“Russian North” Exhibition at the State Historical Museum in Moscow
We are pleased to introduce another interesting exhibition held at the State Historical Museum in Moscow from December 5, 2018 to May 20, 2019.
One of the largest in Russia, the State Historical Museum was built by order of Emperor Nicholas II in 1883. For today, the Museum is part of the architectural ensemble of the Moscow Kremlin. It was constructed by the famous Russian engineer A.A. Semenov and architect V.O. Sherwood who designed the Museum in the popular in the late 19th century Pseudo-Russian style with incorporated elements of the classical Russian terem. Its interiors are decorated by the famous artists – Repin, Vasnetsov, Aivazovsky, and Korovin – and deserve special attention of art connoisseurs. The Museum’s collection includes some of the finest examples of prehistoric artifacts, fine art, works of decorative and applied art, weapons, numismatics, and antique icons. In 1990, the State Historical Museum was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The “Russian North” exhibition
The “Russian North” exhibition is dedicated to the unique art of Russian masters of the Far North, the Kola Peninsula, Karelia, Arkhangelsk and Vologda regions, and the Komi Republic. From ancient times, this area has been famous for its abundant natural resources and piercingly beautiful and mysterious northern nature – quiet misty lakes, rivers with steep rapids, and deep boreal forests. This northern land is full of secrets and weirdness. Moreover, some researchers believe that it was home to the legendary Hyperborea, the birthplace of the ancient civilization of demigods who brought their language, traditions, and arts to many modern nations of the world.
The “Russian North” exhibition reveals the origins and roots of many world’s significant cultural artifacts. Housewares, furniture, and house decorations are painted with fabulous bright flowers, images of horses, lions, griffins, Sirin birds, mermaids, and various genre compositions. This rich, distinctive ornament is also clearly seen on the towels, old shirts embroidery, drawings on the spinning wheels, ladles, and other ancient wooden household items.
The North has always been a place of search for spiritual truth and the meaning of life for many people. Elders and hermits settled there, Old Believers found there protection from persecution, not to mention incredibly beautiful ancient monasteries, churches, and skits that were built in this region. The so-called Raskol, which split the Christian world into the Nikonian Orthodox Church and those who stood up for the old faith in the second half of the 17th century, led to the rapid expansion of the Old Believers movement in the Russian North. The severe northern people of olden times who were known for their irreconcilable nature did not want to change their faith in favor of the state policy. The elders of the Solovetsky Monastery, the stronghold of the Old Believers in the North, withheld a siege for 8 years, fighting a long battle against the Tsar’s troops. Some of them even burned themselves as a protest against the church reform. In many cases, the Old Believers set fire to their hermitage and met death with all the household members if found themselves in a hopeless situation, surrounded by persecutors. Among the burned were women and children, totally numbering 183 people from different volosts (rural districts).
The northern icon, or as it is also called the “northern painting,” is unusual or even original in many ways, largely due to so many distinctive artistic features. Its overall look was greatly affected by the Old Believers Church, the closeness of the northern communities, and the remoteness from the canonical schools of painting. People did not have an opportunity to buy icons or bring them from afar so that they were often painted by self-taught local masters who also made wooden tableware, spinning wheels, shutters, and platbands. It is not surprising, therefore, that the northern icon was decorated with ancient Slavic solar ornaments – flowers and petals, inflorescences, fir-trees, and rhombs. The similarity with folk art, narration, naive clarity, and beingness are exactly what makes northern painting stand out from many other iconographic schools. Northern icons are all about the soul of the Russian people, their sincere faith and desire to live and love.