Vladimir-Suzdal School

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vladimir-Suzdal’ School


of the 12th and early 13th centuries, one of the most significant local schools of ancient Russian art; arose in northeastern Rus’ in the period of feudal fragmentation.

The rapid flowering of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school was a result of the growing strength of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ principality in the middle of the 12th century; its ideological and aesthetic orientation was determined to a large extent by the struggle of the Vladimir princes to make their principality a new center (to counterbalance the Kiev principality) for the unification of Rus’. The desire of the Vladimir princes to rival Kiev with the number and beauty of their buildings promoted the search for the new forms and methods of expression that are characteristic of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school, which, like other local schools of the 12th century, developed from the traditions of the art of the Kiev principality in the 11th century. Galician and Western European masters were widely employed in the search for new forms. The art of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school, called upon to embody the ideals of statehood, appealed in part to the commercial and artisan population of the cities, who were the allies of the princes in their struggle with the boyar aristocracy and the appanage princes who tended toward separatism. This led to the civic spirit characteristic of the school and to its use of folklore motifs in sculpture.

Experience in building powerful defense installations made it less necessary to consider the natural defense properties of the locale in laying new fortified cities than it had been in the tenth and 11th centuries. It also made it possible to distribute the cities more profitably from the strategic and artistic points of view (for instance, Pereslavl’-Zalesskii and lur’ev-Pol’skii, 1152; Dmitrov, 1154) and to solve more freely the problems of forming an architectural ensemble and its relations with neighboring ensembles and with the natural surroundings. The highest achievements in urban construction of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school are the ensembles of the city of Vladimir and of the prince’s residence at Bogoliubovo (1158-65); the latter merges harmonically with the landscape and is visually linked with the monumental Pokrov na Nerli Church (1165). The material used in construction was soft limestone, or “white stone,” well suited for thorough working and for decorative engraving. The architects of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school soon ceased imitating the clear-cut and severe forms characteristic of Kiev in the early 12th century (church in Kideksha, 1152) and began searching for soft and picturesque architectural forms for which the white stone is more suitable (the Uspenskii Cathedral in Vladimir, 1158-60, completed in 1185-89), lending an accomplished classical expression to the cruciform and domelike composition of the temple.

The architects’ masterly command of proportion and subtly developed feeling for mass and material are manifest in the architecture of the stately palace complex in Bogoliubovo, of the graceful, upward-striving, and light Pokrov na Nerli Church, and of the majestic St. Dmitrii Cathedral in Vladimir (1194-97). The coordinated engraved ornamentation is part of the integrated system of the architectural resolution of the facades, occasionally drawing on Romanesque models (recessed portals, arcade and colonnade friezes, and relief compositions). But the thematic subjects of the reliefs are not complicated by the allegorical symbolism of Romanesque art. Christian iconography is combined uniquely with poeticized anamistic ideas prevalent among the popular masses. Ornamentation became more important in the churches of the early 13th century: festive ogee arches were used in the narthexes (Rozhdestvenskii Cathedral in Suzdal’, 1222-25; St. Georgii Cathedral in lur’ev-Pol’skii, 1230-34), and the walls of the cathedral in lur’ev-Pol’skii were covered with engraved decoration, which softened the architectural clarity of the forms and corresponded to the popular predilection for intricate pattern ornamentation.

The refinement and the spirit of optimistic worldliness characteristic of the architecture of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school in the 12th century were also reflected somewhat in its painting, which was more dependent on church control. The wall paintings of the St. Dmitrii Cathedral in Vladimir (about 1197) and some icons that have been preserved (Dmitrii Solunskii from Dmitrov, late 12th and early 13th centuries, Tret’iakov Gallery) are strikingly characterized by an inspired spirituality of the images, fluid expressiveness, and a festive palette. The bronze southern gates of the Rozhdestvenskii Cathedral (1222-28) in Suzdal’ are an outstanding monument of the decorative art of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school; they are decorated with thematic and ornamental de-signs created by heat gilding and are distinguished by un-usually rich linear rhythms.

In the 14th and 15th centuries the artistic achievements of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school became a major source of inspiration for the art of Muscovy, which became a center for the unification of Russian lands after the Mongol-Tartar yoke was thrown off.


Voronin, N. N.Zodchestvo Severo-VostochnoiRusiXll-XV vekov, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1961-62.
Vagner, G. K. Mastern drevnerusskoi skul’ptury. Moscow, 1966.
Rostovo-Suzdal’skaia shkola zhivopisi. [Catalog; introductory article by V. I. Antonova.] Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.