Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Russia part 6 - To the 860-th anniversary of Yuriev-Polsky

The earliest surviving specimen of post-Mongolian architecture in Vladimir is the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Princess' Convent dating back to the fifteenth     sixteenth centuries. Built in what was then a new material its semi-columns  are topped by carved slabs instead of capitals. 

The band of arcading is arranged without any regard for the level of the choir gallery - it has become a decorative feature which can be moved about freely to any height. Its small cylin­drical columns are set into the wall and rest on consoles like cube-shaped pedestals. All the details are profusely covered with carving. Even the band of vertically cut stone has become decorative: its edges have lost their sharpness and are now simply like a row of imitation-wood, deco­rative balusters.

The cathedrals ornament is not limited to stone carving. The south and west portals have "golden gates" in which the technique of fire gilding was used. The west door has scenes from the Old Testa­ment and the east from the New Testament, mainly ones relating to the Virgin Mary, the protectress of the Vladimir lands. The recessed west portal was painted in the fashion which subsequently became typical of "early" Vladimir-Suzdalian architecture. 

The interior pillars and the walls with their numerous burial niches were painted with frescoes. The cathedral floor was paved with square, yellow, green, and dark brown majolica tiles, but the section under the dome and in the sanctuary was made of small shaped tiles. Thus boldly and variously did the skilled craftsmen of Prince Georgy decorate their building.

The Cathedral of St George In Yuriev-Polskoy was built by another of Vsevolod's sons — Sviatoslav - on the site of an older Church of St George erected by Prince Yury Dolgoruky. The church was taken down because it "fell into disrepair and collapsed" and also probably because it did not satisfy changed tastes. The new Cathedral of *5t George, which was a very small one, had three narthexes of varying height with pointed arches. The walls also ended in pointed arches.

The whole composition was crowned by the dome and its drum on a base. The cathedral is asym­metrical In plan: it used to have the Trinity Chapel, the Prince's burial vault, in the north-east corner, inspite of its small dimensions the interior seems spacious and compact: the square, non-cruciform pillars, to which the pilaster strips on the exterior bear no relation, are spaced wide apart. 

There was no choir gallery. The low stone altar-piece barely divided the sanctuary from the main body. The light which entered at various levels enlivened the interior and enhanced its overall dynamic element. In this building the local masters created я new image which reveals a more mature taste and talent. Its most splendid feature, however, was the deco­ration which covered the whole building from top to toe.

The lower tier showed the "Earth", the second - the "Church on earth", and the third the "Heaven". This was done by using two contrasting systems: firstly, high relief carving on single stones which were inserted into the masonry when the walls were being built and, secondly, a low relief patterned carpet which was carved on the completed walls, after being sketched In outline, and which twined round the high relief sculpture. It is interesting that the portrayal of man is put in the foreground. Animals and monsters are relegated to the background and in some cases cease to be ferocious.

The cathedral's north front faced the town and it is this main fagade which has survived best. It is decorated with tails of paired birds at the bottom, triangular roots higher up and centaurs in the middle. The upper sections of the narthexes and walls are taken up with com positions: on the north narthex is the figure of St George to whom the cathedral Is dedicated. Artistically this is the best relief. 

The north front as a whole was dominated by the Crucifixion in the central tympanum. The Crucifix­ion Is connected with the Idea of the Cross. In old Russia the Cross had a symbolic meaning: "guardian of the universe... power to the tsar and confirmation to believers". Here too we find the special Iconographic type of the "Cross triumphant". The second most important facade was the west front: its narthex had an upper storey for the prince and his family.

They to the sculptural composition on this facade was the Virgin Orans, the protectress of the Vladimir lands. Lower down, in the hand of arcading on the north front, a special place was occupied by the patron saints of the Vladimir dynasty - basically those who stood for unity and soli­darity. Each figure was carved on separate thin slabs and then Inserted into the curve of the arches like carved Icons into icon-niches. The stocky columns of the band, covered with rich ornament and half concealed by the slabs, are turned as It were into semi-columns.

The corner semi-columns end in a garland of hum«n heads. The high relief carving surrounded by the patterned ornament looks like the profuse decoration on, say, a huge carved casket. The building's structural cfarity and the architectural sense of Its sections and details are weakened, and it Is monolithic. The ca­thedral walls found room not only for the prince's heavenly patrons, but also for his earthly helpers, the members of his retinue. Reliefs of heads and busts adorned the arches crowning the dome drum. The cathedral collapsed in the fifteenth century due to faults in construction and in 1471  was reconstructed by a Moscow builder V. Yermolin.

The gradual rebirth of stone architecture after the Mongol conquest did not begin until the late thirteenth —early fourteenth centuries and then primarily in such economically strong centers as Moscow and Tver. 

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