Forces Contributing to the Development of Kievan Rus’ Artwork

I was getting ready to read several chapters from the 1953 History of Russian Art, vol. 1, related to Kievan Rus’, and decided to start with the introduction written by V.N. Lazarev. This turned out to be an interesting review of the politico-social elements that led to the development of the Kievan state and inputs into its artwork and church relations. The article was written in the height of the Soviet Union, and takes a necessarily Marxist view of the development of history, as well as a bombastic view of Kiev’s superiority over the Romance West. But, if you take that with a grain of salt, it still provides a great overview of the early history of Kiev and its relations with Byzantium, Bulgaria, and Western Europe. From a translation perspective, this was a really difficult read, with a lot of twisty, florid sentences and specialized vocabulary related to Marxist dialectic.

Kievan Rus’

A translation of Лазарев, В.Н. «Киевская Русь.» История русского искусства. Том I. Москва, 1953, с. 95-110. / Lazarev, V.N. “Kievskaja Rus’.” Istorija russkogo iskusstva. Vol. I. Moscow, 1953, pp. 95-110.

[Translation by John Beebe, known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Master Ivan Matfeevich Rezansky, OL.]

[Translator’s notes: I’ve done my best to convey both the meaning and style from the original. Comments in square brackets and footnotes labeled “jeb” are my own. This document may contain specialized vocabulary related to embroidery, archeology, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Russian history; see this vocabulary list for assistance with some of these terms. This translation was done for my own personal education, and is provided here as a free resource for members of the Society for Creative Anachronism who may be interested in this topic but are unable to read Russian. I receive no compensation or income for this work. If you like this translation, please take a look at other translations I have made available on my blog.]

[The article in the original Russian can be found here: ]

Over the course of the 9th-10th centuries, Kievan Rus’, the great hearth of Russian culture, developed and strengthened. During the reigns of Oleg, Igor’, Svyatoslav, Vladimir, and Yaroslav, it turned into a great political power, having not only united the Eastern Slavs, but also having subjugated many non-Slavic tribes. Having overcome tribal strife and committed a number of brilliant campaigns against the Volga Bulgars, the Khazars, the Caucasus, the Danube Bulgars, and running a constant, never-ending struggle against the Steppe, and having asserted its power over Novgorod, Smolensk, Lyubech, and other Russian cities, the princes of Kiev founded a powerful state which was widely known in the East and West, and which was seen by all as a wealthy and cultural country. This “Empire of the Ryurikovichi,” as Marx called it, played an important role in the development of Western Europe, serving as the barrier against which innumerable nomad warriors from Asia dashed themselves.

Kiev was destined to become a center for the gathering national forces. Kiev was the center of Russian craft and trade. Merchant boats were drawn to it from everywhere: from the Volkhov, from the Western Dvina, and from the headwaters of the Dnieper and its tributaries. They brought to Kiev Eastern fabrics, Byzantine goods, and items by Romanesque artisans. Whoever ruled Kiev held within his hands the keys to the main gate of Russian trade. This is why all of the Russian princes were attracted to him. Because of him, they fiercely fought and exterminated each other. This wealthiest of cities was always the subject of their passionate lust. Adam Bremenskij recently called it a rival of Constantinople, “that shining decoration of Greece” (that is, of the Orthodox East),[1]Bremenskij, Adam. Monumenta Germaniae historica. Vol. VII, pp. 312-313. and to Metropolitan Hilarion of Kiev it seemed to be “a shining greatness.”[2]Gudzij, N. Khrestomaija po drevnej russkoj literature XI-XVII vekov. Moscow, 1938, p. 59. The early 11th-century writer Thietmar of Merseburg considered Kiev to be an extremely large and powerful city, containing up to 400 churches and 7 markets.[3]Bremenskij, Monumenta..., Vol. III, p. 871. Under the year 1124, the Laurentian Chronicle states that there was an enormous fire in Kiev, as a result of which “nearly 600 churches burned.” Excavations in 1907-1908, 1938-1940, and 1945-1948 partially confirmed these ancient witnesses, having uncovered remains of richly decorated palaces and churches, as well as ruins of innumerable artistic workshops where stone, bone and horn were processed, where tiles and beads were made, and which created various items of jewelry and enamelwork. No other city could rival Kiev, including Chernigov, which was inherited by Yaroslavich II and which was also famous for its wealth. The Russian population considered Kiev to be its center, where the ancestral prince of the Russian lands sat, from whence all Russian campaigns to the Steppe against the “pagans” began, where the head of the Russian church, the Metropolitan of All Rus’, lived, and where, finally, the most revered of shrines were all concentrated.

“The history of the Kievan state,” as B.A. Grekov correctly notes, “is not the history of Ukraine, nor of Belorus, nor of Greater Russia. It is the history of the state which allowed Ukraine, Belorus, and Greater Russia to mature and grow. This gives enormous meaning to this period in the life of our country.”[4]Grekov, Kievskaja Rus’. Moscow, 1949, p. 9.

The transition from a primitive communal system to feudalism didn’t occur overnight. It was a prolonged process, in which the progressing and ultimately victorious force was the landowner (prince, warrior, church), who grew wealthy at the expense of the peasant community, out of which he scooped up human resources for the organization of his economy.[5]jeb: Soviet writer, insert de rigueur Communist rhetoric.

By the 9th-10th centuries, power had decisively been taken away from the people, and had concentrated in the leaders chosen by the people, the boyars and princes, who passed on the power they seized through inheritance, causing the old national assembly to lose its significance. During the time of Vladimir and Yaroslav, this process of dissolution of the tribal system reached its logical conclusion. Large landholdings grew quickly, in connection to which the position of the prince, his household, and the boyar and church grew increasingly stronger; feudal attitudes developed, and basic economic hardships fell on the shoulders of the peasant community (the smerdy), who became dependents, semi-serfs, or full serfs. In Rus’, the feudal system was established with its two main antagonistic classes: the landowners and the peasants. The power of the state expressed the interests of the most economically-powerful class, the landowners, against whom, as feudal oppression intensified, the masses would rise up (cf. the “plain man” movements of 1068, 1071, and 1113). According to the dominant ideology of the time, which was permeated through by the religious dogma of Christianity, the distance between the simple folk and the representatives of the propertied class was stressed in every way possible. This found expression in works of monumental church architecture, mosaic and fresco cycles, icons, expensive implements, and exquisite vestments. The church was where the liturgy was read and where the Grand Prince and his relatives sat in full glory in the choir, separated from the simple folk who stood in the church, as if to symbolize the social hierarchy of feudal society. One need only consider that contrast which existed between the village peasants and simple citizens and the magnificent churches of Kievan Rus’ to understand the power of the emotional effect of this feudal art.

Under Vladimir, who strengthened and broadened the Kievan state, Rus’ accepted Christianity (988-989). The strengthening feudal system urgently required the replacement of the old pagan religion, which had been formed based on the tribal system, with a new one which could meet the needs of the quickly feudalizing society. At first, Vladimir attempted to bring about reform of the pagan religion by bringing all of the Slavic, Eastern and Finnish gods into a single pantheon. But, this reform was unable to bring about positive results, as Rus’ was surrounded by countries which had already accepted Christianity. During the “choice of the faith,” so beautifully described by the chronicles, it was far from coincidence that Vladimir preferred the “Greek faith,” that is, Orthodox Christianity. By selecting the religion of feudal Byzantium, Vladimir perfectly accounted for the ancient economic, political, and cultural ties between Rus’ and the Byzantine empire.

For Kievan Rus’, the acceptance of Christianity was an historical inevitability. As Engels wrote, “In the middle ages, in that same world where feudalism evolved, Christianity took the form of a religion which corresponded to that feudal hierarchy.”[6]Marks, K., Engel’s, F. Izbrannye proizvedenija. Vol. II. Moscow, 1952, p. 379. Christianity made the political unification of the country possible, as it overcame the old polytheism with its narrow regional principles, strengthened the position of the feudal hierarchy, contributed to the assimilation of more advanced forms of civil society, and approved new class legal concepts. Under the leadership of Christian ideas, even the very idea of secular power was radically transformed. It was not without reason that Marx characterized Vladimir as having combined in his person “the theocratic despotism of those born to the purple with the military bliss of a Northern conqueror” and as “the sovereign of his subjects on earth and their protector and intercessor in heaven.” After the acceptance of Christianity, Kievan Rus’ began to talk to the peoples of Europe in one common language, making easier the possibility of economic and cultural rapprochement with both Byzantium and the Romanesque West.

Christianity permeated into Rus’ by various routes. Not long ago, scholars were inclined to trace all elements of Russian Christian culture to Byzantium. Under the influence of this grecophilic point of view, tendentiously carried out by our chroniclers, researchers saw Constantinople as almost the sole source of all Kievan culture. Now, after the works of A.A. Shakhmatov, M.D. Priselkov and A.E. Presnjakov, we must largely abandon what, until recently, seemed to be an indisputable truth.[7]Shakhmatov, A. “Korsunskaja legenda o kreschenii Vladimira.” Sbornik statej, posvjaschennykh pochitateljami akademiku V.I. Lamanskomu.” Vol. II. St. Petersburg, 1908, pp. 1029-1153; –., “Letopisnoe skazanie o Vladimire i ego kreschenii.” Rozyskanija o drevnejshikh russkikh letopisnykh svodakh. St. Petersburg, 1908, pp. 133-161; Priselkov, M. Ocherki po tserkovno-politicheskkoj istorii Kievskoj Rusi X-XII vekov. St. Petersburg, 1913; Presnjakov, A. Lektsii po russkoj istorii. 1: Kievsjaka Rus’. Moscow, 1938, pp. 77, 98-122. It appears that before presence of Greek Metropolitan Theopempt, who was sent to Rus’ by the Constantine Patriarch around 1039, the Russian church, according to M.D. Preselkov, reported to the Ohrid patriarch, who managed to achieve complete independence from Constantinople. Bulgaria, having experienced a great cultural development under Tsar Simeon (899-927) and his son Peter (927-969), was Kievan Rus’s closest neighbor to the south-west. From thence, the Christian gospel reached the eastern Slavs, and from thence the first liturgical texts reached Rus’. In the Kievan Church of Elijah the Prophet, which existed during Igor’s reign[8]jeb: Prince Igor’ Rjurikovich, ruler of Kiev 912-945., services were performed by Bulgarian priests. Without any doubt, this kindred Slavic country served as an important point of transmission for promoting the new Christian religion. And not only religion, but culture as well. This explains Svyatoslav’s[9]jeb: Svyatoslav Igorevich, Prince Igor’s son, and Prince of Kiev 945-972. stubborn aspirations toward Bulgaria and his attempt to build there “among my lands.” We have every reason to think that the Bulgarian clergy played no small role in the Christening of Rus’, just as did the marriage of Vladimir to a Bulgarian. It appears that the first bishop of Kiev, Anastas, was also a Bulgarian.

During Vladimir’s reign,[10]jeb: Vladimir Svyatoslavich, or Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev 980-1015. Christianity not only coexisted with paganism (such dual-belief was typical for all medieval Russian culture), but even became tightly intertwined with it. Christianity of this period was as yet devoid of ascetic rigor; it was forced to reckon with the traditional animistic ideas associated with pagan deification of nature. According to the epics, Vladimir’s courtly life was filled with happiness and heroic daring do. Vladimir himself did not shut the ancient monuments: he erected in Kiev’s shopping arena two statues and four bronze horses which had been brought from Korsun. Amongst the “pious men” surrounding him, one could still encounter a man of the people, such as Yan Usmoshvets, who is mentioned by the chroniclers. But the boyar circles became stronger and stronger, class contradictions became more and more distinct, and the feudal church took root more and more deeply. These contradictions are correctly reflected in the byliny: Vladimir’s mansion became cramped for the “son of peasants” Il’ya Muromets, and the noble boyars, who looked down on the Russian bogatyrs, were not to his liking.

Yaroslav’s reign completed Vladimir’s work on the state and anchored the foundations of the feudal order which long defined the course of Russian historical life. During Yaroslav’s rule, the Kievan state started on the course of rapid cultural ascent. Yaroslav, who had to lead a long and fierce battle for autocracy, could deploy his outstanding organizational skills to their full extent starting in 1037. He found Kiev in the form of a fortified city on “Mount Kiev,” the place where he built his cathedral to Sophia, divine wisdom, “to flow from the city to the fields.” Yaroslav “established a great city,” with its Golden Gates and Church of the Annunciation, followed by Irina’s church and George’s monastery. These created extremely tight cultural relations with Byzantium, from whence artists were invited to construct and decorate his buildings. Ecclesiastic life took on clear organizational forms: the dioceses multiplied, monasteries were founded, and stern church statues were introduced. A library was established in St. Sophia’s, where manuscripts were preserved and copied, and where a school of translators was created. At the same time, the chronicle business was founded, which would have such a brilliant future. In literature, especially in hagiographies, they began to take on their own local features. There was great interest in books, leading one chronicler to an enthusiastic praise in their honor: “Great is the benefit from book learning. Books edify us, and teach us to walk the path of penitence. We find wisdom and abstinence in their words, for these are rivers which shall water the universe, these fonts of wisdom, for books have immeasurable depth, in them we take comfort in our grief, they are the very bridle of abstinence.”[11]Arrangement by A.S. Orlov, Drevnjaja russkaja literatura XI-XVI vv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937, p. 85. On the basis of this ramified book culture which found support in the schools founded by Yaroslav, the appearance of such brilliantly educated men as that outstanding figure of Kievan culture, the first Russian metropolitan Hilarion, became possible.

In the 11th century, the “Ryurikovich Empire” was so powerful and mighty that the most powerful feudal centers of Europe sought rapprochement with her. Yaroslav and his sons were in close kindred relations with the royal houses of England, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Hungary, Byzantium, and Poland.

These close relations strengthened the cultural ties between Kievan Rus’ on the one side, and Europe and Byzantium on the other. Numerous embassies, as a rule accompanied by sumptuous gifts, acquainted the Rus’ with works by Greek and Romance masters, introduced new customs, ideas and fashions, and influenced courtly life. In their relations with the Byzantine emperors, the Russian princes frequently received ranks of archons, hegemons, and stewards, which led to the need to wear corresponding clothing and symbols of rank as those used by the members of the Byzantine court. Of course, this aspiration to maintain diplomatic relations with Byzantium and the Western nations also pushed them to study foreign languages, in particular Greek, which was spoken fluently by many members of the upper class (for example, it is know that Vsevolod Yaroslavich, father of Vladimir Monomakh, spoke five languages). Quite naturally, such wide international relations, having made Kiev one of the most powerful centers of international politics, also promoted their faith in their own power. It was not without reason that Hilarion, full of pride to be a contemporary of Yaroslav, said in his sermon “On Law and Grace” the following significant words: “Ruling not in the wasteland or in unknown parts, but in Rus’, he is known and heard by all ends of the Earth…”.[12]Gudzij, op. cit., p. 59.

As was already mentioned, Kievan Rus’s ties with Byzantium were particularly close during Yaroslav’s reign. Byzantium, as direct successor of the Roman Empire, was the strongest and most cultured medieval state. As a result, wide use of its accomplishments allowed “the Ryurikovich Empire” to solve a number of important problems related to socio-political relations, as well as the development of science, technology, law, art, and literature. This assimilation of Byzantine heritage at this stage of historical development was a deeply progressive fact, as it helped raise the cultural level of the Kievan state. But, it is important to remember that Rus’ transformed everything received from outside in its own manner. The creative power of the Russian people was never limited to blind repetition of foreign ideas and images. The Russian people went their own way, solved their own problems, and relied upon their own traditions. Anything it found to be foreign or unnecessary was easily thrown out, or was strongly opposed. This applied as well to their relationship with Byzantine tradition. On the one hand, the Greeks’ actions found wide response in Rus’; but, on the other, it also spawned a powerful opposition, frequently pouring out in the form of open and abrupt conflict. Such conflicts were particularly frequent in the political and ecclesiastical spheres, where Rus’ invariably fought against the Byzantines’ aspirations to take a leading role.

Having accepted Christianity in its Orthodox edition and joined the Greeks and South Slavs as fellow believers, the Russians opened themselves to access and appreciation of all of the complex Byzantine symbolism and all of the subtleties of Greek worship. In the well-known legend about Vladimir’s testing of various faiths, it is clearly shown how his ambassadors were seduced by the beauty of the Byzantine rite. The Chronicle has them saying: “We came to the Germans, and saw them performing many rites in their churches, but saw no kind of beauty there.” This was not the case with the Greeks: “We could not tell whether we were in Heaven or on Earth.”[13]Laurentian Chronicle, under year 6495 (987). cf. Golubinskij, E. Istorija russkoj tserkvi. Vol. I. Moscow, 1901, p. 110. Of course, the Byzantine court and church were well able to use art in order to strength its authority and to draw young nations into the orbit of its political influence. But even more important was the fact that the Byzantines managed to create the perfect artistic system for the feudal epoch. Feudal leaders everywhere — on the fog-shrouded shores of Scandinavian rivers, in the strong burgs of Germany, in the dungeons of France, and on the banks of voracious Venice — all dreamed about the Byzantine churches decorated with mosaics and murals, their precious implements, the splendor of the Roman court, the luxury and comfort of Constantinople’s palaces, the dazzling splendor of the Byzantine church service, and the fabulous celebrations in the Hippodrome. These, too, were dreamt of in the barracks of Kiev’s nobility. Feudal rulers wanted to be like the Roman emperor, to possess his power, to have his untold riches. In the medieval mindset, the person of the Byzantine basileus was surrounded by an aura of fable, which stood as an ideal dream which their dreams were unable to surpass. As a result, anything associated with Byzantine court culture seemed irresistibly attractive. Literally every country attempted to adopt the principles of Byzantine art, but not everyone managed to do so. Kievan Rus’ managed to solve this problem brilliantly. It not only made this Byzantine heritage its own, it achieved a deep creative implementation, completely giving itself over to the new problems which faced its artisans.

This represents one side of the “Byzantine problem.” But, there is a second side. This was the Rus’ struggle against Byzantium, the battle against its attempts to take root in Russian culture and to suppress its nationalist sprouts, the battle against Byzantium’s claims to direct Russian church affairs, the battle for independent ideas and resources of artistic expression which ran counter to the generally-accepted Byzantine canons. It is exactly these processes which deserve the close attention of the modern historian, as it is here that the national foundations of Russian culture stand in stark relief.

Rus’ not only concluded peace treaties with Byzantium, but also successfully warred against her. The Russians’ excursions against Byzantium in 860, 907, 941, 994 and 1043 clearly show this collision of economic and political interests. This is shown even more clearly by Kievan church life. When Bulgaria, which in the Treaty of Strumica fell under the power of Byzantium in 1018, ceased to be a great political power, the church in Ohrid quickly lost its independence, and the Greek Leo was made metropolitan there by Constantinople in 1037. Just one year before this event, the Pechenegs, who had been evicted from eastern lands by the Turks and Polovtsy, made a desperate attempt to invade the lands of the Kievan state. As the Pechenegs also threatened Byzantium, a Russo-Byzantine military alliance was hastily formed. Constantinople managed to use this situation to establish in Rus’ an independent Metropolitan for the Greek Theopempt, who was none other than a political agent of the empire. From that moment, there began a persecution against the traditions of the “Bulgarian” Vladimir period in the history of the Russian church, and a tendentious distortion of the early history of Russian Christianity went into effect, the clearest manifestation of which was to be the “Korsun legend.” The old center of the Christian cult, the Church of the Tithes built by Vladimir, was replaced by a new cathedral, the Metropolitan’s St. Sophia. Even the very name of the cathedral was intended to confirm Yaroslav’s Byzantine orientation. But, very quickly, the Greeks’ hopes to strengthen their influence over Rus’ were deceived. In 1043, Yaroslav undertook an excursion against Byzantium, and in 1050-1051 the Cathedral of Russian Bishops, despite ecclesiastical customs and without first discussing with the Patriarch of Constantinople, selected the first Metropolitan who was Russian by birth, Hilarion, that great writer of his own time.[14]jeb: Theopemptus died in 1049, hence the need to appoint a new metropolitan. The Byzantine church was forced to accept this choice, just as it was forced to make peace with the arrangement of events when St. Sophia’s changed from a branch of the Constantinople patriarchate to the political center of Kievan Rus’ and preserver of all Slavic national traditions. Shortly before this, Yaroslav appointed in Novgorod the first Russian bishop, Luka Zhidyata. Yaroslav’s tense battle for the Russian church hierarchy can be seen in the fact that one of the first steps taken by the Greek Metropolitan who replaced Hilarion was to bring Luka to trial.[15]jeb: The author seems a bit confused here. Luka Zhidyata refused to accept Hilarion’s appointment, since it was not made by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. For this, he was imprisoned in Kiev’s Monastery of the Caves for 3 years, until his death. But, this imprisonment occurred during Hilarion’s reign – it’s not clear which Greek Metropolitan the author refers to here. This set up a long-time ecclesiastic struggle between Kiev and Novgorod, which continued to report directly to the Patriarchate instead of to Kiev.

The ongoing struggle with the Greeks was headed by the Kievan Monastery of the Caves, which became the largest breeding ground for patriotic ideas and fought against the dominance of the Greek clergy. The latter did not wish to consider the requirements of Russian life and constantly focused on Constantinople, from whence they received all directives, and avoided compromises even when they strongly dictated not only political but even purely everyday situations. From this, there arose a chain of conflicts: in 1147, Izyaslav Mstislavich, grandson of Vladimir Monomakh, once again placed at the head of the Russian church Kliment Smolyatich, also Russian by birth; In the mid 12th century, an attempt by the Greek Metropolitan to introduce Byzantine practices of fasting met with strong resistance in the Russian principalities, leading to a new rift in Byzantine-Russian relations; At the same time, there was a battle for the canonization of Russian saints (Boris and Gleb, Theodosius Pechersky) and for the establishment of new Russian holidays (the transfer of Nikolai the Miracle-Worker’s relics, the Protection of the Mother of God). This all speaks of Rus’s persistent striving for ecclesiastic freedom and cultural independence. B.D. Grekov notes that “this Russification of the Christian faith and church began early and followed two directions. The battle for our own national church organization was conducted at the highest levels of Russian society; the princes, the well-to-do surrounding them, the topmost clergy, and individual church institutions took part in it. The battle for our own popular form of belief occurred in the masses, taking the form of active performances under the direction of the wizards from the old beliefs, and the preservation of the old beliefs in everyday life, despite all the sermons and influence of those in power. Both streams in the end led to the same result.”[16]Grekov, op. cit., p. 386.

Something analogous occurred in Kievan art. Among the Western European and Slavic lands, Kievan Rus’ adopted Christianity relatively late, and consequently joined Christian medieval culture late. It received Christian iconography in an already prepared, established form — a very significant circumstance for the development of medieval Russian art. On Russian soil, images of Christian mythology were not the fruit of local creativity, as for example they were in the lands of the Christian East, but rather were imported from Byzantium and the Balkans where they were already widely circulated and had already attained classical maturity. For Russian artists, there remained only to use that which their Byzantine and Slavic brethren had so carefully developed. It would seem that in this situation, Russian artists were not to go beyond direct imitation. In reality, they started out on a path of actively and creatively recasting this new Christian inheritance, as they had behind them a multi-century tradition of Slavic pagan art dating back into the times of hoary antiquity. This highly-developed pagan art had long existed throughout the peoples of the entire Slavic world, and at this historical stage it served as a basis that was mature enough to organically perceive the later forms of Christian art. Wooden architecture, embroidery, design, sculpture – all these forms of artistic creation had been used by the Slavic peoples for centuries, developing their original skills, creating original ideals and discovering their individual tastes and preferences. As a result, when coming into contact with the rich world of Christian art, Rus’ made her own creative contribution and adapted it to her needs. Thus began a most interesting process of Russification of Byzantine artistic traditions, which were brought along with Christian teachings. The battle with these traditions was difficult and sometimes even painful, as Byzantine art had in the eyes of medieval men such a large, attractive power and was still saturated with such fresh memories of antiquity, that it was almost impossible to oppose its charm. Nevertheless, the process of Russifying the Byzantine art forms was already in early stages of development. In this regard, the art of Kievan Rus’ is an extremely interesting picture: while still being tied closely to Byzantine traditions, it nevertheless has its own face, which has its own unique nuance, which allows us to foresee the path of its future development.

The Greek artisans in Kievan Rus’ had to solve completely new problems and reckon with local demands and problems. As a rule, they used the help of Russian artisans, who in turn relied on their own traditions. As a result, even those items on which the Greek masters actively participated little resembled that which they created in their own homeland. This is why the Kievan St. Sophia’s has so little in common with Byzantine churches. Her thirteen cupolas were undoubtedly inspired by examples of wooden architecture, which to an even greater extent defined the outer appearance of the Church of the Tithes, which had 25 cupolas. The folk stream was continually present in art of the ruling class and fertilized it with new living content; it was adverse to the Byzantine dogma and abstraction of thought which predominantly impressed the upper circles of feudal society, and skillfully used the Byzantine artistic heritage to surround power with a halo of “Roman” grandeur and brilliance. So it was in Kievan Rus’ during the reigns of Vladimir and Yaroslav, and later in the Vladimir-Suzdal’ principality under Andrei Bogolyubsky and Vsevolod, and in Moscow under Ivan Kalita, Dimitry Donskoy, Vasily Dimitrievich, and Ivan the Terrible. But, we should never forget that alongside these Byzantine-ish arts of the courts and churches, there was also folk art, existing amongst the peasantry and constantly providing a most powerful influence on the artistic culture of the ruling class. Precisely along these lines, the active process of Russification proceeded, ensuring every time that Byzantine forms invariably acquired a pronounced Russian imprint. In the sphere of art, Kievan Rus’ was able to contrast Byzantium with its own artistic ideals, into which everything imported from the outside quickly dissolved.

Despite constant warfare with the steppes and unending internecine conflict which intensified starting from the second half of the 11th century as a result of the feudal fragmentation of the Kievan state, folk art managed to grow into an idea of ethnic unity of the medieval Russian people.

This unity of the Russian land frequently appears not only in the famous sermons of Hilarion, but also in the Primary Russian Chronicle, and in the Lay of Igor’s Campaign, whose author mourns the fate of his motherland torn apart by princely strife:

Kiev rebelled with grief,
Chernigov with misfortunes,
And longing spilled over 
Across the Russian lands,
And deep sadness flowed
Across the Russian lands.

In the diary of his pilgrimage to Jerusalem (1106-1107), Abbot Daniil with touching spontaneity asked King Baldwin to allow him “to light a candle at the grave of our Lord for all of our knights and for all of the lands of Rus’, for all Christians of the Russian lands.”[17]Grekov, op. cit., p. 393. At a princely gathering in 1170, Mstislav Izyaslavich appealed to hsi relatives with these significant words: “Brothers! Pity the Russian land and our fathers and grandfathers, the peasants already no longer have their things from year to year… already, the route to Greece is taken away from us, and the Salt Route, and the route to Central Asia.”[18]Hypatian Chronicle, under the year 6678 (1170). In the Chronicles, an early 12th-century scribe significantly associated his homeland with all 7 Slavic tribes. V.O. Klyuchevsky notes: “It is significant that in a society where a hundred years or so previously they still made human sacrifices to idols, thought was already rising of the connection of world phenomena. The idea of Slavic unity in the early 12th century required great strain of thought, as it was not at all supported by modern reality. When this thought arose on the shores of the Dnieper with such faith or confidence, Slavism was still disunited and a large part of its membership was still enslaved….”[19]Kljuchevksij, V. Kurs russkoj istorii. Part 1. Petrograd, 1918, p. 107.

The Kievan state, formed based on the disintegrating tribal system, marked a new stage in the history of Rus’. In connection with emerging feudal relations and the centralization of power in the ruling class, an opportunity arose to build monumental constructions which were not possible under the leadership of dispersed tribal unions. All of Kievan art bears this stamp of pronounced monumentality. It is visible in stone architecture, and mosaics, and painting, and sculpture. And this is why we have the grounds to review Kievan artistic culture as one of the highest points in the history of Russian monumental art. And not only Russian, for in the 11th century, Kiev’s artistic accomplishments, far ahead those of the Romanesque masters, were foremost of all Europe.


1 Bremenskij, Adam. Monumenta Germaniae historica. Vol. VII, pp. 312-313.
2 Gudzij, N. Khrestomaija po drevnej russkoj literature XI-XVII vekov. Moscow, 1938, p. 59.
3 Bremenskij, Monumenta..., Vol. III, p. 871.
4 Grekov, Kievskaja Rus’. Moscow, 1949, p. 9.
5 jeb: Soviet writer, insert de rigueur Communist rhetoric.
6 Marks, K., Engel’s, F. Izbrannye proizvedenija. Vol. II. Moscow, 1952, p. 379.
7 Shakhmatov, A. “Korsunskaja legenda o kreschenii Vladimira.” Sbornik statej, posvjaschennykh pochitateljami akademiku V.I. Lamanskomu.” Vol. II. St. Petersburg, 1908, pp. 1029-1153; –., “Letopisnoe skazanie o Vladimire i ego kreschenii.” Rozyskanija o drevnejshikh russkikh letopisnykh svodakh. St. Petersburg, 1908, pp. 133-161; Priselkov, M. Ocherki po tserkovno-politicheskkoj istorii Kievskoj Rusi X-XII vekov. St. Petersburg, 1913; Presnjakov, A. Lektsii po russkoj istorii. 1: Kievsjaka Rus’. Moscow, 1938, pp. 77, 98-122.
8 jeb: Prince Igor’ Rjurikovich, ruler of Kiev 912-945.
9 jeb: Svyatoslav Igorevich, Prince Igor’s son, and Prince of Kiev 945-972.
10 jeb: Vladimir Svyatoslavich, or Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev 980-1015.
11 Arrangement by A.S. Orlov, Drevnjaja russkaja literatura XI-XVI vv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937, p. 85.
12 Gudzij, op. cit., p. 59.
13 Laurentian Chronicle, under year 6495 (987). cf. Golubinskij, E. Istorija russkoj tserkvi. Vol. I. Moscow, 1901, p. 110.
14 jeb: Theopemptus died in 1049, hence the need to appoint a new metropolitan.
15 jeb: The author seems a bit confused here. Luka Zhidyata refused to accept Hilarion’s appointment, since it was not made by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. For this, he was imprisoned in Kiev’s Monastery of the Caves for 3 years, until his death. But, this imprisonment occurred during Hilarion’s reign – it’s not clear which Greek Metropolitan the author refers to here. This set up a long-time ecclesiastic struggle between Kiev and Novgorod, which continued to report directly to the Patriarchate instead of to Kiev.
16 Grekov, op. cit., p. 386.
17 Grekov, op. cit., p. 393.
18 Hypatian Chronicle, under the year 6678 (1170).
19 Kljuchevksij, V. Kurs russkoj istorii. Part 1. Petrograd, 1918, p. 107.

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