St Isaac's Cathedral Sculptures
The statues and reliefs which adorn the St Isaac’s Cathedral in Saint Petersburg form one of the largest groups of sculpture created in the nineteenth century. The works decorating the balustrade of the drum, the pediments and outer doors were done by the outstanding sculptors Ivan Vitali and Peter Klodt, and also by Joseph Hermann, Philippe Lemaire, and Alexander Loganovsky.
Distribution of the scuptures
The distribution of the scuptures corresponds to the basic sections of the cathedral. Here they unite the architectural masses by softening the transition from one section to another, there they heighten the expressiveness of the individual elements of architecture. Hermann’s statues of angels on the balustrade, while emphasizing the elegant form of the drum and the rhythm of the dome’s articulation, serve to link the drum to the drome; and the groups of angels with torches, the work of Vitali, link the basic volume of the church to its crowning parts, the drum and the dome.
Adoration of the Magi
The four large high reliefs in the tympana of the pediments are of particular interest. The relief of the south portico, created by Vitali, depicts the Adoration of the Magi. The triangular contours of the pediment set the pattern of the composition, which is arranged strictly according to the laws of symmetry, with the main protagonist, Mary, and ideal of perfect female beauty, occupying the central position. The figures of the Magi, sculpted nearly in the round, are more realistic in treatment. We know that Vitali made the heads of the Ethiopian King and his page from life; Abyssinian servants on the staff of the imperial household posed for him.
St Isaac Blessing the Emperor Theodosisus
In the high relief of the west pediment with the scene of St Isaac Blessing the Emperor Theodosisus, Vitali added to the main characters, who are treated conventionally, several figures representing his own contemporaries. For example, in the members of the Emperor’s entourage, Victor and Saturnius, one can recognize Prince Peter Volkonsky, Chairman of the Commission for the Construction of St Isaac’s, and Alexei Olenin, President of the Academy of Arts. Montferrand, clad in a toga, reclines in a corner of the pediment, holding a model of St Isaac’s in his hand. His face is somewhat idealized and his pose full of dignity. His powerful figure, however, appears too large for the corner of the tympanium.
Resurrection and St Isaac Accosts the Emperor Valens
The north pediment is decorated with a high relief of the Resurrection by Lemaire, while the east pediment bears his St Isaac Accosts the Emperor Valens.
Figures of the Apostles and Evangelists, which mark the apices and corners of the pediments, serve to complete the composition. This function dictated the character of their treatment: their sharp and clear contours, their monumental forms, and the flowing lines of their clothes suggesting movement.