of icon painting and carvings (the author(s) of the carving are unknown). Ivan Rutkovych is considered the best representative of the Zhovkva school of icon painting and church art of that time. He was a master of color, with various shades of red skillfully combined with the golden background of the icons and the golden carving of the deep frames and cornices of the iconostasis. In the images of the saints, we see a subtle play of light and shadow. Rutkovych also skillfully painted landscapes and ornaments on the clothing of the saints. The icons and the structure of the iconostasis show noticeable Baroque features, so the ensemble is considered one of the best examples of early Baroque art in the region. This visual vocabulary is evident in the development of the tall and monumental iconostases of the central Ukrainian churches during the Cossack period.


Further Reading

Svientsytska, Vira. Іван Руткович і становлення реалізму в українському малярстві XVII ст [Ivan Rutkovich and the formation of realism in Ukrainian painting of the 17th century]. Kyiv, 1966.

The book explores the art work of Ivan Rutkovych and the Zhovkva iconostasis of his authorship. The first reconstruction of the ensemble is proposed (later revised), and attention is drawn to the fact that the author used graphic samples from Western European printed Bibles.

Ovsiychuk, Volodymyr. Майстри українського барокко. Жовківський художній осередок [Masters of the Ukrainian Baroque. Zhovkva artistic center]. Kyiv, 1991.

The Zhovkva painting center of the 17th – first half of the 18th century is studied in the monograph. A separate chapter examines the icons by Ivan Rutkovych and his Zhovkva iconostasis.

Zilinko, Roman. “Ряд Неділь П’ятдесятниці із жовківського іконостасу Івана Рутковича. (Матеріали до каталогу творів Івана Рутковича в Національному музеї у Львові)” [“A tier of Pentecost Sundays from Zhovkva iconostasis by Ivan Rutkovych. (Materials for the catalog of Ivan Rutkovych’s works in the National Museum in Lviv)”]. Annals of the Andrei Sheptytskyi National Museum in Lviv 4 (2006): 143–159.

The article examines the icons from the Sunday-Pentecostal tier of the Zhovkva iconostasis. It shows what samples were used. The research was conducted during the preparation of the first comprehensive exhibition of the iconostasis at the Andrei Sheptytskyi National Museum in Lviv in 2009.

The Ukrainian Icon of the 11th–18th Centuries. State Collections of Ukraine. Ed L. Miliaeva with the participation of M. Helytovych. Kyiv, 2007.

The album reproduces 28 icons of the Zhovkva iconostasis (prior to restoration), and the introduction provides a brief description of the ensemble.

Zilinko, Roman “Іван Руткович. Жовківський іконостас. Короткий нарис з нагоди першої виставки ансамблю”. Апологет. Християнська сакральна традиція: віра, духовність, мистецтво. Матеріали І Міжнародної наукової конференції м. Львів, 23-24 листопада 2009 [“Ivan Rutkovych. Zhovkva iconostasis. A short essay on the occasion of the ensemble’s first exhibition”. Apolohet. Christian sacred tradition: faith, spirituality, art. Materials of the 1st International Scientific Conference in Lviv, November 23-24, 2009]. Theological collection of the Lviv Theological Seminary 1-4 (2009): 147–152.

The article provides a brief history and historiography of the Zhovkva iconostasis, highlights its iconographic peculiarities and structure, and presents a new reconstruction carried out by Roman Zilinko, Ostap Lozynskyi, and Oleksandr Bryndikov.

This contribution was sponsored through the Research Fellowship on the Cultural Heritage of Ukraine, 2023.

Roksolana Kosiv, "The Zhovkva Iconostasis by Ivan Rutkovych," Mapping Eastern Europe, eds. M. A. Rossi and A. I. Sullivan, accessed June 3, 2023,