Medieval Russian Art

  • Degree of veneration of St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (ancient Asia Minor), was extremely high already in the Middle Byzantine period (10th–12th centuries). The most ancient Byzantine examples were preserved on the borders of the former empire or in the zones of its cultural influence and contact with other cultures, primarily the Latin one — in Sinai, Cyprus, and Great Greece (southern Italy).The comparison of the oldest Russian vita icon of Saint Nicolas Wonderworker (from the villages of Luboni and Ozerevo at the land of Novgorod the Great, now in the State Russian Museum of St. Petersburg) with the earliest known icons of the Saint, from the collection of the Sinai Monastery, from Apulia (now in Pinacothecain Bari) and from the church of St. Nicholas tes Steges near the village of Kakopetria on Cyprus (the last both from the middle or second half of the 13th century) shows a mixture of Byzantine and Latin features in the iconography and art style of Russian monuments: the different size of the scenes, the central figures,the design of compositions, the drawings and painting of the faces, the painting method, the use of more orless decorative elements. Such a synthetic “atmosphere” indicates an active cultural exchange, the unfinished processes of forming of vita icons as an iconographic type.

  • The aim of this report is to analyze the relief tiles from Halich in the wide context of applied art and architecture décor, to find the possible provenance of the craftsmen who produced them.

    All the relief tiles can be divided into two types, which differ in morphology (dimensions, peculiaritiesof clay mass) and style of images. Tiles of the first type are smaller, the draft is schematic, consists of outercounter line and a few inner lines. They were typical of Old Rus’ architecture by their size and shape, were produced by local craftsmen, who worked according to the local art tradition and used the motifs which they could see on the kolts.

    Tiles of the second type were bigger, they had not a counter but a real relief image on them, so that the picture distinctly stands out from the tile. The drawing was made carefully, with many peculiar details. Generally, the motives represented on these tiles are definitely connected with the Romanesque architectural reliefs.Tiles of the second type are a part of the European art tradition, especially their morphology is typical of European building ceramic. They were made by the foreign craftsmen, but in this case they were made in a special manner, which isn’t the same as the west analogues.

    The peculiarities of images of the Halich tiles confirm the conclusions drawn from the analysis of morphology.The tiles of the first type are related to the local tradition of Old Rus, the tiles of the second type belong to the imported, West European, Romanesque tradition.

  • According to the Russian chronicles, metropolitan Ephrem initiated an intensive building program in the city of Pereyaslavl’ in the last quarter of the 11th century. Besides the cathedral, the chronicles mention stone walls, a gate with a church over it, a church near this gate, a bath-house and “other buildings”. This building program indicates that Ephrem of Pereyaslavl’ intended to erect an official residence for the metropolitans/bishops of the princedom. It is highly likely that the bath-house project was inspired byEphrem’s experience as a monk of an unknown Constantinopolitan monastery. The typika of the monasteriesin the Byzantine capital testify that it was the very time of the rising concern with the hygiene issues within the monastic society. It has been tentatively proposed that the civil building of the 11th century within the fortress of Pereyaslavl’ might be identified as Ephrem’s bath-house. This monument is in a poor state of preservation; however, the archaeologists were able to find six pieces of ceramic tubes, along with the fragments of elaborate décor of the building. The studied bath-houses of the middle Byzantine period throughout all EasternChristian countries demonstrate uniformity and consistency of their layouts. They are hardly matched with the civil building in Pereyaslavl’. Ceramic tubes being put aside, there is no archaeological evidence in favor of its functioning as a bath-house. Therefore, for today this secular building should be considered as a part of the palatial complex of the metropolitan. The study of this ensemble should be continued, being a key issue for understanding the first stage of evolution of the ecclesiastical residences in Old Rus’.

  • The Dormition cathedral, St. Boris and Gleb church, the Prophet Elijah church, the northwest chapel attached to the Savior Cathedral and the civil building (presumably the Prince’s palace) share the features unprecedented in Chernigov and Old Russian architecture. The new masonry technique and Romanesque elements were introduced by the new master-builders: either from the Byzantine Empire, or from the North of Italy. The point of view attributing the Chernigov churches only to the West European builders appears to be controversial. Rather than Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, the Byzantine building practice could be the source of the following Chernigov innovations: the masonry technique without the concealed courses of brick, groin vaults, engaged columns, stained glass, ornaments of the mosaic floor decorations, painted plaster on the facades, chapels in the narthex and the upper gallery. The atrophied Greek-cross church type of the Elijah church and the attached churches in Chernigov architecture strengthen the links with the Byzantine tradition. The complex of Byzantine construction technique and decoration indicates connection of the builders that worked in Chernigov with the Byzantine capital architecture or with some region where Constantinople left quite a strong impact. The only undisputable Romanesque feature is the Lombard band, but its application to the cross-in-square church with narthex strikes as irregular in comparison with accuracy of the West European practice. This unique combination of Byzantine and Romanesque features requires further study of the building process and the donor activity in Chernigov in the late 11th — first third of the12th century.

  • The history of studying secular architecture of the Old Rus’ in premongol period (10th–13th centuries)is considered in the article. It is argued that the problem of the correspondence between the written, pictorial, and archaeological sources was the central one, while the researchers were focused on the question of interpretation and correlation of the terms used in the written sources, such as seni, terem, gridnitsa, vezha, first investigated by Ivan Zabelin in the late 19th century. The analysis of the growing corpus of the archaeological remains of the masonry civil buildings (more than 20 at the moment) was held within the framework of the mentioned discussion, which caused the wide spread disputable hypotheses. On the contrary, the typology of the civil architecture, topographical features of the sites, and their links with the Byzantine and Western European analogs had been studied superficially. The problems of research of the civil architecture in 14th–15th-century Novgorod are considered to be close to the ones mentioned above, and demanding the comprehensive research.

  • Objects of personal devotion originating from archaeological excavations of ancient Russian monuments are of great importance for analyzing the history of the development of artistic thought, understanding Christian images and the ways of their distribution. Serial popular objects that evoke dimitation and served as master models for secondary castings indicate the formation and spread of the all-Russian traditions of honoring certain saints.

    The earliest and reliably dated icons-pendants with mounted St. George were found in Novgorod, which, perhaps, was the center from where they spread across the territory of North and West Russia, up to Latgale and Eastern Poland.Pendants with the composition “The Dormition of the Virgin Mary” on one side also belong to rather mass types of ancient Russian devotional objects. It was believed that they were associated with the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir, erected in the middle of the 12th century by Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky. New finds of alarge series of similar medallions on the territory of Ukraine cast doubt on the existence of a single center for their production, which was located in Northeast Russia.

    The distribution of personal devotional objects in the Old Russian territory clearly reflects the existence of both common traditions that overcame internal and external borders, as well as local cults.

  • In the miniatures of Gospels manuscripts belonging to the Byzantine world the four evangelists writing their texts are sometimes represented on the left side of the book opening in pairs turning to each other. One of such examples is found in the miniatures of the Gospels Chlud. 30 from the State Historical Museum (Novgorod, 1330–1340s). These miniatures repeat in a somewhat simplified form the images on the bronze Royal Doors from Novgorod dating to the same period and now kept in the State Russian Museum, and on the fragments from other similar doors now divided between the State Russian Museum, the State Hermitage and the Louvre. Our survey of illuminated Gospels shows that such “reversed”images of the evangelists existed in Byzantium (e.g. in the 10th-century Gospels Stavronikita 43 from Mount Athos), but more often in Rus, from the 12th century on (e.g. Dobrilo Gospels of 1164 in the Russian State Library, f. 256 Rumyants., no. 103). There are some other examples dating from the 14th or early 15th century. Analysis of these manuscripts’ structure shows that the use of such iconography was not connected with the desire to spare the parchment. We suggest that miniatures with the “reversed” evangelists rather reproduce similar images in church decoration, for example, the wall paintings in the pendatives and the images of the evangelists on the iconostasis doors. Similar iconography is also encountered on the precious revetments of the Gospels books.

  • In 1433 Archbishop Evfimii II commissioned the construction of a new stone building in the Archbishop’s Yard in Novgorod. This year German masters erected so-called Vladychny (Faceted) Palace, a complex which consists of three parts. The main part of this building has survived, in 2012 the research and restoration works on the monument were completed. There are rooms for different purposes (residential,economic etc.) in the structure of the building. Most halls and passageways of the palace were not heated, but some rooms had a heating system.

    In total, there were three furnaces in the Vladychny (Faceted) Palace, which respectively heated three or four rooms. The furnaces had the same design, only the furnace in the north-western part of the chamber was somewhat different, since it was not placed on a vaulted base, like the rest of the furnaces, but directly on the boulder foundation. Heating worked on the principle of a hypocaust system: before the start of the heating the openings that went into the room were covered with lids. At the first stage the boulders situated on the vault were heated. Then after burning wood and removing smoke, the chimney was blocked, and the holes above the boulders, on the contrary, opened. The hot air from the boulders heated the hall.

    The hypocaust system of the Faceted Palace existed till the 16th century, when its elements gradually began to be replaced by conventional furnaces; in the 17th century tiled stoves appeared there.The hypocaust heating system in the 13th–15th centuries was widespread in residential and public buildings, castles of the Baltic region. Before the construction of the Faceted Palace, this type of heating was not apparently used in Old Russia.

    The presence of furnaces under some halls allows us to approach the understanding of the purpose of certain premises of the building, and, accordingly, to understand more clearly the diversity of its functions, as well as to reveal some features of the building façade solution that appeared due to the construction of furnaces.

  • The origins of the illustrated cycles of the “wanderings” of the Holy Trinity are usually connected with the mid-16th century, a time when after the Moscow Kremlin Fire (1547) new icons for the royal Annunciation Church were commissioned from the Pskov and Novgorod masters. The border scenes of the new icon of the Old Testament Trinity became one of the central themes of the Case of Diak Viskovaty and the conciliar sessions which followed (1553–1554). The “Doubts and Outrage” of I. Viskovaty were causedby the newly-painted image of Christ, depicted as an Angel, with the octagonal halo of Saint Sophia, the Wisdom of God (seen by some theologians as the ultimate depiction of the Second Hypostasis of the Trinity before the Incarnation). Viskovaty saw a fundamental flaw and temptation in such depictions, since they might have presumed that the Lord took up not only the human nature, but also the angelic. The original icon from Kremlin did not survive, but it is widely believed that its iconographic composition was replicated in all depictions of the Holy Trinity with Acts, painted in the middle and second half of the 16th century. One of these (as traditionally upheld in the academic world) was the icon from Tikhvin, now in collection of theState Tretiakov Gallery, which is surrounded by 24 border scenes that illustrate not only the Book of Genesis and the “wanderings” of the Angels, but also the Life of the Theotokos, Gospel scenes and the Akathistos.

    Yet it is worth noting that the unique iconographic composition of the given piece, the striking traits of itsstyle and artistry give us every reason not only to attribute the icon to Pskov masters, but also to consider it the oldest among such images. The iconographer clearly retains the volume and proportional balance of thefigures, the softness of the facial depictions, the color work, the generous use of the gold hatching. All of these elements allow us to consider this icon a work of art from the dawn or first quarter of the 16th century. The icon in question follows the same tradition in Pskov art that brought us the Fiery Ascension of the Prophet Elijah (State Museum of History) and the Old Testament Trinity (State Tretiakov Gallery), but stands apart in its subtle color pallet and lack of ornamentation.

    The centerpiece of the icon, as well as the border scene of “Acts” follow the unique iconographic variations, known only in Pskov. The original interpretation of these themes can easily be justified, since the dedication of the Cathedral to the Holy Trinity is clearly linked with the prolonged evolution of the Trinitarian iconography. All of the border scenes can be split into two thematic categories. The major part (border scenes 1–14) is dedicated to the Book of Genesis. The lesser — to the Gospel narrative and Akathistos hymns. There is reason to believe that this unusual combination of border scene themes, surrounding the Holy Trinity, originated exclusively in Pskov in the late 15th century. The outermost border scenes in the lower tier — depicting Saint Sophia (the Wisdom of God) and the Dormition — coincide directly with the dedication of the Dormition Cathedral in the Tikhvin Monastery, which was part of the Diocese of Novgorod. Since the icon originates from that exact monastery, one should believe that it was painted for the consecration of the Cathedral in 1515.

  • The survived murals of the Vladychnaia Chamber despite their fragmented state can help to understand ideas and images which inspired the Novgorod archbishop Euthymius in his political and ecclesiastical activities just before the turning point in the history of Velikii Novgorod. In accordance with the structure and functions of architectural spaces of the Chamber, these frescoes arranged the ceremonial preparations for the episcopal services, organized as a solemn transition to the cathedral. Obviously, the sequence and ideological content of the fresco compositions can shed light on the purpose and meaning of the various rooms and halls of this architectural complex. The article discusses the decoration of the “Cell of ArchbishopIoann” — the room, where the archbishop, most probably, spiritually prepared for the liturgy and started the liturgical procession to the Cathedral.

    The image of two archangels overlying the entrance portal, testify of the sacral significance of this room, most probably the private praying chapel of archbishop. The frescoes in the niches of the east wall inside the Ioann’s Cell consist of the image of “St. Sophia the Divine Wisdom” and a fragment of the fresco depicting a complicated architectural scene. The research argues that this fragment highly likely is a part of the“Crucifixion” thematically related to the image of St. Sophia the Wisdom. Both had close affinities in their compositional structure as well as in their theological content. The iconography of the fresco “Sophia the Divine Wisdom” in the Cell represents an early type which appeared in the first decades of the 15th century and formed outside Novgorod. Thus it anticipates the iconographic variant of the famous icon that appeared in the St. Sophia Cathedral about the end of 15th century and is known as “Novgorodian”.

  • The archival records of the Posolsky prikaz (Ambassadorial office) in the Russian State Archiveof Ancient Acts (RSAAA) contain evidence for the intensive contacts between the Jerusalem patriarchand the Russian government in the first part of the 17th century. The file on the Moscow visit of the Jerusalem patriarch’s envoy, Archimandrite Anthimos, in 1643 has been preserved with unique completeness.This provides new details on the works included in the order: the list of icons and materials used, the names of icon-painters and silversmiths, information about the organization of the artistic process as a whole and, finally, the cost of the materials and works executed. The miter of the Jerusalem patriarchs was made four years after a similar item was created in the Kremlin’s workshops in 1640 for the archbishopof Sinai. After leaving Moscow, the miter was altered in a way. It remains nowadays in the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai. Originally, the lower diadem of the Sinai miter was ornamented with fur. Moreover, there was no cross on the upper round patterned plate. The gem stones were added during the alteration. While decorating the miter, the Moscow masters had used pearls only. The sources say the Sinai miter was just a reproduction of an existing exemplar created earlier by court masters. The Jerusalem patriarch’s headdress was based on the same sample. Thus, we can imagine how the Jerusalem miter looked before its alteration, although there were some differences between it and the Sinai example. As we have already mentioned, the top of the Sinai miter was decorated with pearls, not gem stones, unlike the patriarchal headdress.