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Russian art and architecture

The Art of the Icon

The earliest painters of religious art in Russia were Greeks or Greek-trained Russians, who generally followed the form and iconography of the Byzantine school (see icon). Within the framework of the highly schematic Byzantine rendering of the human figure, Russian art (11th–14th cent.) ranged from an extremely hieratic and intellectual concept to a softer, more devotional image. The Russians added a number of saints to the Byzantine hierarchy. Among those frequently depicted were saints Vladimir, Olga, Boris, Gleb, and later Alexander Nevsky. From the mid-13th through the 14th cent. little art flourished under the Tatar invaders except in Novgorod and Pskov, which remained free and were the dominant cultural centers until the rise of Moscow at the end of the 15th cent.

Icon painting was brought to its highest achievement as a Russian art form in the late 14th and 15th cent. with the expressive frescoes of the Greek painter Theophanes, in the church of the Transfiguration in Novgorod (1378), and with the Hellenized works of the Russian artist Andrei Rublev (e.g., Trinity, c.1410; Tretyakov Gall., Moscow). The master Dionysius introduced new iconographical motifs, scenes of miracles, which he imbued with great vitality. A high level of quality was maintained in icon painting until the 17th cent., when it deteriorated into an ornate, extremely detailed, convention-ridden art.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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