Russia, Architecture in

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RUSSIA, ARCHITECTURE IN. Construction in old Russia was principally of horizontal logs from trees abundantly available in the forested zones where most Russians lived. Floor plans of log structures were typically combinations of square or rectangular cells, whether the structures were houses, palaces, fortification towers, or churches. In church architecture, carpenters reproduced the two basic plans inherited from Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Christian masonry churches: an extended east-west plan of sanctuary, nave, and narthex, or a centrally oriented plan of a square or octagon of logs, sometimes with extensions built around a central nave. Several open-air museums of traditional wooden architecture have been established in Russia, among them Suzdal', Novgorod, Kostroma, Kizhi, Arkhangel'sk, and Lake Baikal.

Wood and masonry architecture influenced one another in numerous ways. In wooden log churches, for example, the curve of a masonry apse is imitated by a half-octagon of shortened logs. The "storied" effect of some masonry churches (for example, the Church of the Intercession at Fili, 1690s, Moscow) is copied from log churches surmounted by tiers of receding log octagons (for example, the wooden Church of the Transfiguration, eighteenth century, Museum of Wooden Architecture, Suzdal'). Especially popular in village wooden church architecture was a tent-shaped superstructure, usually with eight slopes arising from an octagonal drum. The drum in turn was placed on one or more square or octagonal bases (for example, the wooden Church of the Dormition from the village of Kuritsko, 1595, Novgorod open-air museum). A masonry imitation is the brick Church of the Ascension at Kolomenskoe, 1532, Moscow.

St. Basil's Cathedral (sixteenth to seventeenth centuries) on Red Square in Moscow represents a sort of encyclopedic combination of elements from both wooden and masonry architecture. Its central chapel, for example, imitates a log tower/tent structure, topped by an onion dome. The Russian onion-shaped dome was functional in designto shed rain and prevent snow buildupand also symbolic; its shape was likened to a candle flame of faith reaching up to heaven. Among masonry influences, St. Basil's has exterior ornamentation borrowed from the walls and churches of the nearby Italian-built Kremlin.

A major building project in Moscow in the late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries was the reconstruction of the Kremlin, the central citadel of the city. Because of the lack of experience and skill among native builders, architects from northern Italy were imported for the task. Italians designed and built the present red brick-faced Kremlin walls, the Cathedrals of the Dormition and the Archangel Michael, the Palace of Facets, and the Great Ivan Bell Tower and adjacent Dormition Belfry. Least Italianate in the appearance of these structures is the Dormition Cathedral (1470s) by Aristotele Rudolfo Fioravanti, an engineer who copiedas instructedthe cubic mass surmounted by five domes of the twelfth-century Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir. Most importantly, Fioravanti and his colleagues introduced Russian builders to better brick and mortar construction techniques, making possible an unprecedented building boom throughout Russia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Standing on Cathedral Square in the Kremlin, one can identify architectural elements that mirror the political and territorial rise of Muscovite Russia: architectural compositions and ornamentation from regions incorporated into Muscovy (Pskov, Novgorod, Vladimir), from village wooden architecture, and from Italy. In turn, given the prestige of major buildings in the capital city, Kremlin structures became models for buildings throughout Russia. For example, the Dormition Cathedral became an oftrepeated model for subsequent major cathedrals (Novodevichii Convent in Moscow, Vologda, Kostroma, the Trinity-St. Sergii Monastery outside Moscow, Rostov Velikii, and others).


If Muscovite architecture achieved a synthesis of regional, village, and Italian influences in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, that synthesis was shattered in the seventeenth century when west European influences entered Russia from Ukraine, a portion of which was incorporated into Muscovy in the mid-seventeenth century. A so-called Moscow baroque decorative style characterized many churches and palaces in the second half of the seventeenth century (the Church of the Trinity in the Nikitniki Courtyard, mid-seventeenth century, Moscow, is an example), but aside from baroque decorative elements, these structures show little of the balance and symmetry of the baroque style of Western Europe. Several regional centers developed their own schools of architecture, notably Iaroslavl', northeast of Moscow, whose seventeenth-century churches are crowned by elongated slender drums under the domes.

Building and design in Muscovy was typically a family affair: a builder would pass on his skills to his sons (although none of them might be literate) and design plans might not be drawn up in advance of a construction project. With the founding and buildup of St. Petersburg, beginning in the early eighteenth century, the old Muscovite building trade became the new "science" of arkhitektura, studied in special new schools where pupils were taught foreign languages, mathematics, and classical architecture. Teachers and textbooks first came from west Europe but were quickly followed by newly trained Russian masters and Russian translations. A Chancellory of Construction was established which supervised training and construction, first for St. Petersburg, then later in the eighteenth century for cities throughout the country.

Beginning with Peter I the Great (ruled 16821725), west European architectural trends determined the overall style of "high" architecturealmost all significant government and private constructionand the personal taste of the ruler determined the current style employed. Peter's favorite architect, Domenico Trezzini, employed the restrained baroque of northern Europe, for example in his 400-meter-long Twelve Colleges Building, 17221742, St. Petersburg. The very existence of such a large government building, the likes of which did not exist in Moscow at the time, indicates a new and major investment by the government in an extensive administrative system. The planned design of St. Petersburg, with its neat grids and patterns of streets, regular building heights and setbacks, wide avenues, and huge squares and public spaces, brings to mind another eighteenth-century city planned from scratch and designed to impress citizens and foreigners alike: Washington, D.C.

Major architectural styles after Peter were a fancy baroque, or rococo during the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna (ruled 17411762), exemplified by the works of Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli (Winter Palace, Smolnyi Convent, Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo), and classical or neoclassical in the reign of Catherine II the Great (ruled 17621796), for example the Hermitage Theater by Giacomo Quarenghi, the Great Palace at Pavlovsk by Charles Cameron and others, and the Marble Palace by Antonio Rinaldi.

The "St. Petersburgization" of architecture in other citiesin particular, the dispersion of classical or neoclassical normsgained momentum during Catherine's reign and continued to influence Russian architecture throughout the imperial period. An early example of classical architecture in Moscow is the Pashkov House, attributed to V. I. Bazhenov (1780s), now a part of the Russian State Library, formerly the Lenin Library.

See also Architecture ; Baroque ; Catherine II (Russia) ; City Planning ; Moscow ; Neoclassicism ; Peter I (Russia) .


Brumfield, William Craft. A History of Russian Architecture. Cambridge, U.K., 1993.

Cracraft, James. The Petrine Revolution in Russian Architecture. Chicago and London, 1988.

Hamilton, George Heard. The Art and Architecture of Russia. 3rd ed. New York, 1983.

Jack Kollmann

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