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Early 12th century frescoes found by archaeologists in Old Russian church in Novgorod

September 26, 2014, 6:02 UTC+3 MOSCOW
The frescoes were knocked off the walls of the St. George’s Cathedral in the 19th century, when the cathedral was rebuilt, and have been thought lost ever since
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© Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology

MOSCOW, September 26. /ITAR-TASS/. Frescoes of the early 12th century have been found by archaeologists at the St. George Cathedral of the Yuriev (St. George’s) Monastery in Veliky Novgorod some 550 kilometres to the northwest of Moscow, Vladimir Sedov, a lead research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology and the head of the archaeological party, told ITAR-TASS on Thursday.

The frescoes were knocked off the walls of the St. George’s Cathedral in the 19th century, when the cathedral was rebuilt, and have been thought lost ever since.

“This is a unique case. The overall number of frescoes we have found is hundreds of thousands. It is an enormous find,” Sedov said, adding that it was still a tenth of what the cathedral had had. He said experts hoped these frescoes would provide material for discoveries in the history of Old Russian art, since few frescoes had survived from the pre-Mongolian period. Such frescoes now can be seen only at the Mirozhsky Monatsery in Pskov, in a number of churches and monasteries in Novgorod, Staraya Ladoga, Vladimir and Suzdal.

“In the 12th century, Byzantine art was smoothly evolving into Old Russian art. It is not yet clear whether the latter simply “branched off” Byzantine art or invented something special. Art critics occasionally revise the model of the 12th century Russian art after each next find,” he said.

The key task today is to restore these frescoes and assemble odd fragments. This work is already being done by specialists of the Novgorod open air museum.

It is obvious already now that the recently retrieved frescoes, which were used as a building material to raise the floor level of the St. George’s Cathedral, stand out from other Novgorod wall-painting of that period. Presumably, back then the cathedral was decorated with paintings featuring a lot of small figures.

Apart from that, large-scale archaeological works revealed ancient structures in the altar and dome parts of the cathedral, one of the oldest ones in Russia. Thus, archaeologists unearthed the Synthronon /semi-circular seats for the bishops/, old floor slabs, altar stones and frescoes with decorative ornaments imitating glassed marble in the lower parts of walls.

Archaeologists plan to continue excavations both inside and outside the cathedral where their also hope to find fragments of old frescoes.

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