Reconstructions, Renovations and Additions

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Specialists in architectural and art restoration and scholars of early texts must grapple continually with issues of what constitutes appropriate intervention by we moderns in the presentation of artifacts of the past.  These issues are not new--in nineteenth-century England, for example, the critic John Ruskin harshly condemned   those who would "restore" or rebuild that which had either naturally decayed over time or had been consciously changed by virtue of human intervention.    Almost any old building has been renovated by its occupants, either because it needed repair or because it did not suit their current requirements or contemporary fashion.  In the majority of such cases in earlier centuries, presumably little thought was given to "preservation of the original," since it is only in relatively recent times that we have become sensitive to that issue.  Another example can be found in medieval Russian painting.  In  a culture that de-emphasized artistic individuality, it was perfectly natural for icons and frescoes to be painted over completely when they had become so dim and dirty as not to be clearly visible.  What we see in museums today tends to be the icons "restored" to their original glory--that is, stripped of all the layers of later paint to expose the bottom layer, where, restorers seem to assume, the work is more of a masterpiece than that painted over it.  The modern aesthetic probably has little to do with earlier perceptions, which is not to say, however, that in earlier times people were insensitive to artistic merit.   They differed from us in their standards regarding what we call "art," but what they considered to be divinely inspired representations of the unknowable.

The churches in Novgorod provide interesting examples of the way in which later architects or restorers altered the original buildings.  More often than not the alterations occurred because the roof leaked (older churches often had complex roof construction, which, if simplified, might be easier to maintain), the cupola had 00novg56.jpg (42126 bytes)00novg59.jpg (50220 bytes)collapsed, or there was simply need for more space.  One example of such alteration, very soon in fact after the date of the original construction, can be seen in the Church of the Nativity in the Monastery of St. Anthony.   Another example is in the oldest of the extant Novgorodian churches, the Cathedral of Sancta Sophia (ca. 1050) in the Kremlin.  Here it will suffice to look at one picture taken from the south (left), which shows the neo-classical metropolitan's chambers and connecting arch on the left, with the church on the right.  In fact, the church itself, as we see it, undoubtedly looks substantially different from what it did in an earlier era, as a reconstruction model (right--the view is from the west) suggests.   Another time, perhaps, we can explore further the architectural history of this important building.

00novg52.jpg (47878 bytes)A similar kind of neoclassical alteration on an ancient Novgorod church can be seen on the north side of the Church of St. Nicholas (left), built in 1113 in the prince's court across the river from the Kremlin.  In fact, over the centuries the church was much altered by the addition of a second floor  inside and a large porch on the west end.   The roofline undoubtedly changed, much, it appears, to the consternation of modern restorers, who decided on a fundamental reconstruction of the church in the in the last decade or so, in order to bring it back as closely as possible to its "original" appearance.   Thus the single-domed hip-roofed church as it had existed in the late 1960s (not the "original" appearance, by any means) is now a five-domed church with curved arches along the roofline, leaving us with a twelfth-century foundation and walls, alterations of the 17th-19th centuries, and restoration of the late twentieth-century to represent one of the oldest extant Russian churches.  In other words, a building that never was, until the final restoration giving it the appearance we now see.

00novg53.jpg (46727 bytes) 00novg51.jpg (36839 bytes)

00novg58.jpg (42951 bytes)00novg57.jpg (29826 bytes)Another example of the kind of "restoration" which continues in Novgorod and many other medieval Russian cities is the Bell Tower of Archbishop Evfimii (a very important 15th-century Novgorod churchman) and Church of St. Sergius at its base.  At least the lower part of the tower was built in 1433, although it was probably extended upward only later; the church was built in either 1459 or 1463. .  In 1671, the bell tower collapsed, and soon after it was re-built, allegedly in the then current Muscovite style.     In 1968, these structures appeared as in the left picture, and in 2000 as in the right.  Obviously the Muscovite top to the tower did not survive into the second half of the twentieth century.  Earlier photos show a different roof and a little turret.  Can we know for sure that the current top (interestingly reminiscent of Muscovite churches from the early fifteenth century) is really accurate?  One thing for certain: the clock is a new addition, although not quite as incongruous as the digital clock on the facade of the venerable gothic St. Stephen's cathedral in Vienna..

00novg54.jpg (54362 bytes)00novg55.jpg (27628 bytes)Finally, we might note an example, sadly all too common in the aftermath of World War II, where there was almost nothing of the original structure left to "restore."  On the left, the ruins of the very important late twelfth-century Church of the Savior, on Nereditsa hill south of the city near where the princes were forced to live once the Novgorodians drove them away from the center.  The church was renowned for its nearly complete set of frescoes, now lost.  The Church on Nereditsa was rebuilt in the 1960s; so at least externally (we know this from photographs and measurements) it may be considered to approximate the original.  Here though as in the case of the Church of St. Nicholas and Evfimii's Bell Tower, the restoration of the roofline follows not what had come down to the twentieth century but rather a reasonable hypothesis as to the original.   Does it make sense to re-build from ground up a church such as Nereditsa?  I'm not so sure, although at the same time I would not want to be deprived of the opportunity to visit some of the suburban palaces of St. Petersburg, gutted during the War but lovingly restored at great expense since.  Ruskin would not have approved of those restorations either.

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2000 Daniel C. Waugh