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Russian art has its roots in pre-Christian folk traditions, primarily woodworking. In Ancient Rus Russian wood carvers specialized in making devotional objects such as crosses and exquisitely painted figurines of saints. Only a few samples of this early art have survived, as the Church mercilessly persecuted woodcarving, in which it suspected a persistence of paganism.

Icon and mural painting (frescoes) came to Russia from Byzantium along with Christianity. Russian icon painting began to flourish, in particular, after the 14th century reaching its Golden Age in the 15th century in the work of such artists as Theophanes the Greek, Andrei Rublev, and Dionysius.  

In the 17th century the emphasis shifted from religious to secular art with court painting gaining particular prominence. Toward the end of the 17th century, Peter the Greats reign brought sweeping changes to all aspects of Russian life including art.  New genres came from the West, such as historical allegory, still life and landscape. Portrait painting was at the height of fashion in the 18th century practised by such brilliant artists as Fedor Rokotov, Ivan Argunov, Dmitri Levitsky and Vladimir Borovikovsky.


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