Iconostasis. A solid wooden, stone, or metal screen separating the sanctuary from the nave in Eastern Christian churches. Of varying height, it consists of rows of columns and icons. It extends the width of the sanctuary and has three entrances: the large Royal Gates at the center and the smaller Deacon Doors on each side. The Royal Gates are hung with a curtain. Western churches, whether Catholic or Protestant, have a low barrier instead of an iconostasis. The iconostasis evolved in Byzantium in the 9th–11th centuries.
The icons of the iconostasis are separated by columns and are arranged in several rows. The number of icons and ranges can vary. Usually, a full iconostasis contains over 50 icons set in four to six rows, but simpler (one- or two-story) and more elaborate (seven-story) iconostases are known. The lowest range consists of the icons on the Royal Gates depicting the Annunciation and the four evangelists, and of the full-length icons of the Savior (right of the gates) and the Mother of God (left of the gates), of the church's patron saint, and of the more venerated saints. In the second row immediately above the Royal Gates, the Last Supper is depicted, flanked by icons of the 12 main holy days of the church year. The third row consists of the Supplication or Deesis at the center and icons of the apostles. In the fourth tier the prophets are displayed, with the patriarchs or Christ's Passion above. The iconostasis is topped by a cross with an image of Christ on it. The icons are set in a structure of finely carved and gilded columns and beams. The ornamental motif consists usually of interwoven grapevines.
In Ukraine the earliest iconostases were low, consisting of only two tiers. Their further development was conditioned by the development of wooden architecture and the decline of the art of mosaics. By the 14th–15th centuries the typical structure of the two- and three-tiered iconostasis was established. From a simple support for icons the iconostasis evolved by the 17th–18th centuries into an elaborate product of several arts: architecture, sculpture, and painting. It grew in both size and complexity as a fifth and even sixth tier was added. The earliest surviving iconostases date back to the beginning of the 17th century. They include Mykola Petrakhnovych's iconostasis (1637) of the Dormition Church in Lviv, the iconostases of the Church of Good Friday in Lviv (1644) and the Church of the Holy Spirit (1650) in Rohatyn, the Bohorodchany iconostasis, which was painted by Yov Kondzelevych for the Maniava Hermitage in 1705 and was later transferred to a church in Bohorodchany, and Ivan Rutkovych's iconostases in Volytsia-Derevlianska (1680–2), Volia-Vysotska, and the Church of Christ's Nativity in Zhovkva (1697–9). Very little remains of the rich iconostases in central Ukraine. Many of the older iconostases, including those admired in 1665 by Paul of Aleppo (in the Dormition Cathedral of the Kyivan Cave Monastery and in the churches in Vasylkiv, Trypilia, and Pryluky), were replaced by more modern baroque structures, which were eventually destroyed by the Soviets. The only surviving example of the grand baroque iconostases financed by the hetmans and Cossack starshyna officers is the iconostasis of the Transfiguration Church in Velyki Sorochyntsi (1732), which measures 17 m in height and 20 m in width. The most important monuments of Ukrainian art destroyed in the 1930s by the Soviet regime are the iconostases of the following churches: the Dormition Cathedral of the Yeletskyi Dormition Monastery (1670) in Chernihiv, one of the largest iconostases in Ukraine; the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God (1684) of the Molchany Monastery near Putyvl; the Transfiguration Cathedral (1684) in Izium; Saint Nicholas's Military Cathedral (1696) in Kyiv (seven tiers, 15.5 m high and 22 m wide); Saint George's Cathedral of the Vydubychi Monastery (1700s) in Kyiv; the Cathedral of the Elevation of the Cross (1709) in Poltava; Saint Michael's Church (1719) at the Saint Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv; Saint Nicholas's Cathedral (1734) in Nizhyn; Saint Nicholas's Church (1730s), the Church of the Holy Spirit (1746), and the Church of the Holy Protectress (1760s), all in Romny; the Trinity Cathedral (1740) of the Trinity–Saint Elijah's Monastery in Chernihiv; the Trinity Cathedral (18th century) of the Hustynia Trinity Monastery; the Church of Christ's Ascension (1761) in Berezna; Saint Nicholas's Cathedral (1765) in the Mhar Transfiguration Monastery; the Church of the Holy Protectress (1766) in Novhorod-Siverskyi; and the Dormition Cathedral (1775) in Mezhyrich. Other than a few icons from the Novhorod-Siverskyi, Berezna, and Mezhyrich churches, all that remains of the destroyed iconostases are old, prerevolutionary sketches or photographs, often of poor quality. Any reference to the destruction of these masterpieces in Soviet publications was prohibited. For many years the art of the iconostasis was cultivated only outside Ukraine. Such artists as Sviatoslav Hordynsky, Petro P. Kholodny, Mykhailo Osinchuk, and Myron Levytsky have adorned many Ukrainian churches in the United States, Canada, South America, Western Europe, and Australia with iconostases of various styles from the strictly traditional to the modern.
Dzieduszycki, W. Ikonostas Bohordczański (Lviv 1886)
Konstantynowicz, J. Ikonostasis. Studien und Forschungen (Lviv 1939)
Drahan, M. Ukraïns’ka dekoratyvna riz’ba XVI–XVIII st. (Kyiv 1970)
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1989).]