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One of the Jewels in Russia’s Golden Ring

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This article originally appeared at Russia & India Report


In the period preceding the Tatar-Mongol invasion a unique Russian architectural style emerged in Vladimir (176 kilometers from Moscow), due to the efforts of several major historical figures such as the outstanding princes Andrei Bogolyubsky (the Pious), Vsevolod the Big Nest and Yuri Dolgoruky. The works of Andrei Rublev, Russia’s most renowned icon-painter still adorn the Uspensky Cathedral

Vladimir’s Golden Gates

The Golden Gates were built in 1164 under the reign of Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky. The gates were not merely a defense rampart, but an impressive triumphal arch, with the gates of Constantinople as its model. In its first four centuries Vladimir’s great princes would ascend the throne by entering the town through the Golden Gates.  

According to legend, on the eve of their unveiling, the Golden Gates crashed down burying 12 people alive. While the trapped people were being searched for, Prince Andrei prayed before a miraculous icon of the Mother of God to save the workers. To everyone’s surprise, the workers were removed from the collapsed ruins not only alive, but even almost without injury. Prince Andrei then ordered the tiny white stone Church of the Deposition of the Virgin’s Robe to be built right at the gates. Thanks to this gated church Vladimir’s Golden Gates had no equal in medieval Europe.

According to another legend, Catherine II’s coach was too wide and got stuck when passing through the Golden Gates. So, the empress ordered the demolition of the vaults on either side. During the Soviet period the Golden Gates hosted the KGB archive and some people even lived here. In 1983, during the city’s birthday celebrations, a capsule with a message to Vladimir’s 21st century inhabitants was embedded in one of the corner towers.

Today this monument of ancient Russian architecture is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. On the upper floor of the Golden Gates there is an exhibition with a small collection of weapons from different epochs and a small, but spectacular artistic attraction: a diorama depicting the storming of Vladimir by Mongol troops in 1238.

The Uspensky (Dormition) Cathedral

Nowadays this outstanding monument of ancient Rus’ white stone architecture is at the same time both a museum and the functioning cathedral of the Vladimir eparchy. Since 1992 it has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The Uspensky Cathedral was built in 1158 by Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky (the Pious) and was the main church of the country at the time. The inauguration ceremonies of the great princes of northeastern Rus’ were held here until the mid-15th century and the country’s best craftsmen were invited to Vladimir to participate in its construction.

The Uspensky Cathedral’s second most important function was to house one of Russia’s most important icons: the Theotokos of Vladimir (the Vladimir Mother of God).

An icon was brought to Constantinople from Jerusalem in the fifth century under Emperor Theodosius. It was given to Rus’ from Byzantium at the beginning of the 12th century (around 1131) as a present to the saint Prince Mstislav from the Patriarch of Constantinople. Yuri Dolgoruky’s son, Andrei Bogolyubsky, brought the icon to Vladimir in 1155. It was then that it was given its current name and was stored in the Uspensky Cathedral.

The icon is said to have miraculous powers and has been credited with saving Rus’ from various disasters. During Tamerlane’s raid in 1395 the icon was moved to Moscow to protect the city from the invader. The fact that Tamerlane’s troops for no apparent reason withdrew and left the city of Yelets without reaching Moscow was considered the result of an intercession by the Mother of God.

There were three other cases of miraculous liberation from invaders: in 1451 (the raid of the Nogai Tsarevich Mazovsha), in 1480 (the Great Standoff on the Ugra River) and in 1521 (from the Crimean Khan Mekhmet-Girey). Today one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most venerated icons is kept in the museum and church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachy, next to the Tretyakov Gallery in central Moscow.

The church building has preserved the designs of the pre-Mongol period of Russian architecture almost intact. Particularly worthy of attention are the 12th-century frescoes: the figures of St. Artemy and St. Abraham, the images of lilies and peacocks and the only remaining frescoes that can be safely attributed to the hand of Russia’s most famous icon painter, Andrei Rublev. The baroque iconostasis was implemented by order of Catherine II.

Many representatives of Vladimir’s royal dynasty and clergy are buried in the cathedral’s walls. The cathedral’s builders – Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky and his brother Vsevolod the Big Nest – rest in the northern gallery.

The Cathedral of Saint Demetrius

Vladimir’s main symbol, the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius (Dmitrievsky sobor), dates back to the 12th century and is famous for its unique white stone inlay work. The walls are covered with the images of heavenly plants, birds, lions, leopards, griffons with lambs, saints, knights and dragon-people.

Several features are easily recognizable: King David, the ascension of Alexander the Great, Saint George and even several basic Biblical themes. However, to this day not all the mysteries of the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius have been fully solved.

Few items from the original furnishings have survived. The ones that do remain include several frescoes from the 12th century, in particular the fragments of a composition called “Judgment Day,” which can be compared to the homonymous work by Andrei Rublev in the nearby Uspensky Cathedral. Today the cathedral functions only as a museum and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The Convent of the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God

The Convent of the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God is as old as the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius and was built in 1195 using white stone. This male convent is considered one of the most ancient and venerated Russian monasteries. It is located a three-minute walk to the left of the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius if you turn your back to the Klyazma River.

For travelers the most interesting aspect here is not so much the interiors, but more likely the exteriors of the church: we recommend that you walk along all of its grandiose white walls. From there an impressive view onto the Klyazma River and on old Vladimir will open up before your eyes. The Nativity Convent is one of the best places to get a good view of the town.

Just 100 years ago Vladimir’s third white stone church could be found here on the grounds, but in the 19th century it was demolished because of its decrepit state and a new bigger cathedral was built in its place. Being the first center of monastic life in ancient Rus’, the Nativity Convent was also famous as being the burial place of Alexander Nevsky (however, later by order of Peter I, some of his relics were moved to St. Petersburg).

Today this functioning convent represents a complex of outstanding historical importance, despite the losses it has suffered.

The Church of St. George the Victorious

Ever since ancient times Russian princes used to build churches in honor of their own guardian angels. Prince Yuri Dolgoruky, Moscow’s founder, built a wooden church in honor of his own celestial protector – the martyr St. George in 1129. This explains the origins of one of Russia’s most ancient churches.

In 1778 the Church burned down, therefore it was rebuilt from scratch in a provincial baroque style that is a great rarity in this part of Russia. During the Soviet period the church’s small onion-shaped dome was heavily damaged by machine-gun fire. A salami plant, which handled oils and fats, was located here. As a result the ancient frescoes were ruined and covered by a black, one-centimeter thick layer of soot.

Today the Church of St. George presents a unique possibility to observe the spiritual life of ordinary people from the Russian provinces. The inside offers the characteristic coziness of a provincial church: on the floor is a well-worn carpet and slippers are handed out at the entrance just as you would find in of the vast majority of post-Soviet apartments. Old women wrapped in shawls listen to the priest singing, cross themselves before the wonderful frescoes and admire the 19th-century icons.

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Art restoration in Spain: Spain’s latest ‘Ecce Homo’: how a botched restoration made global headlines | Culture

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Several days ago, the Spanish painter Antonio Capel was chatting with the owners of Vivaldi, a florist’s shop in the northern city of Palencia, when they remarked that something was amiss with the façade of a historic building that now houses a branch of the Unicaja bank. Capel was surprised so they suggested he take a look at what was once the delicate face of a shepherdess.

The artist went up to his studio and, using his camera’s zoom, saw that the familiar features were now nothing short of an eyesore. The statue’s eyes were in the wrong place and her nose and mouth had been clumsily crafted. As Capel jokes, whoever was responsible for the restoration was no fine artist – an observation backed by the Spanish Association of Conservators and Restorer’s rapid clarification that it was not a professional job. The botched restoration has already drawn comparisons to the infamous Ecce Homo painting which was disfigured beyond recognition by an amateur artist in Borja in 2012.

The notorious ‘Ecce Homo’ restoration.
The notorious ‘Ecce Homo’ restoration.

The florists in Palencia, who preferred to remain anonymous, recall that heavy rains several years back caused a fall of debris from the building, which was inaugurated in 1923. They later realized that the face of the shepherdess was missing. “The strange thing is that no one noticed” how badly it had been restored, they say.

Capal, meanwhile, says it is beyond his comprehension that such slapdash workmanship should be allowed on such a beautiful building, which is located in the heart of the city on Mayor street. In his opinion, the workers simply used a tracing technique to fashion the face out of plaster in the hope that it would be too high up for anyone to notice.

Unicaja denies any responsibility for the sloppy result. Spokespeople from the bank insist that they only own the premises of the branch office and the second floor. Years ago, Caja Duero, which later became part of Unicaja, owned the entire building. However, they sold the upper floors during the takeover to private homeowners. The spokespeople maintain that the building’s administrator informed the homeowners in 2017 that pieces from the façade had fallen off, including the face of the shepherdess. Palencia City Council confirms that they called on the owners to repair the damage that could pose a threat to public safety. They explain the building is under “structural, not integral protection,” meaning that any restoration work must protect the structure of the building, but no special consideration needs to be given to its exterior decorations.

Unicaja’s staff laugh when asked about the ham-handed job. Like other botched restorations in Spain, including the cartoonish facelift of a 16th-century sculpture of Saint George in Navarre, the changes went unnoticed until someone with a keen eye spotted them. Even the journalists at the Cadena Ser radio network, which has its newsroom in the building, admit to being oblivious.

But now Spain’s latest Ecce Homo is making international headlines, with even with the British newspaper, The Guardian, flagging up the statue’s perceived resemblance to the incumbent president of the United States, Donald Trump.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Wonderful A Capella of Famous Russian Folk Song (Not for Me, ‘Ne Dlya Menya’

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Russian folk music is amazing

This article from our archives was first published on RI in February 2016


This post first appeared on Russia Insider


Actually, it is a Russian genre called “romance”. The words were written and published in a magazine in 1838 by a naval officer, A. Molchanov, and put to music the same year by the Russian composer N.P. Dewitte.

The group is a popular folk group from Bryansk called “Grandmothers Grandsons”  (Babkini Vnuki)

<figcaption>Great singing</figcaption>
Great singing

Enjoy.



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‘How do I know if I have dependency issues?’

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Question: I’m a woman in my mid-30s. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and I moved back home with my folks after living in the US for almost two decades. They’re sceptical about my ADHD diagnosis as I wasn’t a “hyper” child and was grand in school and college.

In the US I smoked weed [cannabis] and have been honest with my folks about that and now they think I have substance abuse issues. I think they have internalised stigma about cannabis use because it’s not legal in this country. I’m thinking of moving to a country where cannabis is legal because it’s too stressful to try to find it here, plus there are moral and legal reasons not to [buy it] but maybe that is a sign of dependency?

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