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Art in Russia

see also : Russian Chronology


  1. The Vladimir Madonna, early 12th cent., unknown Byzantine artist, tempera on wood 21"x30", State Historical museum, Moscow, Reproduction photograph.
    The most famous of all Russia's icons is the VIRGIN OF VLADIMIR, painted in the early 12th century by an unknown Byzantine artist. Like many icons, the Virgin was believed to have the power to work miracles. It was credited with saving Moscow from foreign conquest on three occasions, including Napoleon's invasion of 1812. The icon was commissioned by an early prince of Kiev, then moved to the central Russian city of Vladimir. Later still it was placed in the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin in Moscow.

    The contemplative mood and dark colors of Byzantine iconography were modified by Russian artists into a more vigorous interpretation. Brighter, luminous colors were used and outlines were simplified. Images that portrayed qualities of warmth and loving kindness became particularly favored in Russian iconography.

    Among all the Byzantine art forms introduced into Russia along with Christianity, it was the icon that appealed most strongly to the Russians, both as an artistic and as a religious expression. The illumination of manuscripts never became widespread as it did in Western Europe. Mosaic work was limited largely to the Kiev area and created solely by Byzantine—trained craftsmen. Fresco painting while popular, was confined by the nature of the medium to stone buildings, and sculpture — the creation of “graven images” was forbidden by the Church and therefore rarely practiced until the 18th century. Icons, however — with two dimensional, ascetic figures that belonged unmistakably to the spiritual rather than the human world — were fully sanctioned by the Church, and were adopted so wholeheartedly into Russian life that they became the national art form. Icons, to the Russians were not merely paintings. They were the visible evidence of divine powers that could transform the imperfect life on earth into a life of celestial perfection.

    bullet Byzantine Art
    bullet Russian Icons
    bullet Illustrated Russian History 


  2. Icon of Archangel Michael Reproduction print
    This icon on wood shows the archangel Michael with horses and saints on each side.

    Archangels were a popular icon subject before Madonnas; St George has been popular since Perestroika


  3. Icon of Ivan IV, 16th century, unknown author, National Museum, Copenhagen, reproduction photograph.
    A primitive but remarkably revealing portrait of the first “Czar and Autocrat of All the Russias" seems to capture the paradoxical elements of Ivan IV's personality. The sovereign’s avuncular mien accurately reflects his popular role as father of the Russian people. Yet at the same time
    his blank, slightly distracted eyes suggest the preoccupation and the paranoia that eventually earned Ivan the popular epithet Grozny, a name that means “the awe-inspiring” or “the terrible.”

    Ivan's appetite for power and territory was insatiable, leading him to excesses of cruelty. In one neurotic rage, he struck his own son a blow that killed him, and when the head of his own Church, The Metropolitan Philip, dared to speak out against his cruelties, Ivan had him strangled.
    bulletIvan the Terrible - Biography


  4. The Church of the Transfiguration, 1714, Kihzi Island in Lake Onega. Wood, reproduction photograph.
      For centuries woodcarving and wooden architecture provided the most direct and spontaneous expression of the Russian folk genius. Peasant homes were often elaborate products of the woodcutter’s art and they were filled with carved wooden furniture, kitchen utensils, toys and other objects.
    When these anonymous carpenters raised one of their
    cathedrals in the northern woods, like the remarkable Church of the Transfiguration on Kizhi Island, they produced the largest and most extravagant woodcarvings of all — veritable wedding cakes of intricately worked walls, gables, domes and spires.
      The Church of the Transfiguration, completed in 1714 in Northern Russia's Lake Onega, was probably the most complex wooden structure the Russians ever erected. Yet like many masterworks of its kind, it made use of astonishingly simple techniques. Working without a blueprint or a surveying instrument, Kizhi’s craftsmen built the elaborate church, with its 22 domes, “by the eye” as the Russians say. Not a single nail or other metal part was used; instead, the carpenters, who were experts in joinery, fastened the wooden parts together by notching them and interlocking them at ends and corners. Most remarkable of all, the only tool used in shaping the basic structure was an ax - chisels, saws, and drills were used only for decorative details. So skillful did the carpenters of Kizhi region become that they were recognized far and wide as Russia’s finest craftsmen in wood.

      The earliest Russians had to cut down thick forests to create their settlements, and they soon became adept at using the axe to fashion wood. The tradition of wood carving has persisted in Russia to the present day.


    In the 10th-12th century some groups of enterprising folk from the lands under the sovereign city of Lord Novgorod the Great thrust deep into Karelia’s forest to establish several colonies along the shores of Lake Onega. Kizhi’s history is linked with that of Novgorod the Great, whose people brought into the lands beyond Lake Onega Novgorodian architectural styles and handicrafts. The most extraordinary examples of wooden churches are 22-domed Church of the Transfiguration and the Pokrov (Intercession) Church, built without a single nail. 

    bulletKizhi Island & Church pics


  5. Carved bear - modern toy


  6. Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, c 1960, photograph by Walter Lucas, Reproduction Photograph
    St. Basil’s rises from Red Square, Moscow, in an irresistible profusion of colors and shapes. Its montage - of domes, cupolas, arches, towers, and spires, each bearing a distinctive pattern and hue, have fascinated the eyes of visitors since it's construction in the 1550s. Although St. Basil’s was built to commemorate Ivan the Terrible’s capture of the Mongol stronghold of Kazan and is properly named Cathedral of the Intercession, its popular name has long associated it with a ragged prophet who foretold the Moscow fire of 1547.

    According to legend, after St. Basil’s Cathedral was completed, Ivan the Terrible put out the eyes of it's architects to prevent rival edifices from being erected. When he originally commissioned - architects Barma and Posnic to build the cathedral, Ivan called for eight clustered churches, each one commemorating the most significant battles in his hard-fought victory over the powerful Tartar ruler of Kazan. Ivan was persuaded by his architects to change his initial plan and to build one central church with eight surrounding domes housing individual chapels. Four of these chapels were arranged in the directions of the compass and another four placed diagonally. The church was completed in 1560. 

    In 1588, Ivan’s successor had a tenth chapel, the smallest of the cathedral group, built on the new grave of St. Basil the Blessed for whom the entire Cathedral is commonly known today. -


  7. Imperial Easter Egg, 1911, Carl Faberge, Russian (-), 5 1/8" without the stand, The Forbes Magazine Collection, Reproduction photograph
    The Fifteenth anniversary Egg is the most personal of all the eggs created for the ill-fated Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra. Portrayed in oval miniatures on ivory by Yassily Zuiev are the Czar, the Czarina, and the children, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia, and Carevich Alexis.

    Additional rectangular miniatures depict in incredible detail the principle events of the reign through 1911. The miniatures are set on a gold egg which is segmented with translucent green enameled laurel trellising tied with rose diamonds. The portraits are framed with rose diamonds and centered in fields of translucent oyster-white enamel bordered with opaque white enamel.

    Surmounting the egg is a table diamond under which appears the Czarina’s crowned cypher in black enamel on a gold ground. This finial is framed in rose diamonds bordered by chased gold palmettes. The similarly bordered terminal is a Dutch rose-cut champagne-colored diamond weighing approximately five carats.

    The dates of the Czars wedding, 1894, and the fifteenth anniversary of his coronation, 1911, appear in roundels below the miniatures of the Imperial couple. The detachable gold stand is probably the original.

    The egg, perfect in form and carrying within it a new life, has been a universal symbol of rebirth for thousands of years. In Imperial Russia, where the Orthodox Christian Easter celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, was the most important holiday of the year, gaily decorated eggs were exchanged with the glad tidings, “Christ is Risen". It remained for the Romanov Czars to raise this charming custom to the level of imperial luxury. Peter Carl Faberge, jeweler extraordinary, was the guiding genius responsible for these ultimate Easter eggs. As “eggs” they are perhaps the most extravagant expression of a centuries-old tradition; as objects they mark one of the crowning achievements of the art of the goldsmith and the jeweler.

    Faberge supervised some of the most talented craftsmen that could be found, although he himself never actually worked on any of the pieces which bear the family name. Faberge’s particular genius lay in his ability to inspire each of these artists and artisans to work together with his designers and miniaturists, creating the incredible fantasy pieces that have brought enduring ‘fame to the House of Faberge.

    Nicholas II, who came to the throne in 1894 and was in so many respects an inadequate Czar in comparison with his father, surpassed him in at least one area — he presented not only his wife, Alexandra with a Faberge egg each year but his mother, Maria, as well. Thus! between 1886 and 1916 a total of 53 eggs was presented to the two Czarinas. The eggs for the fateful year 1917, if they were ever completed, were not delivered. Easter eggs from Faberge were not confined to the Imperial family.


  8. Soldiers taking a Portrait of Nicholas II to Bonfire, March 1917, I Vladimirov, Russian (-) watercolor, Anne S K Brown Military Collection. Reproduction photograph
    On March 8, 1917, an angry but disorganized mob swelled the streets of Petrograd in an apparently spontaneous paroxysm of antimonarchism. That event - known as the February Revolution in Russia, which had not yet converted to the Gregorian calendar - signaled the start of the Russian Revolution. It was to be symbolized by the immoliation of the czar's portrait, and it was to be dominated by a new political force - the Bolshevik.


  9. Spoons - modern lacquer ware
    Russian lacquer boxes are among the most beautiful and distinctive of that country’s art achievements in the 20th century. The boxes feature intricately hand-drawn miniature paintings based on a variety of themes, including fairy tales, poems, country life, troikas, landscapes, battle scenes, and old art masterpieces. They get their name from the many layers of lacquer (most often, black and red) that are applied to both their outside and inside sections. Coats of clear lacquer, or varnish, are - the last layers to be put on and provide a stunning shine to the box. The boxes, which vary in size, are extremely well crafted. It can take as long as two months to make a box out of papier-mâché, a material many artists prefer because of its ability to withstand changes in atmospheric conditions and - to avoid cracking. Lacquer artists must not only excel artistically, but must also have the patience to spend long stretches of time working on the many small intricate sections of their composition. Artists will typically use strong magnifying glasses on these spots and very fine brushes made out of a squirrel’s tail. The boxes most widely sought after come from one of four small Russian villages - Palekh, Fedoskino, Kholui, and Mstera. Special schools have been established at these places where - artists train for four years before they become members of each village’s art community.

    Artists from Fedoskino, the birthplace of Russian lacquer miniatures, use a more realistic style of painting than the other villages. They also use oil paints for their drawings instead of the egg-based temperas. Three to four layers of the oil paints, along with seven coats of lacquer, are applied to each. This layering brings out a radiant quality in the drawings and the colors seem to emanate from within. Sometimes, an underlay of gold leaf or mother of pearl enhances this radiance and adds a lovely iridescence of its own.


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