CHURCH OF CHRIST THE SAVIOR

On December 31 1999, the threshold of the third millennium, the reconstructed Church of Christ the Savior was consecrated in Moscow. After the ceremony His Holiness, Apostolic Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II and Mayor of Moscow Yu.M. Luzhkov expressed their sincere gratitude to everyone who took part in the restoration of this Christian sanctuary. These words carry full weight for Vladimir Sokovnin who participated in the restoration of the paintings being part of the decoration of the Church.

The reconstruction of the Church of Christ the Savior was both a national and state event; various kinds of artistic works were performed on a competitive basis. On August 5, 1996 the results of the All-Russian competition were summed up, and it so happened that the artistic team comprising N. Solomin, its leader, N. Kolupayev, V. Sokovnin, and V. Kharlov was among those who had stood the test. All the winners were brought together by the Russian Academy of Fine Arts headed by the famous artist Z. K. Tsereteli. The Academy of Fine Arts was placed in charge of the restoration of the once magnificent decoration of the Church.

Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts  A. Zverkov was elected to supervise the works. They began with serious and elaborate research, the collecting of historic and archival sources, as well as analogues. In fact, artists had to develop an entirely new approach to monumental painting. Large-scale preparatory work requiring skill and expertise went on for two long years.

The commission for the decoration of the Church was headed by Metropolitan Krutitsky and Kolomensky Yuvenaly who charged Sokovnin, among other artists, with the task of restoring the niche murals of the four central pylons. It was a responsible and difficult task — recreating the whole ensemble of murals located in the lower tier of the central volume of the Church. The first sketch completed on cardboard in actual size was "The Blessing of Prince Dmitry Donskoy by Reverend Sergy before the Battle with the Tartars". In September 1997 this work was shown at the exhibition of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts and was highly commended by Patriarch Alexy II.

In May 1999 the artists started working on the murals of the Church and accepted another artist, O. Miroshin, into their ranks. The time-limit set before the group was almost unrealistic.

A partaking of the rich experience of 19th century masters allowed the artists to fully recreate multi-figure monumental paintings and to achieve a continuity with the general pictorial order of the murals located in the central volume of the Church.

In five short months the artists managed to restore four monumental multi-plane murals on the basis of small black and white photographs. These paintings were in complete harmony with the architectural space of the niches. In September 1999 the commission for the decoration of the Church of Christ the Savior headed by Archbishop Orekhovo-Zuyevsky Alexy approved the artists? professional achievement.

There were many hardships to overcome while the work was under way: time constraints, the scope of the project, technical and creative difficulties, etc. In the 19th century niche murals were made by the famous artist Vassily Vereshyagin, master of historical and portrait painting, member of the Council of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. The greatest difficulty was to reconstruct the style of the celebrated master.

The restored paintings testified to the mastery of the artists in their ability to cope with the tasks of a multi-figure composition, in their control of space, color and form, as well as the ability to combine seemingly incongruous elements such as marble lining and profoundly spatial painting.

The new murals are remarkable for the fullness of their content. Giving a detailed rendering of real events, these new masters offer a convincing synthesis of reality and the unreal, which results in a new harmony between man and nature in a number of compositions such as "The Blessing of Prince Dmitry Donskoy by Reverend Sergy before the Battle with the Tartars" (niche mural in the North-West pylon), and "The Anointment of David, Son of Jesse, by the Prophet Samuel" (niche mural in the South-West pylon). Gospel themes are depicted in a soft, lyrical way in the following paintings: "The Adoration of the Shepherds at the Birth of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem" (niche mural in the North-East pylon), "The Adoration of the Magi and the Bringing of Gifts to the Child Jesus" (niche mural in the South-East pylon).

These present-day artists have proven to be worthy successors of the great masters of the past. Thanks to the Russian Academy of Fine Arts a unique team was formed during the recreation of the Church and it was able to restore 23 thousand square meters of painting within eight months — an unprecedented feat in world practice. It is hard to overestimate the importance of this work for Russian and world art. The reconstructed Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow has become a tangible symbol of the epoch, expressing the spirit of the times. Christmas of the year 2000 was celebrated by the Russians on January 7 in the Church dedicated to Christ.

For his contribution to the restoration of the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow Vladimir Sokovnin was decorated with a medal by the Russian Academy of Fine Arts.

 

Honored Culture Worker of the Russian Federation
Ph.D., L.V. Shirshova