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Holy Rus. FRESCOES OF DIONISIY

Дата публикации: 07 сентября 2018
Автор: Vladislav DARKEVICH
Публикатор: Шамолдин Алексей Аркадьевич
Рубрика: АНГЛИЙСКИЙ ЯЗЫК
Номер публикации: №1536328492 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!


Vladislav DARKEVICH, (c)

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by Vladislav DARKEVICH, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), RAS Institute of Archeology

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This ancient cloister stands on a green hill between two lakes-Borodavskoye and Paskoye- with the Paska River flowing between them. The site is located in the Belozerye region (from Lake Belozero, literally "white lake") some 20 kilometers from the old Russian town of Kirillov of the Vologda Region, far from any traditional trade routes by land or by water. Tall trees growing around the white monastery churches obstruct them from an intrusive stare, exposing to view only the domes and the cupolas. The clear surface of the lake is specked with small isles, overgrown with green groves of trees.

Back in the 15th century this was the "holy land" of saintly recluses, or "desert" fathers. Hermits dwelled in secluded sketes and huts scattered around big cloisters. Their dedication was teaching a life of silent prayer of the heart and they also cherished the principles of non-possession as one of the main behests of St. Kirill (*). The cloister on Lake Borodavskoye was founded by one of friends and close associates of the saint, Monk Ferapont, in 1399. This holy father, according to his Life, was born in the town of Volokolamsk near Moscow into the family of the noblemen Poskochins. The youth, whose secular name was Feodor, secretly left the parents' house and withdrew to the Simonov Monastery near Moscow where he begged the Father Superior to let him take monastic vows. He was professed with the name of Ferapont after which the young monk took upon himself all of the most difficult chores in the monastery, while subduing his bodily lusts with fasting and thus fortifying his spirit. While in the Trinity-St. Sergiy Lavra, he was able to listen to the exhortations of the great Russian Patron Saint-St. Sergiy of Radonezh. The Father Superior of the cloister, impressed with the ardour of the young monk, sent him on a pilgrimage to the distant land of Belozerye where he travelled alone and on foot, making his way through virgin forests. On his return to the monastery the young monk shared his impressions with the Archimandrite of the Simonov Monastery, Father Kirill. And the two monks decided to go together to the Belozerye country where they finally settled in 1397 on the banks of Lake Siverskoye. But shortly after Ferapont, with the consent of his companion, withdrew to yet another secluded spot. It was located on a picturesque hill surrounded by lakes. There the young hermit went through all of the trials of desert living, building a small cell, clearing land for a vegetable garden and corn-batting the temptations of desolate solitude with work and sleepless prayer - ora et labora.

The inspired example of the lonely recluse then started to attract to him other monks who built their own cells around his own. In 1398 they erected a wooden church in honour of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. That was the starting point of the Ferapontov Monastery. From time to time the reverend father paid visits to brother Kirill for spiritual discussions and then instructed the brethren in the ascetic ways of the Monastery of St. Kirill. Its monks could not keep in their cells anything except icons, edifying books and home-made utensils. The brethren spent time copying old chronicles and making fishing gear. Prince Andrei of Mozhaisk who owned the Belozerye region donated to the new cloister, of which he was informed, land and lakes and sent supplies for the church with a request to the brethren to remember him in their prayers.

The next chapter of our story covers a period one hundred years later. As fate would have it, the small cloister, founded by St. Ferapont far away from the hustle and bustle of the world, was to play an outstanding role in the history of Old Russian church painting. That was the time when Grand Prince Ivan III of Moscow (1440-1505) and his son Vasiliy III (1479-1533) pursued a forceful autocratic policy in line with their general strategy of gathering of apanage lands under the central rule of Moscow. This was the time when the territorial core of the centralized Russian state took shape and when its boundaries were being steadily expanded. The territorial acquisitions of Ivan III included Yaroslavl, Novgorod, Tver, Vyatka and Perm. He put an end to the Mongol-Tatar domination-the Tatar yoke (the heroic confrontation-"stoyanie"-on the Ugra River in 1480). After the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, the international prestige of the Russian state continued to grow. In the eyes of the contemporaries Moscow was "the third Rome", the successor to the Holy Byzantine Empire, and the Sovereign of All Russia was seen as the ecclesiastical and political heir to the Byzantine


* See: V. Darkevich, "Northern Thebes", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2000.-Ed.

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emperors, Vasiliy III later completed the unification of Rus around Moscow with the submission of Pskov, Smolensk and Ryazan. The country's northern territories were attracting large numbers of settlers from various walks of Moscovian life. They set up new centers of trade and crafts which gravitated to the local monasteries where new stone structures were erected together with new fortifications and which continued to grow in size.

Pakhomiy Logofet, a celebrated author of several lives of saints, who visited the Ferapontov Monastery circa 1461-1462, noted its remarkable beauty and the large number of its brethren "toiling unto the Lord". From the middle of the 15th century it was one of the centers of enlightenment in the Belozerye region. It brought up a whole number of learned monks and philosophers, including Father Filofei who later became the Bishop of the Diocese of Vologda and Perm. Some of the most prominent monks of the monastery maintained close links with Archbishop Gennadiy of Novgorod (died 1506) who found among them like-minded supporters in his bitter struggle with heretics.

The construction of stone buildings started in the Ferapontov Monastery in the 15th century, and the best-known monuments of that period is the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin erected by the craftsmen of Rostov in 1490. At that time it was a most typical church building on four pillars with three apses and tri-partite fagades and the roof resting on gables. Prior to the subsequent alterations the original church stood out by its well-proportioned elegance. It rests upon a high foundation, flanked with a covered parvis on three sides. Two rows of kiel-shaped gables and rows of "kokoshnik" arches at the base of the helmet-like cupola create an air of pyramidal proportions, striving upwards into the sky. The exterior decor of the Cathedral of the Nativity includes belts of terra-cotta balusters, ornamental brickwork and rows of matt-pink tiles with an intricate floral ornament. In the center of the western fagade there is a portal of cut white stone-a reminder of the links with Moscow architects.

The Cathedral of the Nativity was not heated and services there could only be celebrated in summer. In winter they were moved to the Church of the Annunciation which was erected in 1530-1534 together with the refectory chamber-a spacious two-storey building under a gable roof. The ceiling of a well-lit community hall of monumental proportions rests upon a heavy central pillar. It is believed that the construction was financed by Grand Prince Vasiliy III after his pilgrimage to the cloister during which he prayed for the birth of a heir. Tsar Ivan the Terrible, a lavish donor to the monastery, visited it twice-in 1547 and 1551. Today the churches of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin and of the Annunciation are

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linked by a stone gallery with a belfry of the 16-17th centuries.

The years of the Polish-Lithuanian intervention (1604-1612) was a time of economic decline of Belozerye. A brief period of a revival of economic activities and stone building construction at Ferapontovo in the 1640s was backed by a number of privileges granted by the ruling house of the Romanovs. The years 1640-1641 saw the construction on the southern side of the Cathedral of the Church of St. Martinian erected over the tomb of this hegumen who was canonized back in the 16th century. This small cubic building with a low octagonal top is crowned with a hipped roof. The roof is topped with a slim faceted drum with an onion-shaped cupola. The facades are adorned with pilasters and jambs and lintels with lancet tops. Inside the church there is a niche in the northern wall marking the tomb of the saint. Over it there is a wooden shrine (erected in 1646) covered with lace gilt carving. Five belts on the sides of the shrine contain carved scenes from the life of the saint.

And, finally, 1649 saw the construction of the Holy Gate with tent-like churches of the Epiphany and of St. Ferapont. The main gate-the parade entrance into the cloister-was usually richly decorated, symbolizing the narrow gate of salvation through which "many seek to enter and will not be able" (Lk. 13, 24). And the churches on top of them accentuated even more the symbolic message, expressing the idea of divine protection of and intercession for the cloister. The Holy Gate of the Ferapontov Monastery reminds us of the tempestuous events of the "rebellious" 17th century linked with the history of the church schism (*). The Church of the Epiphany over the gate is located next to the cell of Patriarch Nikon and was used as his domestic chapel. The patriarch, once an omnipotent "bosom friend" of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, is known for his motto of proclaiming "the superiority of priesthood over royalty". This caused his rift with the tzar as a result of which the patriarch gave up his rank in 1658. The church council of 1666-1667 formally stripped him of his ecclesiastical rank and he was banished to the Ferapontov Monastery where he had remained for 10 years. From the end of the 17th century the monastery gradually slipped into decline and was finally abolished in 1798 with its churches being given the status of parish temples. During the 18-19th centuries the old buildings were submitted to some barbaric repairs and alterations. At the start of the 20th century the monastery was reopened in connection with its 500th anniversary, but it was turned into a nunnery. And it was at that time that it suddenly attracted the attention of experts in Old Russian art.

Found in the Cathedral of the Nativity were some frescoes untouched


* See: V. Molzinsky, "Old Belief and Russian Culture", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1999.- Ed.

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by subsequent overpaints whose unique emotional color reminds one of a lyrical-epical poem. These frescoes belong to the brush of Dionisiy-a celebrated Moscow icon-painter (circa 1440-after 1502-1503). Icons and frescoes of the Ferapontov Monastery offer a link between the humanistic art of the great Andrei Rublyov (*) (circa 1360-70-circa 1430) and the artistic traditions of the later period.

* * *

An old inscription over the northern entrance of the cathedral says: "In the year of 7010 (1502) on the sixth day of the month of August, the Feast of Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, painting was started of the church which was ended two years later on the eighth day of the month of September, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in the reign of Great Prince Ivan Vasilyevich of All Russia and Archbishop Tikhon by the icon- painter Dionisiy with his kin." The murals painted by Dionisiy with his sons Feodosiy, Vladimir and Andrei-were the swan-song of the great artist-a brilliant finale of his artistic career.

Dionisiy was held in high esteem by his compatriots as the "famous above all" artist of "exceeding wisdom". The truly remarkable icons painted by Dionisiy were always cherished as objects of great value.

As for chronicle mentions of Dionisiy, they are but few and far between with the only records of his work being preserved in the Pafnutyevo-Borovsky and Josifo-Volokolamsky monasteries near Moscow. An inventory of the sacristy of the latter lists some 90 icons belonging to his brush. He and his "team" worked on the iconostasis of the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin (circa 1481). It appears that during the 1490s the artist and his sons focused their efforts on Moscow with its hasty reconstruction of the Kremlin and of a number of churches. But it is only in Ferapontovo that one can assess in full measure the magnitude of the artistic gift of Dionisiy and his erudition.

...Climbing wooden stairs, one reaches the parvis of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. Right in front of us there is the western portal leading the visitor into the "House of Our Lord". And right from the threshold we step into the joyous world dreamed up by the artist, overflowing with beauty refined. fe see upon the outer wall above the entrance scenes from the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. Strikingly beautiful among them is a scene depicting Joacim and Anna tenderly bending over the infant Mary. The painter's brush translated the epic of paternal love into


* See: G. Popov, "Treasures of the St. Andro-nicus Monastery", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1998.-Ed.

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profoundly lyrical images which also portray the sacrament of veneration of the newborn. In considering the plots of Dionisiy one can not neglect, or overlook their symbolic message. The entrance, for example, is guarded by the archangels Michael and Gabriel and the whole composition is a prologue to the subsequent scenes of the Divine Incarnation-a theme which dominates the murals of the cathedral.

Inside the cathedral the walls and ceilings are covered by belts, or tiers, of murals. The ceiling rests upon four massive columns and the interior is lit by rays of sunlight streaming through narrow slit windows. They lit up the images of saints, add color of their vestments and illuminate the details of the architectural background. We step into an unusual atmosphere of festal solemnity where all things material seem to dissolve in a measured rhythm of gracefully flowing outlines and vibrant and airy colors. The sky-blue background of the compositions directs one's gaze far and beyond the material space of the interior. The hues of the vault of heaven speak of eternity, of the world beyond, with all of its transcendental mysteries which defy imagination. The decor of the interior conveys the image of the temple as the abode of God here on earth, with the figures of saints seemingly floating in mid-air.

Placed in the central dome is the traditional image of the Pantocrator with six archangels painted on the walls of the piers. Down below there are the forefathers in round medallions and further down on the pendentives-the four Evangelists. Painted on top of the altar apse is the Blessed Virgin with the Divine Infant enthroned-a fresco of broad and inspired proportions-the summit of the whole interior. Located above the triumphal arch are murals on the theme of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin and up above there is an Image of the Virgin called "The Sign". These three images of the Blessed Virgin in the central part of the cathedral were ment to accentuate in the minds of the faithful Her power and glory and conveyed the message of Her Intercession before the Lord, the just Judge.

Murals of the interior of the Cathedral of the Nativity are interpreted by many as an artistic illustration, translation into imagery, of the Akathistos to the Blessed Virgin which is sung at divine services once a year in the fifth week of Lent. This hymn was composed in the 6th century, by the Byzantine religious poet St. Romanos Melodius. In his five stanzas he glorifies the Blessed Virgin, Christ and the Miracle of Divine Incarnation. A perfect artistic illustration of the famous church hymn was offered by Dionisiy in his frescoes. The Akathistos is depicted in

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several "cycles" located in various parts of the cathedral. These include glimpses of the Annunciation-of the Archangel St. Gabriel proclaiming the good news to Mary-and also the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, the Magi following the Star of Bethlehem and the journey of the Divine Infant into Egypt with idols toppled from their pedestals as well as other scenes in the same vein which usually defy attempts of their artistic expression.

For the Russian of olden times the image of the Blessed Virgin evokes the ideals of mercy, patient staunchness in trials, tender femininity and gentle maternal love. In the paintings of Dionisiy the Mother of God is suffused with profound cordiality and tender melancholy. Solemn processions are streaming towards Her throne, surrounded by tiers of angels and winged heavenly messengers and the Magi bearing their gifts are hastily travelling from distant lands. Over all of them the Blessed Virgin spreads out Her salvific Protecting Veil as the Intercessoress for the whole of the Russian land.

Saintly warriors stand silent guard on pillars supporting the central dome. Their gaze is firm and their postures convey noble dignity. Crosses of martyrdom are replaced with swords, spears and bows. In the days of alien invasions the Russian faithful looked at them as symbols of military valor and mighty protectors on the battlefield.

Painted in the southern apse is the image of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker-one of the most venerated saints in the whole of Russia. He is depicted as an elder with a high brow and a benevolent, serious and clear expression of his eyes-a personification of the ideals of righteous living. The narrative of his Life attracted the icon-painter with the ideals of selfless and disinterested service for one's neighbor including the saving of the drowning man, averting the execution of the innocent and the purchase of a carpet for a poor man. Through his imagery Dionisiy expressed his vision of the moral beauty of man, and of the lofty ideals in life.

As compared with 15th century traditions, the iconographic spectrum of murals of the Ferapont cathedral's interior looks unusually complex. The innovations include compositions on the theme of the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the 4-8th centuries which sealed the basic Christian dogmas. And since this theme is broadly represented in the Serbian art of the 13-14th centuries, scholars assume that it must have been some Serbian emigrants who helped broaden the spectrum of decor of Russian churches in the 16th century. Escaping from Turkish reprisals at home, these emigrants found safe heaven in Russia.

The prevalence of life-asserting ideas in the Old Russian culture gave birth to aesthetics noted for their lavish and festal colors. One striking example to that effect is the extraordinary refined beauty of the outlines, colors and forms of the Ferapont frescoes. All figures are outlined with soft and flowing

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contours, and the extremely elongated proportions underscore their spirituality. Graceful and almost immaterial and fragile, they seem to be floating in midair, barely touching the ground. Their gestures are laconic and restrained, but full of silent meaning. A slightly bowed head, slant of the body or a hand stretched forward convey a harmony of emotions which binds the saints into a single whole. They seem to be listening in silent veneration to some unuttered message and their prevailing attitude is that of being in the presence of something great and unuttered. Saints painted in this manner bow to the Virgin, Christ or other saints, kings or patriarchs. Streaming towards them are populous processions. There are no abrupt or jerky moves, with everything fitting into what one could call orderly and rhythmic harmony. The thoughtful grace of the Dionisian characters conveys an air of fine emotional penetration. This wondrous blend of wall paintings, and hymns filling the cathedral at divine services suffuse all entering the Cathedral with an air of joy and jubilation, elevating the souls of the worshippers towards the light of the Eternal Truth.

And even some acutely dramatic plots are painted with an air of elevated concentration and abandonment of all the things passing and insignificant. The composition of the Last Judgement on the western wall does not seek to intimidate the viewer with apocalyptic horrors, but depicts instead processions of the righteous on their way into the groves of the Paradise. The world of the painter as we see it today is a realm of beauty and goodness wherein all evil loses its reality. The artistic message of Dionisiy can best be summed up in the words of the Scriptures: "For my yoke is good and my burden is light."

Concentration upon the hidden life of the spirit, complete absence of any affectation, combined with pacific dreaming and musical rhythms, span a bridge between the art of Dionisiy and the paintings of his predecessor - St. Andrei Rublyov. But the epoch of the latter was a time of great trials and tribulations, when the Tatar hordes and Lithuanian invaders were advancing on Moscow. The prevailing mood of that time was that of evil omens and mortal threats, with the future of the nations hardly discernable through gory gloom. But Moscow was already gathering strength for repulsing its foes and the echo of the historic Battle on the Kulikovo Field was resounding across the Orthodox world.

A century later the Moscow principality, having smashed its foes, emerged as one of the most powerful monarchies in Europe. And Dionisiy, whose artistic skill was enlisted by the powers that be, responded with much stronger feelings than Andrei Rublyov to the mundane world around him with all of its wealth of forms and colors. He liked to paint big festal processions with kings, queens and patriarchs in their ranks. The painter took special paints to reproduce the festal garments and dresses made of silk and brocade and

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adorned with pearls and precious stones, covers with ornamental decor, fantastic palaces and white-walled Russian churches, terraced mountains and "flowers of the Paradise", royal thrones and gilt pillars. In his murals antique costumes blend with archpastoral tunics and royal garments. Onion-domed Russian churches appear next to porticos, towers and crenellated fortress walls spaced with rows of columns with intricately carved bases and capitals.

The art of Dionisiy is often called "aesthetics in color"-a definition which does not rule out its profound spirituality. As experts point out, the accentuated aesthetic color of the cult and of the whole spiritual culture was the hallmark of the latter half of the 15th and early 16th centuries. Art experts justly note in the aesthetic thinking of the great painter his striving towards a refined beauty with its lyrical and musical quality. As different from the art of Theophan the Creek (circa 1340-1405) which was suffused with Byzantine idioms, Dionisiy, like Andrei Rublyov, is a distinctively Russian genius.

The cycle of the Ferapont murals is not a narrative of the life of the Blessed Virgin and Her Son, but an attempt to offer an artistic expression to the all-embracing glorification of the Mother of God-the Ever-Virgin, a symbol of tender femininity and saintly motherhood. Scenes of Her life harmoniously unfold one after the other within the interior of the cathedral with the figure of the Virgin appearing in them time and again. An onlooker seems to be attending a never-ending service of worship hailing the Theotokos-"the dawn of wondrous day" in the words of the Akathistos (the famous liturgical hymn in honor of the Blessed Virgin). In the murals She is the intercessoress for the sinful human race before Her Son-the central object of veneration and glorification.

The weightless aerial grace of the images, interlaced into harmonic unity, is matched by the select luminous quality of the artist's palette. The luminous color scheme of the frescoes of Dionisiy is truly remarkable with its prevailing soft, lucid and subdued shades. To make his color scheme match the natural hues of his northern environment, the artist used a variety of paints, both local and imported, attaining remarkable combinations of colors: gently-pink, golden-yellow, grassy-green, lilac-blue and reddish-brown. He was able to broaden the rather limited palette of the Old Russian painters with all this wealth of colors, with experts counting 40 such hues (as compared with but 6 of Andrei Rublyov). An abundance of sky-blue azure conveys to his murals an aerial quality. This favorite tint of Dionisiy permeated all shades of color of the waters and the sky of this northern region. The idyllic nature of the North offers the key to the charming harmony and beauty of the works of the great painter.

Over the past few decades a team of experts from the Scientific Research Institute of Art Restoration (named after I. Grabarj) have been working on the restoration of the frescoes of the Ferapontov Monastery. They have completed all of the preliminary studies, took care of controlled indoor temperature and collected all of the necessary related documents. Studies of the painting technique of Dionisiy are backed by an analysis of the paints and pigments he used.

As every great master, Dionisiy the icon-painter left to us a legacy of his unmistakably personal world-a world of awesome contemplation and profound meditation. His art completes the path of artistic creation of the 15th century whose law supreme was: harmony with unity... and no frills.

 

Опубликовано 07 сентября 2018 года




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