We are pleased to announce the publication of Ilya Lemeshkin’s book: Илья Лемешкин – Ilja Lemeškinas – Il’ja Lemeškin. Портрет Франциска Скорины. К 550-летию со дня рождения книгоиздателя (1470–2020) / Pranciškaus Skorinos Portretas. 550-ąsias gimimo metines minint (1470–2020) / Portrait de Francisk Skorina. Еn commémorant le 550e anniversaire de sa naissance (1470–2020). Vilnius-Prague: Institut national de langue lituanienne; Cercle linguistique de Prague, 2020 (Travaux du Cercle linguistique de Prague nouvelle série, vol. 10). 300 p. ISBN 978-609-411-266-9, ISBN 978-80-87269-58-9.

This work, published with the support of the Chancellery of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, The Institute of the Lithuanian Language, the Prague linguistic circle in the Petro ofsetas publishing house (Petras Kalibatas, 1948-2019), summarizes years of Mr. Lemeshkin’s research (the reader can find on our site his articles on musca depicta, on the sources of Francysk Skaryna’s Bible, on the last decades of his life, and unravels numerous other tangled problems in Francysk Skaryna Studies. Despite its title, the book is devoted not only to the portrait of the publisher itself, but examines it much more generally, in the context of his contemporary realities. Moreover, I. Lemeshkin’s monograph is the first conceptual interpretation (including the structural and semantic approach) of the questions which haunt many generations of scholars. What do the “letters” mz in the lower left corner of Francysk Skaryna’s portrait mean? How old was the publisher at the time of the portrait? What is doing the fly on his portrait (yes, it is a fly, and not “politically correct” bee or butterfly)? What was Skaryna’s intention when he placed his portrait in the two books of the Bible? Who was the author of the portrait? What was the source of inspiration for the portrait configuration? Where was the printing press and in which circumstances Francysk Skaryna published his biblical texts?

The reader may find answers to these and many more questions in the logically and carefully constructed narration of the “Portrait of Francisk Skorina”. Even if certain arguments may seem problematic, we are sure that this encyclopedic work will not only become the greatest event in the field of Francysk Skaryna Studies, but will also define its future landscape for years.

Let the reader himself follow this fascinating journey and trace the clues of Francysk Skaryna’s “puzzles”! We will not reveal here all peripeteias and results of the research. In our announcement, we will limit ourselves to a brief overview of the main topics of the book:

(1) The scrupulous historiography of portrait problematic which covers the history of its impressions, their versions (with the mz, the fly with five / six legs and without these elements) and their conservation. The author elucidates the long history of quiproquo, associated with portrait copies – the history which introduced numerous errors into the Francysk Skaryna Studies.

(2) The analysis of Skaryna’s portrait of in the context of the development of printing, of the biblical theology itself, which allows us in particular to see the famous Skaryna’s “signet” (sun / crescent) in the context of the cults of the Theotokos and Christ and, finally, to clearly distinguish it from the notorious context of “personal eclipses”.

(3) “Reading” of Francysk Skaryna’s portrait in the context of Czech-German realities of the late 15th – first half of the 16th century, the semantics of portraiture, as well as the political events reflected in the Bivlia ruska (The Bible Rus of Francysk Skaryna). According to them, it turns out that our “vulgar” fly belongs to the the very noble Renaissance family of musca depicta, whose representatives “sovereignly fly, sit and buzz annoyingly in / on many Renaissance masterpieces”. Curiously, the author also demonstrates the actualization of political and cultural events in Prague in the Skaryna’s Bible. I. Lemeshkin also traces the semantic and syntactic connections between the colophons of the Prague Psalter (1487), of the Prague Bible (1488) and of the Bivlia ruska of F. Skaryna. This discovery reveals quasi-integral textual borrowings from the Prague Bible of 1488 which shifts the accent of the Biblij Czěská, w Benatkach tištěná (Venetia: Petrus Liechtenstein, 1506), previously put forward by P. Vladimirov and A . Florovsky as the source of inspiration for Francysk Skaryna, towards the use of texts from the Bible pražská (Praha, Staré Město pražské, 1488).

We are extremely confident that I. Lemeshkin’s innovative and daring work will generate immense interest among historians, art historians, researchers on Francysk Skaryna’s life and work, bibliophiles and scholars in other fields. Just released, it arouses already an enthusiasm and livens up a lot of discussions. This study elevates the Francysk Skaryna Studies to a level of excellence, offering a holistic interpretation of his portrait (and the total of the Bivlia ruska) in the context of numerous sources from the late 15th – early 16th century.

We would like also to emphasize the great amount of sources of I. Lemeshkin’s monograph, its scrupulously elaborate bibliographic apparatus, as well as the careful reproduction of the original documents and names. This, undoubtedly, makes this work a invaluable balm for academic researchers as well for history amateurs.

The author’s desire to follow the innovative spirit of Francysk Skaryna is extremely convincing: “The prerogative of F. Skaryna is to contribute to the development of contemporary art, often provocative, unconventional, to go beyond the borders of provincialism”. This statement finds its logical continuation in the last chapter entitled “The problems of Skorina’s effigy, or Why it is worth to refuse of conferring the orders of Skorina”, which demonstrats once again how Skaryna’s image is strikingly contemporary for us today.

We also note the remarkable design of I. Lemeshkin’s book with its impressively rich illustrative apparatus (86 illustrations and 6 appendices) and the contribution of the greatest artists of our time. Thus, the unprecedented participation of the eminent master of the Soviet avant-garde and the legendary conceptualist Ilya Kabakov encourages us to regard this monograph as a sign of the alive and unconventional nature of Skaryna’s heritage. The famous musca Kabakoviana, which provoked official conservative art, stands alongside Francysk Skaryna’s musca depicta, and thus one can see the continuity from the 16th century to the present day. To go even further, the author invites the astonished reader to “observe” this iconic insect through a moving image created by the Czech artist Teresa Unzeitigová and the page designer Gražina Kazlauskienė: quickly scrolling the book block, we can watch a sort of “flipbook”. ЛИНК https://skaryna.com/ru/Lemeshkin-skorina-musca-depicta-tantzuet-danse

The double frontispiece (its author is the famous Czech artist, graphic designer and illustrator Jiří Altman) captures the process of transferring an image from the typographic cliché to the paper, thus revealing the very essence of the technique of relief printing in Skaryna’s time, which once again enlivens the sense of the vivid historical context.

To keep future readers intrigued, we will only add that he has many discoveries and pleasant surprises ahead. You can buy I. Lemeshkin’s book in the bookstore of the National Institute of the Lithuanian Language, after making an appointment. The book is also available in the libraries. For example, you can read it already in the Wrublewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.


Read the Table of Contents (in Russian and French), Introduction (French) and Summary (Russian and French) of I. Lemeshkin’s monograph “Portait of Francisk Skorina”