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Russian Painting of the 16th Century
June 16, 2014 14:33

The Moscow painting was largely presented by Dionysius, the most eminent artist of the era. Unlike most of the artists of that time, he was not a monk, but had a family with two sons who assited his work. The most important of his preserved creations is the cycle of frescos of the Nativity Cathedral in the St. Therapontus Monastery (Vologda Region) that have come down to us almost completely. The church was dedicated to the Mother of God, and her glorification became the keynote in works by the illustrious icon painter. The church has three large painting compositions: Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, In Thee Rejoiceth and the Mantle of Our Lady. They were painted on subjects of the the same-name chants, making an acathistus (a cycle of songs in honor of the Mother of God) together. In the center of each composition there is the figure of the Mother of God sitting with the baby on her lap or standing with a cover in her hands against the background of a high five-domed cathedral. She is surroundewd with saints and mere mortals eulogizing the Virgin Mary. Bright colourful combinations, motley patterns of clothes and architecture, an iridescent aura round the Mother of God produce a festive and triumphant impression. The second tier of frescos spreading over walls and columns of the central part of the church illustrates the acathistus, which is always listened to in a standing position. Maria's dark cherry silhouette repeating against light pink and golden hills or buildings in every composition gives semantic, composite and coloristic unity to the cycle of frescos. The painting looks especially lucid in the morning and evening time, when the sun is looking inside the church windows.

The 16th century art focused more and more on the symbolical meaning, abstract sophistication, and philosophical interpretation of the major Christian doctrines in visual images. New tendencies in painting developed into a new independent trend by the 1540s. Mural paintings of the Kremlin chambers, including the Faceted Chamber, are exemplary in this regard. Illustrated open spaces (the air, the sun, the moon, the earth, and angels), as well as ways of human life (the Saviour, evangelists, paradise gate, and terrestrial, fiery, lunar and time circles) were accompanied with allegorical images, including quite frivolous ones. Such paintings required wise interpretation and a certain level of knowledge. It became possible to combine symbolic and cosmological images, abstract religious ideas with concrete details from earthly life. Thus, the Trinity plot was quite often brought down to household scene at the table put diagonally. Such a decrease and simplification of the initial cult images was reacted upon by adherents of old times. Eventually that led to tightening church control over creativity and prohibition to paint in one’s own way, once again consolidating the strict icon-painting canon, which came down from the Greeks and Andrei Rublyov.
The Russian icon painting of the 16th century was characterized by the tendency to glorify the official political ideas by means of art. Thus there appeared the well-known icon Church Militant, aka Blessed is Heavenly Tsar’s Host. It depicted the return of the Russian army after Moscow’s victory over Kazan. Its main idea was the deification of the Moscow troops headed by Ivan the Terrible. However, the allegorical expression of Moscow triumph cannot overtop the feeling of wildlife with its open space, and vital force of the military crowd. This icon actually comes very close to a secular painting genre.
Secular genres were actively developed in that period. Various imperial theories, universal and cosmological concepts of the statehood idea, as well as dynastic interests promoted historicism, which was more and more exempting from the allegorical form. The mural painting of the Gold Chamber of the Kremlin Palace included lots of historical scenes, such as Christianization of Kievan Rus', history of imperial regalia of Vladimir Monomakh, Monomakh's campaign to Constantinople, etc. The fresocs in the Faceted Chamber unfolded Rurik's genealogy, the history of subdivision of Kiev lands by Prince Vladimir, and so on.

Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian History Russian Painting Russian Culture   

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