Written by Francesca Urpi

A beauty, fruit of mixture

It is not easy to draw a precise line on what includes a country like Russia. Geographically speaking we mean almost a continent in its own right, historically it is a country rich in influences and contradictions. Lately, especially for what Europe is experiencing it is good to show to all those who do not know this culture how important it is to discern the beauty of a country that has so much to give beyond a political point of view that as in many other nations is dangerous and harms only innocent. For this reason one of the best ways that allows the human being to cross borders, eradicate from prejudices and overcome racisms is art. Because, as well stated a famous phrase, that is good these days assume as a repetita iuvant is that art will save the world. Let us therefore analyze step by step what is the history of art of a country that has borders with countries from Europe up to the lands of Asia. A swarm of ethnic groups and traditions that have created an original art, outside the ranks, but above all new and fascinating.

The Russian Art.

Unlike the rest of Europe, Russia has not had the same historical and artistic development as all other countries In Europa that influenced each other through tours and trips. Think of the famous tours of Europe and even just the simple territorial proximity of countries that were not thousands of kilometers from each other. Moving towards a land so far away was a particularly long commitment. A hint of art was made with the icon. This is a total emblem of Russian culture. This element was inherited from the Christian culture, when, in 988, the conversion to Christianity took place in Russia, there is still talk of the Kievian state. The expression of this symbol had such a strong impact that it also enraged the Russian avant-gardes of recent times. It is basically a wooden tablet that can take different sizes. Then in case it is placed inside the Russian houses, it is placed in the beautiful s corner. Ancient Russian art includes therefore also the Ukrainian and Belarusian art, is a type of art more extensive that reports several peculiarities This type of art had very precise rules. The subjects, for example, had to correspond to a certain canon and among these Roblov embodies one of the exponents artists used to reproduce icons. A work that although meticulous and attentive, was anonymous and impregnated with impersonality. What characterizes Russian art, however, of these early stages are two aspects. The first is the explosion. Lotman, russian intellectual of the twentieth century, says that russian culture “proceeds by explosions”, so for explosive moments that create something new. The second aspect is appropiation. Russian culture very often appropriates western models taken from European schools. The fact of taking a model and declining it in an original way is a creative appropriation that is part of russian art. This is a process that will be replicated, as I well mentioned earlier, with the figure of the icon. We know that this is in fact born in Byzantium; therefore we lead ourselves back to a religion far from the orthodox one but which became a model of it. The historical espisodium of reference is framed above all in the moment in 843 Michele I, Byzantine emperor, ordered the destruction of all sacred images following an iconoclastic idea. Avenne so that the monks try to save them by bringing them into Russian territory. The main representations of the icons are those of Jesus and Our Lady. The mother of God has a value very different from our tradition, it is defined in reality as the way to reach Jesus. That of his name is a much discussed theme, the final decision is made on the occasion of the Council of Ephesus of 431, after which it becomes the most widespread image in all of Russia. The first subjects in the various icon schools are linked to the life of Christ and Mary. As often happens the first steps towards an artistic expression have an almost religious and targeted key to the homologation desired by the prevailing society. It took a few years before we departed from Andrei Rublev. This is the most famous painter of Russian icons. Its legendary icon of the Holy Trinity can be called the spiritual symbol of Russian art. Let us now turn our gaze to two cities that have welcomed, nourished and given rise to the dawn of the most famous Russian figurative arts in the world. Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

Saint Petersburg
A city as young as it is fascinating. Its origins are rather young, since Saint Petersburg was a city built by order of Petro I in 1702. Grey, humid, rainy but incredible source of inspiration especially for the great Russian writers. These include Dostoevsky, whose name is naturally linked to the famous novel White Nights. A title that clarifies the charm given by the particular atmospheric phenomenon, typical of the capital of the north. This in fact contributes to increase that sensation of fantasy, of unnatural that is perceived towards Petersburg: the charm of white nights is a contrast to the prosaicity of reality. The first stop to fully appreciate Russian culture is the Hermitage. This indicates the architectural complex that includes various buildings built between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. More than 3 million works of art are housed in the museum and the route to visit all the halls is about 24 kilometers. A mammoth place that consists of numerous buildings and whose greatness, places in a state of total amazement. The first to be named is The Winter Palace. From the outside emerges a small baroque style by the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, was completed in 1762. Appreciated and well received by the Russian court, he was at the service of Peter the Great and was appointed court architect in 1738 and his rich and sumptuous style became very popular thanks especially to Empress Elisabeth. After the withdrawal of the Italian artist, Catherine the Great ascended the throne, who preferred the splendor of the simplicity of the neoclassical style. Later the interiors were modified several times in 1806 by Giuseppe Lucchini under the direction of Giacomo Quarenghi and completely rebuilt in 1837, when the Palace was partially destroyed due to a devastating fire. In 1852, after some extensions, the Hermitage became the first public museum in the city, although access was limited to a circle of users defined as “respectable”. All this changes after the revolution. The infinite quantity coming from Italy, from the Netherlands to the Chinese collections makes this place even richer and full of beauty. In order to appreciate it thoroughly, however, it is good not to miss the parts that have characterized this place since the beginning of its birth, even before it was open to the public. The Hall of Peter I, also known as the Small Throne Room, is one of the many representative rooms of the Winter Palace, one of the palaces that make up the Hermitage Museum.The hall, named after Peter the Great, was built in 1833 by Auguste de Montferrand, the architect of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, for Tsar Nicholas I. After the fire of 1837, which almost completely destroyed the palace, the hall was rebuilt by Vasily Stasov respecting the original Baroque style. In addition to the throne, which was made of gilded silver by the French-British craftsman Nicholas Clasuen, the painting depicting Minerva, made by Jacopono Amigoni, and those representing the battles of Poltava and Lesnaja are essential, by Pietro Scotti and Barnaba Medici. The latter represent the episodes of the Northern War that saw Peter the Great win against the Swedish Empire. As the seat of the royal court, each crowned family ordered new rooms for themselves, decorated in the latest fashion. Like the Small rococo dining room. During the assault on the palace in 1917 the Provisional Government hid here. At the time of their arrest, the arrows on the chimney clock were stopped. A signal that, although minimal, marked a drastic turning point forever. The Russian people in fact knew for a long time the oppression and exploitation of royalty. Historical changes mean that novelties emerge and that they are often reflected not only in society, in customs, but especially in art. Going on, we continue with the interior of the Golden Living Room, it is decorated in the Byzantine style, reminiscent of the architecture of the royal rooms of the Moscow Kremlin. Now here are exhibited excellent examples of European glyptic, once belonging to the Duke of Orleans, Casanova, as well as the work of the English carvers William and Charles Brown. Another museum worth visiting is the Fabergé Museum. It was born by the will of the industrialist Viktor Vekselberg who thanks to his personal collection of artistic finds, jewels of the last Tsars of Russia. It was opened on 19 November 2013 and opened to the public in the spring of 2014 is located in the Šuvalovskij Palace, on the banks of the Fontanka, not far from the Nevsky Prospect. These masterpieces are the famous “eggs” that the jeweler produced for the wives of the Tsars, first for Alexander III and then for Nicholas II. To conclude we have to discover one of the churches that deserves special attention as a place of art is another must-see of a visit to Saint Petersburg is the Cathedral of Saint Isaac. According to the wish of Alexander I in 1818. The Emperor, author of the final victory against Napoleon Bonaparte and protagonist of the Congress of Vienna, entrusted the project to the French architect Auguste Ricard de Montferrand. The decision provoked internal discontent that, in turn, determined the lengthening of the times of construction of the church. The delay in the execution of the works allowed Nicholas I, in the meantime successor to his older brother, to remedy with the local architects who were allowed to make many changes to the original project. Hence the remarkable magnificence of the Cathedral. An example of Russian neoclassicism, it shows the opulence and the eternal love for the richness of the materials used. For the copula, for example, more than 100 kilos of gold foil were used, the colonnade and the mosaics that decorate the walls are also observed. Just the dome is the element that attracts most visitors. This is 101 meters high, is the most beautiful viewpoint of the city.


The first to call Moscow the Third Rome was the orthodox monk Filofej who wrote between 1523 and 1524 a letter to the Grand Prince of Moscow urging him to fight heresy. According to the monk, the Principality of Moscow remained the last bastion of true faith. “All the Christian kingdoms have come to an end and have merged into the one kingdom of our sovereign,” Filofej wrote in one of his letters. “Two Romes have fallen, but the third resists and there will be no fourth. A city that even preserves in the Kremlin settlements dating back to ancient bronze. Over the course of history it had a strong prominence in the world panorama. Among the monumeti to see, we mention the first that is the Moscow Kremlin.A fortified citadel located in the geographical and historical center of the city of Moscow, on the left bank of the Moscow River, on the Borovickij hill. It is the oldest part of the city and is home to the national government institutions of Russia, as well as one of the most important artistic and historical complexes of the nation. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. The Kremlin began as a fortification of the settlement on Borovicky Hill, near the confluence of the Neglinnaya Stream and the Moskva River. The earliest mention of the Kremlin in the chronicles of the time dates back to 1147. The first fortifications were built in 1156, for a total length of about 700 meters. From 1264 it became the residence of the princes of Moscow. The current walls and towers were built between 1485 and 1495. The entire development of the walls is 2,235 meters, the height varies between 5 and 19 meters, the thickness between 3.5 and 6.5 meters. The walls delimit an area of irregular triangular shape. Along the walls there are twenty towers. The three that occupy the vertices of the triangle have round section, the others square. The highest tower, the Troitskaya, measures 80 meters. Known as St Basil’s Cathedral, it is a cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church erected on Moscow’s Red Square between 1555 and 1561. Built at the behest of Ivan IV of Russia to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. Eessa represents the geometric center of the city and the hub of its growth since the fourteenth century. It was the tallest building in the city of Moscow until the completion of the Great Bell Tower of Ivan the Great in 1600. The maesyosity of this building of worship makes it the protagonist throughout the area. The design of the building, whose shape resembles the flames of a bonfire rising towards the sky. What immediately stands out in my opinion is primarily the size of the building but especially its color. The cathedral acquired its current vivid colours only in successive phases between 1680 and 1848. The Russian attitude toward color changed during the 17th century in favor of light colors; icons and mural art experimented in this period an explosive expansion of the range of available paintings and dyes and combinations between them. The original coloristic approach, in the absence of such innovations, was much less demanding. He followed the description of the Heavenly City in the Apocalypse of John. They depicted the twenty-five seats of the Apocalypse and were recreated literally: adding eight small onion domes around the central tent, four around the western churches, plus four others, the builders created a church with twenty-five gold crowns; this arrangement survived well into the seventeenth century.The walls of the cathedral mixed simple wall textures, or pictorial imitations of the same, with white ornaments, to about the same extent.The domes, covered with tin, were uniformly gilded, creating a very bright, but quite traditional, combination of white, red and gold. Moderate use of blue and green ceramic brought a touch of rainbow, as prescribed by the Bible. A masterpiece symbol of Russian art. The Tretyakov State Gallery (is one of the most important museums in the country, the best in Moscow and the main treasurer of Russian art. His works range from medieval icons to the tendencies of Soviet socialist realism or avant-garde, passing through the main national painters along the centuries and reaching to our days.His name is due to Pavel Tretyakov. He was a Muscovite textile dealer and art collector who began his collection in 1856. He was also helped by his brother Sergei. In 1892, when he already had 2,000 works, he donated his legacy to the city. A year later the official opening was held. This great philanthropist died in 1898 and is buried in the unique and beautiful cemetery of Novodevichy. He certainly had no idea of the great popularity that would reach his private collection of paintings. Among the most recognized artists of the Tretyakov State Gallery is Vasily Ivanovich Surikov (1848-1916), who was one of the most famous Russian realist painters. His most important works deal with historical issues that have to do with Russia. These include the Execution of the Strelzi of 1698. The Strelzi were a Russian military corps created in 1550 during the reign of Ivan IV, The Terrible. The Strelzas received land as a reward for their services. During the sixteenth century they became an elite body, gaining influence at the Russian court. They rebelled in 1698 against Tsar Peter when he was outside Moscow. When Peter returned, he severely punished the strelzi, even cutting off the head of some of them personally. After mentioned this, one of the best painting to see is Ivan the Terrible and his son represent the grnade mastery and the study of tragedy of a very famous story. Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) is thought to have killed his son during a family quarrel after the pregnant heir’s wife had dared to pass near the Tsar in her petticoat, an act considered outrageous. In fact, historians do not have enough evidence to clarify the reasons for the young man’s death, but thanks in part to the famous painting by Iljà Repin (1844-1930), most Russians believe that Ivan the Terrible is guilty of killing his son. What interests us is the truth beyond the work since The Repin Painting was inspired by the assassination of the Russian Emperor Alexander II (killed on 1 March 1881). Bullfighting, of which Repin was a spectator during his travels in Europe in 1883, is also cited as an important source, especially as regards the depiction of blood. Going on with the years there is another famous artist who created Composition VII (1913), it is of course Vassily Kandinsky, precursor painter of abstract art and expressionist worldwide, with more works in the New Treatiakov Gallery.

The avant-garde in Russia.

In the early years of the twentieth century, many avant-garde poetic currents had developed in Russia. These were inspired by the cultural movements of Western Europe. In particular, Russian symbolism had achieved poetic results of great value and had prepared in literature a terrain on which Futurism could easily take root, as it did in the rest of Europe. Already in 1905 Marinetti’s Symbolist literary magazine, “Poetry”, was read in Russia and promoted literary exchanges between the two countries. Between 1909 and 1910, many articles on Italian futurism appeared in Russian magazines. In those same years Balla exhibited his works in four Russian cities. In 1911 and then in 1912, several Russian Cubist artists came to Italy who were beginning to be infected by Futurism, including Kamensky who wanted to learn “the futurist art of piloting”. In 1911 a large collection of futurist posters was published in French, which made the theories of Marinetti and his companions accessible to a wide audience in Russia. At that time in Russia there were many literary experimentalisms, especially around the poet Chlebnikov, extraordinarily endowed in valuing the expressive possibilities of language beyond the most obvious meaning, playing on the various echoes present simultaneously in words, on the trace of assonances, with the creation of neologisms, asemantic infantile language, etc. On a strictly formal, anti-academic research plane, the Russians were very advanced. But in Russia the need for a radical renewal of society and its structures was felt very acutely, much more than in Italy; On the other hand, the Russian intelligentsia had for decades been going through a very bitter debate between those who proposed to adapt to the conquests of the West and those who argued instead the need not to distort the Slavic culture, to remain themselves and find their own way. Even the avant-garde were often wary of an uncritical reception of Western models and often, in their anxiety for drastic innovations, even subversive, preferred to refer to remote and often fanciful prehistoric and pre-Christian roots. The name “Futurism” was adopted for the first time in Russia by Petersburg artists, the so-called Futurists, who while eclectically frequenting also certain Marinettian themes, actually exalted individualism in key as a philosophy of the future. The artists of Gileia, who won the title of Futurists starting from 1913, clashed with the egofuturists in fierce controversy, between 1912 and 1914. The Muscovite futurists felt the collective and the organized movement very much. In 1913 the press talked a lot about them, who performed in events carefully prepared in the streets of Moscow, where with garish clothes and painted faces that scandalized the bourgeois declaimed their verses among passers-by. finally Russia was flooded in those years by a series of literary, theatrical and pictorial works, perfectly in line with the canons of futurism.