The West Comes to Russian Architecture

Early Russian architects adopted and adapted foreign influences to suit their native styles, but the late seventeenth century saw this trend reversed and western movements came to dominate native architecture.

Western architecture is generally believed to have come to Russia with the foundation of St Petersburg in 1703, Peter the Great's 'Window on the West'. Cultural historians have made effective use of the contrast between 'wooden' Moscow, decidedly Russian, even 'oriental' in its picturesque disorder, and 'stone' St Petersburg, the regular and rational product of the European Enlightenment. The truth, as with many such handy formulae, is more complex. Tourists who take Moscow's Red Square as their starting point, approaching it from Marx Prospekt, may initially be arrested by the exotic silhouette of sixteenth-century St Basil's Cathedral, but if they look to the right they will see the red-brick walls of the Kremlin, constructed by Italians in the 1480s-90s, and the Spassky Tower, its upper portion designed by an Englishman in the 1620s. Even St Basil's has a surprisingly regular, almost 'Classical' ground plan. The fact is, Russian art has never been totally isolated from outside influences, even though until the end of the seventeenth century it displayed a much more limited range of genres and conventions than the art of most West European countries.

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