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St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow: Unraveling Its Mysteries

EVT 552
Jun 7
7:30 pm
Status: No Registration Required
When Churchill famously described Russia as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” he might equally have been referring to St. Basil’s Cathedral. Standing at one end of Red (or “Beautiful”) Square in Moscow, just outside the Italian-built walls of the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral fairly shouts its uniqueness: a cacophony of ten domes of varying heights and textures, no two domes alike; like the Kremlin walls built of red brick, but covered with a dazzling display of color and ornamentation that sets it apart from anything built in Russia before or since. How are we to understand this sculptural marvel, likened by a 17th-century English visitor to “an overflowing basket of glazed fruit”?

In this lecture, we explore St. Basil’s origins during the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible in the mid-16th century. We investigate the cathedral’s many architectural antecedents in previous Russian architecture, with a dash of Italian influence. We also explore the cathedral’s political associations with Tsar Ivan’s victory over the Muslim Tatars of Kazan, and we discover that St. Basil’s was a centerpiece in a remarkable ceremony beginning in Ivan’s time that celebrated the purported harmony of state and church power. St. Basil’s at first glance seems irregular and bizarre; at second glance, we find order and meaning.

Jack Kollmann, Lecturer, Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, Stanford

Jack Kollmann has taught at Boston College, Wellesley College, UC Berkeley, Harvard Extension, and since 1982 at Stanford. Since his first visit to the Soviet Union in 1959, he has visited Russia over fifty times, documenting Russian architecture and art in photographs. He received a PhD in Russian history from the University of Michigan.
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