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The earliest Russian icons, no matter in what city they were created, should be attributed to the Kyiv School. This school was active from the end of the 10th century, the time of Christianization of Russia, until Kyiv was sacked and burned by the Mongols in 1240. And even though there might have been some icon painting in Kyiv after the fall of the capital, the center of icon painting moved to the north, to Novgorod.

The first icons were brought to Russia from the Byzantine Empire and from Bulgaria, which became an intermediary between Constantinople and Kyiv, supplying the newly Christianized state with books, icons, and liturgical objects necessary for the celebration of the mass. We may suspect that the first painters in Kyiv were also Greeks or Byzantinized South Slavs. They became teachers of the first Russian painters and gave them a sound training in the Byzantine style and tradition. Since Russians were always exceedingly adept not only at blind mimicking but at taking a step forward, they quickly learned how to extend the Byzantine style and tradition and make it their own. The early Russian (Kyiv) style was still quite dependent on the Byzantine. The compositions were monumental, uncluttered, and simple. Most Kyivan School icons were painted in darker, more somber tones and were often large in dimensions because they were made with an axe from a large piece of wood. However, the Russians very quickly abandoned the Byzantine tradition of portraying Christ Pantokrator as a severe and strict judge and started developing a more "humane," understanding, and forgiving image of Christ, the Savior and the Redeemer. This tendency led later, in the Novgorodian and Moscow traditions to the development of a Savior type best known from the work of Andrei Rublev, and to the appearance of the "Russian" variants of many saints, particularly St. Nicholas and St. George.

Pskov icons display less sophistication and artistry in execution than those of Novgorod, but they show a greater degree of poetic inspiration. Pskov icons have their own, particular style. The frescoes of Mirozhsky monastery were painted in a static and formal archaic manner. The icons of Pskov show a somber, but intense emotionalism. With time, the style of Pskov icons evolved, incorporating some elements from the Novgorodian art. From Novgorod the painters borrowed certain favourite topics and learned the use of strong outlines which increased the graphic quality of their work. The earliest Pskov icons were monumental but the painters skillfully used intense colours (different from the toned-down colors of Kyivan School) and created compositions with a strong rhythmic quality, often sacrificing the elegance of proportions to the dynamism of action. The painters of Pskov had a number of favourite compositions which they liked to replicate. Like the Novgorodians, they favoured St. Nicholas and Elijah, but they also found inspiration in the stories of Christ's descent into Hell, the Nativity, and the Synaxis (gathering) of the Virgin. One of the distinguishing factors of Pskovian icons is the painters' preference of the deep "Pskovian" red and the deep "Pskovian" green.

From Moscow's obscure beginnings in the twelfth century as a small village, it developed steadily to become the spiritual and political heart of Russia in the fifteenth century. During this time, the art of icon painting developed under the influence of the changing political and religious atmosphere that shaped the character of Moscow itself. Although isolated from much Western influence because of its historical ties with the Byzantine Church, Moscow became an important collector of Byzantine icons, which in turn coloured the development of the Muscovite style. Because of the many fires suffered by Moscow in the fifteenth century, it is difficult to trace the development of early Muscovite icons. However, the appearance of Andrei Rublev and Dionysius, two important masters of Russian icon painting, shows that despite limited evidence, Moscow had been steadily developing an independent and unique painting style.While Novgorod reached its peak in icon painting between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, Moscow's development continued and reached its greatest achievements in the sixteenth century. The different social, geographical, and political position of each region in turn influenced the development and spirit of its icons. While there are similarities in their styles, the Moscow style, reaching its peak after the political subjugation of the unruly republic of Lord Novgorod the Great, took these similarities to another level.

Since Moscow's art had traditional ties with that of the Byzantine Church, new developments in Muscovite style can be traced by contrasting them with their Byzantine heritage. One important development was the change from the severe, harsh portrayal of the Pantokrator as found in the Byzantine models, to the more gentle, compassionate-looking Pantokrator, perfectly rendered by Andrei Rublev. Not only did his image of the Pantokrator differ from Byzantine images, but it also contrasted with the "traditional linearism" found in Novgorodian representations of Christ. This move towards a gentler and softer style of painting, which puts more emphasis on blending of warm colours than on sharp outlines, is characteristic of the Moscow school in particular, and the art of Russia in general.

Important developments in the Moscow school can be seen through the works of four masters of icon painting: Theophanes the Greek, Andrei Rublev, Dionysius, and Simon Ushakov.

The Moscow school of icon painting can be characterized by several common features:

1. increased complexity in compositions and theological symbolism;

2. tender representations of Christ and the saints;

3. considerable elongation of figures;

4. warm, saturated colours and more variation in their selection, including the introduction of pastels;

5. increasing degree of miniaturization, leading in the 16th century to Stroganov School, in the 17th to the art of the tsar's icon-painters (partially influenced by Western art), and in the 18th century to local icon-painting workshops (Palekh, Mstera);

6. “realistic” tendency.


Novgorod has always been a very important Russian city and one of the most ancient centers of culture.

Once a prosperous mercantile community, it kept its independence until 1478, when it succumbed to Moscow. Before then it distinguished itself for its economic, social, political and artistic achievements. As early as the10th century, it became the cradle for new political ideas. Novgorod was a republic (it called itself Lord Novgorod the Great), governed by the veche, a democratic assembly of all citizens, roughly resembling a parliament. The citizens were called to special meetings by the veche bell; the participants made their decisions together. The Novgorodians rejected the idea of the princely rule; instead, they hired a prince when they needed a leader to help them fight their enemies. When the danger was over, the prince was dismissed and asked to leave the city. The princes' names had been often linked with the building of the most famous churches and cathedrals: Cathedral of St. Sophia (1045- 1050), the Nikolo-Dvorishchensky Cathedral (1113) and the Cathedral of Saint George in the Yuriev Monastery (1119).

Not many Novgorodian 11th-century paintings have survived, but the surviving works of the 12th century (sometimes only fragments) help prove the existence of an independent local painting tradition. The frescoes at Nereditsa and in the Church of St. George at Staraia Ladoga are the evidence of this kind. Icons from the same period display a very strong Greek influence even though they show a very characteristic Russian style at the same time. In the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, Novgorod produced some of the greatest works of medieval Russian art, best represented by the paintings of Theophanes the Greek. In some of his greatest works it is possible to find the combination of the local style with the style of Constantinople, where he worked before coming to Russia. Most notable are his frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration on Ilyin Street (1378), the icon of the Virgin of the Don, The Dormition of the Virgin, and The Transfiguration. Later, Theophanes moved to Moscow and contributed to the development of the Moscow School, particularly by working together with Andrei Rublev and other Moscow masters.

Icons represent Novgorodian art better than any other artistic genre . Their style, which developed through the centuries, was probably based not only on "imported" Byzantine examples but on the existing tradition of popular folk art. Early icons are conventional but reflect the spiritual strength and beauty of man. They are simple, laconic and precise; the compositions are based on contrast between large shapes, the colors are saturated and bright, and the drawing is energetic. In the 12th and 13th centuries an emphasis is put on contrasting colours and simplicity of the image. Among the saints most beloved and popular in Novgorod are Saint Nicholas, St. George, Elijah, Paraskeva Piatnitsa (Friday), Florus and Laurus, and Cosmas and Damianos. Most of these saints were particularly venerated because their celebrations fell on the days important for the peasant's agricultural calendar or because they were connected to the ancient Slavic pagan gods (Saint Nicholas to Veles, St. George to Dazhbog, Elijah to Perun, Paraskeva to Mokosh, and Cosmas and Damianos to Svarog).

1. Some of the most important of colours;

2. increased complexity as compared to Kievan and earlier Novgorodian icons;

3. increased liveliness characteristic of their developing "anecdotal style";

4. "graphic" quality (emphasis on drawing and line).

The late 13th and early 14th century feature a change in style and the introduction of more monumental, flat, graphic qualities together with relative depth of form. The dominant colours are cinnabar, white, ochre, brown and green. The 14th century, a period of great prosperity for Novgorod, is reflected in a proliferation of Novgorodian icons. The period that follows marks another stylistic change: the 15th-century palette becomes remarkably lighter and the compositions are more dynamic and mobile. Moreover, a precise canonical system for the arrangement of icons in the iconostasis wall is finally established. At the end of the 15th century Novgorodian art begins to decline as a result of Moscow's political dominance and the influence of the art of such great Moscow painters as Daniil Chornyi (Daniel the Black), Prokhor of Gorodets, Andrei Rublev, and Dionysius. In Great Novgorod the outstanding monuments of medieval architecture and painting are concentrated . Among them the most ancient in Russia temple - Sophia cathedral, based in the middle of XI century and Yuriyev monastery, based in beginning of XII century. Many monuments of architecture have kept fresco painting (unfortunately, fragmentary).







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