The culture and art of Rostov Veliky


Even a look at this far from complete list of the historical figures and events associated with Rostov shows how great a part this town played in the formation of the Russian state. Yet its role in the development of Russian culture is no less significant.
In the late 11th or early 12th century the first monastery in north-east Russia was founded in Rostov by Abraham. Shortly afterwards another monastery appeared, the Gregorian Cloister, „ where “there were many books” and the first school in these parts was opened.

The level of education and enlightenment among the Rostov princes, boyars, churchmen and, possibly, the common people was very high. We know that the library of Prince Constantine, who reigned in Rostov from 1207 to 1216 and was later Grand Prince of Vladimir from 1216 to 1219, contained about 1,000 books in Greek and Russian. The services in the Rostov Assumption Cathedral were conducted in two languages, Greek and Russian, in the pre-Mongol period.

Богоматерь (финифть), 1-я пол. 19 в
Богоматерь (финифть), 1-я пол. 19 в

Iconography and diploma

In the 12th century an icon of the Virgin Mary painted by Alimpii, the first known Russian icon-painter, and brought from Kiev by Andrew of Bogolyubovo, was placed in the cathedral’s iconostasis. It is thought that the famous manuscript of “The Lay of Igor’s Host”, which Count A. I. Musin-Pushkin found in the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Yaroslavl, may originally have been kept in Rostov. It could have been moved to Yaroslavl together with the archiepiscopal library when the see was transferred there at the end of the 18th century.

Our Lady of the Burning Bush, late 16th - early 17th century
Our Lady of the Burning Bush, late 16th – early 17th century

The grand-princely chronicle-writing which was of nation-wide significance was carried on in Rostov. Rare Rostov manuscripts of the 13th-14th centuries include the famous chronicle of Princess Maria, who was the wife of Prince Vasilko. After her husband fell in the battle on the River Sit in 1238, Maria founded the Monastery of the Trans- 4Q figuration of Our Saviour in Rostov. Her chronicle is written in the form of dramatic obituaries for
Russian princes who died in the struggle against the Mongols.

The Rostov-Suzdal school of icon-painting is well-known. Icon-painting in the northern lands of old Russia began here in Rostov, where the first bishopric was founded and the first monasteries appeared. The Rostov icons now in the collections of our country’s leading museums are among the oldest and most artistic. The iconographical canons and plastic, stylistic devices elaborated in Rostov influenced the development of the Moscow national school of icon-painting in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

Water tower, 17 c
Water tower, 17 c

Stephen of Permia, the famous missionary who invented an alphabet for the Zyrians, was a monk in the Rostov Gregorian cloister in the 14th century, as were Sergius of Radonezh, the great leader of the national revival, and also Epiphanius the Wise, Sergius’s pupil, who wrote the vitae of both Stephen and Sergius and was the founder of Russian hagiographical literature.

The culture and art of Rostov Veliky

Rostov occupies a leading place in the history of Russian architecture. The very first churches in north-east Russia, the Church of SS Kirik and Ulit and the Assumption Cathedral, were erected here. Unfortunately no Rostov churches of the pre- Mongol period have survived. One can get an idea of local architecture in the 12 th and early 13 th centuries from the lower section of the masonry in 46 the Leontius Chapel of the Assumption Cathedral and the remains of the Rostov princes’ private church dedicated to SS Boris and Gleb which were found by an expedition from the Hermitage during excavations in 1987.

Dmitrievsky (Sheremetyevsky) temple. Spaso-Yakovlevsky monastery, 17-19 centuries
Dmitrievsky (Sheremetyevsky) temple. Spaso-Yakovlevsky monastery, 17-19 centuries

Rostov’s oldest architectural monuments belong to the 16th century. They are the above- mentioned Epiphany Cathedral (1553) of the St Abraham Monastery, the Church of the Ascension or St Isidore the Blessed (1566), built by Andrei Maly, the Assumption Cathedral (which some specialists date to the late 15th century) and the semi-basements and lower floors of some buildings in the Kremlin, and also the Cathedral of SS Boris and Gleb (1522-1524) and the Church of the Annunciation (1524-1526) in the SS Boris and Gleb monastery near Rostov built by Grigory Borisov. This Rostov builder worked in other Russian towns as well. The Trinity Cathedral of the St Daniel Monastery in Pereyaslavl-Zalessky was also designed by him.

Western facade of the Kremlin, 16-17 centuries
Western facade of the Kremlin, 16-17 centuries. Art of Rostov Veliky

Rostov Kremlin

The 17th century saw the erection of the world- famous Rostov Kremlin, many churches and other buildings in the Rostov monasteries and parish churches in the town and surrounding villages. Naryshkin baroque, a style which became almost universal in the architecture of the late 17th century, is represented in Rostov by only a few buildings. During this period Rostov architecture adhered to its own local traditions. The model for Rostovians was the Assumption Cathedral which, 5Q in turn, was based on traditions going back to pre-Mongol times.

In 1978 the author of these lines discovered the Stable Yard of the Rostov Kremlin, which was thought to have been demolished in the 19th century. This is the only known extant building of its type to have survived from the Middle Ages. The Stable Yard is in the form of a square consisting of four adjoining blocks with an inner courtyard and two carriage-way gates. In some places fragments of the original painting of the building have survived; it was painted “imitation brick” on a red background. Almost identical fragments have been discovered on the Church of St John the Di- 51 vine in the Rostov Kremlin, the Church of the Purification in the SS Boris and Gleb Monastery and the west portal of the Assumption Cathedral.

Cross of Stephen the Bearded, 15th century
Cross of Stephen the Bearded, 15th century. Art of Rostov Veliky

The only wooden church in Yaroslavl Region has survived just outside Rostov. It was built in 1687 or 1689 by the St Abraham Monastery on the River Ishna and dedicated to Abraham of Rostov’s vision of the St John the Divine on this spot. The church is a fine example of the Russian mediaeval carpenters’ skill and artistic taste.

As well as its splendid icon-painting and architecture, Rostov boasts some unique frescoes. Excavations of the Assumption Cathedral by N. N. Voronin in 1954-1955 revealed whitestone blocks of the masonry of the 12th-century cathedral with traces of frescoes painted in 1187. In the cathedral vestry above the north apse and behind the wooden iconostasis some ornamental painting and fragments of 16th-century frescoes have survived.

For the most part the wall-painting of the Assumption Cathedral belongs to the 17th century and is partly obscured by later over-painting. Such fine artists as Sevastian Dmitriev from Yaroslavl and Guri Nikitin, Sila Savin and Vassily Kuzmin from Kostroma painted the cathedral frescoes at different periods. As well as by artists from Yaroslavl, Kostroma and Vologda the Rostov churches were also embellished by local masters. Thus, the walls of the Church of Our Saviour in the Vestibule were painted by “the Rostov priest Timothy”, as we read in an inscription on one of the frescoes in the private church of the Rostov metropolitans.

Rostov frescoes of the first half of the 18th century continued to follow the old Russian traditions, as in the 17th century. For example, in the wall-painting of the Church of the Ascension (St Isidore the Blessed), the Epiphany Cathedral of the St Abraham Monastery, the Church of the Trinity in the Wood in Borisogleb and the Church of St Nicetas in the village of Porechye, which all date back to the beginning of the 18th century, we do not find the secular elements and adherence to the West European manner so characteristic of the work of artists of the Petrine period and after.

Approximately from the middle of the 18th century Rostov icon- and fresco-painting and architecture begin to lose their local quality, which gave way increasingly to the dominant styles of g2 baroque, rococo and then classicism.

Architecture of Rostov Veliky  in 19 th centuries

Stone building continued in Rostov in the second half of the 18th and first half of the 19 th centuries. The age of classicism left its monuments in the town. Count N. P. Sheremetiev, the well-known theatre-lover who married his former serf actress Praskovia Kovaleva-Zhemchugova (she also came from near Rostov, and the count met his future wife in a meadow by the village of Uslavtsevo near Borisogleb), was a generous patron. In 1794 on money provided by him the St Demetrius Cathedral was erected in the Saviour Monastery of St James.

The Moscow architect Elizva Nazarov and the serf architects Dushkin and Aleksii Mironov took part in designing the building. In 1836 on gj funds provided by Countess Orlova-Chesmenskaya the Church of St James was erected on over the spot where the monastery’s founder, St James of Rostov, was buried. This church stands next to St Demetrius and echoes the latter in the treatment of its north facade and the form of the dome, which is crowned with a belvedere, as the cathedral is. This creates an harmonious ensemble together with the nearby bell-tower also in the classical style.

Rostov bells and Rostov enamels

The bell-tower erected by the local peasant Kozlov in the rich village of Porechye Rybnoe on the shore of Lake Nero, opposite the St James Monastery, also belongs to the first half of the 18 th century. It is one of the tallest bell-towers in Russia. Its height is 94 metres, higher than the Ivan the Great bell-tower in the Moscow Kremlin.
Also worthy of note is the building of the No I boys’ grammar school, erected in 1911 in Rostov the Great on funds left to the town by the Rostov lst-guild merchant A. L. Kekin. It was built by the architect A. N. Trubnikov, who won the competition at which more than twenty designs were submitted. A special public committee including noblemen, merchants and members of the intelligentsia supervised the building.

Among Rostov’s many attractions two stand out in particular: the Rostov bells and Rostov enamels.

Bells first appeared in Rostov many centuries ago. What they were like in those early days we cannot say; we only have a clear idea about the bells of the 17th-century, because to this day there are some bells cast at that time still hanging in the Rostov cathedral bell-tower. Rostov bell-ringing was an important phenomenon in Russian musical culture. In the 19th century a priest by the name of Aristarkh Israilev wrote down the various chimes. Hector Berlioz came to Rostov to listen to them, and Fyodor Chaliapin greatly admired them. After almost sixty years of silence, the Rostov cathedral bell-tower came to life again in 1987, when the 1125th anniversary of Rostov the Great was being celebrated. With the help of Rostov bell-ringer A. M. Uransky, the teachers at the local music school restored the bells, and now church services are once more accompanied by their famous chimes.

Photos of decorative art in Rostov