Invasions of aggressors and natural disasters ruined lots of precious works of architecture, painting, applied arts and literature. The names of common people who created masterpieces of murals and stone carving, fine silver embossing and monumental architecture for secular and religious feudal lords have been forgotten.
Very few of the Old Russian masters are mentioned in the chronicles that have come down to us. These are “stone architects”: Ivan from Polotsk, Pyotr and Korova Yakovlevich from Novgorod, Pyotr Miloneg, Oleksa, and Avdey. There is a record about the Kiev artist Alimpiy, who painted the Kyiv Pechersk Monastery. Other known names are those of the Novgorod calkers Kosta and Bratila who created fine chased silver vessels, as well as the founder Avraamiy whose sculptural self-portrait has remained till date.
It was the work of peasants and handicraftsmen that served as the basis for further development of Russia.
Russian language and culture were enriched thanks to interaction with cultures of a number of other peoples. Fruits of such cooperation were embodied in Suzdal architecture (that includes traces of Georgian and Armenian architecture), Novgorod painting (with general motives of Armenian frescoes), and in Russian folklore and literature that repeatedly mentions other peoples with their culture and way of life.
Hand-written monuments more and more often praised “book knowledge”, whereas “mind without books” was likened to a wingless bird: just as it can not fly, so can not a person achieve “perfect intellect without books”. The main textbooks were the Psalmbook, the Book of Hours, and Apostolos. The biblical ideas describibg the world in the way typical for medieval Europe were stated in Six Days book, which gave the theological and scholastic description of nature, in Kozma Indikoplov's book Topography and other works translated in Russia. Greek chronicles by Georgy Amartol, Johann Malala and others introduced Russian readers to antique history.
Despite domination of theology, the process of growing experience in production and developing education (though it covered just a little part of the society) helped the rudiments of natural and historical science to spread around Russia. Literacy was considerably going up among the feudal nobles, the gentry and townsfolk.
Professor A. V. Artsikhovsky’s discovery (1951) of birchbark manuscripts of the 11th – 15th centuries in Novgorod was extremely important. A whole new world opened up before researchers who studied these writings. Commercial transactions, private letters, hasty messages sent with a courier, reports on agricultural works and campaigns, invitations to funeral repast, riddles, verses and many other things can be found among those remarkable documents, which confirm widely spread literacy among the Russian citizens.
Russian scribes new literature in Old Slavic, Greek, Jewish, and Latin languages. A chronicler respectfully mentioned about Vsevolod, the son of Yaroslav the Wise, that he “understands five language while sitting at home”.
Next: Russian Culture of the 12th – 13th Centuries, Part 2
Author: Vera Ivanova