The art of Ancient Rus is a unique fusion of the pagan traditions of the Eastern Slavs and the Byzantine influence on local culture
The art of Ancient Rus is an important part of the cultural heritage of all East Slavic peoples. Numerous works of art of Ancient Rus are the result of the creativity of a huge number of artists who lived on the territory of modern Ukraine, Belarus and Russia from the 9th to the first third of the 13th centuries. Unfortunately, only a small number of works by ancient masters have survived to this day.
The art of Ancient Russia combines the traditions of several neighboring cultures at once. In addition to Slavic roots, the influence of the Byzantine and Balkan masters who lived on the territory of the ancient Russian state for several centuries is clearly traced.
The main periods of the art
The art of Ancient Rus developed over four hundred years: from the period of the creation of a powerful centralized state in the middle of the 9th century to the Mongol-Tatar invasion at the end of the first third of the 13th century. During this time, enormous changes have taken place not only in the political, but also in the cultural life of the Eastern Slavs.
It is customary for modern historians to divide the art of Ancient Rus into two main periods: pre-Christian and Christian. The pre-Christian period lasted just over a hundred years – from the moment of the formation of Kievan Rus under the leadership of the first chronicler prince Rurik to the official adoption of Christianity in 988. At this time, the art was dominated by ancient local cultural traditions, formed over many centuries on the basis of the pagan beliefs of the East Slavic tribes.
After the Baptism of Rus by Vladimir, the Christian period of the history of the state began, which was characterized by the introduction of new cultural traditions in all spheres of art. In the heyday of the ancient Russian principality, not only Christian missionaries rushed here, but also numerous masters from different parts of the Byzantine Empire, including from its capital, Constantinople, as well as the Greek and Anatolian lands.
Features of the art of Ancient Rus
Art of Ancient Rus mainly includes masterpieces created by skilled artists and artisans in the following areas: Architecture. Sculptures. Icon painting. Fresco painting. Mosaics. Book miniatures. Jewelry making.
In addition, unique items of many varieties of decorative and applied arts (sewing, weaving, stone carving, artistic metalworking, weaving and ceramics) are of great historical value.
The architecture of Ancient Russia of the pre-Christian period has practically not survived to this day, since all buildings in those days were built of wood. Stone architecture appeared only with the adoption of Christianity. Historians recognize the Church of the Tithes in Kiev as the first historical building erected of stone, created by masters invited from Byzantium.
In the next two centuries, a large number of stone churches were built on the territory of Russia, including the world famous masterpieces of architecture: St. Sophia Cathedral, the Golden Gate and the complex of buildings of the Kiev-Pechersky Monastery in Kiev; St. Sophia Cathedral in Veliky Novgorod; Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir; Nativity Cathedral in Suzdal; Transfiguration Cathedral in Chernigov.
The architecture of Ancient Russia is characterized by the predominance of a cross-domed layout during the construction of temples. The craftsmen decorated the wooden window frames with stained-glass windows, and the walls were erected from square bricks and natural stone. Limestone plaster was used to protect the buildings from humidity and temperature changes.
Wooden and stone sculpture was widespread in Russia in the pre-Christian period.
The main object of the ancient masters’ creativity were idols – idols depicting various deities of the pagan pantheon. After the adoption of Christianity, these monuments of ancient art were destroyed everywhere in the fight against idolatry.
Due to the fact that sculpture experienced an obvious decline in the Byzantine Empire at the beginning of the second millennium AD, this sphere of art practically did not develop in Christian Kievan Rus. The only exceptions were small reliefs, which were created by craftsmen on limestone slabs to decorate temples.
But painting in Kievan Rus during the X-XIII centuries experienced a true heyday. The visiting Byzantine masters generously shared with local artists the unique secrets of creating icons and fresco paintings. Images with the faces of saints and scenes from sacred texts adorned the interiors of cathedrals, and wooden icons were an important component not only of the decoration of temples, but also of many religious rituals.
Old Russian artists achieved significant success in the field of mosaics, from pieces of multi-colored glass (smalt), they laid out colorful wall, floor and ceiling panels in churches according to the Byzantine model. But the laborious mosaic art at the beginning of the 12th century was almost completely replaced by a lighter technique of artistic decoration – fresco painting.
The art of creating Russian chronicles – one of the varieties of book miniatures – dates back to the beginning of the 11th century.
The centers of this craft were monasteries, princely courts and places of residence of church hierarchs. In addition to the texts, the scribes decorated the parchments with all kinds of patterns and color illustrations. Along with historical annals, ancient craftsmen also produced unique documents on the following topics: sacred Christian texts; epic plots; folklore folk works.
The ancient Russian land was also famous for its jewelry. Local craftsmen masterfully mastered various techniques of artistic metalworking, made luxury items for the nobility, festive household utensils, ornaments for clothes, as well as pectoral crosses and miniature images. Kolts – women’s jewelry for headdresses in the form of hollow metal pendants – can be rightfully ranked among the unique jewelry made by local craftsmen.
The art of Ancient Rus today is of great interest to historians and collectors. At art auctions, masterpieces of arts and crafts and fine arts are sold for a lot of money, and unique artifacts of that era found during archaeological excavations adorn the expositions of the best museums in the world.