Secrets of the “harsh” mosaics of St. Sophia Cathedral – a masterpiece of the times of Kievan Rus, which has no analogues in the world
Many centuries ago, St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev was the main temple of Kievan Rus. This masterpiece of architecture is unique in itself, however, there is a real miracle in it – world-famous ancient frescoes. They are rightly considered the most authentic mosaics of the 11th century, because they never underwent alteration and were not complemented by restorers. After all, these images are made so skillfully that they do not need to be updated – it is enough just to clean them of so many years of dust and soot.
It is believed that St. Sophia Cathedral was built by Prince Yaroslav the Wise, who timed his erection to the battle over the Pechenegs on the Alta River and, according to legend, he laid the foundation of the future cathedral precisely in the place where the enemies were defeated. According to another version, the construction of the cathedral began a little earlier, in the last years of the life of Prince Vladimir the Great.
According to scientists, four dozen craftsmen took part in the construction and finishing works, and about a hundred more worked as assistants.
St. Sophia Cathedral, erected with the help of Byzantine and Greek architects and absorbed all the beauty of the stylistics of the ancient culture of Byzantium (but, nevertheless, unparalleled), was consecrated in 1049 by Metropolitan Theopemptom. Subsequently, the appearance of the building was somewhat modified.
Mosaic, which has no analogues in the world
In addition to the bell cast by order of Ivan Mazepa in 1705 and popularly called “Mazepa”, the Triumphal Bell Tower and other famous sights, there are incredibly beautiful, mesmerizing mosaic icons in the Sofia Cathedral. They, like the paintings on the walls and domes, were also prepared by Byzantine craftsmen, invited to Kiev by Yaroslav the Wise.
Interestingly, the mosaic does not cover all internal parts of the temple, but is a combination of mosaic art and fresco painting. And the reason for this is purely prosaic: in the XI century Russia was essentially in the backyard of the Byzantine world, the price of the mosaic was incredibly high (plus the cost of transporting it), and that is why only the most important parts of the church were covered with it (altar, dome, etc.) , and the rest the builders of the Cathedral decided to cover with frescoes.
The mosaics of Sophia of Kiev are made in the so-called Macedonian style, which was observed in the works during the revival and dawn of church art after a long period of persecution, which Orthodox Christians underwent from the iconoclasts. This style is characterized by severity, austerity, lack of mildew and excessive adornment, which is associated with the growing popularity of monasticism. That is why all the characters on the mosaics look unusually harsh and as if frozen. A prominent representative of this era and an example of asceticism is the Rev. Simeon the New Theologian.
Alas, due to fires and rebuilding of the temple, by the beginning of the XXI century only a small part of the mosaic images remained, however, those that remained are striking in their scale, originality and beauty. The pieces of smalt almost 180 different colors are stacked with incredible skill, and if you look from afar, it seems that this is not a mosaic at all, but old hand-written icons.
The richness of the color palette of Kiev-Sofia mosaics can be judged at least by these figures: there are more than twenty shades of blue, more than thirty – green and 25 variants of gold.
Christ the Almighty (Pantokrator) is a very famous mosaic of the Cathedral. It is located in the main dome, in a giant medallion. Interestingly, three of the four archangels depicted around Christ are made in oil, and, relatively recently, in the nineteenth century, since earlier the images were lost. Mosaic image remained only one.