The Mongol era

In 1223, the armies of Genghis Khan invaded Rus' and defeated the Russian princes at the Battle of the Kalka River on May 31, 1223. The Mongols returned in 1237, and the Russian principalities fell one after the other, coming under the domination of the Mongols who settled on the banks of the Volga, where they established their rallying point: the Golden Horde. Only the north and Novgorod escaped the Mongol raids, but were threatened by the Swedes and the Teutonic Knights.

Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod, consolidated his power through an alliance with the Mongols of the Golden Horde; he defeated the Swedes at the Battle of the Neva in 1240, and the Teutonic knights on the ice of Lake Peipus in 1242. The Mongol conquest marks a definitive break with the artistic traditions of Kievan Rus', which came under the influences of the vast and variegated Mongol Empire; the traditions survived nonetheless, evolving in the northern and central regions while devastated Kiev fell into decline. Metropolitan Maxim abandoned the city in 1299, seeking refuge in Vladimir.






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Illuminated Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible, Laptev volume: Life of Alexander Nevsky

Between 1568 and 1576 Ivan the Terrible, Tsar of Russia, ordered the compilation of an illustrated history of Russia—a monumental project in the form of an illuminated chronicle (Licevoj letopisnyj svod). This page shows the story of the famous "Battle of the Ice" on April 5, 1242 which saw the victory of the Russian troops led by Alexander Nevsky, who was barely 20 years old.
In 1240, after taking possession of Koporye and Pskov, the Teutonic knights invaded the Republic of Novgorod. Alexander reclaimed Koporye then liberated Pskov. He attacked the knights' territories, but troops from Riga crushed the Russian vanguard, which retreated to Lake Peipus. Both sides then prepared for a decisive battle on the frozen lake. Believing victory to be at hand, the heavily armed Teutonic knights pursued Alexander over the ice, which cracked under their weight. They suffered a crushing defeat, and had to relinquish their conquests.
Moscow, second half of the 16th century
Paper, 1005 folios
H. 40 cm; W. 30.3 cm
Provenance: preserved in the Tsar's book collection
St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Manuscript Department, F. IV.233
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Pokrov of Alexander Nevsky

The word pokrov ("veil" or "protection") designates the images of saints that were embroidered or painted on canvas and used to envelop their remains in their tombs, or sometimes to cover the tombs themselves. These images are idealized, full length, full face portraits of the saints, like this one of Alexander Nevsky (1220–1263) who took the monastic habit on his deathbed under the name of Alexis. The embroidery techniques are characteristic of the Stroganov workshops that operated in Solvychegodsk in the 1670s–1680s, with highly complex geometric motifs and elegantly stylized forms and drapery; without the luxury and sparkle of pearls, the figure of Alexander Nevsky acquires a certain severity which transforms his image into a veritable icon.
Stroganov workshops, 1670–1680
Satin; canvas; silk, gold, and silver threads
H. 1.92 m; W. 60.5 cm
Provenance: was most probably in the cathedral of the Nativity Monastery in Vladimir, where Alexander was buried until 1724 when his remains were transferred (on the orders of Peter the Great) to the St. Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg.
Sergiev-Posad, State History and Art Museum, inv. 5552
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Virgin of Tolga

This icon is one of a type known as the "Virgin of Tenderness" (in Greek, glykophilousa) which emerged in Byzantine art, becoming very popular during the 11th and 12th centuries. The Virgin of Vladimir is one of the most famous examples. Mary sits on a high-backed throne, above which are two angels in adoration; she holds the Child, who stands on her lap and embraces her.
The pictorial style and palette of the Virgin of Tolga recall icons produced in the 13th and early 14th centuries in Rostov, where there must have been a workshop attached to the episcopal see in the latter half of the 13th century. The icon's resemblance to Italian works no doubt stems from the use of shared models that were widespread in the 13th century.
Yaroslavl or Rostov (?), late 13th century
Tempera on limewood
H. 1.40 m; W. 92 cm
Provenance: Church of the Exaltation of the Cross, Tolga Monastery, near Yaroslavl.
Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery, inv. 12875