Novgorod School

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Novgorod School


one of the most important schools of old Russian art, lasting from 1160 to the early 16th century. It evolved in Novgorod during the period of feudal fragmentation and played a major role in the development of Russian culture. The active and democratic social life in the Novgorod feudal republic contributed to the vigor of Novgorod art and its readiness to absorb aspects of contemporary life, its clarity, its concrete imagery, and its laconic style. Simplicity, strength, and compact volumes were already present in the architecture of Kievan Rus’, exemplified in the Cathedral of St. Sophia (1045–1050) and the Cathedral of St. George in the Iur’ev Monastery, (begun in 1119), which had relatively complex spatial composition. Plainer and more intimate are the small, single-domed churches with four piers dating from the second half of the 12th century. Among the finest examples are the Church of Our Savior at Nereditsa (1198), the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul on Sinich’ia Hill (1185–92), and the Church of St. George in Staraia Ladoga (second half of the 12th century).

In 12th-century painting, Byzantine and Kievan influences are clearly apparent in the frescoes in the Cathedral of St. Sophia, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Iaroslav’s Court, and the Church of St. George in Staraia Ladoga and in the icons The Annunciation of Ustiug (Tret’iakov Gallery, Moscow) and The Angel With the Golden Hair (Russian Museum, Leningrad). However, indigenous democratic elements are already discernible in the frescoes of the Church of the Annunciation in Arkazhy (1189) and the Church of Our Savior at Nereditsa (1199), with their psychological intensity, somewhat brute strength, and sharp highlights. Folk motifs, vivid colors, generalized images, and graphic decorativeness distinguish a number of icons of the 13th and early 14th centuries (Saints Evan, George, and Vlasii, Russian Museum).

In the late 13th and early 14th centuries, when Novgorod became the cultural center of Rus’, its architects sought to strengthen the artistic effect of architectural composition by occasionally borrowing Romanesque elements and by decorating the facade with trefoil designs. Outstanding works of this period are the Church of St. Nicholas in Lipno (1292) and the Church of the Assumption on Volotovo Field (1352). In the imposing structures of the second half of the 14th and early 15th centuries —best exemplified in the Church of St. Theodore Stratilates (1360–61) and the Church of Our Savior on H’ina Street (1374) —elegance and lavish use of decoration blend with clarity of spatial arrangement. The frescoes of the Church of Our Savior on H’ina Street (1378, Theophanes the Greek), the Church of St. Theodore Stratilates on the Brook (second half of the 14th century), and the Church of the Assumption on Volotovo Field (between 1363 and 1390) are notable for their emotional intensity, mobility, and dramatic expressiveness. The graphic techniques of icon painting were employed in the frescoes of the Church of Our Savior in Kovalevo (1380) and the Church of the Nativity of Our Lord in the Cemetery (1380’s and 1390’s). Popular conceptions and beliefs and the events from Novgorod’s history are reflected in the icons of the late 14th and 15th centuries (Saints Florus and Laurus and The Battle Between the Novgorodi-ans and the Suzdalians, Tret’iakov Gallery). The icons of this period are remarkable for the expressiveness of their severe, generalized lines, their radiant pure colors, and their laconic and precise outlines. Plaited designs and everyday and humorous figures are often encountered in the school’s miniatures and decorative art. In the mid 15th century, archaic features appeared in church architecture. From the late 15th century, Novgorod art lost its distinctiveness and entered the mainstream of Russian culture.


Lazarev, V. N. Iskusstvo Novgoroda. Moscow, 1947.
Lazarev, V. N. Novgorodskaia ikonopis’. Moscow, 1969.
Istoriia russkogo iskusstva, vol. 2. Moscow, 1954.
Vseobshchaia istoriia arkhitektury, vols. 3, 6. Moscow, 1966–68.
Drevnerusskoe iskusstvo: Khudozhestvennaia kul’tura Novgoroda. Moscow, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Finns from the country's Eastern borders have been Orthodox for 1,000 years and are influenced by the Novgorod school of icons, which developed in the 14th century.
AS: In Russian artistic practice, the most brilliant examples are Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin [Russian Symbolist-primitivist, 1878-1939] and certainly the Russian icon as such, of the Yaroslavl and the Novgorod schools and, to a lesser extent, the Pskov school.