Russian Architecture

For most of its history, Russian architecture has been predominantly religious. Churches were for centuries the only buildings to be constructed of stone, and today they are almost the only buildings that remain from its ancient past. The basic elements of Russian church design emerged fairly early, around the eleventh century. The plan is generally that of a Greek cross (all four arms are equal), and the walls are high and relatively free of openings. Sharply-sloped roofs (tent roofs) and a multitude of domes cover the structure.

During the 8th and 9th centuries in Russia, a controversy in the Orthodox church asked whether religious imagery was blasphemous or not. Despite no real answer ever being decided on, it did prompt a thorough appreciation of the difference between art intended to depict reality and art designed for spiritual contemplation. This is why many images of the era are so invariant. During the 14th century in particular, icon painting, as it was called, took on a much greater degree of subjectivity and personal expression. Unlike the pictorial artwork (Blurred photograph to create a new images) that westerners have become accustomed to, the Russian icon artwork is not about the representation of physical space or appearance. Icons are images intended to aid contemplative prayer, and in that sense they’re more concerned with conveying meditative aura than with laying out a realistic scene. Rather than sizing up the figure in an icon by judging its distortion level, take a look at the way the lines that compose the figure are arranged and balanced, the way they move your eye around. The purpose of such artwork is to inspire reflection and self-examination.

The rising influence of European culture in Russia during the 17th and 18th centuries brought Russian artwork closer to the familiar traditions of western painting. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century when a new Russia artwork style arose, having developed in conjunction with liberal forces of social reform. From the start, the modern art movement was concerned with breaking away from the classical tradition and creating a new kind of art that was intimately engaged with the daily life of Russian society. It developed a renewed interest in traditional Russian art forms, including both decorative folk art and, of course, icon painting. From decorative art it gained an appreciation of the power of abstract geometrical patterns–lines, shapes, and colour were used to construct rhythms and energetic forms, not necessarily to depict objects or actual spaces. In icon paints they started to treat their canvas as a canvas, rather than trying to give the impression that it was a window into a space.

After the 1917 Revolution, the Russian Artists of the unconventional painting, Avant-Garde went into the service of the new Bolshevik regime. They produced political posters, organized street pageants and fairs, and, most notably, carried out the design of the country’s great public spaces for anniversary celebrations of the Revolution. Caught up in the new regime’s emphasis on the importance of industrial power, they began to bring to composition a sense of the rationality and technological focus of industrial work and design which is constructivism.

Like the romantic revivals of Western Europe, the Russian revival was informed by a scholarly interest in the historic monuments of the nation. The historicism resonated with the popular nationalism and Pan-Slavism of the period. Durand’s lithographs (drawing using stone, usually lime stone, and wax) betray a foreigner’s sensitivity to the seeming otherness of Russian architecture, displaying some curiously distorted features, and while they are, on the whole, fairly accurate representations, the folios that he produced belong to the genre of travel literature rather than historical inquiry.

Constructivist architecture was a form of modern architecture that flourished in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and early 1930s. It combined advanced technology and engineering with an avowedly Communist social purpose. Although it was divided into several competing factions, the movement produced many pioneering projects and finished buildings, before falling out of favour around 1932. It has left marked effects on later developments in architecture.


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