The Old Rus’ has left us its amazing white-stone monuments of architecture; the magnificent cathedrals of Vladimir and modest churches of the Moscow Region, constructed of white limestone, embodied their epoch with the stone handwriting of builders, whose talent in those remote times could reveal itself mostly in erecting constructions of cult. With amazing accuracy they abated soft limestone to make wall blocks, flagstones for footsteps, socles and bases, window cases, fanciful figures, ingenious ornaments and even statues. Intricate carvings of ornamental décor on ancient cathedrals have stood the test of time for many centuries.
Usually the term ‘white stone’ stands for light carboniferous limestone (from the Paleozoic Era), occurring in the central regions of European part of modern Russia. However, it is also often referred to sandstone, dolomite, and Volga limestone of Permian formation, as well as numerous sorts of limestone, travertine, and alabaster lying in Transdniestria. Consequently, a more general definition of white stone is any treatable white-yellowish matt surfaced stone, which is neither marble nor shell rock.
Architecture, but in the history of the Old Russia as well.
Christianity came to Russia from Byzantium, but church building was performed of plinthos (a special sort of broad and flat baked bricks) or in the mixed technology, «opus mixtum». The building methods used in Kiev, Novgorod, Pskov, Smolensk, and all other Old Russian lands, but for Vladimir and Suzdal Principality, where white stone building was started in 1152. In the pre-Mongolian years 95 per cent of buildings in Vladimir and Suzdal lands were built of white stone. The most emblematic and impressive white-stone churches are the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir (1158—1160, rebuild in 1186—1189) and the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin on the river Nerl near Bogolyubovo Village of the Vladimir Region (1158).
White-stone building became one of the major steps of the Old Rus becoming one of the leading European powers, the process, interrupted by the Mongol invasion for a long time. However, even in the hard times of the Mongol Yoke the builders of the Old Rus went on using white stone, which probably became one of the factors that helped the Vladimir-Suzdal Princedom in preserving its spiritual independence and resurrecting under the new name of Muscovy Rus’.
When Moscow became the basis for uniting the disconnected Rus into a single state, the construction of monumental buildings was of great importance. Therefore, churches turned to be monuments marking crucial facts in Russian history. Thus, for example, the famous St. Basil Cathedral (1555—1560) was a celebration of Ivan the Terrible’s taking of the Kazan Khanate.
Moscow. However, wide use of white stone did not stop, since it was used everywhere for bases, ground floors, and elements of architectural decor. Stone carving in Russian architecture reached enormous heights in the 16th- 17th centuries. White-stone carving was used both for church and secular buildings. Vivid examples of Russian stone carving art can be found in chambers and towers of the Moscow Kremlin. The Faceted Chamber (1487—1491) was decorated with intricate carved platbands in the 17th century, and the Teremnoy (Tower-Chamber) Palace is one of the treasures of Russian white-stone carving. The craftsmanship of Russian stone carvers manifested itself not only in Moscow, but in other towns and regions as well. Thus, carved stone details can be also seen in Yaroslavl churches of the 17th century, the Convent of the Presentation of the Mother of God in Solvychegodsk, etc.
Carved stones from archeological diggings
by N.A.Artleben near Church on Nerl
Richest realm of animal and fabulous images settled not only on the walls of churches, but also penetrated inside, to the capitals. Most popular were the images of gryphons, lions and leopards. The lion and leopard symbolized the power and strength of Vladimir princes. Gradually they took place in heraldry of great princes. The image of the fanciful gryphon bore a triumphant, winning meaning. Along with these adopted motifs in white-stone sculpture there appeared folklore and apocryphal images, such as dragons, various birds, and Kitovras, which speaks of broad social content of white-stone sculpture images. Folk roots of sculpture most strongly manifested in the floral treelike ornaments.