Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Magnificent New Russian Cathedral Inspired by Western Iconographic Forms

The latest edition of the Orthodox Arts Journal has a feature on the recently dedicated Cathedral of the Protection of the Mother of God at Yasenevo, which overlooks Moscow. It is was dedicated by Patriarch Kirill and appropriately (given his recent meeting with Pope Francis) the mosaics especially draw inspiration from traditional Western iconographic forms. As the article explains, they looked to the Romanesque churches of Sicily which were built in the Byzantine-influenced Romanesque style in the 12th century under the patronage of the Norman king, Roger II. In doing this, the art conforms fully to the principles that define the iconographic tradition, but in an exciting way that is unusual in Russia. 

Below, the interior mosaics and exterior of the cathedral:

Contrast those with the interior and exterior of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Sicily

I have only seen the photographs that are included in the article, but based upon these I would say that this is a model lesson in how to draw into your own tradition influences from outside without compromising core principles. It is fresh and exciting, and this is the mark of a truly living tradition. Furthermore, there is plenty of more conventional, Eastern style iconography here too, and the external appearance of the Church is clearly that of an Eastern church.

I suggest that Catholics in the West should look at the way in which the Eastern Church so successfully reestablished its iconographic tradition of art in the  mid-20th century under figures such as Ouspensky and Kroug. They have done so much more than recreate pastiche. The best of the icon painters of today who work in this tradition are producing work that bears the mark of its time and place and can stand alongside the great artists of the past. This is what I hope to see applied to our distinctly Western traditions of liturgical art in the future.

You can read the whole article in Orthodox Arts Journal, here.

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