PYRAMIDS, PALACES & GREAT BIG WALLS
Art in Russia
see also : Russian Chronology
- 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.
Icon of Archangel Michael Reproduction print
Icon of Ivan IV, 16th century, unknown author, National
Museum, Copenhagen, reproduction photograph.
|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
|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.
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.
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.
Carved bear - modern toy
Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, c 1960, photograph by Walter Lucas,
|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. -
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.
Soldiers taking a Portrait of Nicholas II to Bonfire, March
1917, I Vladimirov, Russian (-) watercolor, Anne S K Brown Military
Collection. Reproduction photograph
Spoons - modern lacquer ware
|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.
|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