Icons for centuries. Art in Russia
We are all used to considering art according to the traditional path traced by Western historians.
Prehistory, Greek and then Roman art and Byzantine art that lasted 6 centuries until Giotto's revolution in 1200.
Masaccio, Mantegna, Lippi, Piero della Francesca up to the Renaissance with Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo, then Caravaggio, and so on until Paris took away the center of painting with its impressionists. An important stage remains for the Dutch (the Flemings) and the Spaniards up to Goya and Picasso.
From Duchamp onwards, the USA will then determine what is art and what is not.
But the rest of the world?
Where is the art of all the other countries?
I start from Russia, considering the vast territory that in our imagination we call Russia but which, over the centuries, has had several denominations and borders.
The beginning of a monarchical entity that unites some Slavic-Eastern countries is Kievan Rus' in the year 860, with its capital, obviously in Kiev.
This date is important because it is from here that the "conversion" to Christianity of the peoples of the area is believed to have started.
And it was with the advent of Christianity that art became uniform, passing from the Byzantine model to the affirmation of its own characteristic: the icon.
Generally icons are panel paintings of relatively small dimensions, although in some churches and monasteries they are found in much larger sizes.
The icon has a religious and ritual function and both the figures and the way of representing them are codified and unique. Strictly two-dimensional, the saints, angels and stories from the Bible were portrayed on a gold background.
No nudity and no fantasy.
In Russian homes, a space called “krasnyi ugol” (red corner) was dedicated to prayer and icons and other religious objects dedicated to prayer.
The composition of this “corner” is also rigid.
It was necessary to use a wall to the east (because it is from the east that the Lord will return, like a rising sun) and the setting included, among other things, an icon of Christ, one of Christ with Mother and the icon of the patron saint of the family; other important icons were added according to the possibilities of the family.
Rich in symbols and contents, this almost unique form of art lasts for centuries and is not in the least influenced by what is happening in neighboring Europe. Equal to itself for centuries, iconic art does not have names and protagonists like Western painters. They don't even sign them. An exception is the painter Andrei Rublev (around 1400), who later became a saint.
We will have to wait until 1700 to break this artistic monotony and to find, together with the industrial revolution and other peoples' progress, new forms of figurative expression in the countries of the Soviet Union.