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Features of Western European Realism in Russian Icon Art after 16th Century

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Features of Western European Realism in Russian Icon Art after 16th Century

Russia's greatest contribution to world history is the art of Russian Iconography.
The style of this elegant art is a combination of the ancient Byzantine art form and western influences.
The movement to start humanizing the figures depicted on the icon originated in Russia.

Art throughout history has a way of morphing into the current generations concept of expression. It is meant to convey a message. To touch the soul in places that goes beyond the written or oral word. Art can be many things, but ultimately the goal is to create a yearning desire in the heart of the beholder. A yearning for knowledge, or change, and for some faith. This is true even for the early century iconographers of Russia.
Today the image of St. Basil's Cathedral stands confidently in the Red Square of Moscow. The icons that line the nine Iconostands equals over 400 icons ranging from the 16th - 19th centuries. Not that great of a distance away nestled along the Volkhov River is the ancient city of Velikiy Novgorod. Founded in 859 AD, in 2009 it will celebrate it's 1150th birthday. This town represents so much more than standing the test of time, it was once revered in medieval times as one of the greatest art cites in all of Europe. In the history of world culture many revere Russian Iconography as Russia's greatest contribution. A majority of these sacred icons came to be from the Novgorod School of icon painting.
Andrei Rublev, one of the most acclaimed Russian iconographers, started the change during the 15th century. He is accredited with creating a new style of painting. He accomplished this by using brilliant colors, and changing the attitude of the icon to a more expression of serenity on the faces of the figures depicted. Little by little, the seeds of change began to grow throughout Russia. By the 16th Century, subtle hints of Westernization were starting to become displayed in various of ways, including the sacred Icon. Gradually the impact of the Bible and Western art began to influence the style of original Byzantine Iconography. In the middle of the 17th century, a schism, or divide in the Orthodox Church paved the way for Russian artists to break from the traditional style of that of the Byzantine art form and come into its own.
Many Russian iconographers started using more realism in their artistry. Over the years, Russia has been revered as humanizing the tradition of icons. Tempera paints slowly started being replaced with oil based paints. Up through the 20th century both traditional and westernized styles of iconography emerged simultaneously. Some iconographers stayed true to the Byzantine roots, while others opted to combine the two styles. The last group, the ones that moved further into the westernized styles slowly brought the Modern Art Movement to Russia. David Coomler, who wrote "The Icon Handbook", best stated it as "it was as though the natural evolution of artistic styles was sped up as Russia hurled toward revolution."
Just as proudly as the St. Basil's Cathedral stands today, Russian Iconography has secured its place in Art history as exceptional. Without a doubt, in another 1150 years, Novgorod will still be revered for the birth of the great Russian Iconography.

"St. Basil's Cathedral" (2003-2009). Retrieved on May 22nd, 2009
From Optima Tours
"Novgorod" (2008). Retrieved on May 22nd, 2009
Kubilius, Kerry (2009). Russian Icons Though History. Retrieved on May 22nd, 2009
From Suite 101.
Coomler, David. (2004-2008) Russian Icons: A Brief History. Retrieved on May 22nd, 2009 from Sacred Art Gallery

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