St Isaac's Cathedral - Paintings and Murals
The St Isaac’s Cathedral contains more than one hundred and fifty murals and pictures in oils, a unique collection of Russian monumental painting of the first half of the 19th century. They were done by well-known Russian artists of the academic school – Karl Briullov, Fyodor Bruni, Nikokai Alexeyev, Vasily Shebuev, Pyotr Basin, and others. Montferrand was responsible for the overall arrangement of the mural, while Vasily Shebuyev, a prominent Russian artist, Professor and President of the Academy of Arts, superintended work on the paintings.
The pictures in the west part of the Cathedral are devoted to Old Testament subjects, while those in the east portion deal with New Testament themes. The ceiling of the main dome was painted by Briullov, though he did not live to complete it. A grave illness forced him to leave for Italy where he died soon afterwards. Basin completed the work, following Briullov’s cartoons and studies. The ceiling is one of the most outstanding large-scale decorative works in the Classical style.
In the large iconostasis there are three rows with 33 images that have been made ??by the first-rate artists of Russia. At the Royal Gate, there are two pictures of the Annunciation, and four of the Evangelists. Above the arch of the royal door is Jesus Christ surrounded by the Blessed Virgin, St. John the Baptist, Angels and Saints; the group is gold, while figures and hands alone are painted.
St Petersburg Guide, Jean Bastin, 1874
The test of artist’s mastery in monumental painting is his ability to capture the main features of the subject, avoiding excessive detail and using broad, free brush-strokes. Briuillov was a consummate master of this technique. The virgin on her throne is surrounded by saint and angels who are painted in various complicated foreshortened positions. The outlines of the figures are austere and at the same time highly expressive; the coloring is wonderfully joyful and radiant. Briullov used to say: “I want everything I do to be suffused with light”