The first flowering of Christianity
(mid-11th–early 13th century)

Kievan Rus’: the Greek legacy

The reign of Vladimir's son Yaroslav the Wise (1019–1054) heralded the golden age of Kievan Rus'. After its baptism in 988, it fostered the expansion of the Byzantine civilization throughout the 11th and 12th centuries. The Church was Greek in its practices, liturgy, and structures, and in the monastic model inaugurated by the monk Hilarion in 1051, at the Monastery of the Caves near Kiev. The first churches with cupolas were the Byzantine cathedrals of St. Sophia in Kiev (built around 1040) and Novgorod (1045), and this despite their large size. St. Sophia of Kiev was embellished with marble from the Marmara islands (Prokonnessos) and decorated with mosaics by artists from Constantinople. The first and most famous icons, such as the remarkable Virgin of Vladimir, were Byzantine; they paved the way for the gradual development of the Russian icon, and the Byzantine school of icon painting. The Ostromir Gospel (c. 1056–1057), the first dated Russian manuscript, adapted the dazzling Greek art of cloisonné enamel on gold, a technique that flourished from the late 11th century throughout Kievan Rus'. The luxurious two-handled chalice from Novgorod bears particularly eloquent witness to the influence of Byzantine art in all of Rus'.

Kievan Rus’ and the West

From the time of its conversion, Rus' opened to the West. Yaroslav the Wise married a Swedish princess, and contracted marriage alliances with Hungary, Poland, Saxony, and even France when his daughter Anne married the French King Henry I in 1051. Around 1080 in Kiev, the Psalter of Archbishop Egbert of Trier was enriched with new images in a style differing from that of Constantinople which showed signs of genuine independence. Excavations in Novgorod have yielded northern European coins dating from around the year one thousand. Precious artifacts from the Latin world circulated throughout Rus'. Indeed, after the division of Kievan Rus' into rival principalities, that of Vladimir-Suzdal appears to have found new sources of inspiration in Romanesque art in the late 12th century, especially in architectural decoration, leading to an unprecedented flourishing of monumental sculpture. The early 13th-century "Golden Gates" of Suzdal reflect the synthesis of Romanesque technique and Byzantine iconography in a remarkable and innovatory work.

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Diploma of the French king Philip I in favor of the Abbey of St. Crépin in Soissons, with autograph subscription by Anne of Kiev, Queen of France

This deed is a donation granted by King Philip I of France in favor of the abbey of St. Crépin in Soissons (in the Aisne region). It is the only known document on which Queen Anne's autograph subscription appears under the king's monogram, written in French ("Anna reina") in Russo-Slavic characters (Ана реньа), with a cross drawn by the queen. Anne of Kiev (born c. 1020–1025) was the fourth daughter of the Prince of Kiev Yaroslav the Wise, and the second wife of King Henry I of France. On Henry's death in 1060, their son Philip was only seven years old. Anne participated in the government of the kingdom, together with the Count of Flanders Baudouin V and Gervais, archbishop of Reims and archchancellor of the kingdom, whose names also appear on this document.
Soissons, 1063, royal chancellery
Parchment; H. 56 cm
Provenance: Abbey of St. Crépin in Soissons, France, until the Revolution (?).
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Department of Manuscripts, Picardie 294, 38
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Ostromir Gospel

The Ostromir Gospel, a masterpiece of the book art of Kievan Rus', is an item of exceptional magnificence. It is the oldest East Slavic manuscript dated by its colophon, which also bears the name of a copyist. According to the Greek reckoning of biblical chronology, it was executed in 6564–6565 after Creation, i.e., in 1056–1057; it marks the first burgeoning of the early Christian state of Rus' and the weight of the Byzantine inheritance in the genesis of its art. It was commissioned by Posadnik (governor) Ostromir (Prince Iziaslav's powerful representative in Novgorod), whose influence extended throughout northwestern Rus'. The luxurious book he had copied and painted was intended for the recently built cathedral of St. Sophia in Novgorod, which must have given the manuscript the privileged status of a state emblem.

This work is not displayed in the exhibition.
Kiev or Novgorod (?), 1056–1057
H. 35.5 cm; W. 29 cm
Provenance: Novgorod, St. Sophia Cathedral, in the 16th century.
St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Manuscript Department, F.п.I.5
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Diadem with the Deesis

This diadem, found in Kiev in 1889, is composed of articulated gold plaques with enamel decoration showing a Deesis with the Virgin and St. John the Baptist praying to Christ for the Salvation of humankind, together with the archangels Michael and Gabriel and apostles Peter and Paul. The iconography of the Deesis conforms to Byzantine canons; the technique of cloisonné enamel on gold is also of Byzantine origin. The presence of Cyrillic letters would seem to confirm the diadem's attribution to a workshop in the principality of Kiev, home to both Greek and Russian goldsmiths.
Kiev, 12th century
Gold; cloisonné enamel on gold
H. 5.7 cm; W. 34 cm; Th. 0.5 cm
Provenance: found during excavation work on Troitskaya Street in Kiev in 1889.
St. Petersburg, Russian Museum, inv. БК 2756.
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Liturgical cuffs (epimanikia)

Liturgical cuffs (epimanikia in Greek) are a distinctive feature of the dress of orthodox bishops, for whom they were reserved until the late 12th century in Byzantium. These cuffs are the earliest known in the whole Orthodox world. Each one is decorated with the three main figures of the Deesis, represented full-length: Christ stands full-face in the middle making a gesture of blessing, flanked by the Virgin and St. John the Baptist. The figures, whose outlines are highlighted by fine pearls, are shown under an arcade framed by two wide borders; the columns, arcade, and borders are decorated with foliage scrolls.
Novgorod, late 12th century
Silk; silk and gold thread embroidery; pearls
H. 28 and 27 cm; W. 45 and 45.5 cm
Provenance: Khutyn Monastery in Novgorod.
Novgorod, Novgorod State Museum, inv. ДРТ 44
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Two-handled chalice

This chalice is remarkable for its size and shape. The convex ribs on the belly are decorated with relief images identified by inscriptions: Christ, the Virgin, St. Peter, and St. Anastasia; the angular ribs are adorned with foliage. Each side of the chalice is adorned with a large, elegantly decorated handle; an engraved inscription under its foot mentions the silversmith, while a later graffito indicates its weight. The silversmith Kosta, who was clearly familiar with Byzantine models, interpreted his predecessors' legacy in his own, highly subtle way, thereby creating an unforgettable image of the golden age of Kievan Rus'.
Silversmith: Kosta (Konstantin)
Novgorod, 11th century
Cast silver; repoussé, chased, and gilt silver; niello
H. 21.5 cm; W. 35 cm; Diam. of the bowl 21 cm
Provenance: former treasury of St. Sophia Cathedral.
Novgorod, Novgorod State Museum, ДРМ 164 КП 813
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Icon: Battle of the Novgorodians with the Suzdalians, also known as “Miracle of the Icon of Our Lady of the Sign”

The three registers of this icon show one of the most famous episodes in the history of Novgorod: in 1170, the Prince of Suzdal Andrei Bogolyubsky sent his army to besiege Novgorod. The day before, the archbishop had placed the icon of the "Virgin of the Sign" on the city walls, facing the enemy. One of the attackers' arrows struck the Virgin; the icon turned, showing the Novgorodians her tear-bathed face, while darkness suddenly enveloped the Suzdalians; terrified and blinded by the miracle, they attacked each other, and so were conquered by the Novgorodians. The painter paid scrupulous attention to his depiction of the monuments of the town and details such as the armor, the horses' saddlery, and the clothes of the townspeople and clergy.
Novgorod, mid or late 15th century
Tempera on limewood
H. 1.16 m; W. 1.19 m
Provenance: most probably the church of St. Demetrius in the district of Kojevniki in Novgorod, destroyed in 1847.
Novgorod, Novgorod State Museum, inv. ДРЖ 956
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Lion mask

This carved block representing the calm and kindly face of a lion with highly stylized anthropomorphic features was part of the decoration on the facade of the Dormition Cathedral built by Andrei Bogolyubsky, Prince of Vladimir, in 1158–1160.
The facades of the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl (erected in 1165), the St. Demetrius Cathedral in Vladimir (built before 1197), and the Bogolyubov Church (dating from 1158) also displayed lion masks. These symbolic images of lions multiplied in the 12th century in the carved decoration of the buildings in the Vladimir-Suzdal principality, and show a (no doubt deliberate) similarity to the Romanesque art of the West.
Vladimir, 1158–1160
White limestone
H. 44.5 cm; W. 44 cm; D. 40 cm
Provenance: facade of the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir.
Vladimir, Vladimir and Suzdal museum-reserve, inv. В-32285/124, КБ-151
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“Golden gates” of the Cathedral of the Nativity in Suzdal

The "Golden Gates" of the Suzdal Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin are a masterpiece of ancient Russian art; they are impressive both for their size and for the Romanesque technique of vernis brun known as "chrysography." They are composed of 28 rectangular plaques devoted to the Old Testament; the iconography is drawn from Byzantine models, except for the last scene—the earliest known image of the Virgin with a protective veil, interceding with her Son (a Russian iconographic theme known as the Pokrov). The creation of this devotional image corresponds to the mid-12th century institution of a new feast (unknown in Byzantium) in honor of the Mother of God, holy protectress of Russia.
First third of the 13th century
Gilt copper and vernis brun on an iron framework
Left door: H. 3.77 m; W. 1.31 m; Th. 22 cm
Right door: H. 3.75 m; W. 1.19 m; Th. 16 cm
Provenance: Cathedral of the Nativity in Suzdal, west door, in situ.
Suzdal, Vladimir and Suzdal museum-reserve, inv. В-6300/1169 - 1,2; М-1, М-2
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Necklace with pendants from Staraya Ryazan

This necklace is part of a hoard of treasures found in 1822 in Staraya Ryazan—one of the richest finds in terms of gold and silver ware from pre-Mongol Rus'. It included an impressive set of gold jewelry and ornaments. The necklace, probably intended for a woman, is made of large openwork gold beads, between which hang five large medallions of cloisonné enamel on gold: the central medallion, representing the Virgin, is most probably a Byzantine work from the later 10th or 11th century, re-used here; those showing Sts. Irene and Barbara were made by goldsmiths of Kievan Rus' who had evidently appropriated the Byzantine technique of cloisonné enamel. The necklace is remarkable for the beauty of the filigree decoration on the medallions, which reflects the artistic exchanges between Rus' and the West.
Ryazan (?), 12th or early 13th century
Gold; enamel on gold; precious stones; fine pearls; filigree; granulation
Diam. of the medallions: from 7.3 to 8 cm; Diam. of the openwork gold beads: 4.2 to 4.5 cm
Provenance: hoard found in 1822 in Staraya Ryazan.
Moscow, Kremlin Museums, inv. МР 971, 972, 973, 978, 979, 988 to 993