The History Of Russian Art

Medieval Russian Architecture, Russian icons, St Petersburg, Orthodox Christianity of Byzantium, Kasimir Malevich

14 January - 17 March 2020
Tuesdays 10.45am - 12.45pm
The University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square, London W1K 1DB
Andrew Spira
Full course (10 sessions) £499.00
Single lecture £59.00
(includes morning coffee, tea and biscuits)

Book your place now on The History Of Russian Art

“Quite the most fascinating and well‐delivered lectures I’ve ever been to”

This series of talks will explore the neglected history of Russian art. The story begins in the 10th century when Prince Vladimir of Kiev converted to Orthodox Christianity and brought the sacred art of icon painting from Byzantium to Holy Rus. In order to shoe‐horn Russia on to the stage of European politics, subsequent rulers adopted and adapted the cultural conventions of western Europe. But by the end of the 19th century, increasing numbers of Russians began to feel that their country had sold its soul to the West and there started a movement to define a distinctively Russian form of cultural life that matched the experience and aspirations of modern society. The consequences were revolutionary – in many senses of the word.

Palace Chapel of the Catherine Palace
Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia Suprematism Abstract Composition , Malevich, 1915

Course outline

Medieval Russian Architecture: The Introduction of Christianity to Russia

Russia adopted the Orthodox Christianity of Byzantium in the 10th century. In keeping with the land’s unique historical and geographical characteristics, the religion unfolded in a unique and distinctive way, as clearly reflected in the country’s earliest art and architecture.

Russian Icons: Symbolism and Meaning

Rooted in Byzantium, Russian icons developed along lines that are entirely different to those of western European art. This lecture will examine the theological and cultural background that underpins their often inscrutable allure.

Russian Icons: Westernisation

Russia did not undergo a ‘Renaissance’, as such, but, over many years, from the sixteenth century onwards, influences from western Europe crept into the country and effected change. This lecture will trace the dissolution of the icon painting tradition during this period and the tentative emergence of secular art – two hundred years after it first appeared in the West.

St. Petersburg

Radical change appeared in Russia in the eighteenth century when Tsar Peter the Great tried to terminate the obstructive conservatism of traditional authorities by inventing a new city – St. Petersburg – and bringing western artists (and other skilled practitioners) to Russia.

Nineteenth Century Russian Art

In the nineteenth century, there was a reaction against cosmopolitan Enlightenment classicism and national styles of Russian craftsmanship were revived in order to precipitate the evolution of a specifically Russian culture.

The “World of Art”

At the end of the nineteenth century, a small group of Russian artists got together to challenge what had become the narrowness and conservatism of nineteenth century national realism. They promoted and exhibited Russian art in an international context and produced their own distinctive journal (called ‘The World of Art’).

Russian Avant‐Garde Art

After two centuries of art that developed in the shadow of European trends, albeit in highly idiosyncratic ways, the avant‐garde art that emerged in Russia prior to the Revolution in 1917, was unprecedented even in Europe. This explosive art, consummated in Kasimir Malevich’s notorious Black Square of 1915, pushed the concept of ‘art’ to its limits and beyond.

Constructivism and Utilitarian Art

While some avant‐garde artists attempted to purify art into its purest possible essence, others attempted to integrate creative endeavour so completely into the realm of everyday life that the concept of art seemed to disappear altogether. Believing that this concept was a bourgeois indulgence that alienated the working class from the rest of society, they denounced it, focusing on utilitarian design and propaganda.

Twentieth Century Russian Architecture: Visions of a Better World

While starting the 20th century with nostalgic replicas of medieval buildings, Russian architecture became an instrument and celebration of revolutionary change. At its most extreme, it became science fiction but maybe its visions of satellite cities that orbit the earth are not as far‐fetched as they first seemed…?

Socialist Realism and Beyond

Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the idealism of Russian avant‐garde artists slowly waned. In 1932, Stalin banned all art that was not immediately comprehensible to the most uneducated viewer, insisting that art should present the people with an accessible and realist view of the world. But how real was it? And where did it lead?