"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
mattress,/
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).


Friday, July 10, 2015

Russian Architecture

Whatever one thinks of the ugliness of the geopolitics and war-making of the current Russian regime, there is no detracting from the often staggering beauty of much of Russian church architecture, liturgy, and iconography. I have many lavishly illustrated coffee-table books about Russian churches and architecture, and many more about Russian iconography--to say nothing of CDs of Russian liturgies, all of which are lovely indeed.

A book just released at the end of last month takes us to the ends of the earth in exploration of some recondite architectural masterpieces: William Craft Brumfield, Architecture at the End of the Earth: Photographing the Russian North (Duke, June 2015), 256pp.

About this book we are told:
Carpeted in boreal forests, dotted with lakes, cut by rivers, and straddling the Arctic Circle, the region surrounding the White Sea, which is known as the Russian North, is sparsely populated and immensely isolated. It is also the home to architectural marvels, as many of the original wooden and brick churches and homes in the region's ancient villages and towns still stand. Featuring nearly two hundred full color photographs of these beautiful centuries-old structures, Architecture at the End of the Earth is the most recent addition to William Craft Brumfield's ongoing project to photographically document all aspects of Russian architecture.

The architectural masterpieces Brumfield photographed are diverse: they range from humble chapels to grand cathedrals, buildings that are either dilapidated or well cared for, and structures repurposed during the Soviet era. Included are onion-domed wooden churches such as the Church of the Dormition, built in 1674 in Varzuga; the massive walled Transfiguration Monastery on Great Solovetsky Island, which dates to the mid-1550s; the Ferapontov-Nativity Monastery's frescoes, painted in 1502 by Dionisy, one of Russia's greatest medieval painters; nineteenth-century log houses, both rustic and ornate; and the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Vologda, which was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the 1560s. The text that introduces the photographs outlines the region's significance to Russian history and culture.

Brumfield is challenged by the immense difficulty of accessing the Russian North, and recounts traversing sketchy roads, crossing silt-clogged rivers on barges and ferries, improvising travel arrangements, being delayed by severe snowstorms, and seeing the region from the air aboard the small planes he needs to reach remote areas.

The buildings Brumfield photographed, some of which lie in near ruin, are at constant risk due to local indifference and vandalism, a lack of maintenance funds, clumsy restorations, or changes in local and national priorities. Brumfield is concerned with their futures and hopes that the region's beautiful and vulnerable achievements of master Russian carpenters will be preserved. Architecture at the End of the Earth is at once an art book, a travel guide, and a personal document about the discovery of this bleak but beautiful region of Russia that most readers will see here for the first time.

2 comments:

  1. Ooh, fascinating! I am currently doing some research about the Allied Campaign in North Russia in 1919, and have been looking at (tiny, faded) photographs of the Cathedral in Archangel, which was later destroyed by the Bolsheviks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Furthermore I have just discovered the similar project by British photographer Richard Davies, which resulted in the book "Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North" (2011), sadly now out of print and selling on amazon for >3x its publication price.

    ReplyDelete

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...