Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview

26
Russian Architecture

RUSSIAN ACHITECTURE is associated mainly with five areas: Kiev, Novgorod-Pskov, Vladimir-Suzdal, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Each area reflects a peculiar local character and a degree of foreign impact, while cumulatively they represent a national trend. As elsewhere, the development of Russian architecture depended upon construction materials available, upon climate and soil, landscape, material needs, and aesthetic yearnings of the people involved. Russia lacked marble, and the country did not acquire stone for construction until the eighteenth century with the expansion in the northwest. Red granite, gray Siberian marble, agate, and malachite became available after the establishment of Russian authority in the Ural area and with the improvement of transportation. Abundant lumber resources made wood predominant in construction, and the Russians proved themselves able wood craftsmen. The scarcity of more durable materials, not to mention the landscape of vast plains, explains the conspicuous absence of imposing castles and massive cathedrals built of stone on steep river banks such as are frequent in western Europe.

Though local circumstances robbed the architect of the familiar Western massiveness in stone structures, he was richly compensated in other ways, being able to create a lighter, more graceful pattern and richer color in woodwork, which stone would not permit. The Russian builder made brick of whatever material he could lay his hands on within the locality. This he surfaced with colorful tile. Tile frequently gave the artist a medium for exercise of free fancy; many panels still preserved display unusual skill as well as superb design in wall decorations. Since wood is far less durable than stone and since frequent wars and fires proved more destructive to wood, the scarcity of architectural monuments in Russia is well accounted for. Climatic conditions also explain some architectural peculiarities. Thus in the north heavy snowfalls account for the much steeper and lower or intersected double-sloped roofs, while in the south one finds more frequently the pedimental covering.

The main foreign influences came from Georgia, Armenia, and, to a lesser degree, Scandinavia. For reasons none too clear one detects in Vladimir-Suzdal a pronounced Italian influence--in the richly ornate walls, the Romanesque portals, and the arches or columns that support an upper storey.

The Christian faith brought the Byzantine missionary and church

-501-

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