Written by Alice Bertolasi
In the silence of a cultural and social censorship that more and more nowadays has
been erecting like a barrier from the Scandinavian peninsula to the Caucasus, and in a
meridian of a suffering plurality where the uniqueness of this plurality whispers respect
for its own voice and traditions, aspiring instead for a political cooperation; there, up to
the east of all the possibilities, the famed Russia is: great in its magnificence and vast in
its geographical extension.
Nevertheless, this immense country is currently partially hibernated in an antisymmetrical relationship with the rest of Europe and devoted to dialogue with Asia.
So, unfortunately, it is more and more often ignored out of ignorance by those who, in
positions of power, generalize the Russian-Ukrainian conflict including art, literature,
music, therefore obscuring and holding hostage an intellectual patrimony that deserves
present-day even more, considering the severity of the conflict, to be preserved and
Wings are freedom only when they are wide open in flight, wrote the Russian poet Marina
Tsvetaeva almost ninety years ago, and it is incredible how much we can recognise the
truth beneath this affirmation. Indeed, as long as the beauty can rise and can fly, the
beauty will save the whole world, Dostoyevsky would have asserted.
Hence, let’s keep dreaming for an art exploration of Moscow and Saint Petersburg!
I would consequently propose a tour throughout three different evidences of the
– The Central Andrey Rublev Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art in Moscow
– The State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg
– Museum of Avant-Garde Mastery in Moscow
Just around these three different places of the culture, it is possible to build up an
awareness of the Russian roots throughout art contemplation. Here below, I will try to
explain the reasons of my choices.
The Central Andrei Rublev Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art
The Central Andrei Rublev Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art in Moscow is
one of the most eloquent traces of the development of Russian art and Icons making
tradition. It was opened in 1947 and it collects more than ten thousand works of art:
icons from the 13th—early 20th centuries, works of ornamental art, manuscripts, early
printed books, and fresco fragments.
It is located in the old Savior Saint Andronicus Monastery which was founded in the
mid-14th century by Metropolitan Alexis and it includes the Cathedral of the Savior, the
oldest stone architecture in Moscow.
Andrei Rublev, the protagonist of the museum, was a Russian painter. He was born in
1360 and died around the 1430 in Moscow. He lived and worked in the era of the
beginning of the unification of Russian empire when the growth of Moscow’s political
power was accompanied by the active development of social and cultural life. And he
was inspired by Saint Sergius of Radonezh (1322–1392), the prior of the Trinity
Monastery in Sergiyev Posad. Andrei Rublev estimated his special gentleness, humility
and purity of thoughts, together with his firmness in strengthening faith or in resisting
the evil, the love for one’s neighbour and his readiness for self-sacrifice. Therefore, he
attempted to insert these features into his painting, as a completely spiritual painting.
The art of Rublev embodied the Russian spirit, its originality, strength, and significance.
And it elevates the souls of the Russian population towards a desire for love and unity,
making the spiritual knowledge visible to the world.
Trinity by Andrei Rublev (1410)
The main reason why you should go visiting this museum it is for being just one time in
your life in front of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev, which is, at the same time, not only the
synthesis and the starting point, but also the turning point of the whole tradition of
icons’ production in the East Europe.
Andrei Rublev painted The Trinity in 1410 for the abbot of the Trinity Monastery in
Sergiev Posad (the one mentioned before).
He depicted the three mysterious strangers who visited Abraham (Genesis 18:1-15) as
three heavenly wayfarers sitting at a table, probably representing, from left to right:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, these three figures are completely equal: they
have the same size and proportions; they hold a rod in their left hand and each one of
them wears a blue mantel, as blue is the holy color for divinities in orthodox
The Father, as the real Creator, is clocked in a transparent colour and he is blessing the
Son while his gaze turns as well to the other two figures.
The Son is portrayed in the middle figure. His colours are both the holy blue and the
powerful priesthood red, so he portraited as the king (and priest) who descends to help
the people that God created and then, he becomes part of them. With his hand he
blesses the cup he is about to drink, accepting his readiness to sacrifice himself for
humanity. His head is bowed in submission to the Father on the left.
Lastly, the Spirit is indicated in the figure on the right. Over his divinely blue tunic he
wears a cloak of green, symbolizing life and regeneration. His hand is resting on the
table next to the cup and it suggests that he will be with the Son as he carries out his
mission. His head is inclined toward the Father and the Son. And his gaze is toward the
open space at the table.
In the trinitarian aspect, the “Trinity” has three meanings at the same time: it can be
read both as a simple appearance of three angels (“Western” type), and as a traditional
image of God towering over the side angels (“Eastern” type) for the XIV-XV centuries,
and as a symbol of consubstantiality, inseparability, and equality of the three persons of
the Holy Trinity.
But here, it is clear that the main meaning is the last one.
It is visible through the central motive of the composition, the circle, which is a symbol
of eternity, unity, perfection, within peace and it is here imbued with a deep lyrical
feeling and a brightening vision of holiness. This harmony essentially reflects the origin
of an Old Russia where the Renaissance was not an intellectual hierarchy, but a reversal
perspective into the inner love.
The State Hermitage Museum
The second stop of our trip is The Hermitage, or The State Hermitage Museum, whose
name comes from latin ‘Eremita’, and it means isolated, secluded dwelling. This a
classical example of Russian cultural richness: an enchanting architecture which hides
inside treasures gathered from all over the world.
The State Hermitage Museum was established in 1764 by Catherine the Great as a court
museum. Shady and towering it adjoined the Winter Palace, which is also one of the
most stunning architectures of the Russian Baroque, made by Bartolomeo Francesco
Rastrelli and originally the empress’ gallery. It was opened to the public in 1852 and the
collections became a public property in 1917, after the October Revolution. Then, it
continued to expand its collection until the 1950s. Now, you can visit the entire art
fortune housed within five interconnected buildings: the Winter Palace, the Small
Palace, the Old Palace and New Hermitages, including also a detachment of the
headquarter settled in Amsterdam, in the Netherland.
The Hermitage collections count nearly three million items, and they are divided in
sections: from Europe to Asia, from Renaissance paintings to Royal furniture including
archaeological finds, jewelleries, and amazing sculptures. Among these, a list of some
masterpieces which you cannot miss and which can construct a joint between the west
and the east, will absolutely amaze you.
Here they are: The Cameo Gonzaga (portraits of Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II) found in
Alexandria, Egypt and dated 3rd century BC; Aphrodite (Venus Tauride) from ancient
Greece, dated 2nd century BC; The Statue of Jupiter from ancient Rome, dated late 1st
century AD; Madonna Litta, painted by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490s; Annunciation
painted by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano in 1495; Judith painted by Giorgione in
1504; the Elder Venus and Cupid painted by Lucas Cranach in 1509; The crouching Boy
sculptured by Michelangelo in 1530–34; The Lute Player painted by Caravaggio in
1596–96; The Lunch painted by Diego Velazquez in 1617; Perseus Releases Andromeda
painted by Peter Paul Rubens in 1622; Tancred and Erminia painted by Nicolas Poussin
in 1631; Return of the Prodigal Son painted by Rembrandt in 1668; The Peacock Clock
made in London in 1770s; Cupid and Psyche sculptured by Antonio Canova in 1794–99;
The Woman in the Garden Sainte-Adresse painted by Claude Monet in 1867; Boulevard
Montmartre in Paris painted by Camille Pissarro in 1897; Two Sisters (The Meeting)
painted by Pablo Picasso in 1902, Clock Egg by Rothschild Fabergé in 1902 and lastly,
but not beastly, The Dance painted by Henri Matisse in 1910.
A deeper observation is deserved by the Composition VI painted by Wassily Kandinsky
in 1913. Six months on study on this canvas made the Russian composer and painter the
narrator of an energetic declaration of life. While the destruction is close to the present
and the flood is about to burst, a new baptism, a new rebirth is always possible.
A tremendous disaster, which is taking place objectively, is an absolute and, at the same
time, independent warm song of praise, similar to the anthem of a new creation following
the disaster. Wassily Kandinsky
The Museum of Avant-Garde Art (MAGMA)
The last stop of the trip is MAGMA, The Museum of Avant-Garde Art, based in Moscow.
It was opened in the recent 2001 and it is directed by Vyacheslav Moshe Kantor as a
private collection. It houses several hundred of art works including artists such as
Valentin Serov, Leon Bakst, Marc Chagall, El Lissitzky, Chaim Soutine, Amedeo
Modigliani, Eric Bulatov, Ilya Kabakov.
The mission of MAGMA is « to spread the ideas of tolerance and mutual respect in the
world, the unification of all mankind in the face of the challenges of terrorism,
xenophobia and anti-Semitism. The project demonstrates the extreme importance of
the cultural component of modern life and the importance of art in the consolidation of
society»; as the museum declaration of intents asserts.
Basically, it restores the pure aims of the first wave of modern art avant-garde which
sprouted in Russia in the early 20th century, where artists from all the disciplines
Kazimir Malevich, El Lissitzky, Alexsandr Rodchenko, Natalya Goncharova, Mikhail
Larionov and David Burliuk, mixed themselves together in a combination of styles and
movements such as Futurism, Suprematism, Constructivism, Neo-primitivism, Cubism
Thus, reflecting on what Kazimir Malevich stated about his Black Square painted in
1913: It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins, it is hopefully in
this black and blacker squared historical period that a true movement of begin could