"The Russian School of Painting" is a 1916 translation by Avrahm Yarmolinsky of the 1904 book on art by Russian art critic Alexandre Benois (Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Бенуа́).
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Written at the end of the Tsarist era, the book covers the history of almost all art in Russia up to the rise of the Soviet Union. Benois was an important artist and art critic of the era from Saint Petersburg, who edited the influential art magazine Mir iskusstva and was scenic director at the Mariinsky Theatre at the time of writing.
THE history of Russian Painting of the Western type begins with Peter the Great. The works of art belonging to Peter's times show almost no trace of the art of old Russia. Only in church painting did the old style persist for any length of time; but it is just this branch of Russian painting that, even before the time of Peter the Great, had already lost its original and traditional character. The Russian icon-painting of the seventeenth century, which had just begun to free itself from the Byzantine canon and to absorb elements of national taste, mainly in the choice of colours and the treatment of ornaments, turns aside at about the middle of the century, and, under the influence of South-Russian and Polish cultures, acquires an unmistakably "German" bent. The Church offered almost no resistance to this current. True it is that the Church sturdily upheld the integrity of Byzantine traditions as far as the outward demands of iconography were concerned, such as: the choice of subject matter, the postures, the grouping and, to some extent, the vestures. Yet the Church was indifferent to the fact that the very type of the saints, under the influence of German engravings, began to assume a sluggish character, and that the style of the icons became broken, flabby, as remote as possible from the stern grandeur of the Byzantine manner. About the age of Peter, and for some time after, this current became even stronger; and in the middle of the eighteenth century it degenerated into a bizarre mixture of the Byzantine pattern with the wild eccentricities of the German rococo. Academicism wiped out the last traces of Byzantinism from Russian iconography, and in the first half of the nineteenth century we find no traces of it. Only in the popular peasant arts and crafts has the ancient ecclesisatic art survived to this very day.
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