The vastness and impenetrability of the region, with scarce settlements and reduced population density, its geographical position between the Europe and Asia, the peasant mentality of the Eastern Slavs, closely linked to the agrarian structure and the patriarchal tradition, the popular devotion that was linked to magical-pagan roots, the Byzantine model, together with the traditionalism of the Eastern Church, in the long run fragmentation of the state, the domination of the Tartars, as well as the weakness of the bourgeoisie of the free cities, conditioned a socio-cultural structure which, compared to that of central and western Europe, appears backward. This led to a closer link with nature and the landscape, an expanded sense of time, a lasting link with forms, leading to a relative uniformity in architectural typologies, in iconography and in the evolution of styles; the artistic languages were always oriented towards a conventional rendering. Throughout the Middle Ages the religious, cultural and political life of the Russia was influenced by the Byzantine world. The grand dukes of Kiev Vladimir I and Jaroslav I the Wise (1018-1054) took up, together with the oriental ecclesiastical rite, the state ideology of symphony, that is, of the transfiguration of the role of the sovereign, through the concurrence of civil and religious power. The ecclesiastical statute of Kiev (ustav) strictly adhered to the model of the Byzantine nomocanon: the metropolis of Kiev accepted the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Constantinople, which generally installed characters of Greek origin as metropolitans without having recourse to the regional synod. Vladimir and Jaroslav had silver coins minted and gold (srebrenik and slatnik) and carried out a program of religious architecture; an iconography of images developed and the cult of icons replaced the magical value attributed to pagan representations in popular religiosity. The founder of the laura of the Kiev Caves, the hermit Anthony, became a monk on Mount Athos; his successor, the abbot Feodosij, at the same moment in which he submitted the hermit settlement to the grand dukes of Kiev and transformed it into a monastery, sent a brother to Constantinople to take the typikón of the monastery of St. John of Studio as a model. In the same period, at the end of the century. 10th and 11th centuries, architects and painters were hired in Constantinople, probably belonging to itinerant workshops, who imported techniques, typologies, styles and decorations of the ecclesiastical buildings of the capital. Ainalov (1932, pp. 7-40) identifies the existence of a ‘first’ school under Vladimir I and a ‘second’ school under the abbot Feodosij and his benefactors, belonging to the reigning house. Under Jaroslav I, Kiev was enlarged according to the urban model of Constantinople (construction of the so-called Golden Gate, foundation of the Hagia Sophia). The Russians acquired a great experience both in wooden architecture – where the master Mironeg and Zdan-Nicola excelled, at the end of the century. 11 ° – both in the applied arts; but they had to learn monumental architecture and painting – and in particular the building techniques of opus mixtum, brick curtain and ‘back brick’ masonry, the technique of mosaic and that of fresco – in the Byzantine workshops. Alipius himself (11th-12th century), believed to be the father of ancient Russian painting, was formed during the decoration of the cathedral of the laura of the Kiev Caves by Greek masters. For the sec. 12th there are numerous inscriptions in Russian and the names of the master masons John (Cathedral of the Savior and St. Eufrosina in Polock) and Peter (St. Nicholas, St. George and Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin in Novgorod). According to Lazarev (1973), it is possible to historically ascertain the growing participation of local masters and Vagner (in Russland-Seele, Kultur, Geschichte, 1996, p. 83) already considers the laura delle Grotte to be substantially attributable to Russian masters. identifiable in the sources and therefore in the history of art is constituted by the relationship between the results of the Byzantine model and the autonomy of Russian artists, that is, the conception they had of themselves as a people; this is already evident in the various parts that make up the Chronicle of Nestor (Povest ‘vremennych let): acceptance of Christianity, insertion of the legend of St. Andrea, designation of the Varangian principles. In this context, the accentuation of an apostolicity proper to the Russian also finds its ideological foundation, which is found in Metropolitan Hilarion’s sermon On law and grace (c. 1050): Russia would have found Christianity even without help. external – that is, without the missionary work of Constantinople -, only by divine inspiration and by the wise decision of Vladimir. The Russian people, once included in the world of paganism, he himself would have become the bearer of salvation and closer to God even than other peoples (Die Werke des Metropoliten Ilarion, 1971, pp. 41-53).
According to usaers.com, the military defense against the Mongol-Tartars led the populations of the Russia to the conviction of constituting an outpost of Christianity in the East; with the decline of the Byzantine Empire the historical conception of the Russians as ‘last called’ strengthened, especially in the thesis that saw Moscow as the ‘third Rome’. The question of a Russian specificity in the architecture of ancient Russia is generally answered with numerous examples: emphasizing how the detinec (fortress) or the Kremlin (as the center of government and residence of the princes, the bishop and the court) dominated the image of the city; mentioning the relationship between wooden architecture and monumental architecture from an urban point of view, the existence of fortified monasteries, spontaneous architecture, the adaptation of buildings to nature and the landscape, the consistent contribution of carpenters to the construction of stone buildings (in the foundations and roofs) and to the similarities between human and architectural proportions. In truth, there is also a specific typology of ecclesiastical architecture: the first commissions to Byzantine workshops by the grand dukes of Kiev and the abbots led to new, singular syntheses, which cannot be defined as non-Byzantine, but which found in the Byzantine world. For the ‘mother of all Russian churches’, the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Kiev (first half of the 11th century), Jaroslav took from Constantinople the architectural typology of the Greek cross inscribed with a domed roof, a typology that changes however due to the change of shapes, the increase in size and the elements of novelty.