Cathedral of the Dormition of the Moscow Kremlin--page 1 (of two pages)

Aristotele Fioravanti
Consecrated 1479

This cathedral was crucially important in both the religious and political life of Russia. Princes were ordained here, tsars and emperors crowned here, religious figures were ordained here and state edicts proclaimed. Between the 14th and 17th centuries heads of Russian churches were buried here as well. Because of its place in Russian history and culture, much attention was paid to its architecture and external and internal decoration.

Hamilton explains that Moscow was an exciting and cosmopolitan city during the tin\me of the construction of this building: "In the later fifteenth century the buildings under construction in the Kremlin, and the number of foreign craftsmen working in Moscow gave the city an aspect not unlike that of some prosperous Italian or Flemish city. . . .Moscow yielded to no other northern city in the cosmopolitan character of its population. Ivan himself in contemporary descriptions seems in his cordiality and informality more like a Medici than any of his successors" (191). Ivan had a very ambitious building program, essentially the rebuilding of the Kremlin, which was generally accomplished during his reign. Since the original Dormition Cathedral was too small, two Moscow architects, Miskin and Krivtsov, were initially hired for this new construction. When part of the walls collapsed, Aristotele Fioravanti, an architect and engineer from Bologna, was called in to take over the project. As an engineer, he knew to deepen and enlarge the foundations, he developed smaller bricks made in a kiln he designed, and he used iron tie-rods as was common in Italian buildings. Still, he was obligated to follow he model of the Dormition Cathedral in Valdimir; the form being a solid mass with plain walls, arched bays, and a blind arcade half way up the height. Internally, the rational Italian architect emerges, with a spacious plan with compartments of equal size, independent of whether they are domes. Aisles are no longer the width of apses but apses were narrowed so that two could be placed at the end of each aisle. (See below.)

The south facade and the north facade

The main facade is oddly the south facade, since it faces the center of Palace Square. A pilaster extends along the southeast wall, masking the extension of the eastern apse.

The East facade--five apses (two within each side bay and the wider center apse)


A five-domed church like the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir


The lunettes above the apses on the east facade

According to the official guidebook the frescoes were repainted by Simon Ushakov in the late seventeenth century. "They survive today with substantial later additions" (11). They depict the Eulogy of the Blessed Virgin; Sophia Divine Wisdom; and New Testament Trinity--the latter two subjects unusual for the early sixteenth century in Russia.

Masonry wall and window on the southernmost apse


Entrance, South facade; fresco, late 17th century


Painted decorative archivolts


Painted saints in the blind arcade; lunette with a tender Virgin

This depiction of the Virgin and Child is like the famous icon, the Mother of God of Vladimir. Instead of presenting the child as God, their faces touch and the Virgin's tenderness toward the infant is displayed.

Continue to page 2.

Works Consulted or Quoted:
William Craft Brumfield. A History of Russian Architecture. Seattle: University of Washington P, 2004.
George Heard Hamilton. The Art and Architecture of Russia. New Haven: Yale UP, 1983.
The Dormition Cathedral. Moscow: Art Volkhanka, 2015. [official guidebook/booklet]

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© 2018 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.