Russian church architecture
The Russian Orthodox churches are distinguished by their verticality, bright colors and multiple domes which provide a striking contrast with the flat Russian landscape often covered in snow. The very first churches in Kievan Rus', such as the 13-domed wooden St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod, differed in this regard from their mainly single-cupola Byzantine predecessors. The number of domes was important symbolically. One dome symbolized the single God; three represented the Trinity and five represented Christ and his four evangelists. At first the baptistery, narthex, and choir gallery above the narthex were a common feature of Rus' churches, but gradually they disappeared. After a century of Byzantine imitations, the Russian masons began to emphasise the verticality in church design.
The late 12th century saw the development of so-called tower churches in Polotsk and Smolensk; this design later spread to other areas such as Kiev and Chernihiv. A visual transition between the main cube of the church and the elongated cylinder below the dome was provided by one or several rows of curved corbel arches, known as kokoshniki. They could be spade-shaped, semicircular, or pointed. In later Muscovite churches, the massed banks of kokoshniki evolved into a distinctive pyramidal shape. The reign of Ivan the Terrible was marked by the introduction of so-called tent roofs. The churches such as St. Basil's Cathedral were an agglomeration of chapels capped by the steeply-pitched conical roofs of fanciful designs.
The architects of Vladimir-Suzdal switched from brick to white limestone ashlar as their main building material, which provided for dramatically effective church silhouettes, but made church construction very costly. The ornamentation combined native carpentry, oriental, Italian Renaissance, and German Gothic motifs. The architects of Novgorod and Pskov constructed their churches of fieldstone and undressed blocks of limestone. As a result, the northwestern buildings have highly textured walls, as if hand-moulded of clay. A trefoil facade with pointed gables was a common arrangement in the later Novgorod Republic. The churches of Pskov were tiny and gabled; they developed an enclosed gallery which led to a porch and a simple belfry, or zvonnitsa.
The dominant problem of late medieval Russian architecture was the placement of the belfry. An early solution to the problem was to put the belfry above the main body of the church. Detached belfries with tent roofs are exceedingly common in the 17th century; they are often joined to the church by a gallery or a low elongated narthex. The latter arrangement is known as the "ship design", with the belfry rising above the porch serving as the prow. The Muscovite Baroque churches represent the tiered structure of traditional Russian log churches "in which a pyramidal silhouette ascends in a series of diminishing octahedrons" (W. C. Brumfield). This type of the church is known as the "octagon on cube" church.
Traditional church designs
This is a list of Russian masonry church types as they evolved away from the squat Byzantine models of the 11th century and acquired a pronounced tendency toward the vertical.
|Type||Characteristics||Time and place||Examples|
|Byzantinesque churches supported by piers|
|Churches with more than 6 piers||Eight or ten cruciform, octagonal, or round piers support the roof with one, three, or five domes||The major churches of Kievan Rus, 11th century|
|Churches with six piers||Six cruciform, octagonal, or round piers support the roof with one, three, or five domes. The three interior bays are delineated by three pilasters on the north and south facades.||All major cathedrals,
11th to 18th centuries
|Churches with four piers||Four cruciform, octagonal, or round piers support the roof with one, three, or five domes. As a result, there's a tripartite facade on each side of the building.||Most common arrangement, 11th to 18th centuries|
|Churches with two piers||Two cruciform, octagonal, or round piers support the roof with one, three, or five domes. As a result, there is no clear relation between the interior bays and the design of the facade.||Cathedrals and churches in provincial towns, 16th to 18th centuries|
|Evolution of four-piered churches|
|Gabled churches||Either a trefoil facade with pointed gables or a scalloped-wave cornice beneath the dome||Novgorod and Pskov, 12th to 16th centuries|
|Tower churches||The ascent of semicircular or pointed gables (zakomary), culminating in an elongated cylinder under the dome, creates a vertical thrust that is reinforced by the tapering shape of pilasters and the vertical arrangement of apses, porches, and chapels.||Polotsk, Smolensk, Chernigov, late 12th and early 13th century; Vladimir-Suzdal and Moscow until the 15th century|
|The church is surmounted by a bell tower, with several rows of curved corbel arches (kokoshniki) serving as a visual transition between the two.||Moscow, 15th and 16th centuries|
|Tent-roof pillar churches||The church building is capped by a pitched conical ("tent-like") roof.||All over Russia, from 1530s to 1650s|
|Many-chapelled churches||The votive church consists of several interconnected chapels capped by tent-like roofs.||Moscow and Staritsa, mid-16th century; extremely rare|
|Churches with tent-like domes||The church has two or more domes shaped like tapering towers.||All over Russia from 1620s to 1650s|
|Combinations of onion domes and tent-roofs||An archaizing four-piered church on an elevated base with five outsize onion domes is surrounded by an enclosed gallery leading to several chapels, porches, and belfries of various shapes and sizes.||Yaroslavl and Upper Volga region, 1640s to 1680s|
|Churches without piers|
|Tiny single-dome gabled churches lacking in ornamentation. They often have an enclosed gallery leading to a porch and a simple belfry.||Pskov, 14th to 17th centuries|
|A cuboid church with no piers is capped by a pyramid of spade-shaped corbel arches (kokoshniki) leading to a single cupola||Moscow, 1590s to 1640s|
|A cuboid, usually five-domed church with no piers and a pyramid of kokoshniki is connected by a covered gallery (refectory or vestibule) to a tent-like bell tower (the prow) over the western porch.||Moscow, from 1650s onward|
|Rotunda churches||The churches are circular, semicircular or elliptical in plan||Occasional examples from 12th to 17th centuries; extremely rare|
|Octagonal bell-tower churches||A low cubic church is encircled by several chapels and surmounted by a succession of diminishing octagonal forms, with the upper level serving as a belfry||Moscow and Moscow region; 1680s to 1710s
(see Naryshkin Baroque)
|Octagonal pillar churches||The "octagon on a cube" church morphs into an ornate church tower which bears no similarity to the Byzantine architectural tradition
(see Menshikov Tower)
|Moscow and Moscow region; 1690s to 1720s|
- Pavel Rappoport. Drevnerusskaya arkhitektura. Stroyizdat, 1993. ISBN 978-5-274-00981-2.
- William Craft Brumfield. Landmarks of Russian architecture. Routledge, 1997. ISBN 978-90-5699-537-9.