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L.A. Beliaev Stylistic elements in the 13th-century material culture
The article enters a series of works devoted to certain similarities and parallels of the stylistic processes in the Old Rus’ and in Byzantium and the West. It concerns the problem of the stylistic components characteristic of the transitional period in the 13th-century cultural processes, which defined their further development, and explores correlation of both implicit and explicit factors in the latter.
The study of the problem is undertaken on two levels: a general concept is accompanied by thorough examination of iconographical details of the concrete artefact-a small carved stone icon, dating to the 13th century, from the collection of the Yaroslavl museum. Thus, it continues the investigation on the typology of representations of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in Old Russian art from the 12th to die 16th century, which has been challenged by my publications devoted to the Romanesque elements in Russian medieval culture.
The 13th century was distinguished by one of the most expressive - although not a monolithic one - material and artistic culture. Its features, both transitional and contradictory, were constituted by dramatic events in the Mediterranean and Eurasia, and the establishment of the new contact zones of the Christian and the Muslim worlds. This process affected to a significant extent the Byzantine empire which lost effective control in many regions and was disintegrated, culminating in the capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Even after Constantinople was reconquered in 1261, the Byzantine Empire was nothing more than one among the various Balkan states.
Just as cultural alterations in the H^-century Byzantium reflected the empire’s interactions with its Christian neighbors and rivals, its relations with the Islamic East, and its contact with the Latin West-the gradual receding of the contact zones deeper into the Islamic lands to the south and the east can be traced far beyond their borders. Similar contact zones existed elsewhere-in Southern Italy and Sicily; the Iberian Peninsula; the Balkans, and to a certain extent Hungary and Poland. The expansion of the Crusades to the East both in the south (through Byzantium and Palestine) and the north directions (through the Baltic lands) provided
opportunities for western peoples to get into direct contacts with Eastern Christian traditions, and to promote diffusion of the most remarkable accomplishments of Western European culture to other lands and civilizations.
Later, similar process started in Eurasia as a result of the Mongol-Turkish incursions from the eastern steppes into the heartland of Central and Eastern Europe. It resembled the processes operating in the contact areas of West Europe-that is, alterating war and trade. Causing disintegration of the Old Rus’, it changed dramatically both ethnic and political situation in the northeastern ladns.
It is no surprise that all these events brought essential alterations to material and artistic culture, which historians usually regard as “innumerable calamities” - Byzantium and Eastern Europe were cut off from the sphere of western European political relations, culture and trade; they lost the skill of “monumental” building; a number of complicated and expensive technologies disappeared.
Certainly, all these features are characteristic of the 13th-century cultural processes. The invasions, however, were not unmitigated disasters everywhere. One may point out certain significant positive tendencies - preservation of a number of cultural traditions genetically related to the preceding period in their isolated local forms; transmission of the latter into the new periods; a prospect arisen for formerly peripheral cultural zones-for example, the Balkans-to push their way into the foreground. The peripheries left behing their old leader, Byzantium, and had begun to be overtaken by the culture of their western neighbors.
The 13th century played a decisive role in medieval Russian culture. Tbe cultural development of medieval Rus’ was determined by both tendencies, although only one of them has been comprehended until the present by the traditionalist scholars. In the historiography of Russian medieval culture the issue of contact with the Romanesque West has always been marked by constant and desperate disputes. There prevailed the concept of the complete isolation of medieval Rus’ from Western Europe during the late 13th through the 15th century. However, those who deny the
stylistic influence of West European medieval culture have seldom justified their view by careful comparative analysis of stylistic elements. The acquaintance of medieval Rus’ with Romanesque culture appears increasingly obvi-
ous as studies continue. This influence includes architecture, as well as applied art, graveslabs and sarcophagi ornamentation, and fits perfectly within the context of the 13th-century circum-European style.