Moscow, the “Third Rome” (1505–1598)

The “century of Ivan the Terrible” (1505–1598):
Moscow, the “Third Rome”

The "gathering of Russian lands" was completed under Vasily III (1505–1533) with the capture of Smolensk and the annexation of the principality of Ryazan. The conditions were met for unified Russia—the only Orthodox state to have survived the disappearance of the Byzantine Empire in 1453—to adopt the Byzantine theocratic principle: the union of church and empire. After Ivan IV (1533–1584) was crowned on January 16, 1547, the tsar-autocrat became the only source of power, law, and justice in Russia, accepting his succession to the Byzantine emperor as the only Christian sovereign. The monk Filofei of Pskov declared Moscow to be "the Third Rome." Like the Byzantine emperors of the past, the sovereigns symbolically gathered the most distinguished relics in the Kremlin churches, and Metropolitan Macarius officialized the worship of new national saints in 1547.

The conquest of Kazan in 1552, followed by that of the Astrakhan Khanate, opened a route to the Caspian sea and the Caucasus, and Orthodoxy established itself in non-Orthodox lands with the foundation of the archbishopric of Kazan. Finally, the prestige of the imperial coronation allowed the Russian Church to attain patriarchal status in 1589; with a tsar and patriarch, Russia reproduced the Byzantine synthesis of temporal and spiritual power. However, Ivan the Terrible’s reign was blighted by the long Livonian War, the reign of terror and repression with the oprichnina (1564–1572), the sack of Novgorod, the corn crises, and Ivan’s murder of his son, Tsarevich Ivan. Yet production continued in the Kremlin workshops, dedicated to the glory of the Tsar and the Church.

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Reliquary of the True Cross

The form and iconography of this reliquary are typical of the Byzantine reliquaries of the True Cross produced between the 10th and 13th centuries: a case with a sliding lid containing a cross-shaped recess intended to hold the relic, with the figures of Constantine and St. Helena on either side. The lid is decorated with the Crucifixion; the edges of the case feature a series of medallions with the Hetoimasia or "empty throne" prepared for Christ on the Judgment Day. It has been attributed to the workshops of early 12th-century Constantinople.
The reliquary is one of the few Byzantine objects that were adopted as imperial insignia in Russia and played a symbolic role in Moscow's Byzantine political and religious heritage as "Third Rome" and "New Jerusalem."
Constantinople, late 11th–early 12th century (?)
Gilt silver on wood core
H. 29 cm; W. 20.5 cm; Th. 4.2 cm (25.5 cm and 14 cm for the lid)
Provenance: mentioned in the testaments of the Grand Princes of Moscow in the 15th century.
St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum, Oriental Department, inv. ш-839 a and b
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Embroidered pelena: Palm Sunday Procession in Moscow

If the central scene shows the miracle that occurred every Tuesday at the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople, when the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria became so light that one man could carry it, this can be interpreted as the Palm Sunday Procession of April 8, 1498. In 1490, the death of Ivan the Young, heir to the throne, sparked a struggle between his widow Elena of Wallachia and the second wife of Ivan III, Zoe-Sophia Palaiologina. In February 1498, Elena's son Dmitry was crowned Grand Prince of Vladimir and Moscow.
Zoe-Sophia is thought to be the figure in the bottom left corner; she is accompanied by two of her daughters, wearing hats and flanking Elena who wears a yellow veil. Of the three crown princes, the oldest is probably Ivan III, while the youngest, beardless figure is his grandson Dmitry, and the last one Sophia's son Vasily (the future Vasily III). The technique and motifs of the border suggest that the work may have been made in one of Elena of Wallachia's embroidery workshops.
Moscow, late 15th century (1498?)
Taffeta; canvas; gold and silver threads; silk threads
H. 95 cm; W. 98 cm
Provenance: former collection of Mikhaïl M. Zaitsevski (1815–1885).
Moscow, State Historical Museum, inv. 15495щ РБ-5
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Illuminated Chronicles of Ivan the Terrible, last volume: The Tsar’s Coronation in 1547

The last volume of the Illuminated Chronicles is entitled the Book of Tsars (Tsarstvennaya Kniga), because of an annotation in the margin of a page: "Book of Tsars, part one." It spans the period from September 1533 to March 1553 and contains 1,281 illustrations which (contrary to those in the other volumes) are ink and graphite sketches rather than colored pictures. Numerous annotations concerning the events may have been added by Ivan the Terrible himself.
The manuscript centers on the coronation of Ivan IV on January 16, 1547, deliberately modeled on the Byzantine imperial coronation ritual. The young tsar, not yet 17 years old, leaves the Dormition Cathedral after his coronation as carpets are unrolled before him. A bowl of gold coins (with which he will be showered) is carried behind him.
Moscow, second half of the 16th century
H. 44 cm; W. 31 cm
Provenance: in 1683, the complete set of folios was entrusted to the Kremlin workshops and divided into several separate volumes.
Moscow, State Historical Museum, ms 80370 / ОР Syn. n° 149
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Icon: St. John the Baptist

This half-length portrait of St. John the Baptist, the last Old Testament prophet and first "witness" of Christ, depicts him as an ascetic. Draped in his melotes(goatskin), he leans with his left hand on a stick ending in a flowered cross, and makes a gesture of blessing with his right. His serene, majestic gaze, directed toward the viewer, conveys a certain disregard for worldly vanities. His noble bearing and steady gaze recall the figure of Christ in the Deesis of the main iconostasis in the Church of the Annunciation, painted by Theophanes the Greek in the late 14th century.
Images of John the Baptist as an ascetic multiplied during the 16th century in Muscovy, especially under the reign of Ivan the Terrible. As St. John the Baptist was the latter's patron saint, his "almighty majesty" may be a veiled reference to that of the "autocrat of Moscow."
Moscow, c. 1560 and second half of the 16th century (revetment)
Tempera on wood; gilt silver; filigree; enamel
H. 1 m; W. 75 cm; Th. 2.5 cm
Provenance: iconostasis of the chapel of the Entry into Jerusalem in the Church of the Annunciation in the Moscow Kremlin, consecrated in 1567.
Moscow, Kremlin Museums, inv. Ж-1483/1-2
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Icon: Virgin of the “Burning Bush”

The Virgin's pose with the Child is of the Hodegetria type; she is surrounded by a series of symbols typical of Marian hymnography, such as Jacob's ladder, the tree of Jesse, the tabernacle of the Psalms, Daniel's den, and the burning bush of Moses. The theme of the burning bush, aflame but not consumed—recognized as a prefiguration of the immaculate conception—is one of these abstract, allegorical images. The representation of the theme on this icon is one of the first in which the bush is a mere detail. The iconography is well suited to the masterful elegance of the painting with its subtle association of unusual components, meticulous monochrome drawings, and skillful use of colors. The Virgin is also the Woman of the Apocalypse with free-flowing hair, surrounded by the Evangelists and angels of the Apocalypse.
Mid or second half of the 16th century, and 1630–1640 (revetment)
Tempera on wood; gilt silver
H. 1.37 m; W. 1.02 cm
Provenance: iconostasis of the Church of St. Cyril at the Monastery of St. Cyril of the White Lake.
Kirillov, Kirillov-Belozersky Museum of History, Art and Architecture, inv. ДЖ-312 / КП-1958 and ДМ-231
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Charka with the name of Ivan IV the Terrible

This charka, or drinking cup, consists of a round, partially gilt, hammered silver footless bowl with an attached openwork cast thumb-rest. The bowl features chased and engraved decoration. The center of the inside of the cup is decorated with a lion on a pointillé ground, surrounded by three circling fish.
The inscription with the tsar's titulary is a direct allusion to Ivan the Terrible's capture of Kazan in 1552, and to the conquest of the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan (1552–1556). The decoration (palmettes, florets, circling fish) and thumb-rest evoke the work of silversmiths of the Tatar Orient of the 13th-15th centuries rather than those of Moscow, so this item was probably part of the Tatar spoils distributed by Ivan the Terrible, with the inscription added in his honor.
Khanate of Kazan before 1552; Moscow after that date
Silver and gilt silver
H. 2.8 cm; max. W. 15.2 cm; Diam. of the bowl: 12.7 cm
Provenance: sacristy of the Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery.
Sergiev-Posad, State History and Art Museum, СПМЗ. Инв. 291- ихо
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Life of Sts. Zosimus and Sabbatius of Solovki

This luxurious manuscript, produced in Moscow for Tsar Feodor I between 1596 and 1598, is related to the development of the cult of Sts. Zosimus and Sabbatius, whose lives were recounted in the late 15th century by the hegumen (abbot) Dositheus. In 1429, Herman and Sabbatius settled on the uninhabited Solovki archipelago beyond the polar circle. Six years later, Sabbatius, sensing his imminent end, returned to the continent to die. The monk Zosimus, introduced to asceticism by St. Herman, settled in his turn on the Solovki islands where he founded a monastery in the memory of Sabbatius whose relics he brought to the island.
The manuscript, embellished with 234 illustrations throughout the text, also contains numerous borders adorned with foliage and arabesques, and decorated initials. The elegance of the paintings and delicacy of the gold-embellished ornamentation testify to the mastery and skill of the Muscovite painters.
Moscow, late 16th and early 17th century
Paper, 234 folios
H. 31 cm; W. 20.5 cm
Provenance: former collection of Ivan A. Vakhrameev.
Moscow, State Historical Museum, ms n° 4589, ms ОР Вахр. n° 71
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“Portrait” of Ivan IV the Terrible

This work is thought to be a "portrait" of Ivan IV the Terrible with his energetic, melancholic face, fleshy lips, high forehead, and receding hairline; the inscription in the corners designates him as such. However, the belated emergence of portraiture in Russia (which resisted the genre until the early 17th century) argues against a true portrait, and the face resembles those of the saints on icons or in monumental painting.
In 1677, it entered the Danish collections through the intermediary of an ambassador to Tsar Feodor II, and was described in 1737 as follows: "the head of an old man painted in the Muscovite style." If the inscription is not a later addition, at most the "portrait" can only be a retrospective image of the sovereign. This deliberately archaistic portrait is comparable to the funerary icon of Vasily III, father of Ivan IV the Terrible.
Moscow, first half of the 17th century
Tempera on wood
H. 36 cm; W. 34 cm
Provenance: brought back from Russia by the Dane Frederik von Gabel in 1676–1677.
Copenhagen, Nationalmuseet, inv. P. 249/199
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Funerary icon of Vasily III

This icon shows the Great Prince of Moscow Vasily III (1479–1533) and St. Vasily, under an image of the Virgin of the Sign. The inscription "Varlaam" corresponds to the monastic name adopted by Vasily III on his death, according to the princes' custom of taking monastic vows at the point of death. This is the earliest extant funerary icon of all those related to the tombs of tsars and princes in the dynastic necropolis of the Church of the Archangel Michael in the Moscow Kremlin; indeed, it may even have inaugurated the tradition. Like the Byzantine emperors, the haloed Vasily III is introduced into the intimacy of the saints, reflecting Ivan IV's desire to include his father in their lineage and publicly associate him with the saints. The personalization of the deceased's features demonstrates a tendency toward portraiture that contributed to the subsequent development of the genre in Russia.
Moscow, third quarter of the 16th century
Tempera on wood
H. 2.14 m; W. 1.63 m
Provenance: church of the Archangel Michael in the Moscow Kremlin, above the tomb of Vasily III.
Moscow, State Historical Museum, inv. 29172 И-VIII 3423
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Icon: The vision of St. Eulogius

The theme of this icon is drawn from the sayings of the Desert Fathers, intended for the spiritual edification of monks. It illustrates the story of the vision of Eulogius of Alexandria. During a service, he saw angels distributing gold, silver, and bronze coins to the monks according to their degree of asceticism; the negligent were given nothing.
In the foreground, two holy abbots who are doubtless Sergius of Radonezh and Cyril of Belozersk bow down before a bowl containing offerings of bread. Their blessing prefigures the Eucharist, evoked by the Virgin and Child—an image of the Incarnation aligned with the altar, a promise of the Sacrifice and Resurrection.
Solvychegodsk, between 1565 and 1596
Tempera on limewood; silver
H. 14.2 cm; W. 10.7 cm
Provenance: Monastery of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, Solvychegodsk (Arkhangelsk Oblast)
Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery, inv. 21494
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Icon of the Annunciation

The scene takes place on a terrace separating Mary's residence from the outside world. The seated Virgin turns toward the archangel Gabriel, raising her hand to her breast in a gesture of surprise and modesty. At her feet, the smaller figure of a servant sits on a little bench. The composition is framed by complex architectural forms whose rigorous lines give depth to the scene, highlighting the figures' attitudes and expressive gestures.
The icon has been dated to the 16th century. The calm, grave rhythm of the composition with its elegant monumentality and the harmony of the limited color palette recall the style of the Novgorod masters who came to work in the Transfiguration Cathedral of the Solovetsky Monastery, subject to a fire in 1538.
Novgorod, mid-16th century
Tempera on wood
H. 1.46 m; W. 1.13 m
Provenance: Transfiguration Cathedral, Solovetsky Monastery.
Moscow, Kremlin Museums, inv. Ж-800
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St. George Slaying the Dragon

The attitude of the saint on his horse no doubt corresponds to that of St. George on horseback piercing the dragon with his spear. This carved icon was designed to be placed inside a wooden framework, like late medieval northern European altarpieces. Equivalent works from central and northern Russia, preserved in their original state, can be dated between the late 16th and late 18th centuries.
The spread of this theme could be related to the installation of a dragon-slaying St. George, patron saint of Moscow and the Muscovite dynasty, in a niche over the main gate of the Moscow Kremlin—a figure carved by Vasily Yermolin between 1460 and 1464; the work also shows a clear influence of northern wood carving, characterized by a certain naivety. These factors suggest that it probably dates from the second half of the 16th century.
Central Russia, second half of the 16th century
Polychrome wood; gilding
H. 64.5 cm; W. 57.3 cm; Th. 9.2 cm
Provenance unknown.
Vologda, State Museum of History, Architecture, and Art, inv. N ВОКМ 5226