Lecture 7. The Tent-Dome as Synthesis (16th Cent.)

The lecture explores the most complex and original phenomenon of medieval Russian architecture – churches with tent (shatër) domes that appeared in the middle of the 16th century and were prohibited in the middle of the 17th century by Russian Patriarch Nikon as a deviation from the Byzantine canon of Christian religious architecture. Clearly distinct from the Middle Byzantine tradition of cross-in-square plan characteristic of most masonry structures in medieval Rus’ and the Grand Principality of Moscow, the shatër churches have a square plan transitioning into octagonal drum and topped by octagonal conic dome. Shatërs are corbelled domes that are easier to construct than semicircular domes yet they usually cover smaller spans. Without any precedent in Byzantine architecture, they bear striking resemblance to the architecture of the Golden Horde mausoleums preserved in the Volga Region. In medieval Russian architecture, they appear at the moment of the most intense cultural and military interaction with the eastern fragments of the Golden Horde, which resulted in their conquest by Ivan IV (the Terrible). The lecture offers a detailed analysis of two most striking examples of shatër architecture, the Church of Ascension in Kolomenskoe commissioned by the Grand Prince Vasili III in celebration of the birth of his son Ivan IV, and St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow, built by Ivan IV in commemoration of the successful siege of Kazan’. Special attention is given to the details of St. Basil Cathedral including its colorful onion domes and the main iconostasis.

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