Medieval Russian Art
(Russian) Icon of Saint Nicolas,
13th - early 14th century,
tempera on wood.
Our knowledge of Russian art begins with the Scythians and other Central Asian art. But what most people think
of as Russian art begins when the Russians convert to Christianity
around 400 AD. At this time Russian artists begin painting
in a more Roman style (that is, the Roman
style of about 400 AD). A lot of what they paint is religious pictures
called icons. Icons are mostly pictures of saints,
or of Jesus or Mary.
They are usually painted on wood.
People thought these pictures had religious power. If you touched a picture of the saint, he or she could make you better from a sickness, or curse your enemies. Because these pictures were so important and powerful, people sometimes decorated them with jewels and gold.
Many people thought it was wrong to believe that paintings had magic powers like this, and many of them thought it was wrong to make any kind of paintings at all - we call this iconoclasm.
Russian artists continued to paint in a Byzantine (Roman) style for almost a thousand years until the Mongols invaded Russia in the 1200s AD. The war kept the Russians from talking to the Byzantine artists, so they developed their own independent style at this time.