St Isaac's Cathedral Interior - Paintings, Mosaics, Sculptures

The interior of the St Isaac’s Cathedral, which is decorated with paintings, mosaics, and sculptures, impresses the viewer by its majestic architecture, and by the variety of color effects produced by a combination of marble, semiprecious stones, and gilding. 400 kilograms of gold and 1,000 tons of ormolu went into the decoration of the cathedral. 16,000 kilograms of malachite and over eleven square meters of lapis lazuli from Badakhshan were used for the facing of the columns and other architectural details of the chancel and the two chapels.

St Isaac’s as a treasury of Russian colored stones

The floors, walls, and piers are lined with semiprecious Shoksha porphyry, with black slate from the Caucasus, and different marbles: pink Tivdiya marble, grey marble from Finland, white Italian marble, green marble from Genoa, yellow marble from Siena, and red marble from France. Academician Alexander Fersman, the eminent mineralogist of our time, described St Isaac’s as a treasury of Russian colored stones, second only to the Hermitage in the wealth and variety of materials. The final version of his design for the Cathedral’s interior was completed by Montferrand in 1842. While the arrangement of sculptures in the main dome follows a Classical pattern, the decoration of the vaults is in the Baroque style, and the inner doors show a marked influence of the Italian Renaissance.

Malahite, Marble, Lapis Lazuli

The chancel and chapels, parts of the interior intended to produce the strongest effect, are decorated with particular splendor. Precious materials are lavishly used to achieve rich harmonies of color, and a striking unity of impression is attained in the combined employment of painting, mosaics, and sculpture. The iconostasis of the chancel, faced with white marble, is adorned with ten pillars of malachite and two of lapis lazuli; the latter are among the foremost of the rarities to be seen in the Cathedral.


The icons of the first and second tiers are mosaic, whole those of the third tier are painted. The icons of the first tier, executed after the paintings by Timoleon Karl von Neff, depict the patron saints of the Tsars during whose reigns the Cathedral was built. The mosaics of the second tier, executed after the pictures by Fiodor Briuillov, one of the outstanding Russian painters of the academic school, are dedicated to the patron saints of the members of the imperial family. The painted icons of the third tier, which are the work of Semion Zhivago, represent Old Testament prophets. Above the chancel arch is the ormolu group of Christ in Glory done by Peter Klodt.

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