If all that comes to mind when you think of Russian art are those little nesting dolls (matryoshka dolls) and onion-domed churches but there are many more but Russian art is every bit as diverse and interesting as its counterparts around the world.
Almost two thousand years before the Ancient Greeks stunned the civilized world with their architecture, marble statues, pottery, science and democracy, and roughly the same time that British and Irish tribesmen were building their megaliths at Newgrange and Stonehenge (see also megalithic art), Russian goldsmiths and silversmiths in the Caucasus region were creating exquisite metalwork in a variety of precious metals. This Iron Age art is exemplified by the famous Gold Bull of Maikop (2,500 BCE, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg), which was discovered by archeologists in 1897 near the northern edge of the Caucasus mountains. Standing roughly 3 inches high, and made of gold using the lost-wax process, it was excavated from what was believed to be a royal burial chamber. The gold bull and its twin, together with two silver bulls, made up a quartet of animal sculptures which decorated the four supports of a bed canopy. The bull is carefully ornamented with incised concentric circles between its curved horns, as well as lines highlighting the eyes, nose, mouth, hooves and tail.
Russian artists like Ivan Nikitin (c. 1688-1741) and Dmitry Levitsky (1735-1822) also produced masterful portraits in the academic style, which stressed realistic techniques and the idealization of its subjects. The Russian Academy of Arts, founded in the middle of the eighteenth century, helped to centralize Russian art and produce artists skilled at producing works that matched the expectations of academic and Neoclassical art.
A group of artists known as the Wanderers (Peredvizhniki) produced works depicting more familiar, native Russian subjects rather than ones imitating Western models. Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898) and Ilya Repin (1844-1930) were two of its most important artists. Shishkin’s Morning in a Pine Forest (1878) shows the realist style that these artists captured.
The history of Russian fine arts falls into two distinct periods, with the border between them marked by the reforms of Peter the Great. This distinction is utterly profound, dealing with the basics of artistic perception of reality.
Some artists, like Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Marc Chagall (1887-1985) worked in both Russian lands and Europe. Chagall produced works in a variety of media that show the influence of folk life and Jewish culture, and used vibrant colors and an imaginative, often dream-like style. Kandinsky produced some of the first significant abstract and non-objective works, freeing art from the need to be realistic or even depict recognizable subjects.
The Futurist movement prevalent in nations like Italy also strongly influenced Russian artists like Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962). Russian artists of this movement emphasized boldness of design, angular shapes, and modern themes, as you can see in Rodchenko’s famous photomontages, or Goncharova’s painting The Cyclist (1913).
The russian icon periods:
Undoubtedly, icon is not a picture but a sacred object. Icons are expected to heal and work miracles. Some of them were considered to be of a supernatural origin. Yet the majority of icons were created by humans. Icon painters had to be people of high moral ideals and of true faith. Only people with a rich inner life and considerable intellect could create icons.
An icon does not represent what the painter sees before him, but a certain prototype. Reverence for an icon stems from reverence for its prototypes. Hence its unique artistic style that has nothing to do with other arts. It does not aim to produce just an aesthetic impression. Icons are destined both to reflect and evoke prayerful concentration and serenity in communication with God. It explains peculiar artistic devices used in icon painting, such as reverse perspective, a number of viewpoints within the space of an icon, hierarchic placement of objects depicted, etc.